Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Handoff to Western

“Junk Box Provenance” is a term I use to describe those instances when the circumstances in which an object is found suggests something about the object itself.   The two Artpoint pencils from yesterday’s article came from that bunch:


And each of these shares something interesting.  As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles on the subject, when you are able to wrestle off the cap of an Artpoint, what you will usually find – if there’s anything – is the same imprint:


But when I remove the caps from these two examples, there’s nothing to be found:


I’m also hoping that one of these days, the initials “JEY” will prove significant, since this is the first time I’ve seen one with nice engraving on the top of the cap like that.

The absence of a Dolarpoint imprint suggests that these were not made by Dollarpoint – since I found advertisements from late 1923 suggesting the company might have started using the name “Artpoint Pencil Company” when it attempted to reorganize,  maybe the manufacturers stopped using the Dollarpoint imprint then.   The auction notice from February, 1925 clearly indicated that the assets sold were those of the Dollar Point Pencil Company, though.  I believe it’s more likely that Artpoint pencils lacking an imprint at the top were made by whomever purchased the assets and equipment of the company, using all of the existing tooling on hand.

There are two other pencils that came out of that DC show collection, which I believe supports this conclusion and indicates who that likely buyer was:


Over the course of more than fifteen years of collecting, these two examples nearly doubled my collection of pencils from the “Western Pencil Company.”  Here’s the other three I’ve found, all of which were pictured in The Catalogue on page 172 when I published the book five years ago.  It’s been that long since I’ve found any other examples:


Note that there are two different tips styles on these.  Normally I would think that the ones with the longer tips and straighter barrels are earlier, since the machining is more complicated to make the tapered barrels with a shorter tip:


But that’s just a theory based on observation of similar models.  One thing all three share is the same imprint:


“Western Pencil Co. / Los Angeles - USA” My new black and pearl example is identical to the one I’ve had for awhile, with the same imprint:


The jade example, however . . . is unmarked.

Here’s where the junk box provenance comes in.  That makes four pencils you don’t normally find – two of which I haven’t turned up in more than five years – in one collection.  I think they came from a common source.

There’s plenty of other reasons to suggest that Dollar Point was acquired lock, stock and barrel by a purchaser which resumed operations, turning out Artpoints using the existing tooling (without, of course, the Dollarpoint imprint) and later converting that same mechanism for use with celluloid barrels as brightly colored celluloids supplanted metal pencils towards the end of the 1920s.  Notice how similar the two are:




Unfortunately, I don’t have any direct evidence concerning who this mysterious purchaser might have been – but I do have one solid clue as to who was running the show by the end of 1927:


On December 3, 1927, the Los Angeles Times reported that a fire had destroyed the building “of" (doesn’t say “owned by”) the Western Pencil Company, which was located at 1101 Venice Boulevard, Los Angeles.  Otto Gamball, the factory superintendent, saw a batch of celluloid catch fire when it was overheated in an oven, and in his attempt to remove the burning celluloid from the building he sustained life-threatening burns.  I never found a follow up article indicating whether he survived.

The other clue in the story is a name associated with Western Pencil: “Mrs. H.L. Zimmerman,” who is reported to be “the wife of the owner of the factory.”  Following the conventions of the day, I believe this means the owner of the factory was H.L. Zimmerman, and I believe that means the owner of Western Pencil, not just the building in which it was housed (note that she was injured attempting to rescue the books and records of the company – something a mere building owner would not have risked life and limb to preserve on behalf of a tenant).

Did Western Pencil itself survive the blaze?  Maybe, for a time.  After the report of the fire, the only other mention I found of a “Western Pencil Company” was a notice that all of the firm’s machinery and equipment – even three cars – were being auctioned on February 22, 1938:


The year 1938 seems late for the examples of the Western Pencil Company I’ve found to date.  Maybe that’s why the company folded, as its squared-off flattop pencils became passe and the company failed to keep up with the times.  Maybe the company stopped marking its products, as my new jade example suggests it might have done, and there’s other unmarked, more streamlined pencils out there we just haven’t known to attribute to the company.

But maybe, of course, there’s streamlined pencils out there marked “Western Pencil Company” which would prove that Western not only survived the fire but continued to flourish for another decade.  That’s why, even after I’ve amassed thousands of mechanical pencils, the hunt continues.

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