Monday, January 9, 2017

Sharp In More Ways Than One

Sheaffer’s WASP subbrand (for those who don’t know, WASP is an acronym for W.A. Sheaffer Pen) appears on pages 142 and 143 of The Catalogue.  One of the more interesting patterns, nicknamed “circuit board” by collectors, appears on page 143.  Here’s an updated (and better quality) family picture of the ones I’ve found:


The proper name for these was the “Clipper,” but Sheaffer applied hat name to several different styles of WASP products, including birdseye (“screaming souls”) pencils, lahn-patterned pencils and more.  Matt McColm has done a great job analyzing the pens and pencils in these series, and he’s noted his observations over at fountainpenboard.com (the best post to look at, which references his other posts, is at http://fountainpenboard.com/forum/index.php?/topic/5768-circuit-board-wasp-clipper-generations/.   I’m not able to add much in the way of observations regarding the pencils themselves.  One quirky thing about these is that the trim bands on the smaller sized pencils are on the lower barrel, while the bands are on the caps on the larger ones:


And, as you can see, the plating quality wasn’t as good as what you’ll find on Sheaffer’s regular line, and WASP pencils are just as prone to the separation that occurs between the upper and lower barrels as their Balance cousins.

Matt divides the series into three “generations.”  The first has a nearly flat top piece, and note how the clips have a little bevel right at the top:


The second has a more pronounced cap with more of a pointed taper, and the sides of the clip are straight:


The third replaces this metal top “jewel” with a black plastic one – very poorly (note how awful the fitment is):



You can debate all day long whether these are generations, or subgenerations, or eras or epochs. Matt identifies three, which I can live with, but I’d note also that within that third group, there was a change in the plastic, from little cubes accented by four scribbly stripes to little cubes separated by wide bands.  Call it a fourth generation or what have you:


The earliest advertisements I’ve found date from 1938, and these show Matt’s “type I” pens and pencils:



Advertisements in 1939 show the same product lineup, augmented by the WASP version of Sheaffer’s “working togs” pencils:





In 1941, Bennett Brothers advertised WASP products.  Note that in this advertisement, type I pens and pencils are advertised alongside type II pens and pencils:


The type II style is most evident in the set shown at the bottom, but you can also see the straight sided clips in the more obliquely displayed sets on the left:


I’m not aware of any catalogs or advertisements showing the black plastic top jeweled models.  It would stand to reason, if in 1941 Sheaffer was advertising type II pencils for the first time, that the plastic jewels would have come later.  The wide band plastic appears to have been added at the very end, since green and brown pens with either plastic have been found with the plastic top end.  Blue, an uncataloged color, I’ve only seen with the wide bands and plastic jewels, suggesting they were at the end of the line, and reducing the metal content in its writing instruments might have been a priority after America entered the Second World War.  Evidence may surface in the future to fill in these blanks.

What I do know is that the WASP plastics were not exclusive to Sheaffer – or even to pens and pencils:






The plastic also occurs on pocket knives made by the Syracuse Knife Company.

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