Robert Foster offered this one online recently, and I’d watched it for weeks. When I came home after the DC show, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I finally bit:
It’s a gravity pencil . . . point the tip down, and the tip emerges and locks into place for writing; tilt the tip up, and it unlocks and retracts back into the barrel.
More or less. The mechanism is a bit cranky and it takes a fair amount of shaking and jiggling accompanied with the tilting to make it do its thing. That’s not bad though, considering the pencil is more than a century old:
“Hicks Pat. May 9, 05.” Note also the little acorn hallmark in the left panel - right next to the end of the word “sterling.” Richard H. Ryan applied for a patent for his “gravity-pencil” on February 7, 1905 and it was issued May 9 as number 789,386. Ryan’s patent was assigned to William S. Hicks’ Sons, of New York, NY, a firm.
This one might have shattered your notions concerning how old the gravity mechanism is . . . most of the time, these show up on 1960s ballpoints. But the Hicks gravity pencil wasn’t the first - not by a longshot:
This one hails from the American Lead Pencil Company:
At the top it is identified as the “Little Giant”:
And at the nose, a bit of evidence that this one was around more than a decade and a half earlier than the Hicks:
“American L.P. Co. / L & C Hardmuth / Pat. Jan. 31 ‘88.” The date refers to patent number 377,194, applied for on September 24, 1887 by Costi De Meyer of Budweis, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary:
Unlike the cantankerous Hicks, the American works flawlessly. Who would have thought?