Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Red Herring

Note: this story grew out of research for yesterday’s article on the "Ever-Rite."

Out of these four "Ever-Rite" pencils, one is marked "patent pending," the other three are marked "Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.," and all four are made using DeWitt-LaFrance patterns and Walter Sheaffer’s mechanism, which was patented in November, 1918:


The "Reg. U.S. Pat. Off." legend indicated that a trademark had been filed for the brand, which led me to this registration:


Following up on the M.S. Rodenberg Company took me in a surprising and entirely different direction. Milton S. Rodenberg was a jeweler by trade. Prior to the formation of the M.S. Rodenberg Company, he was engaged in business in a partnership named Dunn & Rodenberg. The earliest reference I found to Dunn & Rodenberg was a listing in the 1907 Rhode Island Report of the Commissioner of Labor, showing that the firm was located at 14 Blount Street in Providence.

But Dunn didn’t always have top billing: references I found prior to 1907 indicate that the firm was known as "Rodenberg & Dunn."


According to a source coming up here in a minute, the partnership was established in November, 1899. The firm’s manufacturing facility was located at Eddy and Baker Streets in Providence.


Did the firm show any interest in writing instruments before Sheaffer’s patent was issued in November, 1918? Yes. According to The American Stationer, was producing pencils made from spent military cartridges in 1916:


Note the careful language in the announcement that the pencils were "offered to the trade" by Dunn & Rodenberg. That’s not a claim to be a manufacturer. In fact, the reports of industrial inspections made indicate that the firm was primarily engaged in the business of making chains.

By the way, according to the 1919 Providence (Rhode Island) Directory, the "Dunn" in Dunn & Rodenberg was Matthew J. Dunn. and I don’t find any connection with the Dunn Pen Company (Charles Dunn, inventor of the Dunn, was from Brooklyn, New York).

In 1917, the "Society for the Prevention of Vice" took issue with some of Dunn & Rodenberg’s knives, which had depictions of nude women on them:


No, I don’t have a picture of the knives in question, but from reading the magistrate’s comments in this article, there wasn’t much substance to the lawsuit – he seemed to think the case was about a bunch of do-gooders who considered any depiction of the nude form to be pornographic.

In addition to risque cutlery, the partnership was producing pencils, as this April, 1919 advertisement in Pacific Ports shows:


Even though this advertisement claims that the partnership was a "manufacturer" of pencils, I have my doubts. Note that this pencil doesn’t look anything like the Ever-Rite: the squared off shoulder at the nose, combined with the joint suggesting a nose-drive mechanism and the vertical lines on the crown suggest that the pencils Dunn & Rodenberg were selling were made by someone else:


Such as the American Lead Pencil Company, which made these very similar-looking pencils. . . we’ll come back to these.

Later in 1919, Dunn and Rodenberg parted ways. On July 30, 1919, The Jewelers’ Circular reported that Matthew Dunn’s sons set up a new firm named "Dunn Bros." at the firm’s original location over at 14 Blount Street in Providence:


Meanwhile, M.S. Rodenberg Co. was incorporated on June 16, 1919, by Ralph M. Greenlaw, Clara E. Waterman and Grace A. Gardiner for the purpose of making "jewelry and novelties":


Pacific Ports reported that Milton was the president of the new firm, and that he had bought out his former partner:


In October, 1921, the new company placed advertisements in Commercial America for several of its products, including pencils:


Unfortunately, there’s not much detail to see in this advertisement, so it’s hard to see whether the pencils shown here match the profile of the earlier pencils offered by Dunn & Rodenberg.

Legal troubles continued to follow Milton after the formation of M.S. Rodenberg Co. By 1921, the vice scuffle must have been over, but Rodenberg’s "bathing girl" knives attracted the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which issued an order in March, 1922 restraining M.S. Rodenberg Co. from artificially inflating the price of its goods:



The notation that Rodenberg’s deceptive practices were discontinued as of 1920 suggests that there was a lot going on for Milton that year – and a couple clues revealed in the story so far suggest something even bigger.

Did you notice the name "Waterman" among the incorporators of M.S. Rodenberg Co.? Clara E. Waterman was an incorporator of not just one, but of three jewelry firms. Here’s the announcement for the "Talbot Manufacturing Co." formed in 1917:


and here’s the Royal Jewelry Company, which appears to have been a wholesale firm, formed in April, 1919, just a couple months before M.S. Rodenberg Co. was organized.


Hmmm. Rodenberg’s New York office both before and shortly after the incorporation of M.S. Rodenberg Co. was located at 15 Maiden Lane, New York.

Hmmm... a Clara D. Waterman (not Clara E.) had a brother by the name of Frank D. Waterman, who happened to be the president of the L.E. Waterman Company; her other brother, Fred S. Waterman, was a director of L.E. Waterman as well as both treasurer and director of Aiken-Lambert. And guess where Fred’s office was:


In the building right next door to the building where Milton S. Rodenberg’s offices were located. Sure, 15 Maiden Lane, or the "Silversmith’s Building" as it was sometimes called, was a big building:


There were a lot of players with offices in this building in 1915, including Mabie Todd as well as J.R. Wood & Co. (the producers of the "sigma" or "lazy W" pencils I wrote about here on September 10). But still, if it’s a coincidence, it’s one heluva coincidence. Although the middle initial for Clara the incorporator is consistently reported as being E., I think that Clara is one and the same as Clara, the niece of Lewis Edson Waterman – and the variance in the middle initial might have been a deliberate obfuscation to partly conceal her involvement in a jeweler’s concern. Why? I have a theory . . .

The Waterman "tree trunk" pens are one of the most famous in the hobby. Only a dozen or so are known, and the consensus among experts are that they were custom overlays made by some unknown jeweler around 1915. The fact that there’s a dozen or so of these suggests that this was a small custom run rather than a random jeweler with a thing for Waterman pens.

I’ve written about an Eversharp pencil which appears to be based on the Waterman tree trunk pen here at the blog before (see http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2013/01/it-pays-to-chat.html):


But the Wahl imprint on the pencil barrel indicates that my pencil dates from late 1917 or later.  Clearly the same jeweler made both the Waterman tree trunk overlay and my Eversharp tree trunk overlay. The same hands also fashioned this wood pencil holder Joe Nemecek picked up in Philadelphia last January:


Step back and look at where all of these clues are pointing. We are looking for a jeweler close enough to Waterman to make a limited run of tree trunk pens without getting sued, yet distant enough to also play around with the occasional Eversharp and even make some interesting wood pencil holders. Someone with whom Waterman might not want to be openly associated, perhaps someone with a bit of a checkered past – say, someone targeted for making obscene products in the past, or whose possible shady dealings were attracting the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. Someone who, notwithstanding these difficulties, had the talent and an established jewelry business valuable enough that Waterman – through a non-officer relative to the Waterman family – might have had some interest in financially backing him in buying out his partners, even though she already had both a jewelry manufacturing company and a jewelry wholesaling company.

There were a huge number of jewelers in New York who could have made Waterman’s tree trunk overlays. When you pare that number down to the ones who were right next door, with a Waterman family connection, the list of suspects got much shorter. I believe Dunn & Rodenberg was the jewelry firm which fashioned the Waterman tree trunk overlays, my Eversharp tree trunk overlay and Joe’s wood pencil holder.

3 comments:

Martha said...

Amazing, convoluted journey to get there, and then a Waterman mystery solved--terrific!

jonro said...

Great analysis and a compelling read.

Compactstory said...

Great research and a good read