John Mabie’s patent of October 3, 1854 was stamped prominently on many of Mabie’s early writing instruments – even ones to which Mabie’s patent didn’t apply, like this one:
This one, along with another pencil, came from an unwise gamble in an online auction. From the terrible pictures the seller had posted, all I could tell was that the barrels were black and that there appeared to be a little bit of writing on them. I was pleasantly surprised when they arrived to find that there were no cracks in either of them, both were in perfect working order, and the imprints were clear enough to respond favorably to highlighting:
But there’s something very curious about this Mabie Todd:
“Pat. Dec. 24 1867 Mabie, Todd & Co.” I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see Mabie’s 1854 patent date on the barrel of this pencil – even though it doesn’t have either the middle joint pencil advance or the dip pen slider shown in Mabie’s drawings. But as David Moak noted in Mabie in America, John Mabie’s one and only patent was the one he received on October 3, 1854 – is it possible that this was a second one?
Nope. The only writing instrument-related patent issued on December 24, 1867 was this one:
Richard H. Ryne of New York received patent number 72,684 on that date. The second most interesting thing about this patent is that like Mabie’s 1854 patent, it has absolutely nothing to do with the pencil on which it is stamped. Ryne’s drawings show a reversible dip pen/retractable pencil unit which is simply friction fit into a tube. I tugged as hard as my conscience would permit on the fragile end of this pencil, and I am convinced that it is not meant to be removed.
But to me, that’s only the second most interesting thing about this patent. The most interesting thing is to whom Ryne’s patent was assigned:
William S. Hicks. Hicks was another high-quality New York manufacturer who made writing instruments for Tiffany as well as Edward Todd, in addition to those made on his firm’s own account. According to Moak’s book, Edward Todd left Mabie Todd & Co. in 1868 (although another member of the Todd family, Edward’s older brother Henry, remained with the firm – allowing Mabie Todd & Co. to continue to operate under the same name). Moak stops short of saying that Hicks made writing instruments for Edward Todd – but this pencil proves conclusively that there was some business relationship between Hicks and at least one member of the Todd clan.
The December 24, 1867 patent date did ring a distant bell when I first saw it, and after I looked up the patent and recalled that Hicks was the assignee, I remembered why it looked familiar. This one came from another online auction some time ago:
The tip on this one slides easily out of the barrel:
Believe it or not, that freakishly long tip actually does retract all the way inside. I didn’t know until after I looked up the patent that the end accommodates a dip pen nib. Anyone have a Hicks nib to spare?
And there on the side of the barrel is the imprint you’d expect to see:
So to circle back around to the pencil that started this article, why would Hicks’ 1867 patent appear on a completely unrelated Mabie Todd pencil? I think for the same reason Mabie put his equally unrelated 1854 patent on them: as a deterrent to copycats. Patents at the time were good for 17 years, so by the time Hicks’ patent was issued, Mabie’s patent – for whatever little good it did – was imminently due to become completely useless on October 3, 1871. Mabie must have made some arrangement with Hicks to stamp a newer date on his pencils as his patent was due to expire.