Friday, January 29, 2016

The Best Article I've Written

Sheaffer Sharp Point pencils were initially introduced in mid-1917.   This picture shows the four incarnations:


The differences between these early incarnations are at the top end:


The earliest ones, like the one at the top, have a narrow clip mounting.   They also have an imprint done in the same spikey, Winchester-inspired lettering found on Eversharp pencils of the same vintage:


The pencil itself was the subject of a patent application filed by Walter Sheaffer on July 12, 1917, and awarded on November 5, 1918 as number 1,284,156:


The next change was a modification of the clip, giving it “ears” on the sides for greater stability.  I call these “bowler clips” because they resemble the hats.  The clip is shown in Walter Sheaffer’s design patent 59,035, applied for on April 10, 1919 and awarded on September 13, 1921:


Although the design patent also shows the flared bell cap, the clip obviously came first, – the bell cap was also the subject of a utility patent Sheaffer applied for a month later, on May 5, 1919; it was awarded as patent number 1,554,604 on September 22, 1925:


Finally, Sheaffer abandoned the bowler clip in favor of the familiar ball clip, which was used well into the 1920s.  Sheaffer applied for the patent for the clip on November 23, 1921, and it was issued as number 1,531,419 on March 31, 1925:


But here’s the catch:

Walter Sheaffer didn’t invent the Sheaffer Sharp Point.   And thanks to a find at the 2015 Philadelphia Pen Show, I can tell you who did.

Here’s that find, shown next to the earliest Sheaffer Sharp Point shown in the first picture:


And if the outward appearance isn’t enough to convince you, here are the two shown disassembled, side by side:


The non-Sheaffer example is not marked patented, nor patent pending, nor patent applied for . . . and I believe it was made by the man who really invented the Sheaffer Sharp Point.  The information imprinted on the pencil struck a deep chord with me, because I was familiar with the brand, but I never dreamed there was a connection between that brand and Sheaffer.

So I started researching.  And once I started pulling on that particular thread, an entire sweater began to unravel, and I found myself ankle deep in a story I’d never heard before.  I decided to take a break from the blog so I could delve into it a little bit more, posting a note here on March 26 that I’d be back soon (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2015/03/this-isnt-break.html).

By the time I was done, the article was more than 25 pages long and proves . . . beyond any reasonable doubt, I believe . . . that Walter Sheaffer was actively pursuing the Boston Fountain Pen Company, and his previously undocumented efforts to purchase the company forced Wahl’s hand, causing Wahl to spend the equivalent of more than a million in today’s dollars to purchase the company when it only wanted to spend half that much.

Wahl and Sheaffer scuffled over the Boston purchase at the last minute, and the evidence shows that a compromise was reached: Wahl was permitted to go forward with the purchase of Boston, provided that Wahl used Sheaffer’s lever filler design rather than the one Boston had patented and paid a license fee for every pen sold.

That’s just part one of the story, and it appeared in this issue of The Pennant:


The Pennant is the publication of the Pen Collectors of America, so if you are a member, you already have your copy.  If you aren’t a member yet, I’ve got extra copies – and I’ll gladly give you one if you join (you’ll also have access to the online version).  To join the PCA, visit www.pencollectorsofamerica.com.

I’ve received several emails about the article already.  My favorite was from my curmudgeonly friend Roger Wooten, a longtime scholar of Boston and early Wahl (and the owner of the pens pictured in the article):   “It doesn’t suck,” he said.  That’s about as good as it gets!

Part two of the story will appear in the next issue, and it will present the evidence that there was a second part to the compromise between Wahl, Boston and Sheaffer . . . or at least between Boston and Sheaffer, since it didn’t appear Wahl realized what was happening: Sheaffer got an existing pencil design out of the deal.

Whose design was it?  You’ll need to read the next issue to see.

PS: If you’ve read part one of the story, part two will make much more sense.

The next issue is going into production right now.  Speaking of which, since I’m the editor I’m going to need to take a break for a few weeks while I pull things together.  When I come back, I’ll have plenty more pencils and stories for you!

1 comment:

Matt said...

Curmudgeon? I've never thought of Roger as a curmudgeon, but then maybe we ask him too many Sheaffer pencil questions....