Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Quite a Bit North of the Mason-Dixon Line

I stumbled across this one at the Chicago Show at Bob Everett’s table.  When I picked it up, I was sure I knew what it was, but again I was reminded that I won’t learn anything new if I assume I know what something is:


That brown marbled plastic with white streaks in it is very distinctive, and that’s what had me convinced I was looking at an Eagle.  Here it is, in between an Eagle and a Belmont:


Belmont was a Rexall store brand.  Early pens and pencils marked “Signet” were supplied by DeWitt-LaFrance, but into the 1930s, Belmont-marked pens and pencils were supplied by Moore Pen Co. and the Eagle Pencil Company.   At least, I was pretty sure of that when I identified a few Belmonts as “clearly” being made by Eagle on page 25 of The Catalogue.

But that’s like looking at a child and assuming that some adult that resembles him or her “clearly” must be the mother or father.  Even though I was sure Eagle was Belmont-daddy for at least some 1930s Belmonts, I hadn’t seen any documentary evidence to support that conclusion.  That is, until Rob Bader listed this box of leads at his online store:


There’s two patents on the box.  The earlier of the two, number 1,832,654, was issued to Adolf Pischel and Paul Pischel on November 17, 1931 for a process of making plastic rods (why this is on a box of leads is beyond me; looks like a case of “patent puffery”).  Significant here is that Pischels’ patent was assigned – you guessed it – to the Eagle Pencil Company.

The other patent is even more interesting, and it actually has something to do with the contents of the box.  The silvered ends of these leads were designed to alert the pencil user when it was time to put a new piece of lead in the pencil (because, as you know, if you run out of lead unexpectedly while writing – people could die. Insert climactic soap opera music here – duh duh duuuuuuuuh).  


The patent, number 2,107,816, was issued to Isador Chesler, inventor of the Eagle Automatic, on February 8, 1938.  The patent drawings show the lead in use in one of Chesler’s Automatics:


The text of the patent reveals why Chesler thought running out of lead was such a big deal.  His Eagle Automatic was different from a lot of pencils in production during the 1930s in two related respects: first, the mechanism occupies the entire length of the barrel, so that the pencil can accommodate very long pieces of lead.  Second, the corollary to Chesler’s design was that there is nowhere onboard to store spare leads – when you’re out of lead, you’re really out.

So, like a motorcycle’s reserve gasoline tank, Chesler reasoned that if you are going to use a pencil without a spare lead, it would be nice if the pencil would give you a head’s up before it runs out of gas.  OK, I take it back.  That is a pretty good idea.  Duh duh duuuuuuuh.

But as far as today’s story is concerned, the part that’s important is that Chesler’s patent on this Belmont lead box was also assigned to the Eagle Pencil Company.  The blood tests are back, and they are conclusive.  The Eagle Pencil Company is undisputably the proud father of at least some bouncing baby Belmonts.

Now to compare our Eagle-made Belmont to the new addition, note that the clips are identical:


And the imprints are in the same location.  Here’s the one on the Belmont, located at the bottom of the upper barrel, opposite the clip:


And now that I’ve taken the loooong way around the barn, here’s the imprint on the new example:


“Dixie / Michael - George Co. / Libertyville, Ill. USA.”

The George in Michael-George was none other than George Kraker, the former Sheaffer salesman who, after being defeated in patent litigation by Walter Sheaffer, went on to found the Pencraft Company (see “The ‘Other’ Pencraft” on December 10, 2011 at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2011/12/other-pencraft.html).  Interestingly, Pencraft also produced the “Yankee” line of pens . . . “Yankee” and “Dixie” . . . think he was a Civil War buff?

Kraker dissolved Pencraft around 1921, taking up the name “Michael-George Co.” and eventually relocating to Libertyville, Illinois around 1928, according to the late Michael Fultz in a 2009 Zoss post.   Dennis Bowden, who authored Part 1 of an article on Kraker for Pennant Magazine shortly before his untimely death in 2010, posted this picture of a Michael-George pen and pencil set, identical to my bronze and cream pencil except for color, on the Zoss list back in July, 2009:


As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason to wait for a blood test to come back on this one.  Eagle made at least some of George Kraker’s Dixie pens and pencils, including these.

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