Monday, February 4, 2013

By Way of Introduction

My first conversation with Arthur Cox began the same way a lot of my conversations start with people I don’t know. He’d seen my blog, he had some pencils and he thought I might be interested in them.

Often, when I get these calls people are fishing to see what the things they have are worth – in the most egregious example, after I’d negotiated a price with a caller, he said he’d think about it and the next thing I know, he’d listed the pencils in an online auction with an opening bid of exactly twice what I’d offered!

So I’ve gotten a little skeptical about callers offering to sell me things, but Arthur was different. First, as we talked I could tell he knew a lot about pencils. Second, he was looking to sell duplicates from his collection – a pretty clear indication that he’d been actively seeking them out, rather than having fell into them by accident.
And third, he was calling me one week before the Philly show to see if he could bring some early Eagles with him and meet me at the show.

Sure, I told him – bring everything you want to show me! Since I would have my camera with me, even if we couldn’t come to terms on a price, from what he was describing it sounded like he had some really interesting things I’d want to document.

So on Saturday morning, as I was browsing through Andy Beliveau’s victorian pencils, my cell phone jingled. It was Arthur, calling as promised from the lobby outside the show room, with pencils in tow. I excused myself and went out into the lobby, where I found Arthur with a couple small boxes under his arm. We found a table and a couple of chairs to sit down and talk for awhile.

Arthur, who is quite the salesman, led with his strong suit to hook me in. "Have you ever seen one of these?" he asked:


I had to confess that I hadn’t. So he told me he had a whole box of them in assorted colors, and he had a couple duplicates:


Arthur’s presentation was effective, and I was indeed hooked in. The Eagle "Simplex" – no relation to the Simplex line Eagle introduced in the 1920s – apparently came in two styles, the number 763 with an eraser on top, and the 764 which had no eraser:


The imprints and paint on these wood barrel examples are just pristine:


And each sports a cap with a built in lead sharpener:


The documentation Arthur gave me for the Simplex was a photocopy of the lid on the box that housed his other examples. Although I would rather have taken a picture of the box itself, I was grateful that he gave me a copy, because it provided me with another important piece of the story:


Tracking down the patent issued on July 24, 1896 wasn’t as easy as it might sound, since it’s difficult to search patent assignees in the databases before 1920; of course, I didn’t mind combing through all the patents issued on that date until I found the right one. In fairly short order I did find patent number 564,149, which Frederick J.W. Fischer applied for on April 24, 1896:

I couldn’t wait to see what other surprises Arthur had in the boxes he brought with him. I spent the next hour or so going through things, and you won’t believe the stuff that was in there!

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