Sunday, June 20, 2021

Rib Night at the Museum

There’s something I want you to notice about that “sterling”(ish) Morrison ringtop from yesterday’s article: that little ring just beneath the cap:


A “tell,” I call it . . . a distinctive little feature that suggests connection with other brands.  The diamonds around the crown are another one.  I’ve come to believe that the Rex Manufacturing Company was quietly working behind the scenes making all of these, shortly before McNary’s patent launched the company onto its trajectory into “stardom,” in my little world.

Recently, a couple other ribbed pencils came my way.  The first is this one:


The name on this one is “Wilrite” – another one that I thought had made the blog before, but I don’t see it. 


 I know I took pictures of one at the Baltimore Show, back when it was at the Tremont Grand.   I don’t remember who had it, but it’s the full-size set along the same lines:


Inside the box lid, there’s a neat logo with “Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.” beneath it:


That’s a cue to check trademarks registered with the Patent Office, and the Wilrite trademark is included in American Writing Instrument Trademarks 1870-1953:


Gustave Rappeport, as Secretary and Treasurer of the Wilrite Fountain Pen Corporation, claimed that the company had used the mark since January, 1922, and the company’s address was 312-314 Lafayette Street, New York City as of the date of the application, January 23, 1925.

The trademark application must have been filed while the company was in the process of moving.  A Wilrite  advertisement for sales representatives in the Chicago Tribune on March 22, 1925 identified the company’s address as 1493 Broadway:


Morrison, according to the trademark filing in yesterday’s article, was offering pencils with that same little rib near the top just a few doors down, at 1547 Broadway.  In fact, New York seems to be the common denominator for a lot of these:


The first two beneath the Wilrite have that same rib, but the top ends and crowns are different.  You’ve seen them before: the “Bonnwear” (Volume 3, page 33 and most recently in Volume 6, page 25):


And the Ever-Rite (Volume 3, page 71).  Note that the color of the cap is slightly different from the barrel, so I can’t say with certainty that it isn’t a replacement:


The Bonnwear and Ever-Rite have a Sheafferesque mechanism, which has led me back down that rabbit hole several times.  The others, however, have caps that just pull off just like the Wilrite.  From top to bottom, there’s a “Keene New York,” sporting a cap with diamonds around the crown, like the Morrison:


A “Just-Rite / P.S.M. Co” (see Volume 4, page 147), with those same diamonds:


A “Handy Pencil,” also with those diamonds:


And a “Newark Pen Co.,” with the same ribbing on the top as the Wilrite:


After these pictures were taken, another one surfaced in an online auction:


This one also has diamonds around the crown, and another shadowy imprint – “W.J.B.”:


I’m confident that the same firm made the ribbed pencils marked Morrison, Wilrite, Keene, Just-Rite, Handy Pencil, Newark Pen Co., and W.J.B.  It definitely wasn’t Keene, because he was a jeweler, not a manufacturer (see Volume 5, page 285).  I suspect it wasn’t Morrison or Newark Pen, since both were mainly in the pen business.  

That leaves open the P.S.M. Co., maker of the “Just-Rite,” whoever this W.J.B. was, and whoever made the “Handy Pencil.” 

Or someone else entirely.  I haven’t given up on Rex as a possibility, but as of this writing I don’t have enough information.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Minty Morrisons

Eric Magnuson recently offered me a few things out of a collection he had acquired, and this was one of the items I couldn’t resist:


Yes, it includes one of those pesky fountain pens, but I’m a bit of a Morrison closet collector, pens and all:


Both the pen and pencil have fully intact price bands.  The pencil is denominated the Number 8 “Automatic,” priced at $3.50:


As for the dinky ringtop, the Number 81 “self filling” carries a hefty $6.50 price tag, rivalling the price of a Parker “big red” Duofold at the time.  I think I recall the Morrison Pen Company being amongst those shady characters who deliberately marked up prices on their writing instruments, so the real price looked more attractive as a “discount.”  


The imprint on the pen is nice and clear:


As for the nib, it is tiny but nice:


This wasn’t my first rodeo buying a Morrison set – I’d forgotten that I had a second one:


I was convinced I had written about it before, but apparently I haven’t – probably because while both the pen an pencil are period correct Morrisons, the pen has wavy chasing while the pencil has groups of straight lines.  Morrison was second tier, but even so I would expect their sets to match:


The boxes are an exact match – “A Gift of Service,” they read on the lids:


Mismatch aside, I bought it for the paperwork it includes:


“Look for our trade mark,” the guarantee certificate invites.  Don’t mind if I do, I said, picking up American Writing Instrument Trademarks 1870-1953 – and there it is:


Louis Morrison, “a member of the firm” of the Morrison Fountain Pen Company, applied for registration of that ornate script logo on August 13, 1924, claiming to have first used it around June 1, 1919.  The text indicates that the firm consisted of Louis Morrison and Abe Morrison; trademark registration was granted as number 190,777 in very short order, on October 24, 1924.  

Another Morrison of note came my way in a lot which included several metal pencils.  I had to bid, because there was a paper label on it . . . I just needed to know what it said:


This one is a Morrison’s Number 11, with a stout $5.00 price tag:


It does go nicely with a gold filled example in my collection, in the same wavy chasing:


But . . . what would justify a $5.00 price tag for something like this?


The barrel indicates “sterling,” but the barrel also indicates that it is nothing of the sort – plated, at best.  Did I mention Morrison was second tier?


Friday, June 18, 2021

Tying in Tamis

We know more about Edward Todd and William S. Hicks during their decline than I ever thought we would know just a few years ago.   You would think after the article I posted on June 4 (https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2021/06/the-end-of-ws-hicks-revealed-at-last.html), it would be easy to explain how Louis Tamis wound up with all of Edward Todd’s equipment.  Maybe Hicks was making Edward Todd’s stuff, Larter & Sons bought Hicks, then Larter and Sons sold to Louis Tamis & Son, perhaps when Larter discontinued the Hicks name between 1943 and 1947.

Nope.  There’s a problem.  Two, actually.  We don’t know exactly what Larter & Sons bought, and we don’t know exactly what Louis Tamis & Son bought, either.

Let’s back up and start with what we know.  

1. Larter & Sons acquired William Hicks’ Sons between 1925, when the Hicks boys were still running the show, and 1929-1931, when Halsey Monroe Larter’s patents were being used inside Hicks-marked pencils (and other of Larter’s patents were assigned to Hicks).  If that seems to thin to accept as definitive, we know it must have happened by the time the Larters were named as Hicks’ partners in the 1933-1934 New York directory.

2.  The business of Edward Todd & Co. “Was discontinued in 1932,” according to Edward Todd, Jr.’s obituary five years later.  That’s equally thin evidence for a definitive date, but reliable for the fact that Edward Todd, Jr. was out of the business for a time before he died.   The firm is still listed in the 1933-1934 city directory, with Edward Todd, Jr. at the helm; maybe the information was collected during 1932 and Edward Todd Jr. closed up or sold out at the end of 1932 – but maybe not.

3.  In the 1933-1934 directory, Louis Tamis is still affiliated as a partner in Schanfein & Tamis, in which he had been involved since 1910 or so – as a jeweler, with no known involvement in the writing instruments industry.  

4.  Larter & Sons changed Hicks’ address to 10 Austin Street, Newark, New Jersey in 1937. That’s the house next door to Larter & Sons’ four-story factory, which Larter had occupied to manufacture its products since 1909. 

4.  Edward Todd, Jr. died in December, 1937.

5.  Sometime between publication of the 1933-34 and 1940 directories, Louis Tamis leaves Schanfein & Tamis and forms Louis Tamis & Son.

6.  The last mention of Hicks is in the 1943 Newark directory; when the next published edition came out in 1947, Hick is gone. 

Something else we know, but we don’t know when it happened, is that someone made identical pencils marked with Hicks and Edward Todd hallmarks, pursuant to William M. Hicks’ 1918 patent.  See Volume 6, page 40 for a pair of identical perpetual calendar pencils (the article is still online at  https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2020/04/that-thing-i-hate-to-do.html).

Now, let’s supplement this story with what Larry Liebman and David Nishimura learned when they visited the Louis Tamis & Son factory a couple years ago.  The Tamis archives include pencils and documents which do not fit neatly into our timeline, the earliest of which is this advertisement, which Larry indicates was pencil-dated 1937 (the same year Hicks’ offices were relocated to Newark):


The clips on the side clip model shown are Hicks-style, and the advertisement states these pencils were “manufactured” by Tamis – although the watch movement was not, and the pencil mechanism likewise might not have been.  The “newly patented” language is consistent with the patent references:  Jack Tamis’ design patent number 101,073 for the pencil/knife/watch combination was applied for on June 30, 1936 and was issued September 1, 1936: 


Note that the model 232 ringtop and 233 side clip watch pencils are both “patent applied for.”  Jack Tamis was working on more than just the outward appearance of writing instruments – the patent covering these pencils was a utility patent for the mechanism.  Tamis applied for patent number 2,107,879 on December 12, 1936, and it was issued on February 8, 1938.  It was designed so that the top pulled out of its rectangular housing a bit, then twisted like an ordinary screw drive pencil:


Right as my recent article on the end of William S. Hicks was publishing, Eric Magnuson pointed out an example of one of Tamis’ watch pencils in an online auction.  It sold for exactly the exorbitant price I predicted, and although I hate paying gold value, I couldn’t resist:


The advertisement for this pencil proves two things: first, by 1936 Louis Tamis & Son was in the writing instruments business.  Second, the firm was developing mechanical expertise (suggesting also some manufacturing capability) to make much more than just the outer shells. 

Tamis’ archives also includes a notebook containing details of the firm’s product offerings, and David Nishimura snapped a few pictures with his phone and agreed to share them here.  One page is titled “L. Tamis & Son Report July 31, 1938" and another page states “L. Tamis & Son Report April 30, 1939.”  



The products shown appear to be Edward Todd pencils.  Note the alternating vertical/horizontal ribbed pattern typical of Edward Todd, and models 391-55 and 391-17 appear identical to those Edward Todd pencils I recently showed on May 31 (see https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2021/05/narrowing-gap.html):



There is also an illustration of one of Edward Todd’s square, extending ruler pencils, sporting the more conical nose I’ve observed on pencils marked Cartier and Pen-N-Pencil, and consistent with Edward Todd Jr’s 1925 design patent (see Volume 6, page 10):


The notebook also includes handwritten price sheets for fountain pens and combination pen/pencils (referred to as “Duplexes”), which itemize four product lines: “plain,” “E.T.,” “B.C.-17" and “S-55.”



“B.C” and “S” are a mystery, but “Plain” suggests without any branding, and “E.T.” must mean that Tamis was offering writing instruments branded Edward Todd in 1938 and 1939.  This is consistent with Larry Liebman’s oral history, which states that Louis Tamis & Son acquired whatever remained of Edward Todd, whenever Edward Todd, Jr. gave up making writing instruments.

Larry and David observed that Louis Tamis & Son also has pen and pencil-making equipment, which was acquired (according to the company) from Edward Todd – however, all of the remaining equipment on hand pertains to manufacturing the barrels, not the mechanisms inside.

If we knew who was making the insides of the pencils Edward Todd and Hicks were selling, before Todd sold to Tamis and Hicks sold to Larter & Sons, the complete story behind all of these firms would be much easier to put together.  

I have always thought Hicks had taken over the manufacturing for Edward Todd, based on identical Todd and Hicks pencils made under Hicks’ patent. I thought Edward Todd’s listing in the 1933-1934 directory, showing that the firm occupied rooms on the eighth floor of a 6th Avenue address, further supported that – not so fast, says David Nishimura, who points to the fact that many jewelry firms (including Tamis) have actual manufacturing going on upstairs, rather than at street level.

Jack Tamis’ utility patent for the watch pencil also suggest that along with the name, Tamis & Son also acquired wherewithal – at least to invent mechanisms, but perhaps also to make them.

On the other hand, Larter’s decision to move Hicks to the house next door to Larter & Sons’ manufacturing facility suggest Hicks was was making mechanisms as well as the shells that surrounded them, because there wouldn’t be any reason to park Hicks’ offices next door to Larter’s factory if Hicks existed in name only. As long as Larter’s offices were at 15 Maiden Lane and separated from Larter’s manufacturing, it would make more sense to keep Todd’s offices at the same location. 

We just don’t have any evidence yet to tell us whether either Todd or Hicks was making pencils for the other, whether each was making its own using shared equipment and technology, or whether both firms were sourcing the insides of their writing instruments from some unknown third-party supplier.

It’s still a dead end, but it isn’t as dead as it used to be.  The truth has a habit of floating to the surface as additional pieces of the story come together, and we know more than we did just a few weeks ago.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Harder Than It Should Be

 Most of the time, later Parker pencils don’t grab my attention . . . other than minor stylistic flourishes and barrels in different injection-molded colors, they’re all the same thing.   It’s like Derek Zoolander’s calendar, if you’ve seen the movie.

This one, however, is different . . . the “blue steel” of later Parkers. The company's desk pencils can be particularly thorny to identify, since they lack clips, caps and other “tells” that might point definitively towards any particular Parker model line:


The imprint on this one reads simply “Parker,” with “Made in USA” on the opposite side– there’s no date code, and neither is there any “halo” logo (the oval with an arrow running through it), which Loyal Knight Mike Kirk indicates was introduced in early 1958.  There’s a groove on the upper barrel - I don’t believe it was ever fitted with a metal band:


At the top end, the taper ends in a slight cone:


The tip unscrews to reveal what appears to be a Cross-built mechanism, typical for Parker, but with a little rib in the center:


The tip and mechanism are identical to some of the Parker 21 pencils in my collection:



Does that mean this is a Parker 21 desk pencil?  That would be too easy.  Parker didn’t care too much what went inside of the company’s pencils, as long as they were wrapped in chunks of plastic and metal that looked like their fountain pens (and in later years, their ballpoints).  Replacement mechanisms were pictured in a 1960 Parker parts catalog residing in the Pen Collectors of America’s reference library, and this mechanism was listed . . . not exclusively for the Parker 21, but also on the 51 as well as the V.I.P.:


However, the mechanism illustrated as a universal donor for all these models is not an exact fit for all these models.  The hexagonal section which engages a recess inside the barrel is significantly longer as pictured; I’ve got parts bins full of different variations with slightly different sizes, and I assure you that one size most certainly did not fit all.  I’m fond of saying that if you have two later Parkers, they probably have three different mechanisms inside them.

I asked the peanut gallery for help with the identification, and Loyal Knights Mike Kirk and Harry Shubin came to my aid.  Harry suggested it might be either a Parker Jotter or Parker 45 desk pencil; it has the girth of a Jotter, but Jotter desk tapers were more pointed than this.  Mike Kirk noted that the taper matches the profile of some Parker 45 desk ballpoints, but also indicated the barrels on Parker 45s were fatter.  He reports that his ballpoint is “buried I-don't-know-where,” but he found where Rob Bader has one listed in an online auction:


Note that Rob’s pen has a gold ring, but note that it steps down towards the writing end; that’s the same clutch ring carried over from the Parker 45 fountain pen line.  

According to Tony Fischier’s site, Parkerpens.net, the Parker 45 was introduced in 1957 and was based on the Eversharp 10,000 (Parker acquired Eversharp’s writing instrument division that year). That might square with an early production Parker 45.  National newspaper advertising for the Parker 45 was heavy in 1960, and after looking at a couple hundred of them, I gave up trying to find one that illustrated a desk pen.   There are other problems with a Parker 45 diagnosis:  Parker’s catalogs in the PCA library don’t show this variation, either those Parker replacement parts catalogs omit any reference to this model, and . . . unless it was made in 1957, it should have a halo logo.

Then Mike Kirk found another lead - an identical desk pencil at Parker51.com, in the desk pens section (http://parker51.com/index.php/51s/desks/).  The author identifies it as a Parker 51 desk pencil and further states that it has a 1953 date code.

Identification as a Parker 51 desk pencil would fit; if that’s what it is (and if Parker was consistent, an enormous “IF”), we can pinpoint exactly when it was made.  Mike Kirk reports that his latest date-coded Parker is marked 1955; if Parker discontinued date codes after that year, this suggests production in 1956 or later.  

As mentioned earlier, the absence of a Parker halo logo suggests pre-1958 production, but we can narrow things down even more.  The 1957 Parker catalog in the PCA’s library illustrates desk pens, and even with the terrible quality of the copy, tapers on these pens clearly show bright metal tips:


There’s our contingent answer: IF this is a Parker 51 desk pencil, and IF Parker discontinued date codes after 1955, and IF Parker universally abandoned the stubbier desk tapers by 1957, this is a Parker 51 desk pencil from 1956.

Oh, and there’s one other thing . . . IF Parker universally used chrome plated tips on the Parker 51 “Special” line, it’s a 1956 Parker 51 Special desk pencil.

If, of course, someone over the last 60 years didn’t simply replace the tip . . .