Thursday, December 8, 2016

John Wahl's Parlor Games

John C. Wahl gets a bad rap from history as the corporate tycoon who swindled Charles Keeran out of Keeran’s Ever Sharp pencil and led the greedy board of directors at The Wahl Adding Machine Company to purchase the Boston Fountain Pen Company.

Largely forgotten is that John Wahl was a prolific and gifted inventor in his own right, and almost as soon as his company started making pencils for Charles Keeran’s Eversharp Pencil Company, Wahl started coming up with improvements and designs of his own.

He even came up with a few new looks for the pencils, for which he applied for design patents.  Here’s Design patent 56,681, applied for on November 18, 1918 and issued November 23, 1920, for a goofy fleur-des-lis pattern:


Then John got on a bridge pencil tear, applying for three versions of pencils with card suit motifs on December 6, 1920, which were all issued on March 15, 1921 as design patent numbers 57,403, 57,404 and 57,405:




Apparently he forgot to apply for a fourth version, number 58,516, which he applied for a few weeks later on January 17, 1921.  It was issued July 26, 1921:


I found a gold-filled example of the fleur-des-lis pattern a while ago, by my photography limitations have hindered my efforts to shoot decent pictures of it.  At the Ohio Show Rob Bader swapped me a sterling example for a Sheaffer desk base, and so I took another “shot” at it:



Both of these have a telltale detail which dates them precisely to 1917 or 1918, when the word “Wahl” had been added to the imprints but before the company contracted “Ever Sharp” to one word:



As for John Wahl’s neat bridge pencil designs, I had never found any evidence that any made it into production . . . until this year’s Ohio Show, at which Don Lamkin had this one on his table:



There’s a couple really interesting things about this piece – other than the obvious, which is that an Eversharp bridge pencil has finally surfaced.  But note also that this one doesn’t match any of  Wahl’s design patents: there’s six rows of card suit symbols rather than just four, and it’s completely unmarked: unless you knew about John Wahl’s bridge pencil craze, you might think this was a foreign copy of the Eversharp.

The pencil appears to be sterling with gold over the ends and the card suit emblems


Perhaps the fact that this example is unmarked might explain why it’s been so difficult to turn one of these up: it wouldn’t show up in a search for “Eversharps” online unless the seller know that’s what it was.  But now that I know . . .


I’m going to have to search “card pencil,” “bridge pencil” and anything else I can think of that might turn up other variants in the future!

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