Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Putting A Name To It At Last

Eversharp pencils like these show up on page 78 of The Catalogue, in frame 48 ("Eversharp in Decline"):

Although I’ve lumped these in with the other end-of-the-line Eversharps as "simply awful," these simple nose-drive pencils do have interesting clips:

The design elements are taken from the matching ballpoint pens. At the Baltimore show last March, Terry Mawhorter had this group of five of them:

I had mistakenly thought he wanted $12.50 for the set of five and was embarrassed after I handed him $15 and waited for change. Turns out I’d misread his price tag by a decimal point, and he was looking for $125.00 for the set. We did ultimately settle on a price somewhere between the two – after all, when am I going to find a set of five of these?

The pens have an interesting mechanism – the button on the top advances the tip, while the button that sticks out of the clip, when pressed, releases it:

At one point, I had a boxed pen and pencil set of these in black with chrome plated trim, complete with a pair of cufflinks, which I parted with just because I thought the cufflinks were so darned ugly! I wish now I had at least photographed them first.

Matt McColm, being the keen observer that he is, read my Baltimore show report and sent me an email asking me what on earth a pencil collector was doing picking up a bunch of "Small Ball" pens.

"Small ball?" I asked. I’d never heard them called by name before – the 1953 repair manual refers to them only as "ballpoint pens" and "propel-repel" pencils. So Matt sent me a link to an advertisement offered by an online seller, and sure enough he’s right. I couldn’t get permission to use that photograph (the seller wanted to sell me the ad instead, for what I thought was waaay too much), but thanks to Google Books (again), I did track down another ad that appeared in the November 29, 1954 issue of "The Deseret News and Salt Lake Telegram":


The ball on these pens was smaller than the ballpoints Eversharp had been producing prior to the introduction of these pens, but comparable in size to the Parker Jotters and the hundreds of other ballpoints that followed. It was an innovation by Eversharp standards, but in retrospect, it was a dying company simply catching up to what everyone else was already doing.

If this set is complete and correct, it looks like the Small Ball either remained in production or leftover stock was sold after Parker acquired Eversharp’s writing division in 1957:

The markings on the pen and pencil are no different from those made as early as 1954, but the box these came in bears the Parker logo:

Unfortunately, there was no paperwork with this set to tie the pen and pencil to the packaging in which it was found – however, it would stand to reason that if Parker was buying the company, it would have at least acquired some leftover stock and sold it under the Parker name, even if Parker didn’t continue to produce them.

Matt wasn’t finished with me on these. Armed with the knowledge that I was a sucker for an Eversharp ballpoint, a couple weeks later he sent me a link to another auction, with the comment that there should be a matching pencil for this one:

Yeah, I had to bite. This one shares the "Small Ball" design, but it’s all chrome plated, with a pair of black stripes reminiscent of a Cross (the lower one actually being the threaded plastic bushing that joins the upper and lower barrels):


I agree. There should be a matching pencil. The hunt is on!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Once A Year Ain't Bad

Ever since my girls were very little, I’d take them up for a weekend trip to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio each summer. We’d stay at the Breakers Hotel, we’d see Snoopy, we’d play on the beach, and we’d ride ourselves silly on rides.

My girls are growing up these days, and are both in High School now -- Heather’s going to be a senior and Hannah will be a sophomore. When I tell a corny joke these days, they roll their eyes instead of giggling – and that’s only if they weren’t texting or listening to an iPod and heard me. And, since they live with their mother, I see them less and less each year. This year they were both so busy that I wasn’t sure they’d want to go at all – in fact, we had to cancel our trip up there last month when one of their schedules unexpectedly changed.

But both of them reassured me that they really wanted to go, so we rescheduled – for this last weekend, in fact. We picked them up Thursday night and, bright and early Friday morning, we loaded up the car and off we went.

For something a little different this time, Janet suggested that we stop off on the way up and check out an antique mall on the main drag in Norwalk, Ohio. Norwalk is one county seat shy of Sandusky on our way up Route 250, and it’s a really nice, well put-together town with a downtown packed with beautifully restored Victorian storefronts. Of course, I’m always game for a stop at an antiques place, but this time I thought a stop would be a good chance for Janet to get to do something she’s interested in, since she doesn’t like roller coasters and – as she patiently does every year – she was going to spend a lot of time in souvenir shops and people watching while the girls and I rode the coasters.

The girls were bored. OK, they were boh - oh- oh- ored. Usually a stop in Norwalk means a round of mini-golf and some Ice Cream at Vargo’s, not a tour of some dusty old antique store! Heather doesn’t mind them as much, but she’d seen it all in ten minutes and was sitting on the curb next to the car in no time. Hannah occupied herself for a while with a vintage pinball machine, but after I pointed at the price tag and suggested that she probably didn’t want to blow her Cedar Point budget buying that if she broke it, she contented herself strolling up and down the street outside, peering in occasionally to see if we were done yet.

Janet found a nice sterling ring that made her very happy. As for me, I did find something I’d been scouting around for:


This is another of the Eagle "giant" Automatics, akin to the Christmas and Popeye examples I’ve blogged about here in the past. This example is a souvenir of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 (which apparently carried over to 1934):



Note that the barrel, unlike the other giant Automatics I’ve shown here, is faceted rather than round, and also unlike the other giant Automatics, this one has an Eagle imprint on the reverse side:

And there’s a curious bit on the right side of that imprint:

"Pat. Pend." As mentioned earlier, the patents for the original Automatic were issued in 1932 and 1934, which would at first seem to make sense. However, the giant Automatics were Automatics in name only –rather than a rear drive spiral pencil, these were conventional nose-drive pencils and did not share the patented 1932 or 1934 design. Hmm.

None of which could have interested my girls less, who were eager to get to the Point, so to speak. So Janet with her ring, I with my pencil and the two girls got on our way. And as every year, we rode the roller coasters, ate the ice cream, indulged in a few too many chili cheese fries and closed the evening with a nice ride on the vintage Cadillac cars that go just a couple miles an hour around a track, just as all the rides were shutting down. We milked every moment we could out of the day at the park.

This morning (it’s Sunday as I write this), we did head out to the beach, but just for a little wading and strolling up and down the beach, looking for the little twisty shells and getting grossed out by the occasional dead fish that washed ashore.


That’s the Breakers Hotel, with the Dragster roller coaster in the background. The younger one had fun writing "Hannah is awesome" with her toe in the sand, while the older one (Heather) had fun following behind her and writing "(not)" just after it. A corny joke or two actually got a giggle here and there, and the girls really got a kick out of me trying to take a picture of them with my new smart phone, only to discover that I’d accidentally taken a movie of me trying to take a picture, complete with my fat fingers over the lens for most of it. A significantly younger Cedar Point employee finally helped me get it right.

We got home a few hours ago – relaxed and napped for a bit before their mother came to pick them up. Heather starts band camp tomorrow (today now), and Hannah starts practice for Cross Country next week, so I doubt we’ll get much time together in the coming months as they start gearing up for another busy school year.

But I always know that for at least one weekend a year I get my little girls back, and next summer, come hell or high water, somehow we’ll find the time to do it all over again.

And I’m good with that.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

That's Heavy, Dude

Here’s another neat name I’d not seen on a pencil before:



On the clip is simply the word "Atlas":


The name took me back to my classical studies in college, when I learned Atlas’ role in Greek Mythology. Atlas was one of a race of deities known as the Titans who ruled the universe until they were overthrown by a new race of deities known as the Olympians (led by Zeus). Being on the losing side of the conflict was not an enviable position to be in; for Atlas’ punishment, Zeus condemned him to hold up the Heavens from the earth, assuring the Olympians a physical boundary for all eternity from the human race. Atlas was said to stand on the edge of the world (as it was known at that time), in the "Sea of Atlas," from which we derive the name of the Atlantic Ocean.

Over the centuries, Atlas bearing the weight of the heavens became symbolized by the figure of a man holding up the planet earth; that is why a book holding maps of all the earth is referred to today as an "atlas."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Somewhere Between Sublime and Ridiculous

I’ve commented before that the Zaner-Bloser Company of Columbus, Ohio was essentially a one-trick pony when it came to mechanical pencils. Nearly all were cheaply made nose drive pencils, distinctive only in their unusual shape – although this doesn’t make them any less dear to a Columbus, Ohio native like me!

But I did say "nearly all," to take into account the super-rare Parker streamline Duofolds made for Zaner using Zaner’s unique shape. The Parker Zaners go for several hundred dollars if you can find one.

And I’d thought there was nothing in between the dollar junk box Zaners and the gee-I’d-buy-one-if-I-were-ever-lucky-enough-to-see-one Zaners, until these surfaced a little while ago:


Both of these came from the same online seller. I bought one, and then a couple weeks later the same seller listed another one. I emailed the seller to ask if he (or she) had any more and these were the only two he (she) had. The script logo etched in the top sections is pretty nice:


No, these aren’t stratospheric finds like a Parker-Zaner, but they are a bit nicer than what you’d normally find. Kind of like discovering that your ten-speed has a second gear in addition to first and tenth.

So where o where do you suppose gears three through nine are?

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Victorious Find

The Victor appears at page 160 of The Catalogue:

I’d noted in the book that these have a "Waterman-style" joint that is well above the center band, but I stopped short of suggesting Waterman had anything to do with the brand. Good thing, because it didn’t. A little while ago I managed to scrounge this up in an online auction:

Inside is tucked a nice Victor set:

I’d also noted in the book that the plastics on these resembled Chicago-era Conklins, and that part remains absolutely correct. This is in the brown striped plastic:

The set is pristine, with some really nice art deco features to the clip and end caps:

The pen has a really sweet imprint, but of course the pencil is marked only on the clip:

As it turns out, the placement of that joint on the pencil has nothing to do with the stylistic aspects of the pencil, as with Waterman. In this case, the placement of the joint is very functional. This is a "convertible" set, like the Wahl bronze and green set Cliff Harrington had in Chicago. When the blind cap is removed from the pen and the cap is removed from the pencil . . .

the two are interchangeable, and you can make a combination pen and pencil and a . . . um . . . stubby non-functional thing with an eraser inside and a clip . . .

This set also came with some great paperwork, that identifies the manufacturer as the U.S. Victor Fountain Pen Co., Inc:

Here’s the reverse side:





The notation at the bottom of that last shot indicates that this set was made just after the end of World War Two. The reference that the system was patented – "System Edward Hugetz," they called it, sent me back to the patent databases for more information, which, thanks to an unusual last name, surfaced within just a few moments:

Edward Hugetz applied for the patent for the pen’s filling system on May 11,1932, and the patent was granted on July 18, 1933 as number 1,918,844.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Real Housewives of Minneapolis

At an online auction recently, I noticed a group of pencils – mostly not very good ones – in a single lot. One attracted my attention, because the seller indicated it was stamped "Dow Patent 3-6-23." As I am always the sucker for names and patent dates I’ve not seen before, I had to bite just to see what it was all about. Here’s the pencil:



And just as the seller described, there was the imprint on the bell top:



The pencil pulls apart to reveal some novel innards. The mechanism just slides up and down within the barrel to "advance" the lead:



Finding the patent turned out to be easier than I had expected. When I plugged in the issue date of March 6, 1923 and the word "Dow" for an assignee, patent number 1,447,397 popped right up:


and with it, up popped a surprise: the patent was applied for on April 6, 1921 by two women: Elizabeth O’Brien and Mary C. Vierling of Minneapolis, Minnesota. No, I’m not being sexist, I’m just observing that there weren’t a lot of women patenting mechanical pencils in the 1920s. In fact, outside of these two, I don’t think there were any.

A name as unusual as "Vierling" begged for a little more digging to see what else I could find (searching a name as common as "O’Brien" isn’t as likely to produce results). And I found another Vierling from Minneapolis who was a prolific inventor of mechanical pencils from the 1920s through the Second World War: Frank J. Vierling. Frank’s patents were assigned to a number of companies, including Brown & Bigelow (the firm that produced the Redipoint, later Ingersoll Redipoint) and even Autopoint.

But Frank did something really interesting shortly after April 6, 1921, the date on which Mary, who I’m assuming was his wife, sister or some other relation, applied for the patent for her pencil. Check out patent number 1,531,427, which he applied for on June 14, 1922:

And here’s number 1,698,353, which he applied for on February 1, 1924:



And number 1,693,099, which he applied for on June 3, 1926:


And last but not least, check out number 1,664,274, which he applied for on August 6, 1927. This one was assigned to "Snap Point Pencil, Inc.":



All four of these Frank Vierling patents have something in common with each other, but not with anything else Vierling invented: they are all essentially minor variations on Mary Vierling and Elizabeth O’Brien’s basic design!

Whatever the relationship was between Frank and Mary, history leaves me with the distinct impression that it drove Frank up the wall that Mary patented and sold the rights to her patent for a pencil. You know what they say . . .

hell hath no fury like a man scorned!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ah . . . Now I Remember

Since we were talking about over-the-top clips, here’s another one. It’s just the top half, and I found it in one of Terry Mawhorter’s junk boxes:


I broke two rules when I bought it – I don’t buy unmarked things and I don’t buy parts unless I need it. But that clip was just so distinctive I decided to bring it home and poke around a bit to see what I could find out.

After a bit of searching, I sent out an S.O.S. to some pencil buddies to see what they thought, and Joe Nemecek answered the distress call in a manner I wasn’t expecting: "Don’t you remember?"

I had to confess that I didn’t. But after Joe reminded me, I did remember. And I remembered everything.

The year was . . . ok, so maybe I don’t remember everything. It was a few years ago at the Washington DC show. I was a little noncommittal about whether I was going to set up that year, and by the time I finally decided to do so, the tables in the regular area were sold out. Bob Johnson did accommodate me, by putting me and a few other last-minute stragglers in what used to be the old bar area in the hotel lobby.

Another last-minute straggler, set up just a couple doors down from me, was a fellow who had a collection of some 50 or 60 pens and pencils to sell. From what I remember, he wasn’t a regular dealer, just some guy that picked up this bunch from somewhere, didn’t know anything about them except what he read in a pre-bust price guide somewhere, and thought he’d try to sell them at a pen show.

I went though what he had during the feeding frenzy, and there were a few pencils in there that I liked, but there was a catch . . . the deal was all or nothing for one price, and it was a collector’s price, not a dealer’s price. That meant that there was a frenzy, but nobody was feeding. I circled back occasionally during the show to see if they’d decided to start parting things out, but the deal was always the same.

Then my old buddy Joe Nemecek stops by my table to show me what he picked up:


Of course, if I would have bought the whole lot, this one pencil would have been the reason why! As a loyal Ohioan, I can never resist the opportunity to pick up a nice John Holland pencil when I see one, since they were made in Cincinnati:


Apparently Joe was more persuasive than I had been! Over the years, Joe has from time to time reminded me of his great scoop, mostly because he feels kind of guilty about it. I keep telling him no worries, no problem, and I’m glad he got it – in fact, as this story indicates, I’d even forgotten all about the pencil he scored that day. But Joe can’t help it – he still beats himself up over it, worried that he might have offended me. After all, he really is the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back . . .

but not before he takes the pencil out of the pocket!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

These Are Over the Top

Over the winter, I received one of those emails from a guy who doesn’t collect pencils, who had a few pencils, and who decided he could use money more than he could use pencils. The conversation began innocently enough, with him asking some questions about what he had, and me (thinking he was interested) explaining to him as best I could what I could see from the fuzzy pictures he had.

The conversation turned quickly to "how much are they worth," followed closely by "how much would you give me for them." Sigh. I felt like I needed a shower when I was done talking to this guy. I ended up giving him some money for four pencils.

The full sized pencil in this picture was one of the ones I got from him, and it disappointed me that there was hardly anything left of the imprint on the barrel:



It’s a Diamond Medal "Comrade," and I didn’t yet have one in the full size with that distinctive, over-the-top clip. Although my ringtop lacks the clip, at least it has a better imprint:



At the Raleigh Show, Richard Vacca and I were standing around chatting at his table, which a dangerous thing that I shouldn’t do, since when I chat with him, my eyes tend to wander about and I end up seeing other things that I end up buying. The Raleigh News Observer caught us mid-chat while I was holding something I’d found while we talked:



In fact, here is what I was holding in my hand when that picture was taken:


It has an over-the-top clip that is very similar to that found on the Diamond Medal:


There’s no markings on the barrel of this one. On closer examination, the detail work on the end of the clip is very different. Instead of a bit of decorative lines, this one has the letter "R" upside down on it:


I’m not sure what this stands for. None of the "R’s" listed in The Catalogue seem to fit, and the only "R" with a penchant for borrowing design elements from other manufacturers was Rite-Rite, which this doesn’t quite fit, either. For now we’ll put it in the Scooby-doo "Ruh Roh" pile.