Friday, October 7, 2016

Provenance

“Provenance . . .” the word just reeks of douchebaggery.  Every time I use it, I feel like I should be in an episode of South Park, driving a Prius and smelling my own farts.

It’s unavoidably important, though.   Take these pencils, which for Skyline aficionados are real head-turners:


These came from an online auction, from a seller who didn’t appear to know much about pencils . . . the star of the auction was the Skyline all stainless trim discussed in an article here recently which, thanks to a fortuitous roll of the dice, turned out to be just perfect with no dings.

Both of these are a little odd.  The lower example is what I categorize as a Solid II, meaning a single color barrel with a thin center band: but the trim band in the middle is gold filled, and the derby assembly has a stainless clip (I disregard what color the tip is, since they are readily available and interchangeable) – that’s a previously unknown configuration, but recently several Skyline Stainless pencils surfaced which mixed gold filled and stainless trim.  Besides, switching derbies is a pain in the neck that requires more than average skills.

That makes the score Eversharp prototype 1, random guy having fun in a workshop 0.

Both of these also have another feature I haven’t seen before: a “waisted” barrel kind of like a Zaner Bloser Parker pencil, which is done so well that it appears to be factory:


That’s Eversharp prototype 2, random guy having fun in a workshop 0.

Consider that the derby is fitted with a scarcer-than-hens’-teeth stainless steel clip: you don’t just find those laying around in parts boxes, and if you did, you wouldn’t scavenge it to put on a run-of-the-mill Solid II with gold filled trim, right?

I make that Eversharp prototype 3, random guy having fun in a workshop 1 (split decision here . . . a dummy who had something rare and didn’t know it would be just as likely to do this as an Eversharp shop guy)

But looking closer, the derby is an obvious replacement, and it wasn’t done that well.


Score two points for random guy in a workshop, making it tied at 3-3.  Actually, an ameteurish parts replacement is probably more than two points against it being something legitimate, so I’m making it 4-3 against Eversharp prototype.

If there’s any hope for these “waisted” Eversharps being legitimate, it isn’t going to come from the pieces themselves.   It’s going to come from the context.  These came from an online seller in a lot of Eversharp stuff, from a seller who didn’t have any other writing equipment for sale.   Here’s the picture from the auction:


I didn’t notice the “waisted” effect in this picture, because it’s pretty subtle in this picture and besides, my eyes were glued to the Eversharp Stainless at the time.  A large group of pencils, all from one maker, including one that’s pretty rare?  I’ll give it “junk box provenance” for that, so the score is tied 4-4.

But then there’s some other things in this bunch to look more closely at, in particular these four:


Each of these has been thinned out towards the tip using what must have been a lathe, although the final profiles weren’t finished and buffed.  Here they are shown next to their unmolested counterparts:



With all of these, the tip end of the barrel has been thinned to the point that there’s a ridge where the thicker tip attaches to the body.

When I weigh the evidence, I have to give one point to each side.  Six examples from one source, all with the same milling on different models suggests official experimentation rather than an afternoon spent by a hobbyist defacing a bunch of pencils.  Yet the crudeness of these can’t be ignored – if Eversharp was seriously thinking about doing something like this in production, you’d expect all of these to be more polished (figuratively and literally), so they could get a better idea what these might look like.

So with the score tied, the only thing we have left is . . . provenance.  A tie back to someone who worked at Eversharp would be the clincher that would singlehandedly make these important shop pieces.   A seller who remembers her handy grandfather getting tired of hearing grandma complain that all her pencils were too fat would go the other way.  So I contacted the seller to ask where and how she got these, and her answer:

“Here is the provenance of the pens. And yes, Andrew Welch, did work on/alter some of the pens for his wife, Marie, an author. Enjoy them!

“These pens are from the family estate of the wealthy De Laveaga family in San Francisco who donated land to Santa Cruz, CA. That land is now a park and De Laveaga golf course. Marie de Laveaga Welch (1905-1974), San Francisco Bay Area poet, writer and editor. Marie's parents, Andrew P. Welch (1878-1957) and Julia (de Laveaga) Welch (1881-1957), both belonged to distinguished San Francisco families. Andrew Welch, an industrialist and financier, was president of Welch & Company, chairman of the board of C&H Sugar Corporation, vice president and director of the Honolulu Oil Company, and director of the Federal Reserve Bank.

“Marie, a left-leaning progressive thinker and social reformer, married George West (1884-1943), San Francisco editor and close friend of Sara Bard Field. She was the author of Ways of the Earth (1932), This Is Our Own (1940), and other works, including The Otherwise (1976), a posthumous collection of poems introduced by Murial Rukeyser. Marie also wrote for the New Yorker Magazine, The Atlantic Magazine and served as an editor of the San Francisco Review and other journals.

“Mariquita West, the daughter of Marie de Laveaga Welch & Andrew P. Welch, currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is now offering these pens to collectors who will appreciate them as much as her family did.”

So there you have it.  Game over, and while the guy in his workshop isn’t so random now, we know that what I’ve got is family rather that writing instrument history.  This is why it’s important to pass along the story of unusual stuff in writing – without it, something that might prove important later could easily slip out of our collective memory, and as the case here, something that is interesting but not important might wind up being sold for an unjustifiable premium.

For those who don’t want to sound like douchebags, you needn’t call it “provenance” or extend one pinky finger as you say it . . . just jot down a few notes and pass it on.

That’s really what I’m doing here with every article.

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