Thursday, January 22, 2015

Before Sheaffer Put on the Togs

This one turned up at the Chicago Show last May:


If it doesn’t look like much, that’s because like so many other weird Sheaffer variants, it looks just enough like what you’d normally expect to see. I picked this one up because I just liked the look of it, even though I was sure I had several just like it at home. Then I put it down. Twenty minutes later, I was back. "He wants it. He wants it not. He wants it. He wants it not."

Then it clicked what wasn’t quite right about this one. Here it is, posed next to what you would normally expect to see:


"He wants it." The smaller of the two is a "normal" Sheaffer working togs pencil – almost so, anyway, since it’s kind of unusual to see the entire lower barrel ribbed like that. Other than the slightly larger stature and much larger tip, these two look very similar, but these doppelgangers share no common ancestry. The larger one is a nose-drive pencil: that’s why the tip is so much larger (it would be tough to get a grip on the small tips on rear drive working togs pencils).

Notice also that the larger one has a one-piece barrel. While the regular working togs pencils have an imprint near the middle joint, either on the top side or the bottom:


This one has a plain "Sheaffers / Made in USA" imprint near the top:


I didn’t have to wonder long about this strange bird. As it turns out, even though this is the first one of these I’ve ever seen, they were well documented in Sheaffer’s catalogs, beginning in 1936:


Although this was on the "pencils to match" page, this doesn’t match anything. Sheaffer gave it the catalog designations "LL," which probably stood for longer lead - these were designed for 4-inch leads. The 1937 catalog shows the same pencil, again only in black.

For 1938, Sheaffer decided to go in a different direction. The familiar working togs middle-joint pencils make their first appearance, designed for new "Fineline" thin leads developed by the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company for Sheaffer:


Interestingly, the pictures show the straight tips associated with normal 1.1 mm leads, not the "fineline" 0.9 mm thinner variety – either artistic license was at work, or these were introduced in a larger lead version prior to the publication of the 1938 catalog.

The larger nose-drive utility pencils make their final catalog appearance at the bottom of the following page in the 1938 catalog:


And for its swan song, the $1.00 "LL" utility pencil was accompanied by an "MM" version . . . in gray pearl.


I have got to find one of those!

1 comment:

Jon Veley said...

Says Daniel Kirchheimer:

Notes on Sheaffer's model symbols:

As a rule, Sheaffer coded pen/pencil models during the Balance era by using the model symbol for the black version of the item (if it was plastic). For example, the pen that was to be named the Craftsman around 1938 had symbol 3T; to specify a specific color, a color prefix was added, and the absence of any color prefix meant black, so the black pen was also 3T, a marbled Marine Green pen was H3T, and so on.

Same for pencils, except that an explicit color code was usually added for black -- L. The absolute entry-level pencil (the plain-jane Sheaffer Jr.), in fact, carried simply the code L for the item -- there was no component of the code that independently specified that model -- so the black pencil was just L, the marbled black-and-silver Grey Pearl pencil was just A, and the red-veined marbled Grey Pearl pencil was just M. Note that confusingly, when using descriptive names for the colors, Sheaffer used "Grey Pearl" for both the black-and-silver material (color code A) and the red-veined material (code M), though during the overlap of those two colors (roughly mid-34 through the end of '35) the red-veined pens were only available as lever-fillers and the black-and-silver pens were only offered as plunger fillers (which is why there are listings for two different pencils under the Grey Pearl color column in the '35 catalog and an explanatory note); when a lever-filler in the black-and-silver Grey Pearl was finally added, the red-veined color was dropped entirely.

Now, when Sheaffer added the utility pencil to which you refer, plain old L was already taken, so it appears that Sheaffer simply doubled up on the color code letter to form the model symbol, giving us LL. By the time a Gray Pearl color was added as an option for this pencil, which as you note seems to first appear in the 1938 catalog, the red-veined Grey Pearl (code M) was long gone, and, confusingly, Sheaffer was using "Gray Pearl" for yet another color -- the striated silver and black (color code P), and Sheaffer listed items of both colors (A and P!) on the same line in catalog listings. In any event, if the utility pencil in the new color was actually the marbled black-and-silver Grey Pearl (A), and Sheaffer was coding this model by doubling the color code, we would expect it to be coded AA; if, on the other hand, the pencil was in the new striated Gray Pearl, we would expect the symbol to be PP. But, instead, it's neither -- it's MM, and M is the color code for the long-discontinued red-veined Grey Pearl. So what's going on?

Here's my deduction: the pencil is not the striated Gray Pearl, or it would have been coded PP; also, Sheaffer tended not to use newer colors for low-end items. The red-veined Grey Pearl was long gone, so the color must have been the marbled black-and-silver Grey Pearl that was still in use for bottom-end pens and pencils. Why, then, isn't the pencil simply coded AA?

Because Sheaffer had already used the AA code for a different pencil -- the all metal (nickle-silver or whatever) slim dollar pencil seen at the extreme right on page 9 of the '35 catalog.

So, I think Sheaffer said, "F it -- just use MM, and we'll all know what it means."

--Daniel