Tuesday, June 20, 2017

World's Ugliest Conklin

My friend Jerome Lobner had this one in an online auction:


Jerome is frequently listing really odd things.  He says there was a museum somewhere out in Kansas that had a significant pencil display he’s been liquidating, and over the years many of the more unusual pieces I’ve picked up from him have found therir way here.  If this one weren’t marked Conklin, I’d never believe it was one, either:


I’ve written about this line before . . . I lump it in with the All-American series, which covers a wide range of variants in Conklin’s budget line.  Last summer I did a clip transplant on one of these (see “The One that Bugged Me” on August 24, 2016 at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2016/08/that-one-bugged-me.html) and one turned up in Conklin’s ultra rare “flame” color (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2016/08/visitor-from-fiery-other-world.html).

This one is fundamentally different, though – and not just because that color combination is just . . . just . . . I don’t know what to say about that.  No, this one’s different because examples from the All-American series I’ve found up until now have been rear drive pencils with a one piece barrel.  Here’s the shot of one disassembled during the clip transplant article, and note that extracting the mechanism necessitated the destruction of the barrel:


This one, however, is a middle joint, nose drive pencil:


The construction is indicative of later and lower quality Conklins made after the company was purchased and relocated to Chicago.  The lower barrel is odd, too.  That isn’t a black and white plastic barrel – it’s a black barrel with white squares screen printed on it:


Literally.  It looks like someone put a screen over it and rolled paint on.

I’ll admit that the odd mismatch of colors had me wondering whether this was something Conlin actually did or whether someone else might have had some fun making something so ugly you’ve got to love it.  I come down on the side of a late Toledo or early Chicago made Conklin.  First, I consider the source – the seller has sold me a bunch of undisputably legitimate pieces, and this is credited as coming from that same source.  Although the color of the upper barrel isn’t one you’d expect to find in a Conklin, the imprint is a clincher and besides – in this series, the only color common to other Conklins was the lime green borrowed from the Endura line.

Next, consider what it would take to modify an All-American into something like this – there would be more to it than sawing a barrel in half and threading one end to accept a different lower barrel.  Remember that I had to destroy the barrel to get a mechanism out of one of these, because the clips were stapled in after the mechanisms were pressed into the barrel.  Even if I had cut the barrel in half, there wouldn’t be any way to extract the mechanism from the front end, either.  I don’t see any way to modify an assembled All-American and turn it into something like this.

Was there a matching lower barrel that has been replaced somewhere along the line with this ugly thing?  Maybe, but from what I don’t know - the diameter of this one is a little wider than most of the later middle-joint pencils you’ll see, and that screen-printed design is something I haven’t encountered before.

If this was a desperation piece hacked together from parts on hand while Conklin was in its death throes, either in Toledo in the hands of its old owners or in Chicago after 1938 at the hands of the syndicate, there likely wouldn’t be a catalog or other documentaiton that something like this rolled off an assembly line.  Maybe that’s a good thing, since an official announcement that Conklin thought something like this was a good idea might have further hastened the company’s demise.

On the other hand, given the depths to which Conklin sank before finally succumbing, maybe it would have been best for the company to be put out of its misery.  Nothing better illustrates the deterioration of the company better than a shot of this one alongside its older siblings made in happier times:


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