Monday, September 16, 2013

Knives, Fireworks . . . Or Something That Eclipses Them Both?

This one came from the DC show in early August.  From what I recall, it was among the ones Sue Hershey brought for me to look at:


The pencil barrel is made of red hard rubber, and there’s a curious name on the clip:


“UNXLD,” with the “X” a little bigger than what comes before or after it.  Note that while the cap has a dimple to suggest that it has a keyed top (many pencils have a slot in the top that such a dimple fits within, so that the pencil top can turn the mechanism without relying solely on friction to grip the mechanism), there’s no slot in which the top can engage:


I was drawing a blank on this one, so I decided to compare it to others I had to see if there was a something else similar out there.  I found something very, very close:


That’s the UNXLD at bottom, compared with an early red hard rubber Eclipse.  Note that the tips are the same, and both share a barrel that is slightly bigger than the hardware:


At the other end, the Eclipse shares the same dimple for a keyed top, and just like the UNXLD the Eclipse mechanism has no slot to engage that dimple.


However, note that the two bells do not share the same decorative appearance.  There’s another difference, too: the clips are nothing alike:


If this Eclipse were the only thing I would have to compare the UNXLD to, I would say it was close and grade it a solid maybe on a scale of no freakin’ way to absolutely.  But it isn’t.  Here’s a “Fin-Sharp” thrown into the mix:


Yeah, I know, too bad it’s not in red hard rubber.  But note how much closer this one is: both have the slightly oversized barrel, the caps bear a much closer resemblance (complete with keyed tops with nothing to key into), and the clips are nearly identical:


Best of all, as I stated on page 50 of The Catalogue, the Fin-Sharp was an early version of the Eclipse pencil.   Unfortunately, due to the space constraints in The Catalogue, I didn’t get the chance to explain how I knew that.

So here it is.  These are the two pencils that established the connection for me:


The small side-clip pencils with a ringtop cap is marked Eclipse, and has the same clip as the red hard rubber example shown above.  The standard size pencil is marked Fin-Sharp.  What is really interesting is when the metal work is examined closely:


It’s the same.  Exactly.  In fact, the ringtop overlay was fabricated by simply whacking a full sized metal overlay short, right in the middle of the cartouche for engraving!  When I first noticed this a few years ago, things really clicked into place when I remembered that the founder and owner of Eclipse was Marx Finstone, a guy with a gift for turning a cute phrase (another Eclipse brand was the “Marxton”).   Of course Finstone called these early pencils the “Fin-sharp.”   He was following the same tradition among penmakers in the early 1920s: the companion pencil to the Wahl Pen was the Eversharp; Sheaffer Pens were accompanied by the “Sharp-Point;” Your Lucky Curve pens had Lucky Lock pencils to match, and an Eclipse pen went hand in hand with the Fin-Sharp.

There’s no question in my mind that this UNXLD was made by Eclipse.  As I searched around for clues as to what these seemingly random letters meant, I found a reference to UNXLD fireworks, and the lead had me thinking perhaps I’d found an advertising piece for a fireworks manufacturer – heck, their advertising even had UNXLD with a bigger “X” in the middle, just like my pencil.


But it isn’t that simple.  What initially looks like five random letters makes more sense if you sound it out – “Unexcelled.”   The name first appeared on knives made by Northfield Knives in the early 1900s, but when Northfield trademarked their version of the logo, they included hyphens to make it UN-X-LD.

That apparently made it open season for manufacturers of other products to start turning out a wide variety of products bearing the initials UNXLD without hyphens – even making the middle X a bit bigger as it is on my pencil.  At www.vintagebaseballglove.com, one collector posted pictures of his UNXLD glove, alongside advertisements for UNXLD flour, fireworks, a cap gun, and a fishing reel.

I think my pencil is simply an Eclipse – bearing a name Marx Finstone the huckster lifted from others the same way he lifted the name “Fin-Sharp” from Eversharp and Sharp Point.  The early clip matching the Fin-Sharp suggests that this one too was in the days before Eclipse had grown comfortable calling the pencils by the same name as their pens.

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