Wednesday, October 17, 2018

From the Chicago World's Fair

In recent online auctions, one seller was disposing of quite a few mint, boxed examples of mechanical pencils distributed as souvenirs of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.  I pounced on the first lot, which included a leather souvenir pencil pouch:

Later he sent more lots of these to auction, which I missed – fortunately, my friend Eric Magnuson didn’t, and he was able to add a fourth example:

Under the clips of two of them are commemorative labels for the fair:

Those goofy tops with holes in them contain stanhopes: holes through which you can view tiny pictures mounted inside.  These feature three different scenes showing different buildings from the fairgrounds:

The caps are a little distracting, and since there’s no name on the clips these might be easy to miss.  They are “Straka” Eversharps, named for inventor John Straka (Volume 2, pages 109-115); normally, this is how they are found:

In addition to the over-the-top cool Stanhopes and connections to the Century of Progress, the colors used in this series are fascinating.  The burgundy is Eversharp’s “Tunis Pearl” found on the Equipoised line:

while the green moire was also used on other Eversharp Chicago World’s Fair souvenirs:

That electric green was found on another Straka Eversharp marked “Monitor,” featured here at the blog very early on (Volume 1, page 33):

Then there's this example, in the “Borneo Pearl” celluloid used on Eversharp’s line of Equipoised purse pencils (see Volume 3, page 243):

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Lucifer's Last Act

Lucifer Most is a shadowy yet prolific inventor in the world of American mechanical pencils.  He invented the pencil marketed as the Autosharp by Diamond Point, and also marketed as the Sta-Sharp and then the ‘Salrite by Salz Brothers (Volume 4, pages 152-156).  From there, he went on to have a largely undocumented relationship with Mabie Todd and Sheaffer (Volume 4, pages 159-163).

Fast forward more than eighty years, when Janet and I wandered around an antique mall in Southeastern Ohio, where pickings were slim but expectations were commeasurately reduced.  One booth had a few baggies full of later advertising pencils . . . nothing special, but in a land of nothing specials I had little to do but amuse myself browsing through them.  In one of those bags, there was this one:

I thought it was a Sheaffer pearlie when it popped out of the bag, but there was something odd about it.  On closer examination, this is no Sheaffer:

The clip is marked “Ultimatic,” a name with which I wasn’t familiar, and better still was the imprint on the cap:

“Pat. Re-21,428 / D120,137 & Oths.”  I could hardly wait to get home and thumb through American Writing Instrument Patents Volume 2, where both of these references were easy to located.  “Re-21,428" referred to patent number 2,177,839, reissued (that’s the “Re”) on April 16, 1940.  Lucifer J. Most originally applied for this patent on July 15, 1939 and it was granted on October 31, 1939:

On February 10, 1940, Most also applied for Design patent 120,137, which was issued on April 23, 1940:

Note that the Ultimatic has a triangular shaped barrel, just as shown in the design patent; in the utility patent, the drawings indicate that the pencil was designed to use triangular lead.  On closer examination, whaddaya know:

Triangular lead.  These were two of Most’s last patents - other than an eraser retainer and two patents for screw drive pencils, the Ultimatic represented the last stage in Most’s long and interesting career.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Rekindled and Settled Once and for All

Some five years ago, there was significant controversy and debate (by tempest in a teapot standards) concerning whether triangular pencils such as these are Triads:

The stakes are high.  Triads – the originals made by the Tri-Pen Manufacturing Company – are grail finds for pencil collectors.  Here’s the ones I’ve been able to find, augmented by the four that were part of a collection I purchased from Alan Hirsch in Raleigh:

These Triads are made in spectacular celluloids, with a nice imprint and a great clip marked “Triad.”

The later ones, however, don’t have a Tri-Pen imprint – usually they have advertising imprints instead, and usually for Providence, Rhode Island area businesses.  While the clips are shaped the same, only rarely are these marked Triad:

In 2013, I suggested that these later pencils couldn’t possibly be legitimate Triads, since Tri-Pen was gone by 1933, replaced by an outfit called the “Improved Pencil Company,” (see Volume 2, page 70) and that later red, white and blue models like these, apparently made during World War II, were probably made by a “Triangle Pen Company” formed in March, 1940 (Volume 2, page 75):

In the years since, there has been an uneasy truce about this issue; Joe Nemecek and I have a ritual where he refers to these later pencils as Triads, I say “you mean those made by the Triangle Pen Company,” and we have generally settled on the term “Lesser Triads.”

I’m not settling anymore.  There was one more pencil in that collection Alan Hirsch sold me:

Clearly World War II vintage – not just from the patriotic colors, but also from the (admittedly crappy) plastic tip and the monoplanes on one of the three sides:

And on the other side, all the evidence one needs that the argument is over . . . “Lesser Triad,” my butt:

There is one last piece of the puzzle in this story.  I have suggested that those later red, white and blue pencils might actually have been made by Ritepoint Company of St. Louis, and one other example I’ve found seems to have settled that argument, too:

Same clip . . . same cap . . . the V for Victory . . . and on the back:

It’s a salesman’s sample for the Newton Manufacturing Company, an advertising specialty company.  In an earlier article, I had suggested that one example of Newton’s pencils might have been made by Quickpoint – unless Ritepoint also made Quickpoint (page 120).  But thanks to this case that turned up a while ago, we know that at least one of Newton’s suppliers – if not the only one – was Ritepoint.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Plaid Might Be Next

At the Raleigh Pen Show last June, the Saturday night auction featured a better than average selection of pencils, from the estate of the late Frank Tedesco, including these jaw-droppers:

These are early Esterbrook pencils - those with plain silver barrels were cataloged as the “PS” pencils, for “Push Sterling.”  One of these two is sterling, with a nice crisp imprint – unusual since they were stamped right where they were likely to wear off from the friction of the cap:

The other is gold filled – not cataloged and exceedingly rare.  There’s some pitting in the finish and the imprint isn’t as nice, but you won’t hear me complain:

What places these two just a bit farther to the left of “holy cow” in terms of rarity are the longitudinal lines running the lengths of the barrels and up the caps.  They nicely complement the ringed pair that I picked up from Jim Ryan’s family at the Ohio Show last November (see page 213):

All together, they make for a stunning new family portrait:

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Bridging the Gap

Janet and I took our semi-annual pilgrimage to the Springfield, Ohio Extravaganza, the enormous indoor/outdoor flea market/antique show that takes fully two days to see – if, like me, you feel compelled to leave no stone unturned.

Under one particularly fruitful stone, this one lounged in a sky blue plastic Tupperware container:

The seller thought it was “bent,” so it cost me just a buck or two.  It isn’t bent at all, though – that unique shape is intentional and so distinctive I knew exactly what it was:

Here it is, shown next to a Parker bridge pencil.  That’s not a generic name:

The pencil is found both with or without the lettering on its three sides – Jim Carpenito has one sans letters as well, and both his and mine show no signs of wear to indicate that letters were ever present. 

I’ve written about these before – Joe Nemecek’s example was featured in Volume 1, at page 318.  I decided to circle back around to the topic because there was something I left out in that last article:

The “Parker Bridge Pencil and Scorekeeper” was featured in the company’s in-house publication, Parkergrams, on August 26, 1935.  “The lettering is etched in silver and cannot rub off,” the brief summary states, further supporting my belief that unmarked versions are simply unmarked rather than being worn or deteriorated.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Tangled Web

Today’s pencil turned up, like so many extraordinary finds, in someone’s junk box.  It was at the DC show last August – all I remember is picking it up, thinking a casual “huh” to myself and parting with just a few dollars to bring it home and think about sometime.

I’ve thought about it a lot now.

At first blush, this unassuming pencil doesn’t stand out in a crowded box full of metal pencils.  What drew that “huh” and a couple bucks out of me was the name:

“Fine Point / Pat. Apl. For.”  Initially, I thought this might be a Mabie Todd ripoff on “Fyne Poynt” or something, and so it landed into a pile of things I was going to get around to photographing after I finished editing the very book you are reading.

As fate would have it, this is the same book that both makes sense of this pencil and also sends my mind reeling a bit regarding what it means.  I’ve seen the name “Fine Point” before . . .

That’s a page from an undated catalog illustrating products of the General Manufacturing Company, makers of Snapfil pens and Kaligraf pencils; the article originally ran in The Pennant in Spring 2015, and it’s reproduced earlier in this book, starting at page 41.  I’d forgotten all about that – I know, read your own damned books, Jon.

Before I show you a few things about the pencil, there’s a couple points to bring you up to speed on: first, that article originally ran as a sidebar to an article Daniel Kirchheimer wrote in that same issue, in which he established that Sheaffer lifted, borrowed or otherwise appropriated the “Balance” shape, name and concept from General Manufacturing.  On page 42, I noted that the pencil on the left in that catalog page resembled an early Sheaffer Sharp Point, but there wasn’t enough detail to be certain.

Now that I have an example of a Fine Point in hand, I can tell you it doesn’t just resemble a Sheaffer Sharp Point – it is one:

It has the same cap, eraser retainer and mechanism.  Also, there’s some details in the barrel chasing that are telling:

Note that extra ring at the nose end, in the same position on both.  Even though the patterns on these two pencils is not identical, note the way the machining “punches” in at the nose end, rather than being a smooth line.

And there’s more.

In that article on page 42, I was able to better identify some of the other pencils in the General Manufacturing catalog as having been manufactured by Hutcheon Brothers.  When the Fine Point is positioned between the Sheaffer Sharp Point and a Hutcheon “Finerpointe”:

We have a Sheaffer Sharp Point cap and a Hutcheon clip and similar name blended into one pencil.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Big Oops

I goofed, and I might as well get this over with.

Of all the books I've written, American Writing Instrument Trademarks 1870-1953 is the one of which I am the most proud – it contains more than 2,000 trademarks, many of which were unknown to many pen and pencil historians simply because of the chaotic manner in which historical trademarks were (or were not) maintained by the Patent Office.

The book includes one trademark it shouldn’t, and it is missing another -- one very important one, which is near and dear to my heart.  Unfortunately, I don’t even get to take credit for finding the omission - it was discovered by an avid reader who picked up the book and who noticed what appeared to be an innocent typographical error.  It involved the trademark for “Redmanol”:

This is the trademark I shouldn’t have included, because it is not a writing instrument trademark strictly and it wasn’t indexed where all the other pen and pencil trademarks were found.  However, when I pulled the registration certificate from the Patent Office database, I didn’t think anything of it: Redmanol, a competitor of Bakelite, was used in the manufacture of pencils before Bakelite successfully sued the company for patent infringement and absorbed it.  I was intimately familiar with the Bakelite/Redmanol story because I wrote about it here in the course of researching the “Craftsman” which was made of the stuff (see Volume 3, page 97).

My anonymous reader, though, noted that I had the number wrong in the database listing.  Instead of registration number 124,149, I listed it as registration number 125,149.

There’s the one I left out of the book.  I typed the wrong number into the USPTO’s document retrieval portal when I pulled the certificate.  It certainly wasn’t the only time I did that over the course of months of research, but every other time I did so, the certificate which came up was so obviously wrong that I rechecked the number and pulled the right one.  This time, by coincidence, the certificate I pulled looked like it belonged – and it did, although not as much as number 125,149:

Charles Keeran, godfather of the American mechanical pencil industry, filed his first trademark for “Autopoint” in block letters, claiming a date of first use of July 15, 1918 – when the company was founded.  Oh, my forehead has such a flat spot now.  I knew about the mark: it appears on the first announcement for the new Autopoints, which appeared in the May, 1920 edition of Typewriter Topics:

I even noted this earlier trademark when I wrote about early Autopoints such as these in Volume 4, page 88 and 326, and the mark appears on the early Autopoint pictured on page 21 of The Catalogue. 

All I can say is that there’s an error in the trademark book, and I assure you it is one which pains me more than it pains you!