Michael McNeil emailed me awhile ago to ask me if I might be interested in a hard rubber pencil with a cap. When he sent me the pictures to clarify, there wasn’t any question that I’d be interested in it, and we entered into one our strange negotiations in which he asks what I think it’s worth, I tell him, he says that’s too much, and we finally settle on a price that’s the most he will accept and the least I’m willing to pay:
No, I won’t show you a picture of it with the cap on, because it is really, really, REALLY tight, and I was on pins and needles gently rocking it back and forth to get it off there for this picture without cracking it. The capped pencil idea is one that never really took off: the idea grew out of Cross’ bread-and-butter business of making stylographic pens, which really did need caps. It was a great way to kill two birds with one stone, providing for the more efficient use of hard rubber parts on hand as well as providing us with one of the only vintage pencils out there with a cap.
But that’s not the cool part.
As is the case with most victorian pieces made by A.T. Cross, this one has the name and patent date on the nose, in letters small enough that they aren’t visible with the naked eye (or at least my naked eyes, anyway):
"A.T. Cross Pat. Aug. 29, 82." The patent date refers to a really interesting document – in fact, probably one of the most important patents in the development of the mechanical pencil. August 29, 1882 was the date on which Alonzo T. Cross himself was awarded patent number 263,392:
Huh, you might say. That looks familiar, you might say. And you would be right on both counts:
Alonzo Cross’ mechanism had a two part lead carrier - the outer part held the lead, but when the mechanism is advanced all the way forward, the outer part stops moving forward while an inner push rod continues just a bit more, forcing any bits of remaining lead out of the collet.
I’ve been as guilty as anyone in giving Walter Sheaffer credit for inventing the propel-repel-expel mechanism. And I have been wrong. The mechanism we find on so many mechanical pencils from the golden age was actually invented by Alonzo Cross, patented thirty-five years before Walter applied for his first patent for a pencil.