Monday, October 20, 2014

Son of Bug

A little more than a year ago, I posted an article here called "The Bug" ( http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-bug.html ) about a variant of Brown and Bigelow’s metal Redipoint pencils sporting the most unusual way to store lead that I’d ever seen:


Ever since I wrote that article, whenever I encounter one of these metal Redipoint pencils, I can’t help myself. I’ve got to unscrew the top and pull out the mechanism to see if it has the bug’s antennae inside. A few months ago, as I was going through a drawer full of pencils I forgot I had, I found a couple more of them, and so of course I was compelled to see if they were "buggy." That’s when I started poking and prodding at this one:


The reflex to check for bugs has by now become so instinctive that when I started pulling this one apart I didn’t really notice that the top was just a little different:


But I definitely noticed as I was unscrewing when the top simply fell off!


When I drew out what was inside, as Gomer Pyle might say, "surprise, surprise, surprise . . ."


Well I’ll be . . . the knurled top on this one was just the retainer for a repeater mechanism! Each push of the button scoots forward a Dr. Seuss-like lead retainer:


The imprint on this one wasn’t as helpful as I had hoped:


"Redipoint / Pat. Pdg. B&B St. Paul."

I had heard there’s a pretty good book out there on the subject of patents . . . no, let me start that sentence over because I’d slap me if I heard me talk that way.

I was researching American Writing Instrument Patents Volume 2: 1911-1945 at the time, so this seemed like a good opportunity to check patents assigned to Brown and Bigelow to see whether any from the 1920s were for repeating pencils. There’s this one, applied for by Andrew Kvorning and Frank J. Vierling on April 25, 1918 and issued March 29, 1921 as number 1,373,278:


Remember Vierling? He was the scorned husband from "Real Housewives of Minneapolis" ( http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2012/07/real-housewives-of-minneapolis.html ).

And then there’s this one, applied for on September 17, 1918 by the brains behind most of Brown and Bigelow’s pencil designs, Frank J. Kristofek and Howard L. Fischer, who received patent number 1,375,579 on April 19, 1921:


We're getting warmer: this has a cartridge-style mechanism rather than the integrated one found on the Kvorning/Vierling patent. However, that goofy protrusion mounted on the end of the cartridge isn’t present on my pencil.

Since none of the patents assigned to Brown and Bigelow were satisfying, I decided to check the names of the guys who made a habit of assigning patents to the company.  I found patent number 1,381,981, applied for by Howard L. Fischer on December 17, 1918 and issued on June 21, 1921:


This one is much closer – there’s our repeating mechanism cartridge held in the pencil by that same knurled screw-on retaining ring – the only difference is the cone-shaped end of the cartridge.

And then I found one other patent, which Fischer applied for on the same day, for another variation on this design:


THAT’S it. Fischer’s patent number 1,389,426 issued on August 30, 1921 was the "Pat. Pdg." referred to on my pencil.

The flurry of repeater-pencil patents applied for by Brown and Bigelow’s R&D people is fascinating, since until I noticed this one I’d never seen so much as one of these before. My example is working, although the action is feeble at best – perhaps an indication that Brown and Bigelow really wanted to put a repeater on the market but could never quite get a design together that worked as well as they hoped.

In the end, it looks like the company gave up on the idea altogether in favor of their more robust and trouble-free screw drive pencils. . . and leaving enthusiasts like me nearly a century later tearing apart everything bearing the company’s name to see what on earth might be inside!

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