Monday, March 23, 2015

The Nicholson Mystery Solved

I don’t remember which mess o’ pencils these three came in with, but I do remember pulling them aside and thinking to myself, “one of these days I’m going to figure out what these are all about.”


Ordinarily I don’t care much for those plastic-tipped nose drive mechanisms.  On these, however, they just work.  The clips closely resemble those found on later pencils made by Artcraft, a company out of Birmingham, Alabama – however, I can’t rule out that the clip was jobbed out to any number of firms.  The part that I wanted to figure out, though, was just below the clip:


The words “Nicholson USA” flanking a crossed pair of what look like cannon.  On more than one occasion, I’ve seen these sold as military items; at one point I thought someone said it was a military school, and at some other point, a firearms manufacturer or distributor – and of course, let’s not overlook the possibility that there’s a “Nicholson Pencil Company.”  Every lead I chased down proved to be a dead end, and these slipped into the dead letter office for a while.

The plot thickened a couple of months ago, when Mike Little asked if I had any interest in this one:


Obviously I did.  This one is marked “Welsh” on the clip, but with that same logo enameled under the clip:


The Welsh name, I assumed, signified the Welsh Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island – that probably rules out the existence of some “Nicholson Pencil Company.”  My interest in this pencil was twofold: first, it added a bit more to the Nicholson story, but also, I knew what I would find imprinted on the barrel:


Patent number 2,358,091: Charles Lovejoy’s 1944 patent for a repeater pencil, original assigned to Moore, and licensed out to Eversharp and Dur-O-Lite:


And also, apparently, to the Welsh Manufacturing Company:


It was nice to fill in a bit more of the Lovejoy Patent saga, but Mike’s pencil left me no closer to unraveling the Nicholson mystery.  My big break, and the one that solved this one once and for all, showed up in a recent online auction and arrived in the mail last week:


Yeah, I know.  The clip is broken.  But I’d never seen this variation of a Nicholson-marked pencil, and sometimes you’ve just got to bid on something so you can get it in your hands for a closer look.  Besides, the online seller showed pictures of this one with the top pulled off to reveal a nail file, and I’m a sucker for a pencil with any on-board gizmo:


Also, the seller indicated that there was a patent number on the barrel, and I’m a sucker for a good patent number:


In this case, the patent number proved that Mike Little’s Welsh pencil was no fluke.  Patent number 2,110,999 for a “pocket implement” was applied for on April 14, 1936 by Raymond B. Miga, and issued on March 15, 1938.  Miga’s patent was assigned . . . dum da da dummmmmm . . . to the Welsh Manufacturing Company:


However, there was one detail the seller left out, and it was the one detail that solved the Nicholson riddle once and for all.  In this case, the Nicholson logo didn’t appear just on the barrel:


It’s also on the tang of the file.  While an imprint on the barrel could mean anything, a logo in that location on the attachment is almost certainly a manufacturer’s mark, and when I shifted my search to “Nicholson File,” all was revealed just as fast as Google could deliver me a list of search results:


According to the Nicholson File Company’s website, the company was founded in Providence, Rhode Island in 1864.  The trademark for the logo found on all of the pencils in this article, “in which there is a representation of two crossed files,” was filed on June 12, 1905 and was registered as number 50,882 on April 3, 1906:


According to the registration, the company first used this mark in 1899.  A revised version of the trademark, filed in 1959, dropped the “USA,” apparently a harbinger of things to come.  While the company remains in existence today as part of the “Apex Brands,” I noted online grumbling about the inferior quality of the foreign-made files now being sold under the name.  Unfortunately, it appears we can chalk Nicholson up as yet another American manufacturer that no long manufactures and whose products are not American.

1 comment:

AAAndrew said...

My other obsession is woodworking using hand tools (primarily old ones). I recognized the logo immediate and read with great anticipation your finally realizing the true source.

I find it interesting that Nicholson ever marketed a pencil. They were pretty much fully dedicated to the manufacturing trades, wood and metal work.

Their files were some of the very best in their day, but as with most American-made woodworking tools, quality quickly declined after WWII with the advent of power tools.

Fortunately there are a surprising number of small manufactures of quality hand tools springing up and you can now once again buy a top-quality modern dovetail saw or hand plane.

Congrats on the pencils. Definitely a cross-over collectable with the Old Tools folks.