When I arrive at a show these days, John Hall and I are wheeling in a cart loaded up like the Grinch’s sleigh, usually with two layers of totes topped by shelving, photography equipment and such. And also these days, I never get to my table to unload it all before someone comes up to me and says they have a pencil to show me.
At the Chicago show in May, it was Rob Bader who flagged me down and had me abandoning my cart mid-aisle on the way to my table. He showed me four pretty spectacular things (three of which I’ll tell you about later), but this one had several of us really scratching our heads:
When Rob handed it to me, it was with the clip facing away for dramatic effect, since he knew from the shape and color of the pencil the first words that would come out of my mouth would be “Why are you showing me an Arnold?” And those were my first words exactly, after which he turned it around . . .
What what what? There’s so much about this pencil that doesn’t make sense, and Occam’s razor had me trimming this one back to a Sheaffer clip installed on something else -- anything but a Sheaffer. For a Sheaffer Balance, the shape is wrong, the color is wrong, the three thin bands are wrong . . . and what’s inside looked unfamiliar, too:
As several of us were looking at this one, none of us – myself included – recalled seeing a Sheaffer mechanism that looks like this. Both of us knew I’d have to bring it home with me, but we both had some difficulty figuring out what was fair. The price we eventually came to was expensive if it proved to be a Sheaffer clip mounted on something else, and cheap if it proved to be the real thing.
Now that I’ve done my homework, I know I got off cheap this time.
When I got home, I was so befuddled by this goofy looking thing that the first thing I did was compare this pencil to others in my collection to see if it matched anything else – more on that tomorrow. Then I pulled out my patent book to see if Sheaffer patented a screw drive pencil mechanism with that big bushing. Sure enough, there it was:
Craig R. Sheaffer and William R. Cuthbert filed a patent application for this mechanism on April 1, 1929, and the patent was issued on March 7, 1933 as patent number 1,900,669. The inside of this pencil and the clip are both all Sheaffer after all.
My next step was to dig out a "typical" Sheaffer Balance pencil from the flat ball clip era, so I could show you how different this new one is from the norm:
Note how the new addition is chubbier, with a more steeply tapered top and more pointy end. The tip is shorter:
The clip appears to be a cheap gold wash rather than they typical heavy gold fill, and as I mentioned earlier, three thin bands is a trim configuration unknown in the Balance series:
But what I really wanted to show you was what a “normal” Balance mechanism looks like. Removing Balance mechanisms is a real crapshoot, and I’d compare it to arguing with an ex-wife: whenever I’m finally successful, it feels almost like the pencil wanted me to win. Sometimes the tip unscrews easily, but when it doesn’t want to budge, if it’s absolutely necessary to take the thing apart I normally end up destroying the tip and replacing it. Then there’s the matter of extracting the mechanism - if it’s going to come out, once it budges a little bit it usually comes free. If that first budge doesn’t free it, I usually chalk that one up to a stubborn one that isn’t going to come free.
The problem I was having was that every single one of my flat ball clip Sheaffers appeared to be in the stubborn category, so I finally picked this one – since the tip came off easilly – to wrestle with. After considerable persuasion, this is what I found:
How embarrassing. It would appear that whenever a mechanism proved difficult to remove, it wasn’t because of random crankiness – the older, bushing-style Sheaffers are just a lot harder to remove than the later, straight bore kind. That was why I’d never seen one before. Once I had the hang of getting these things loose, I found that all of the earlier Balances had them. For example, here’s a ringtop in jade, one of the initial colors used for the Balance line:
There is a bright side in this. If I had already known the mechanism inside this odd Sheaffer was genuine Sheaffer, I probably wouldn’t have started comparing it to other things in my collection to figure out what it was derived from. And if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have found something really interesting . . .
The story continues here.