Monday, November 23, 2015

Vestigial Eversharps

This one showed up in an online auction a few months ago.


There’s a number of things I like about this one.  It’s one of the dollar pencil budget line produced by Eversharp in the 1930s, which are a little tough to find, and this one is in a plastic which approximates the company’s red “bumblebee” plastic.

But that’s not what had me excited to see this one in person and compare it to some of the other models - it’s that little metal dome just above the clip.  We’re so conditioned to expect gold seals in that spot that it’s easy to glide right past that detail, assuming that there’s a double checkmark logo adorning the barrel.  There weren’t gold seals on the budget lines, though, and this is just a metal button.

Why is it there?  I’ll have to back up a bit to explain that one.  After ten years of making pretty much the same metal pencils, Wahl was getting the point in the mid-1920s that it needed to make a change.  Other companies were starting to introduce writing instruments in brightly colored plastics, so Wahl decided to follow suit.

The “dollar pencil” series started with hard rubber and enamel over aluminum barrels, illustrated  in the 1928 catalog, and while they weren’t called “dollar pencils,” every one of them was listed at that price.


Don’t be distracted by the cap variations.  Underneath all of the caps was that same straight top with the knurled middle section - the cap is an accessory.  The ones with the black band and greek key design are shown in the catalog, but it’s possible they were sold without them - nearly all of the rosewood examples marked “Metropolitan Life Insurance Company” don’t have them, for example.

In 1929, Wahl replaced these with brightly colored “Pyralin” (plastic) barrels, with the price for all models, again, at a buck.


The 1929 catalog shows only those models with color-matched points.  I haven’t seen a lapis one with the blue nose piece yet.

I also haven’t seen a 1930 or 1931 Wahl catalog, but those must have been fascinating years.  I would bet that in 1930, Wahl started using the black tips on all of the colors to save money.  I think that’s probably also when the first of the “bumblebee” plastic dollar pencils were introduced, and initially, they were just another color in the same line:




It was also in 1930-1931 when Wahl changed all of its pencils inside, abandoning the familiar 1913 Keeran mechanism (slightly tweaked in 1924) for a rear-drive, Equipoised-type mechanism.  These look almost identical on the outside, even though they are very different pencils: the new mechanism was propel-repel.


The easiest way to spot the difference is an extra metal band at the top:


Yep.  Still a buck:


Production costs, coupled with the  Depression, must have doomed this model quickly.  The 1932 catalog shows a more streamlined version of the dollar line, but these are fitted with a cheaply-produced, nose drive mechanism.


The ones on the right, with a z-clip (shaped like a Z in profile, which fits into a slot in the barrel) are shown in the 1932 catalog, with the gold-filled trim models listed for $1.50 and the chrome trim edition still at $1.00.  The ones on the right, with a clip stapled into the barrel, must have been introduced in 1933 or 1934.  By 1935, the Wahl Oxford line had replaced the series.

So, we have a nice, smooth evolution of Eversharp’s dollar pencil line:


From the top, 1929, 1930, 1930-ish, 1931-ish, 1932, 1933-34 . . ish.  And when you look at this evolution, the meaning of that metal button on my new addition makes perfect sense.  When you line up the lower ends of the barrels of these three red bumblebees . . .


That little button lines up perfectly with the hole where the bolt securing the clip was drilled on its predecessors:


The first streamlined dollar pencils were made from leftover parts, by cutting a slot in pre-drilled barrel and simply filling the hole.

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