Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Wahl's Extracurricular Activities

Larry Liebman came to the DC show this August with a few pencils in tow for trading, and this one had me fascinated.


This is another of Wahl’s line of dollar pencils (the last article I wrote about these was at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2016/09/a-colorful-ending-almost.html), but this example has a painted metal barrel.  At first glance it appears to have tiny little pock marks all over it, but when I examined this one closely, it looks like it was meant to be that way:


The painted lettering was applied after these little pock marks and gold spots.  But what really had my ears perked up was what that painted lettering said:


“Wahl Universal Heater.”


“Clean Heat and Plenty of It / Williamsport Auto Parts Co. / 245-251 West 3rd St. / Williamsport - PA.”

I didn’t know what to make of this at first, but I was confident there was no way the Wahl Company would stand for someone else using the name Wahl, in the same spiky Winchester-inspired lettering – and the likelihood that they would print the name on an Eversharp pencil for whoever was responsible for the infraction is less than zero.

The time period during this pencil was made – the end of the 1920s – was a fascinating time in Wahl’s history.  The company’s first decade as the Wahl Adding Machine Company were spent manufacturing typewriter attachments, a business Wahl abandoned after it went into the pencil business after acquiring Charles Keeran’s Eversharp Pencil Company (and then the pen business when it purchased the Boston Fountain Pen Company).

By 1928, Wahl’s pencils were becoming passe.  Although the company had gone to great lengths to update the outward appearance of its product offerings, inside the mechanism was still Keeran’s 15-year-old mechanism, tweaked a bit in 1924 to relocate the lead magazine.  Meanwhile, other companies were offering pencils that were simpler to operate and also had a propel-repel mechanism, as opposed to the Eversharp’s forward-only mechanism.  Wahl was soon going to have to make a decision to either revamp their aging product line or find something else to do.  The decision to revamp, with the Equipoised line and then the Doric, was not as clear cut as we may now believe: yes, the Wahl Company briefly dabbled in the production of car heaters, since “nowadays people use their cars all winter long.”


The only notices and advertisements I found for the Wahl Universal Heater were from the tail end of 1928, and all were in newspapers in Michigan and Pennsylvania, like this one from the Harrisburg Telegraph from November 3, 1928:


But the Wahl Universal Heater was neither the company’s only dalliance into auto parts manufacturing, nor was it the most successful:


The “Wahl Spring Brake,” a bolt-on, spring-action shock absorber that bolstered leaf springs on early automobiles was on the market for two years, from 1927 through 1929, and was more widely advertised, including this flashy piece, which appeared in Liberty magazine on October 23, 1927:


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