Tuesday, January 12, 2016

In a Less Relative Way

“Early,” in my opinion, is one of the most overused words in the antiques and collectibles field.  It’s right up there with “rare” as one of the words sellers routinely put in front of anything to make it sound more expensive.  That’s why, when a friend of mine recently described a nose-drive Autopoint as “early,” I couldn’t restrain myself from saying something.  I said it was "early" only in a relative sense.

I’ve felt a little bad since then about jumping on that one so quickly, “peeing in his cheerios,” as another friend of mine calls it.  I’ll agree that it was, as far as nose-drive Autopoints go, early – one of the earliest, in fact.   But that’s like saying the first word in the second chapter of a good book is early.  Sure, if there’s ten chapters it is . . . but today I’m going to tell you a little bit about that first chapter.

All of us owe two debts to Jim Stauffer, who pieced together the early history of Autopoint in an 2011 article he titled “Autopoint + Realite - The Confluence of Two Pencil Companies” and posted online.  First, he wrote a great article.  Second, he used a weird word like “confluence,” so every time I want to refer to it, all I need to do is search “Autopoint Realite Confluence” and bippity boppity boo.  I’m in.

In case that’s too tough, Jim’s article can be found at http://www.vintageautopoint.com/Autopoint_Realite_beginnings_v2.pdf.

Jim documents how the Autopoint Pencil Company was established in 1920 and began producing pencils by late 1920.  The Realite Pencil Company was founded in mid-1921.  The officers of the two companies were different, with one exception: Charles R. Keeran was the inventor of the Autopoint and was on the board of Autopoint’s directors; he was also the general manager of Realite (the Realite, according to those early reports, was invented by John Lynn).  The Realite Pencil Company purchased The Autopoint Pencil Company in 1923, and Realite was renamed “Autopoint Products Company.”  Charles R. Keeran was the combined company’s first president.

Prior to 1923, Realites were nose-drive pencils, and those were the pencils which were carried on after the “confluence.”  Prior to 1923, though, Autopoints were rear-drive pencils.  That’s why I believe if any Autopoints are truly “early,” it’s those weird, pre-1923 products from the first Autopoint Pencil Company – brainchildren of Charles R. Keeran.

They were illustrated in the first announcement of the company’s formation, published in the May, 1920 edition of Typewriter Topics:


From the very outset, the original Autopoint carried two divergent lines: highbrow and lowbrow.  On the one hand, the company offered their “50 cent number,” illustrated to the left.  To the right is “one item of engine turn design,” and those metal pencils were offered in a wide variety of materials - including solid gold.  Of the two lines, the metal pencils are encountered much more frequently, and the mechanics of them are fairly uniform.  I pictured one early on here at the blog (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2012/07/a-couple-mcneil-autopoints.html):



It’s hard to argue with anyone who says these are the more aesthetically pleasing line the company offered, but beautiful in the eye of this beholder means more than just pretty.  Those “50 cent number” pencils are damned near impossible to find (by the way, in my book there are only two legitimate definitions for “rare”: undercooked and damned near impossible to find).  I only had one in hand when I wrote The Catalogue:


This is a wood-barreled pencil, fitted with aluminum and brass components.  It wasn’t until this year that I had another opportunity to pick one of these up – two opportunities, actually.  The same seller whose 40-pencil lots included the Parker “Ripley” Vacumatic I wrote about here recently (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2015/12/up-close-and-personal.html) was my source for three other examples:


The blue one came from that same bunch as the Ripley; the other two came in one of his other lots, and all are interesting in their subtle variations.  Note that both the black and blue examples have three distinct parts to the upper metal sections - on the blue one, however, the lowest of the three is lengthened to secure the clip:


Internally, this is identical to Autopoint’s higher priced lines:


A clue on the back side of the barrel suggests that it might have been made a couple years after the black one:


Note that the logo on the blue example is the script, underscore version of the Autopoint trademark.  At this point we’ll have to thank Jim Stauffer a third time – Jim also penned an article titled “Early Autopoint Logos: An Approximate Timeline,” which can be found at http://www.vintageautopoint.com/Early_Autopoint_Logos_v2.pdf.  The block print logo on my black example, according to Jim, was the subject of Charles Keeran’s trademark application, assigned registration number 0125149, which he claimed was first used on July 15, 1918.  You’ll note that’s the same logo you can faintly see in the 1920 Typewriter Topics announcement.

As for the script/underscore logo, Jim reports finding no trademark actually registered for it, notwithstanding Autopoint’s claims to the contrary.  He first reports finding it in use at the tail end of 1920.

Here’s a side note: I’m aware of no all-metal Autopoints with the block print logo.  If that’s true, the evidence suggests that Keeran may have been marketing and selling the wood-barreled versions beginning in mid-1918, and the metal versions weren’t introduced until late 1920 - at which time the remaining stock of wood-barreled pencils were sold through the newly formed company, and those produced after the formation of the company bore the new script logo.

Examples like that cute little ringtop:


This little guy is simply a miniaturized version, but note that instead of the short metal tip, this one has a much longer metal section, more akin to the post-Realite merger nose-drive examples:


Underneath the mechanism, there’s four chambers for spare leads.


Which brings us to that last one . . . the one which has me most intrigued.    It’s put together differently from any Autopoint I’ve ever seen:


It isn’t working, and unlike the other two, the tip pulls off of this one . . . not by design, but because the wood barrel was milled down a little too much, and cellophane tape was used to fur it out.


Was the tape added when this one was made?  Cellophane tape was first marketed around 1925, so it might have been . . . it might also have been furred out later by someone who was tired of the tip falling off all the time.  If it was humid when the barrel was made, it might have shrunk.

I believe this was also a rear drive pencil, but whatever drive rod equipped it is missing now:



No push rod from any other Autopoint in my stable fits it.  Most interesting is the way the clip is affixed: note that unlike the other full sized models, this one has a two stage top.  Underneath that top, the clip is simply wedged down into the wood:


Yet, this one has the late-1920 and later logo imprinted on the top:


If there’s one word that is overused more than “early” and “rare” combined, it’s the word “prototype.”  When I see something that looks handmade, though, using some parts found on more mainstream examples . . .  and other parts that aren’t compatible with anything I know of . . . I can’t help but wonder.  And, here’s three impossible-to-find early (and I do mean EARLY) Autopoints, all from one source – that certainly suggests these emanated from somewhere close to the original source.  So I made some inquiries from my seller.

It took some badgering to get the seller to respond, but when he or she did, the response was encouraging: “These pencils were purchased at an estate sale in Grand Island Nebraska,” my seller said.  “It was said that the owner had got them from a collector/museum in Lyons Nebraska. I am not sure on a name. This was in 2008.”

That’s enough of a clue for someone out there to tell us where these came from.  If we can learn the provenance of these, we can learn a lot about the early history of the first Autopoint Pencil Company.

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