Monday, February 16, 2015

Welcome to the Family

A new (to me) member of the W.S. Hicks / Edward Todd family of pencils recently came my way that was neither marked Hicks nor Edward Todd:


I picked this one up from Tom Heath at the Philadelphia Show last month. It’s a pretty good match for a Hicks I picked up at the Ohio Show’s Saturday night auction in November:


Both share the same dimensions, pattern and that distinctive turned-up clip:


Don’t let the color fool you – these have even more in common than you might think.


That gold fill is over sterling, a material called "vermeil." As an aside, all the sources I’ve read indicate that it’s all right to pronounce that word either as "ver-meal" or "vermay," probably depending on whether you have the urge to extend your pinky as you drink a beverage. The hallmark is at the right - W. S. Hicks.

However, the all-sterling example I picked up from Tom has a different imprint:


"B.S. & G." A little snooping around suggested that the acronym stands for Black, Starr & Gorham, which according to The Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks and Makers’ Marks (http://925-1000.com/americansilver_B4.html) was in business from 1940 to 1962. One source (http://www.steinmarks.co.uk/pages/pv.asp?p=stein462) indicates that in 1929, The Gorham Manufacturing Company merged with Black, Starr & Frost to become Black, Starr & Frost-Gorham, Inc., which was shortened to Black, Starr & Gorham in 1940. According to Black, Starr & Frost’s website (http://www.blackstarandfrost.com/bsf-legacy/timeline/), Gorham parted ways with their firm in early 1962.

I was glad to see that Black, Starr & Frost has added a page with some information about the company’s history, and I like to think I might have had something to do with it. A couple years ago, I called the company to ask them what they knew about this pencil, and I was told that the new owners of the company had no company archives to consult:


This is a large, heavy pencil with great detailing at either end:


"Black, Starr & Frost" is stamped on the barrel just above the nose:


On the nose, there’s a hand-engraved serial number and a little acorn after the word "sterling" . . .


. . . just like the serial number engraved on the 14-karat Hicks I posted a couple days ago:


And the acorn hallmark was a W.S. Hicks hallmark.

Black, Starr & Frost’s website dates the Gorham merger to 1920, nine years earlier than the other sources out there; unfortunately, while I applaud BS&F’s efforts to learn about its own past, I believe the other sources I’ve read as opposed to the company’s (reconstructed) account of its history. In support of a late-1920s merger, here’s a 1925 advertisement from Country Life, which doesn’t mention Gorham:


I think my Black, Starr & Frost pencil was made prior to 1929, and my "BS&G" pencil was made right around 1940 . . . and I think all the pencils associated with Black, Starr and Frost – with or without Gorham along as a partner – were made by W.S. Hicks.

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