That’s what it felt like this time, but in retrospect, I think that long trip was the only way to get there. It started with a couple of online auctions which brought these two to my doorstep over the last few months:
The top example is a typical “magic” pencil, so named for that class of pencils which, when the rear is pulled, the tip extends in the opposite direction – as if, in the Victorian way of thinking – by magic. The lower one, however, does something very different. It appears to be a retractable dip pen, with that slider ring, but when the ring is pulled back, it’s actually a ring-operated magic pencil, and a gold filled plug extends out the rear.
What attracted me to the magic pencil was a name on the side I wasn’t familiar with: Ludden & Taylor.
The only reference I was able to find to Ludden & Taylor was an indication that the partnership had dissolved as of March 1879, to be replaced by the firm of Ludden & Dow, formed by William A. Ludden and Ezra A. Dow and located at the same place – 192 Broadway.
Ludden & Dow lasted a little longer than its predecessor. The 1881 edition of “The Rural New-Yorker” illustrated magic pencils, a figural cannon pencil, and dip pens for sale by the firm:
and the 1884 edition of American Agriculturalist continued to list Ludden & Dow on its list of “Trustworthy Houses.”
The other pencil I’ve pictured, however, is marked neither Ludden & Taylor or Ludden & Dow:
I’ve seen that WL-ish hallmark before, but unless you are thinking “WAL” when you are looking at it, you might not notice that there is a crossbar in the W and that’s the leg of an L on the right leg. I was stumped when I started researching this one, and the only thing that had me pointing in Ludden’s direction was the similar pattern on the Ludden & Taylor.
The patent date, however, still had me a little stymied: April 17, 1874 didn’t fall on a Tuesday, so it couldn’t be a reference to an American patent. Maybe it’s a misprint, I thought, but I couldn’t find a date with transposed digits that matches this description. Maybe it’s the application date rather than the date it was issued? Maybe, I thought, and if so, maybe I’ll find it and maybe I won’t – depending on whether a patent was ever actually issued on that application.
With no other hypothesis to go on, I focused my research on Ludden, and I found a few tantalizing clues. While I was discussing this on Facebook, I commented that I thought it might have been patent 169,012, applied for on August 6, 1875 and issued October 9, 1875:
This is a slider-operated magic pencil, with a rear plug that extends out, just like mine. But the dates are all wrong. There’s another patent Ludden received which also looks promising, even though all the dates are just as wrong: patent number 151,230, applied for on February 19, 1874 and issued on May 26, 1874:
If I had any other leads, I never would have figured out where April 17, 1874 came from . . . but I didn’t. So I just kept on digging. It was a typographical error, all right, and here’s where it came from:
This is how Ludden’s patent 151,230 appeared as it was published in the Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, in order right after patent number 151,229. See it?
The application for patent number 151,229, the patent issued just before Ludden’s, was filed (by a guy from my home town of Newark, Ohio, by the way) . . . on April 17, 1874.
That’s the story of my pencil – but that’s nowhere near as interesting as the story behind William A. Ludden. That story tomorrow. . .