Friday, April 12, 2013

The Long-Awaited Laughlin Article

I’ll admit I’ve been dreading writing this article.

Back when I posted my report on the Michigan Pen Show last summer, I posted a picture of this Laughlin set I picked up as a teaser, promising to write more about it later:


I knew that Laughlin is a "cult" brand – a relatively obscure manufacturer whose devotees are really, really, REALLY fanatical. And what have I learned?:

Never tease a cult.

One reader emailed me when I announced I was going to take a break November to tell me that I simply couldn’t take a break before I wrote the Laughlin article, because Volume One of The Leadhead’s Pencil Blog just wouldn’t be complete without it. Another gave me a homework assignment to do while I was writing the article: to look into the rumor that Cincinnati manufacturer John Holland "stole" a master nibmaker from Laughlin.  A third emailed me excitedly to tell me he'd been collecting Laughlins for decades and he was looking forward to learning more about the company.

Suffice to say, there’s some folks out there with some pretty high expectations for this article.

I started my research by contacting Laughlin collector Jerry Kemp for some general historical backgroundon the company.  Jerry directed me to a pair of articles he helped L. Michael Fultz write. , which appeared in the December ‘04-January ‘05 and February-March 2005 issues of Pen World. Neither article mentions anything about Laughlin producing mechanical pencils.

Yet here one is, proudly emblazoned with the Laughlin name:


Kind of a funny story, as an aside to these pictures. I borrowed this set at the Michigan show to photograph, before I thought I’d be able to purchase it. But since I kind of liked the way the pictures turned out, I decided to go with them rather than reshooting on the Leadhead's famous cutting board! 

Fultz mentions in his article that by the 1920s, Laughlin was following the trend of other manufacturers, licensing a lever filling design and switching from black to attractive and colorful plastics. After Sheaffer and Wahl Eversharp began offering pen and pencil sets in 1917, Laughlin must have also felt the pressure to offer a pencil with its pen products, too. But did the company make its own?

Nope. At least not in this case.  Note the squared off clip and top assembly, which doesn’t really match the lines of the pen:


The top sort of resembles an early Parker "Big Bro" pencil – the type that has the straight top. At the Michigan Show I had a working copy of The Leadhead’s Blog Volume One, and here’s the Laughlin shot against the picture of the Big Bro:


And that two stage tip – look familiar?


It actually is nothing like a Parker – here it is, shown disassembled next to an oversized lapis Duofold pencil I picked up at the Michigan show.


Our Laughlin pencil has nothing to do with Parker. It is another member in the Rex Manufacturing Company's family of pencils, probably made under license of Rex's 1925 and 1926 patents by National Pen Products of Chicago. There were several manufacturers that had National Pen Products making pencils for them, from Sears, Roebuck & Co. (both Diamond Medal and Webster brands), Montgomery Ward (Gold Bond), as well as Corona, Johnson and several others,

Oh, and as for my homework assignment about the "stolen nibmaker" -- I asked John Holland collector Jack Leone whether he knew the story. He said he’d heard the rumor, but didn’t have anything more concrete than that to offer. But he did let me take a picture of a few of his Holland pencils:


Holland didn’t "steal" Laughlin’s pencils, but the company also had National Pen Products make some on their behalf, too!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Laughlin also had involvement with Betzler & Wilson (of Akron). My recollection is that Betzler assigned a patent to Laughlin (but it may have been the other way around). I was never able to get back to this to learn more.

Dave