Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Prequel: Let's Make That Birth, Death and Transfiguration

While I was researching the Triad articles that posted here recently, I stumbled upon a little detail that I thought was just an interesting side note to the Triad saga.  I was suspecting that there may be a connection between the Tri-Pen Manufacturing Company and another Providence, Rhode Island company: the Rex Manufacturing Company.

For a long time, I have championed the Rex as the great-granddaddy of so many brands of pencils. The example I have pictured on page 125 of The Catalogue is pretty tired, but until recently it was the only one I had seen:


It’s kind of hard to tell from what’s left of this poor thing, but there’s a whole gaggle of pencils that were spawned from this design. Here’s just a few:


From left, these are marked Blue Ribbon, Gold Bond, Gold Medal (note the one piece tip – we’ll get to that in a minute), Gold Medal, Corona, Webster, Supremacy, John Holland, Salz, Johnson and Eisenstadt. While at first it may appear that these don’t have much in common, the presence of Gold Bond, Gold Medal and Webster in this roll call is a pretty clear indication to me that all of these were made by National Pen Products Co. of Chicago.

National Pen Products was known to produce the Gold Bond and Webster lines for Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck & Co., respectively, and National also had the manufacturing capability to satisfy orders from smaller pen companies like Holland and Eisenstadt. However, while National made these pencils, it wasn’t National’s design. Let’s start with that Gold Medal with the one-piece tip. It’s marked just above the clip with a single patent date: February 19, 1924. That refers to patent number 1,484,180, granted to Lawrence T. McNary:


McNary’s patent was assigned to – you guessed it – the Rex Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island. And it gets better.

All of the other pencils you see in this picture are marked on the crown with four patent dates: August 4, 1925, January 5, 1926, January 5, 1926 (again) and November 24, 1925. And all four of these patents were also assigned to the Rex Manufacturing Company. In the order they were issued, here’s patent 1,548,548, granted to Charles H. Patton (note the one-piece tip):


Patent 1,563,217, granted to Arthur E. Moore (there’s our two-piece tip):


Patent 1,568,950, granted to David M.Ballou (specifically for the clip assembly):


and Patent 1,568,951, also granted to Ballou, which sort of rounds up all of the elements in this series of patents and wraps them up neatly with a bow:


The Rex Manufacturing Company is largely forgotten today, but the widespread use of the innovations Rex pioneered make the company one of the most important in the world of pencils. And now I’ve recently learned about yet another important Rex innovation, also long forgotten, for which the company has never received the credit it so richly deserves . . . the creation of the Triad pencil.

More on that tomorrow . . .

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