Friday, March 22, 2013

What They Are and Where They Got the Idea

These unusual pencils are a frequent sight at antique shows and flea markets:


There’s several different variations of these, with these being two of the more common ones. Both have rulers on them, and the gold plated one has "PEACE" and stars emblazoned on one side:


They are fitted with unusual accommodation clips, and these rear drive pencils are operated by turning a small knob perched atop the pencil:


All of these have one thing in common: all are marked "Japan."


Boxed examples of these turn up every so often, indicating that they were made by "Kanoe," a Japanese manufacturer. The fact that there are so many of these out there (and the word "Peace" is found on so many of them) is good indication that these were made after the end of World War Two, when the United States actively assisted the Japanese with the rebuilding of their manufacturing base by helping Japanese firms turn out cheap novelties for export to the American market, often using obsolete or abandoned American designs.

And this was exactly that sort of endeavor. Here’s a pencil I found at the Scott Antique Market last November:


It shares that same distinctive shape and also is a rear-drive pencil with a similarly gawky know on the top. What’s more, when these are disassembled, the mechanisms inside are all the same:


But this one has an American name on it:


"Pat. Pend. B&B St.P." The latter part of the inscription refers to Brown and Bigelow of St. Paul, Minnesota, most well-known as the makers of the Redipoint line of pencils. Since the mechanism wasn’t anything particularly new or interesting, I suspected that the "Pat. Pend" probably referred to a design patent. George Kovalenko’s book lists design patent number 105,623, issued to Martin E. Trollen on August 10, 1937 and assigned to Brown & Bigelow:


Close – very close – right down to the little collars folded over the top of the pencil. But this one’s triangular, not trapezoidal. So I searched Martin Trollen’s name looking for other patents, and I found one that isn’t in George’s book:

There’s our pencil exactly. Design patent 105,622 was applied for by Trollen on November 16, 1935 and was issued on August 10, 1937, the same day as the other Trollen patent listed in George’s book. The term of the patent, however, was for only three and a half years, ending in February, 1942. By the time the war was over, Trollen’s design patent had expired and the obsolete design was in the public domain – perfect fodder for a Japanese knockoff.

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