Monday, December 14, 2015

Un-All-American

Here’s the picture of what I referred to as Conklin All-Americans in The Catalogue, at page 34:


At the Ohio Show, David Glass parted with a couple other pencils along these lines:


I hadn’t seen the green and white example in a ringtop before.  Now that I’ve poked around a bit, the black ones do turn up – I just had not run across one yet.  Would I call these rare?  If they aren’t, I’ve just had a run of bad luck finding them.  But there’s one thing I won’t call them now: I won’t call them “All-American.”

I think my confusion was justified: when Conklin introduced the All-American line was introduced, they came out in flattop pens in solid colors, with that distinctive white band topped with black finials at barrel and cap end.  These two certainly fit the bill, other than the colors, so in the absence of contrary evidence . . . and the presence of other collectors who refer to these as part of the “All-American” series . . . I referred to them that way, too.

I referred wrong.

The 1930-31 Conklin catalog is a fascinating document, which shows just how determined the company was not to leave any business on the table: Enduras and Symetriks are offered side by side, so you could choose square or round, depending on your taste.  The page showing pens and pencils like the ones pictured above is the same way:


Whatever style pencil you preferred, Conklin was offering it in 1930 – old-school gold bell tops, 1920s flattops, or . . . ok, maybe not exactly streamlined, but a 1920s flattop with the top rounded off a little bit.    Best of all, this page shows my black pencil exactly, with a corresponding catalog number: 500c.  Were these called “All-Americans?”  No . . . they had a really catchy name:


“$5.00 Pen and Pencil Sets.”  Apparently Conklin laid off its entire marketing department during the Depression, and there was nobody around to come up with a better title than this.  Oh well – at least the catalog clarifies that the pencils were only offered as part of a set, and only “in one size.”   Maybe another catalog from 1929 or 1932 might show other colors, like the green and white, and maybe that catalog also shows these sets being offered in a ringtop.  Then again, maybe these were offered, but never included in any catalog.

So what was a Conklin All-American pencil?  It sure would have been nice if there was a picture of them in the catalog, but there isn’t.  However, on page 9, there’s enough to piece together what they might be . . . and what they probably weren’t:


The pens were sold by the dozen and came in “assorted colors,” and they were paired with “utility pencils” offered in just four colors: “amber, plain black, blue and green.”   They were also sold by the dozen, and there’s no indication there was more than one size.

If these things were going out Conklin’s doors to dealers in quantities of more than a gross, where the heck are they?  I don’t think they are the “dollar pencils,” which are separately cataloged and come in black, blue, green and red – not “amber,” and they had their own name: the “No. 6 light weight mechanical pencil.”


“Utility pencil” . . . could it refer to these?


I doubt it . . . these were called “Conklin Crescent $1.00 pencils” in the 1926 catalog . . . but then again, maybe the short top example is a later “utility pencil”?  Maybe . . . but while I have found a couple of uncataloged colors, I haven’t seen anything in a color you’d call “amber.”

Let’s take another look at the 1930 dollar pencils from last Thursday’s article (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2015/12/a-fist-full-of-dollar-pencils.html):


I’d mentioned that the gold filled example matches what you can see of the No. 6 pencils shown in Conklin’s catalog, but that the steel-trimmed example doesn’t . . . and that un-Conklin z-clip:


It does match the z-clips found on All-American pens, and their fatal design flaw – that soft aluminum barrel liner – would inevitably result in most of them failing and, therefore, few of them surviving in any condition today.  I think this is the likeliest candidate for what is really a Conklin All-American pencil, and the last nail in the coffin would be to find one of these in a brownish color that one might think would be called “amber.”

Does that mean there weren’t any Conklin All-American pencils with black and white rings?  No, I don’t believe it does:


Conklin definitely offered All-American pen and pencil combos with this exact black front end, complete with that white ring - in fact, this front end screws right onto the front end of one of those combos (just like the “golf” pencils that were included with Conklin’s “Entente” set, as detailed in “Ladies and Gentlemen: Check your Junk Boxes!” at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2014/09/ladies-and-gentlemen-check-your-junk.html).

This pencil is unmarked, and the color of the top is Endura “mottled green” plastic – Joe Nemecek has one of these in lapis (Conklin’s “mottled blue”).  You might legitimately ask whether this is simply the front end of an All-American combo with an Endura ringtop cap stuck on top.

The answer is no.

First, Conklin Endura ringtops – at least all the ones I’ve seen – weren’t this fat.  The diameter of this cap matches the full-sized Endura line of pencils.  Could someone have drilled a hole in a full-sized Endura cap and inserted a ringtop?  Nope.  Endura caps are smooth inside, so they can be pulled off to reveal the eraser and still be turned to operate the rear-drive mechanism.  This cap is threaded so it can be screwed onto the top of a nose-drive pencil.

What it was called, I don’t know.  But I won’t call it Un-All-American.

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