Thursday, February 28, 2013

Death and Transfiguration Part I: The Death of Triad

"I don’t think that’s a Triad." Who would have thought that a simple statement like that could nearly start a rumble at a Pen Show?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

Triads – the "real ones" – are worth a small fortune. A perfect storm of beauty, rarity and the fact that they are accompanied by beautiful and rare matching pens swirls around them and drives the prices they realize up into the hundreds of dollars. The last one that came along in an online auction went for well above $800.00 – and I wasn’t the high bidder. Dammit. I still don’t own one.

Here’s a picture of Joe Nemecek’s Triad collection, as pictured on page 157 of The Catalogue:

The rear drive, heavy pencils on the left are what I’m talking about. The colors on some of these look just like the wild celluloid Mont Blanc used on its Oscar Wilde pencils recently. They have a cool triangularish top and are imprinted "Tri-Pen Co." and either "Providence R.I." or "Pawtucket, R.I."

But then there’s those other ones, like the three on the right in this picture, that just aren’t the same and truthfully just aren’t nearly as good. Sure, they’re triangular all right, and the clips look something like the "real" Triads, but they are a lot lighter, made with cheaper, blander plastics and have a simple, cheap nose drive mechanism stuck in the end of them. What’s more, most of them are advertisers.

A few, like the one in my collection pictured on page 158 of The Catalogue, have "Triad" crudely stamped on the clip:

Most, however, are entirely unmarked, other than an advertisement. Since the quality of these is so poor, the ones I’ve acquired have generally turned up in junk boxes for just a couple dollars. Here’s a few I’ve found recently:

Note that none of these have the triangular top seen on Tri-Pen Triads. The bottom one has a clip similar to some fully triangular examples, but only the lower half of the barrel is triangular – and the barrel has an advertisement for The Osborne Company!

Fueled largely by skyrocketing prices of the Tri-Pen marked Triads, more than a few dealers pull cheaper models like these out of dollar junk boxes, dust them off, hail them as Triads or "unmarked Triads" and attempt to sell them for far more than they would be worth if they didn’t have the Triad name associated with them.

Which brings us to today’s story. At the Philadelphia Pen Show, I had an uncharacteristically heated conversation with a friend about a red, white and blue unmarked example of these triangular pencils – just like the one in Joe’s picture but a little bit smaller – with an advertisement on the barrel for V-mail.

First, a quick history lesson: V-mail, short for "Victory Mail," was a system devised during World War II for loved ones to send messages to the troops in Europe and Asia. The idea was that it would be more efficient, rather than hauling all those bulky letters overseas, to write letters to the troops with special V-mail lead on specially formulated V-mail paper, which could then be photographed on microfilm along with thousands of other letters. The letters would be destroyed, and only the microfilms were flown or shipped abroad, where the letters would be reproduced and delivered over on the front lines. Here’s a shot of some containers of Eversharp V-mail leads I picked up a while back:

I’m a little skeptical about how special V-mail lead and V-mail paper really were, since ordinary lead and ordinary paper will photograph just as easily. I suspect the premium prices for these items was just a way for the military to subsidize the extra cost of photographing and reproducing letters . . . but that’s another story for another day.

Getting back to this story, I asked the guy how much he wanted for his V-mail pencil. He wouldn’t give me a price. Instead, he simply announced that it was a Triad, in that sort of "if you have to ask, you can’t afford it" tone of voice.

I neither oohed nor aahed. Instead, I told him that I was more interested in the V-mail history than the pencil itself. In fact, I told him, the V-mail advertising on it proved conclusively that it could not be a Triad, because the Tri-Pen Manufacturing Company was gone long before the outbreak of World War II.

Them’s were fightin’ words. The piano player in the corner immediately switched to a minor key, the showgirls scurried from the room and the patrons hid under tables. The only sound in the room was the clanking of our spurs as we squared off and prepared to "draw" . . .

pun intended. This is a pencil blog, right?

Actually, it wasn’t that dramatic. But the conversation quickly became an argument and then degenerated into nothing more than "Is not" . . . "is too" . . . "is not" . . . and one or both of us realized that it was pointless to continue down that road.

Obviously, since I wasn’t prepared to acknowledge the royal heritage of the pencil, I didn’t get to buy it. But the exchange caused me to add Triad research to my "to do" list when I got home, because I figure it’s time to settle, once and for all, whether these cheap, triangular nose drive pencils are in fact legitimate Triads.

The answer, as disappointing as it may be for those who have invested a lot of money in these, is that they are not. At least, these are no more Tri-Pen Triads than an end-of-the-line Chicago Conklin is a Nozac.

Let’s start with the patent history. The patent for the Triad pens is in George Kovalenko’s book, right after the curious Keeran-Chelton pencil patent licensed to Swanberg:

Harry Garabedian applied for a patent for a triangular pen on June 25, 1929, and his patent, assigned to "Tripen Manufacturing Co., Inc." of Providence, Rhode Island, was issued on September 23, 1930 as number 1,776,384.

There were two design patents issued for the original Triad pencils, both also assigned to Tri-Pen. The first, design patent 81,435, was filed by George Coby on October 1, 1929 and issued on June 24, 1930:

This first patent covered a triangular shaped pencil, but note that the clip isn’t a typical Triad clip and I’ve never seen that cap treatment used on a Triad, either. The second, number 81,577, was filed by Harry A. Gardner on May 4, 1930 and was issued on July 15, 1930 - lightning quick by patent standards. This patent covers the familiar top cap used on those early Triads:

I also found references to "Triad Vacuum Tubes" for use in radios, and the Triad Manufacturing Company that made them was located in Pawtucket, Rhode Island – close, but possibly a coincidence. Here’s an ad from a 1929 issue of Popular Science Monthly:

But the most helpful tidbit I found in my Triad research was that David Nishimura, prominent pen historian and frequent contributor here, just happens to hail from Providence, Rhode Island. I dropped David an email to ask him if he’d ever dug around to see what happened to the Tri-Pen Manufacturing Company, and he responded right away. Yes, he had. And he graciously shared what he knew with me.

According to David, the June, 1930 issue of the magazine "Office Appliances" printed a notice on page 88 that Tri-Pen Co. introduced Triad pens and pencils in April, 1930, named H.E. Sweet as the company’s sales manager, and had moved to a new, larger plant on the Boston-Providence highway in early May, 1930.

David had also searched local phone and business directories and he found that Tri-Pen Manufacturing Co., Inc. first appears in Rhode Island phone directories in 1931, located at 581 Pawtucket Avenue in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The directory states that Tri-Pen was incorporated in 1929 with $5000 in capital, and its officers were President George Coby, Treasurer Ely J Egnatoff and Secretary Charles O'Koomian.

Triad Manufacturing Company, the company that made the radio tubes, is also listed in the 1931 directory, under "Radio Tube Manufacturers" with an address of 84 Fountain. The president of Triad was also George Coby, and Ely Egnatoff was its treasurer, so we know that this same group of businessmen ran two companies: "Tri-Pen" was the writing instruments business and "Triad" was the radio tube operation. What makes this confusing is that they decided to adopt the name "Triad" for use on Tri-Pen’s pens and pencils!

Tri-Pen appears in directories for the last time in 1932. The following year, Tri-Pen disappears, and Tri-Pen’s former location at 581 Pawtucket was occupied by "Improved Pencil Co.," listed under pencil manufacturers.

"Improved Pencil Company" wasn't a new name for Tri-Pen.  This was a totally different outfit moving into Tri-Pen's old offices.  The Improved Pencil Co. was incorporated in 1921; the January 11, 1922 edition of the Jeweler’s Circular reports the incorporation of the company and identifies Max Gertsakov, Irving Gertsakov and Wallace L. Main as the incorporators:

In 1933, when The Improved Pencil Co. moved into Tri-Pen’s former location, these same people were still the company’s officers: Wallace was still on board as president, Irving was the secretary and Max was the treasurer.

Meanwhile, while Improved Pencil Co. was making pencils at 581 Pawtucket, Triad Manufacturing Company was still making radio tubes under the "Triad" name across town at the 84 Fountain address, where it remained until at least 1935.

Was the Improved Pencil Co. making triangular pencils at 581 Pawtucket after 1932, or was the company making something else entirely? I haven’t been able to turn up anything regarding what the company might have made during its time there. But the evidence is conclusive that Tri-Pen left 581 Pawtucket in 1932 and vanished almost without a trace.

Almost no trace, that is. ..

Tomorrow:  Part II -- the Transfiguration.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

From Whence Do You Come, O Ever Ready?

The American News Company advertisement from yesterday’s article, which rattled off a whole gaggle of trade names, answered a lot of questions about how several pen and pencil brands are related.

But it didn’t answer all of them.

For example, consider the "Ever Ready," one of the trade names American News Company was claiming as its own in 1922. Here’s an example that turned up at The Ohio Show year before last:

The Ever Ready appears on page 54 of The Catalogue, along with George Kovalenko’s comment that "Ever Ready" was a name used by the Edison Pen Company. I added my own comment that the earlier pencils appeared to be made by J.Harris Co. of New York, and the later ones appeared to be made by "Wearever." Here’s the picture of them from The Catalogue:

(Actually, as we now know, Wearever was a brand made by David Kahn, Inc. - so we should be saying they were made by David Kahn, Inc. It’s like a Honda Civic -- you wouldn’t say it’s made by "Civic," you’d say it’s made by Honda, wouldn’t you? But I digress, as usual . . . )

Getting back to the story, both George and I were absolutely right. I confirmed Edison’s use of the trade name twice since The Catalogue was printed, first from this notation in the PCA’s online library (What?? You still haven’t joined??), in the same 1922 listing of trademarks in which I found the "Perfect Point" and "Acme" trademarks:
And then I acquired a copy of Schneider and Fischler’s The Book of Fountain Pens and Pencils. On page 196, there’s pictures of four Edison Pen Company advertising blotters, three of which include metal pencils which are dead ringers for Hutcheon Finepointers (see the Hutcheon bookmark at right) and advertise the Edison Fountain Pen and . . . the Ever Ready Pencil.

What’s more, that Ever Ready logo is the same on that appears on the flattop pencil above, as well as on the clip of the top most example in this trio:

At page 54 of The Catalogue, I indicated that these appear to have been made by National. I have since learned that I was wrong, and pencils (and pens) that look like these were actually made by Mabie Todd during the early 1930s. David Moak has pictures of several pens and pencils of this type on page 176 of his book, Mabie in America: Writing Instruments from 1843 to 1941 (3rd Edition), and as Moak correctly points out, the design was the subject of design patent number 86,826, which was applied for by Herbert L. Carman, Mabie Todd’s Vice President, on February 9, 1932 and was granted on April 26, 1932.

I had though that due to the unique shape and deeply scalloped fluting on these three, there was no question that all three shared a common lineage:

But now I don’t think so. Notice how the very top of the two unmarked examples is skirted slightly, but the Ever-Ready marked example has no such waist? At the Scott Antique Market this month I found another pencil with that same center band and also lacking that skirting at the top:

And the clip leaves no doubt that at least some of these straight top examples were made by David Kahn, Inc.:

That’s the "DK" for David Kahn!

The later ones are more easily identified as David Kahn productions, as they each have twins marked "Wearever." On closer examination, all three of them have that same "Ever-Ready" logo on the clips:

But more importantly, each has "A.N.C." imprinted on it!

When I put this all together, here’s what I think happened:

1. Two companies can’t use the same trademark if it would create a "likelihood of confusion" as to which company made a particular product. If the Edison Pen Company was using the Ever Ready name on writing instruments in 1922, then American News Company, which was a general stationer and bookseller, must have been using its trademark "Ever Ready" on something other than writing instruments.

2. As was common among smaller pen companies, Edison Pen Company had other companies manufacture pencils to accompany its pens. From the early Edison advertisements, it looks like Hutcheon supplied metal pencils in the early to mid 1920s, with J.Harris & Co. possibly supplying plastic pencils beginning in the 1920s and David Kahn, Inc. beginning sometime after 1932, copying -- either with or without Mabie Todd's permission -- the basic design patented by Herbert Carman.

3. At the W-B Pens and Watches "Pencyclopedia," the writer suggests that Edison was saved from bankruptcy by Remmie Arnold around 1935, and Arnold continued to sell pens and pencils as the Southern Pen Company and Arnold Pen Company.

4. At some point in the late 1930s or 1940s, American News Company acquired the rights to use the Ever Ready name and logo on pens and pencils, either because they purchased those rights from Remmie Arnold or because the use of the name was abandoned after 1935.

All of this is new stuff, and all I can do is throw out there what I’ve learned and see what others can contribute to fill in the gaps. More information is welcome!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

So What Does "A.N.C." Mean?

During Thursday trading at the Ohio Show, I found this one – on Rich Lott’s table, I think:

It’s a nice but cheaply made "Peerless." I liked the color, and the clip was very prominent, too:

I tucked the Peerless away in my folder, but that "A.N.C." over the clip nagged at me. I’d seen it on several different pencils, but I’d never been able to draw a connection between most of them . . . although most looked as if they had been made by David Kahn, Inc. (makers of the Wearever, among other brands). One day, I resolved, I was going to figure out what that "A.N.C." stood for and write an article here about it.

I didn’t think I’d circle back around to this one so quickly!

Over my break, one of the things I wanted to try to do was download all of the copies of The American Stationer that I could find online. Google’s book scanning project has resulted in most of these weekly magazines being scanned in their entirety and posted on the internet for free, from the 1870s through the 1920s, and the wealth of information contained in them about the American writing instruments industry is just staggering.

Unfortunately, while Google searches online will pick up content within The American Stationer, the downloadable versions are not in text-readable format, which means each page is like a picture rather than a searchable document. With thousands of pages available, a specific answer to any given question is still a needle that may or may not exist in an enormous haystack – the only practical way to glean information from The American Stationer is still thumbing through the pages for a good old fashioned readin.’

But at least the haystack is in my house now, so after I’d downloaded as many as I could find for my research, I spent an evening just browsing around beginning with the most recent issues I could find, which dated from 1922.

And there, in the August 5, 1922 edition, was an advertisement that didn’t just answer my question about what "A.N.C." means – it is the Rosetta Stone that carves out, ties together and explains an entire family of writing instruments!

The American News Company was founded in 1864 and was mainly a stationer, postcard manufacturer, book dealer and magazine distributor. The company, a media giant through the 1950s, abruptly collapsed in 1957 among allegations (and a flurry of litigation) that it had been intentionally sabotaged by insiders who thought they could make more of a profit by selling off parts of the company.

Since the American News Company was involved in so many different business operations, I’m not sure how many of the trade names listed in this advertisement pertain to pens and pencils. But looking down through this list, there’s quite a few familiar names:

Another one that jumped out at me was "Cosmos," since I’ve got one of those with an "A.N.C." clip that’s a dead ringer for a Wearever:

The Cosmos appears on page 35 of The Catalogue, next to a couple of earlier flattop examples that also look enough like David Kahn products that I concluded all three were examples of a Wearever subbrand:

And those earlier Cosmos closely resemble an example of a "Dandy" set I photographed at the Ohio Show. The dealer asked that I not use his name:

The clips on these are a little more elaborate, and none are marked with "A.N.C.":

But inside the boxlid is the same logo of a boy holding newspapers and the initials "A.N.C." in the lower right-hand corner:

The "Hamilton" appears on page 84 of The Catalogue, although none of them has "A.N.C." printed anywhere on them:

The "Standard," which appears without comment on page 151 of The Catalogue, also appears without "A.N.C." on the clips. Note how much the example on the left resembles an early Wearever:

So in one moment, an awful lot of these made perfect sense. If all of these look like Wearevers, it’s not because they were David Kahn subbrands, but because David Kahn manufactured them and supplied them to the American News Company under A.N.C.’s trade names. The hunt is now on to find A.N.C. clips with all these other names on them!

But a couple of these names are problematic. "American" couldn’t be an A.N.C. trade name for pens and pencils, since both the American Pencil Company and the American Lead Pencil Company, had already laid claims to that name (even scuffling between themselves over who had dibs on it).

And the "Ever Ready" . . . well, on that one I was already prepared to write something entirely different about that one . . .

Monday, February 25, 2013

Document, Document, Document

It isn’t always the superstar pencils that everyone knows about that get my attention. Sure, I get a kick out of writing about a Waterman Patrician, because they are beautiful and there are some interesting variations.

But there’s also a lot of stuff out there that, to my knowledge, no one has really thought about yet, mostly because no one has yet thought it was worth thinking about. So when I find something that has a little bit of extra information with it that you might not ordinarily find, I don’t care that I may be the only person that cares. It might turn out to be the last piece that solves a puzzle I’m working on, whether it be now or ten years from now, or maybe some researcher will make sense of it long after I’m gone.

So I have a philosophy about such things – document, document, document, whether it looks like a gold mine or a dead end.
Today’s story is about one of those finds. It turned up at the Scott Antique Market in November for just a couple bucks:

The pencil is marked simply "Messenger" on the clip. It’s just a plain white plastic pencil with a brown cap, marked "Swift Funeral Home" in gold lettering on the side and packaged in a plain white box. I’ve seen others with this name on the clip; all look like they might have a St. Louis connection, possibly through Ritepoint.

However, what attracted me to this one was the wadded-up tissue paper into which this pencil had been pressed:

I was thinking to myself that if this is how the instructions for these pencils looked, there probably were hardly any of them left – if any. So I decided to buy it just to see if the paper contained any useful information.

At the time, I couldn’t unravel enough of it to make anything out, but on the kitchen table, an investment of way too much time carefully straightening it out and mounting it in a rigid plastic holder revealed that it was in fact the original paperwork that accompanied this pencil:

And at the end of the instructions, the one piece of information that made the history of this one spring to life, so to speak:

I combined the generic word "Messenger" with "Auburn, Indiana," which wouldn’t have been possible without this wadded up piece of paper, and I learned immediately that Messinger is still very much alive and well, no pun intended. According to the company’s website, Messenger was founded in 1913 by a fellow named Frank Messenger in Chicago as a "sacred art" calendar manufacturer. Sometime in the 1930s Messenger purchased the Auburn Greeting Card Company and relocated to Auburn, Indiana.

Gradually, the company’s product lines evolved and the company reports that it is the leading supplier of funeral stationery products.  So that explains the "Swift Funeral Home" imprint on the side of my Messenger pencil, and now I know a lot more about my Messenger pencil than I ever expected to learn.

Does it also explain this one?

By coincidence, this one also came from the Scott Antique Market, that same month, but from a different dealer entirely. It also appear to have a St. Louis connection, and it also is funeral-related, but is it tied to the Messenger Company of Auburn?

"‘Yours Hell’ - The Worst Funeral Home Gave Me This"?

Doesn’t exactly fit in with Messenger’s "sacred art" theme, does it?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Talk About Red

It was my first ever Philadelphia Pen Show last month. And it was the first ever pen auction for the Philadelphia Pen Show. As I looked at the items to be auctioned off at the auction preview, there was only one thing that interested me. I was going to be at the auction anyway, because I’d been asked to help out behind the table – but this one item was the only reason I got a bidder’s number.

This story is not about that item. Well, mostly not, anyway. The item I had my eye on was a red hard rubber Parker Vest Pocket pencil, which I wanted to complete the Parker Bridge Set I bought from Joe Nemecek last summer. So I didn’t want to go too crazy early on in the auction.

But then something else that was red came up for auction, that I hadn’t paid much attention to during the preshow:

This is a Conklin Endura pencil in red hard rubber, and it’s the oversized pencil - measuring a beefy 5 3/8 inches in length and fully 3/8 of an inch in diameter. The reason I didn’t pay any attention to it was that if someone had the matching pen - which in good condition will fetch much more than $500.00, I wouldn’t be willing to spend what it would take to bring it home.

I was talking with Michael McNeil about this a few weeks ago - he believes that a pencil that has a matching pen "should" bring roughly 1/3 the price of the pen. In The Catalogue, I call it "matching pen syndrome" in the section of the book that deals with how to determine the value of a partiular pencil.

But when the pencil was offered, I was amazed to hear crickets chirping in the audience. Apparently no one on hand had the matching pen for this one, and as cheap as the bids were I just had to bid $25 because I couldn’t bear to see it go for so little and not bring it home. And $25 (plus a 10 percent buyers’ premium) was all it took that day.

Which of course, brings "McNeil’s Corrolary" into sharp focus when it comes to the value of such things: someone out there has to have the matching pen first.

There may have been one other reason that this didn’t bring the $150 or so that I was expecting: the top is much brighter than the barrel of the pencil. But as rare as these things are, that doesn’t bother me too much - besides, I can use a cloth impregnated with buffing compound to polish it to a little darker color, if I’m ever so inclined. What struck me when I handled my pig in a poke for the first time – after I’d already bought it – was that the original gold leaf that was in the imprints when it left the factory are still present:

When the Parker Vest Pocket finally rolled around, I was the high bidder but didn’t feel like pumping in the extra cash it would have taken to meet the reserve price. So the Conklin, and another serendipitous purchase I’ll get to here at some point, were the only things I brought home from the first (annual, I hope) Philadelphia Pen Show Auction.

And, with a tip in the hat to George "Red Hard Rubber King" Kovalenko, I have to admit that I’m not the least bit disappointed that this is what ended up coming home with me:

I’m beginning to "see red," and just like Kovalenko, in a good way!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What I Did Over Thanksgiving Break

During my eight-week hiatus from blogging, I made a point not to write. There were plenty of times when I found things I wanted to write about, but I forced myself to stay away from my computer so that I could get caught up on other things and fully recharge my batteries.

And, with only one exception, that’s exactly what I did.

The only piece during that time that caused me to break radio silence came to me in an online auction along with a bunch of other things. Here’s the whole lot:

I was hoping that this would be a sleeper, but even though the auction listing wasn’t well photographed, described or written, the one piece that made this lot special still managed to attract a lot of attention, and by the time it was over I was several hundred dollars poorer after fending off all of the last-minute snipes.

And it was sooooooo worth it!

The star of this group is the large red pencil, which is a top-of-the-line Wahl Eversharp "Deco Band" pencil from around 1928 or 1929. What makes it really special is the color, which is known as "flamingo" (whether that’s a collector nickname or an official Wahl name for the color I don’t know).

Any model Wahl pen or pencil in this color is a real rarity. A Deco Band pen and pencil set is pictured on page 144 of Schneider and Fischler’s 1992 book, The Book of Fountain Pens and Pencils. The authors date the set to 1930, with the comments that they are "possibly unique" and "the existence of this unusually colored pen was unknown until 1990."

Since then, time and focused attention to the flamingo color have brought a few other examples to light – but still, only a handful of them. Cliff Harrington offered me one of these at the Ohio Show a couple years ago for $600.00. I was tempted but I passed, because it had an overly deeply engraved name on the barrel. I’m not as averse to engraved names as Joe Nemecek is, but if I’m going to pay that kind of money for one of these I don’t want something that’s almost exactly what I want – it’s going to be exactly what I want!

Of course, the condition of this one as it came to me wasn’t exactly what I wanted. In fact, I was concerned from the pictures of the auction that it might actually be missing an upper band:

But the barrel was unmarred by any engraving, and there wasn’t anything I could see about this one that couldn’t be fixed. Even at the hefty price I ended up paying, I knew there would still be plenty of room to have some pros refine things a bit more if needed. Fortunately, that upper band was just brassed and darkened, not missing, so all I’ve had to do is give her a good buffing, being sure to stay clear of the typically faint imprint at the top of the pencil. With that little bit of attention, she’s looking a lot better:

In the classic car world, we refer to cars that look perfect until you get up close as "20-footers," meaning that they look great from 20 feet away. To use the analogy, I’d say this one’s a solid 10-incher now:

Here she is now, posed alongside the other flamingo pencil I’ve found (it’s pictured on page 60, frame 7a of The Catalogue) as well as a flamingo "purse pen" from 1931 that turned up at the Ohio Show:

I know, I know . . . I don’t collect pens . . . but a flamingo? I had to make an exception when the opportunity presented itself!

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Bizarre Rendering of a Familiar Design

Dale Beebe was set up right across the aisle from me at the Ohio Show this year. He had this one sitting on his table and I looked at it all weekend. It’s not exactly something that fits in with my collection, I told myself. It’s too expensive, I told myself.

But then myself kept arguing back. It’s just way too cool, myself pleaded. You didn’t come to the Ohio Show to NOT spend money, myself begged. Besides, you know what a cool story this one will make at the blog, myself said, and who knows if you’ll ever see another one? Now there was a little bit of a whine in my voice.

Dale wouldn’t budge on the price. In the last couple hours of the show, I caved and paid it. Here it is:

This is a massive writing instrument, measuring almost eight inches long:

At the top end there’s a few little ports and a screw on the top:

And there’s ports on the tip end, too:

When the barrel is unscrewed in the middle, the insides reveal a coil of wire that loops around a central core and, at the end, emerges through the tip:

Although there’s rust on most of the wire, at the end there’s no corrosion, revealing that the wire is made of copper:

So what on earth is this thing? The primary factor that tipped me in favor of splurging on this one was the paperwork that accompanied Dale’s contraption, which answered that very question:

The Lodi Electric Marking Pencil worked by connecting a live wire to the screw at the top and "writing" on a metal surface with the copper wire. Although my example says only that it was made in Lodi, California, I found another that had a complete address on the end of the box:

615 West Church Street, Lodi, California. The example I got from Dale also included what appears to be the original sales slip; although I’m not able to make out exactly what most of this says, the clear date – June 2, 1954 – seems about right:

Dale also included a copy of an advertisement that he’d found for the Lodi Marking Pencil:

Note that on the example pictured, the connector is on the side rather than the end of the barrel.
So is this thing a pencil? Well, it contains a solid substance that is consumed as it is grated against another surface, leaving traces of it behind on that surface – just like the non-metallic composition of graphite and clay we ironically call "lead."

And mechanically, there’s something else here that has me calling this contraption a pencil. Hmmm... an upper barrel containing a fixed rod, with a fixed quantity of writing material that is exposed as the lower barrel is screwed upwards into the upper barrel. Sound familiar?

It’s an Eagle Simplex!