Sunday, January 22, 2017

The One The Pennant Rejected

Note: this article was written for The Pennant in early November, 2016 as a companion piece to Daniel Kirchheimer’s article, “Featherweight v. Heavyweight,” regarding the patent litigation between the W.A. Sheaffer Pen Co. and the Worth Featherweight Pen Company over Worth’s alleged infringement of Sheaffer’s design patent for the balance.  Daniel’s article is posted at https://danielkirchheimercom.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/featherweight-vs-heavyweight.pdf.

The article was rejected because the Pennant’s editorial board determined “there is not enough evidence to say that Conklin manufactured the Worth pencil mechanism.”  Since the article will never see the light of day otherwise, and I think it’s a good piece, I’ve decided to post it here.

Who Made the Worth Featherweights?

By Jonathan A. Veley

As Daniel Kirchheimer notes in his article “Featherweight v. Heavyweight,” when Walter Sheaffer’s undercover agent hunted down the Worth Featherweight Pen Company in 1930, he found “a tiny operation with a single-room office in New York City.” Just a year later, federal marshals were unable to locate the company in order to serve it with papers.

Worth’s lack of documented manufacturing facilities suggests that someone else was making the offending writing instruments for the company. In earlier patent litigation against his former business partner George Kraker, Sheaffer had sued not only Kraker but also the manufacturer of the parts that were alleged to have infringed on his rights—in fact, the supplier, C. E. Barrett & Co., was the lead defendant in the case. In the Worth litigation, however, the Worth Featherweight Pen Company stood alone. The question of who manufactured Worth’s Balance knockoffs remains unanswered...perhaps. I recently found a pencil that might provide a clue, if Worth acquired both pens and pencils from the same supplier.

The pencil is a flat-top with a profile that approximates a Sheaffer Titan oversized pencil, but in a cream and black-veined plastic not used in Sheaffer products. The similar shapes of the two pencils isn’t in itself evidence of an attempt to copy Sheaffer’s products: numerous manufacturers copied the looks of the flared cap seen on Sheaffer’s pencils, since the outward appearance of the cap was not protected by any design patent. (Walter Sheaffer was, however, awarded Utility Patent No. 1,554,604 for the construction of his bell-shaped cap on September 22, 1925, which supposedly made his caps less prone to denting.)


Figure 1:  A Sheaffer Titan pencil in jade compared with a pencil bearing a clip with the Worth Featherweight Pen Company’s logo.


Figure 2: Detail of the Worth clip.
While it might be impossible to determine who made a generic lever-filling fountain pen, mechanical pencil mechanisms varied significantly from manufacturer to manufacturer. This Worth pencil, I believe, can be traced back to its source.

On August 24, 2016, I posted an article, “That One Bugged Me,” at my Leadhead’s Pencil Blog concerning how to repair a damaged clip on a Conklin All-American pencil (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2016/08/that-one-bugged-me.html).  The Conklin All-American was the company’s lower-tier line of pens and pencils, although the quality of the pencils equaled that of Conklin’s flagship lines.

Figure 3: The Worth pencil compared with a Conklin All-American pencil. These Conklin All-Americans were in production around the same time as the Sheaffer v. Worth litigation.

Figure 4: The tips from the Worth and the Conklin All-American share a distinctive feature: they thread directly into the plastic at the nose of the barrel rather than onto the mechanism. These tips are interchangeable between the Worth and the Conklin.


Figure 5: The Sheaffer Titan showing the tip removed. One wouldn’t expect to find the same mechanism inside the Worth and the Sheaffer, but this shows how much variation there is between mechanisms used by different manufacturers.

Unfortunately, given the way the All-American pencils were assembled, the mechanism from the donor pencil featured in that article could not be removed without destroying the pencil, so a side-by-side comparison of the Conklin and Worth mechanisms outside of the pencils is not possible. However, comparing the Conklin to what little can be seen without removing the mechanism from the Worth leaves no doubt in my mind that Conklin manufactured at least this example of the Worth.

Figure 6: A mechanism extracted from a Conklin All-American alongside the Worth.

Figure 7: Detail of end of Conklin and Worth mechanisms.

Did Worth also acquire Balance-shaped pencils from Conklin, or were the company’s imitative practices limited only to pens? Did Worth acquire pens from the same source that supplied pencils such as this one? Did Worth acquire pens and pencils from more than one source during its brief run? These questions remain unanswered, but I believe the Worth pencil strongly suggests that Conklin was Worth’s supplier. That might explain Sheaffer’s omission of the manufacturer as a party defendant in the Sheaffer v. Worth litigation. Perhaps Sheaffer deliberately chose a defendant small enough to defeat handily rather than picking a fight with a major manufacturer that had been making pens with rounded caps and barrel ends since the turn of the last century, in the days when Walter Sheaffer was simply a Fort Madison jeweler and before fountain pens were even a glimmer in his eye.

2 comments:

Intergalactic Traveler said...

If you call yourself a leadhead, are they penheads?

Joloheat said...

Thank you for the interesting article and pictures. I am a fan of old pencils, but no expert, in fact ,the opposite, so enjoy learning. The details are fascinating, as you obviously