Joe didn’t know how badly he needed one of these. He’s a tough guy to surprise.
Today's story begins at the Ohio Show, when Francis Bulbulian flags me down as I’m walking past his table and says he’s got something really special to show me. When he pulled this one out, he explained that while he didn’t know what it was, there was just something about it that looked . . . interesting. I had to agree:
The pencil isn’t marked sterling, and there’s a bit of corrosion on the barrel. It’s freakishly thin and long, with an interesting clip assembly:
I had to borrow a loupe to look at it, because I’m always losing those darn things. I probably own twenty of them, scattered around my house or left behind on dealers’ tables at shows. Recently, I finally found one on a keychain that I could wear on a finger like a ring, kind of like a kid with mitten clips. At the Philly Show, on more than one occasion I was looking everywhere for it and someone had to remind me it was hanging from my finger ... what can I say? I’ve got tunnel vision. But I’m getting off track here . . .
With borrowed loupe in hand, I brought the top into focus and read what was imprinted there. The people standing around me could probably hear the last tumbler click into place in my brain, opening up a rusty combination lock behind which was a distant memory of something I’d seen that didn’t quite make any sense to me at the time. NOW it did:
"Pat. A.M.W. Newark NJ." A.M.W. stands for Art Metal Works, the makers of . . . drum roll . . . the Ronson Penciliter.
Last March, I posted a series of articles here about A.M.W. lighter pencils, including the Penciliter series. The first article in the series, posted on March 12, discussed the earliest Art Metal Works combination lighter and pencil I knew of, which was called the "Lite-O-Rite." A.M.W. had a real penchant for imprinting every patent that would fit onto their pencils, and the earliest patent number imprinted on my Lite-O-Rite didn’t appear to belong there. It just didn’t look like or function anything like the Lite-O-Rite:
But the pencil Francis was showing me was a dead ringer!
These pencils were probably the most dangerous lighter pencils ever devised. Underneath the cap is a wick surrounding a flint, soaking in a reservoir of lighter fluid. To light the pencil, you remove the cap and strike what’s essentially a tiny Molotov cocktail on the flint set in the top of the clip . . . being careful not to tip over the pencil and spill any excess lighter fluid that may be inside the barrel of the pencil.
Oh, this thing was a bad, bad idea! I’d imagine these would have to be rare just because most of them either caught fire or blew up!
Francis had two of these, and both had wicks that appeared never to have been lit – probably the only reason they survived. Both still produced a spark (although I sniffed each very carefully to be sure we were clear before I tried). I asked Francis if Joe had seen them, and his response surprised me: Joe saw them, wasn’t excited and passed. So I bought both of them and told Francis I’d explain to Joe why he needed to have it.
Once Joe heard my story, of course, he did have to have one. I asked him which one he wanted.
Without missing a beat, he answered: "The better one."