Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A Century of Autopoint

Although I've ended the blog, I haven't stopped writing:
A Century of Autopoint started as a simple father-son project, since my Dad's affinity for Autopoint is what got me started in collecting.  The book has blossomed into the most complete history ever assembled about the brand, and is currently in production as a 224-page, hardbound book.  It is scheduled for release (and is on schedule for release) at the Ohio Pen Show, October 31-November 3.  Preordering information is at https://www.legendaryleadcompany.com/store/p202/Century-of-Autopoint.html.

(PS:  If you are a member of the "Order of the Leadheads," enter coupon code "Loyalknight" to receive a $10 discount off the cover price.)

The collaboration that went into this book is unprecedented.  Researchers know well Jim Stauffer and Robert Bolin, who have collected and preserved Autopoint research and made it available online -- both of these gentlemen have contributed everything they know on the subject.  In addition, Charles Keeran's grandson, John A. (JAK) Keeran has been involved with the product, contributing family photos and other information I have never seen before. 

And . . . drum roll . . .

For years, I've heard rumblings about Keeran v. The Wahl Company, a case that Charles Keeran filed against his former employer in 1939.  The case was appealed and the appeals court decision is easy to find, but it doesn't provide most of the details from the trial court case.  Earlier this month, I traveled to Chicago and searched the Cook County Clerk's archives --- and I found the file.  It contains an amazing number of new and previously unpublished details which had me going back and rewriting parts of chapters 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 at the last minute!  Portions of the case are reproduced as an appendix to the book.

Here's a few screenshots of some representative pages:

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The End

Seven years ago today, the first article at The Leadhead’s Pencil Blog was published.  Seven years and 1,228 articles later, I’ve reached one of those rare points at which everything in the room has been photographed and everything is put away in its place.

It’s time to quit.  I have everything I need from this blog.   You do, too.

But I need to share one last pencil with you before I sign off for the last time:

It’s a Samson Mordan Everpoint, marked at the top with its English patent number of 307,227:

It also appears to be the most random choice one can imagine with which to close this blog.  It’s not American, and I don’t really know much about them. Contrary to what you might be thinking, I’m not about to go into a long exposition about how Samson Mordan had manufacturing operations in Scotland.  Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t, and for the purposes of this article I don’t care.

Now there’s a first.  I don’t think I’ve ever written that I didn’t care about some minute detail pertaining to a pencil – any pencil, great or small.  In this case, though, it’s because I care so much more deeply about something else – something that both involves pencils and doesn’t involve pencils at all:

It explains why I’ve done this.

I took a trip to Scotland with a group of people in August, less than half of whom were pen folk, half of whom I didn’t know before the trip, and all of whom had a fondness for Scotch Whiskey.  During our first four days we toured a dozen distilleries – a mighty accomplishment for even the stoutest of livers – and the last five days we spent in Edinburgh, right in the heart of Old Town.  It was during the Fringe Festival, an overwhelming cacophony of more than 3,000 arts and music performances that take place in small venues all over the city during each August.

To those who have asked me if it was the trip of a lifetime, I have consistently said two things:  I’m still alive, and I’m going back.

Our group wasn’t joined at the hip after we arrived in Edinburgh, and there were plenty of opportunities to wander off in smaller groups or, as fate had it one afternoon, for me to take a walk along the Royal Mile by myself.  I wandered through one gate and found a variety of street vendors:

Under one tent on the right in that picture, a guy set up a couple of tables and scattered on them a few bits of miscellany, in the midst of which was this tiny Mordan pencil.  Ten pounds, I think he wanted, and I had to buy it.  It wasn’t because I particularly like these Everpoints (I don’t), it’s not because I’m about to embark on an English pencil buying spree (I’m not), and it’s not because I planned to write with it (I haven’t).

It’s because I knew I would never be able to pick that pencil up without smelling the foods that were being cooked behind me when I took that picture.  I knew I would be able to hear John Corwin in our tour bus later that day saying, in that gentle voice anyone who knows John will hear as I’m writing this, “Wow.  You found a pencil.  Isn’t that wonderful!”   I knew I would be flooded with memories about the time, the place and the people that surrounded me, and that handling this simple object would be all that it would take to immerse myself in that all over again, any time I want.

I have dozens if not hundreds of other pencils like that, and over the course of twenty years of doing this I know this connection of object, time and place never fades.  I still have the Eversharp Doric Terry Mawhorter sold me when I first met him at an antique show, only hours after I had resigned myself to the fact that I was “collecting” these things (I had plenty of coincidences laying around, but no real collection, to borrow a phrase from Janet).  It was the first “real” pencil I invested (gulp) fifty whole dollars on, moments after I had proudly shown Terry a real piece of junk I had picked up from another dealer moments earlier.  I can still here him calmly telling me, in that measured voice of his, “let me show you something a little more special.”  It was and still is a moment neither Terry nor I appreciated at the time.

I can’t pick up my triple band Sheaffer in grey pearl without thinking about Jon Rosenbaum’s smiling face, even though I purchased it from his representative after he passed.  My green Riedell ringtop brings back memories of Frank Tedesco, when we shared a smoke outside the Tremont Grand in Baltimore and marveled at all the hookers coming and going through the hotel’s front doors.

I have folder upon folder of pictures Joe Nemecek and I took in marathon late-night sessions, sometimes here at the museum, but usually in dim hotel rooms, making the best of whatever light we could find.

There’s a reason I make a point to include where, when and from whom I found something in these articles – I’m preserving a moment when I shared my passion with a friend, old or new.  Those who use the tired cliche “it’s the people” when describing this hobby . . . well, that’s what they mean.

Then there’s the friends who share my passion who I’ll never get to meet, because they lived, worked and died long before I was born.  I may know Charles Keeran well enough by this point to write his biography, if his family is cooperative and can fill in a few details.  Picking up an Artpoint gives me a joy well in excess of the object itself, as I think of Jesse Roach and Amadee Taussig’s exploits in the wilds of Los Angeles during the 1920s.  And I can’t help but chuckle and wonder whether Hugo Hasselquist didn’t finish the drawings for the Riedell and laugh his ass off that someone actually wanted to make the thing.

So there’s part one of my apologia: I write about these things because I enjoy preserving moments of connections with like-minded people, living and dead, personal friends and historical figures.  I couldn’t remember it all if I tried, so I write it down.

But that personal joy doesn’t entirely explain why I have felt the need to share these things with you.  Is it worth all the effort to write a complicated article that explains something obscure beyond measure, only to have a tiny group of people actually read and appreciate it?

I think it is.

When I edited The Pennant, I took the opportunity in one issue, during my address from the editor, to talk about how frustrating it was to hear people wring their hands and moan that Michael Fultz wasn’t around to give them answers to who made what, when and why.  The point of that piece was twofold: first, that anyone can do the kind of research Fultz was doing – with better resources today, I might add.

The second was to stress the way we all stand on the shoulders of those who precede us.  I’ve built upon and amplified the substantial research that’s been done by others who like and write about this stuff, and in the years to come others will build upon and amplify what I’ve done, too.  It’s how knowledge is advanced.

It only works when we tell others what we know.  Fultz died without writing down much of the information that was in his head; when he passed, so did everything he knew and didn’t tell anyone.  The loss of his knowledge wasn’t the inspiration for this blog, but I was mindful when I wrote The Catalogue and started this blog that knowledge is useless unless it is shared.  The loss of so many images here in that Google gaffe last year (and the fear that it might happen again) was the impetus for printing this blog in book form – it would have been a tremendous waste of my time if I didn’t find a way to better preserve countless hours of work.

Will other blogworthy finds surface that will cause me to regret that I can’t snap a few pictures, write up a great story and post an article here?  Of course they will.  However, as I sit here and electronically “thumb” through countless images I’ve taken but never written about, I see two types of images: first are variations on themes I’ve already written about.  Second are fascinating and off-the-beaten-path pencils with stories waiting to be told.  The information is out there, just laying around on the Internet and begging for someone to pick it up, dust it off, pull it together and stun the world . . . or at least, our little corner of it.

If you’ve read the last five volumes, you can do that as well as I can.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

What Might Have Been

Now, to get to those things I promised to show you a couple days ago, which George Rimakis was showing me at the DC Show:

George says these came from Sheaffer’s research and development department (ignore the fact that one of these cases is a Parker case, which has a few vintage ballpoints that show, if anything, what Sheaffer was thinking of emulating).  However, the items inside the other two cases, marked Sheaffer’s on the outside, are beyond interesting . . . they are unprecedented:

As George states, and I completely agree, finding actual Sheaffer prototypes is an impossibility.  Shop-marked pieces with numbers are one thing – actual models showing what Sheaffer was thinking, complete with the dates they were created were not known to exist.

There is a mixture of pencils and ballpoint pens in these folders, and I have shown them exactly as they came to me.  I have since moved the pencils to one folder and the ballpoints to the other, and since this is a pencil blog (and Volume 5 is nearly full), it’s the pencils that I’ll show you in detail, starting with the earliest:

This model, for a rear-drive pencil with a one piece barrel, was made on February 9, 1954.  Note that the threaded mechanism has been dispensed with completely – the barrel itself is internally threaded, and it works perfectly:

This wasn’t Sheaffer’s only experiment with switching the Sheaffer utility pencil platform from a middle joint to a top joint pencil with a one-piece barrel:

The top example isn’t marked, but given the similarities between it and the examples marked “Model #2" and “Model #3" I think it was number one.  The piece at bottom, made of the same plastic and with the same clip, was marked August 8, 1955 - and I think it’s fair to say August, 1955 is when these were made.  All operate smoothly, but since the barrels are not transparent I have no idea whether the internally threaded barrel is present on these.

Did Sheaffer ever offer a cap-actuated repeating pencil?  No, not in production, but the company was definitely thinking about it:

All are fitted with very efficient repeating mechanisms.  The center example is modified from a ballpoint pen, and it’s such a good idea (by 1955 standards) that I wonder why that wasn’t put into regular production.  It bears a date of December 7, 1955:

For a different take on the repeating pencil, this one is dressed up a little bit more:

It bears a production date of January 27, 1956, and it works differently from the other ones: pushing the cap down advances an entire twist mechanism through the nose:

I’m not sure what Sheaffer was up to with these next ones, dated March of 1956.  They are standard twist mechanism pencils.  The only difference I see from an ordinary pearlie mechanism is the top end “bumper” for the eraser (the screw moves up and down so when the cap is pushed down onto it, the eraser is pushed out a bit):

That bottom Tuckaway is included in this shot, even though it bears a 1960 production date, just because it doesn’t fit in with anything else.  Whatever Sheaffer was trying with it didn’t work, since the material is cracked and the mechanism doesn’t budge.

I’ve saved the best for last.  This next one is the single most weird and most wonderful pencil I think I’ve ever written about . . . my cool-o-meter broke when George first showed it to me:

It bears a production date of April 11, 1960, which is consistent with the clip.  Note that the tip is off-centered, inline with the top of the barrel:

How it works is what has me over the moon.  It’s a tractor drive pencil, to either coin a term or best describe something I can’t otherwise explain:

That white ladder-style piece of plastic in there runs in a continuous track from the top end to down near the nose - removing the top shows where it loops around:

Inside the cap are three prongs: two side ones keep the top in proper position, while the middle one advances a tiny hook, which engages the rungs of the tractor tread and pushes it forward a bit:

There wouldn’t be any way to repair something like this if even one of those little rungs failed, and the reason I believe this never saw the light of day outside of Sheaffer’s research and development department was concern about finding a material that would remain flexible enough to continue its oval trek, yet sturdy enough not to break.

Yet here I sit, playing (although very gingerly) with this little wonder nearly sixty years later . . . and it still works!

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Oldest Confirmed Ever Sharp

I spent a boatload of money at the Raleigh Pen Show auction last June.  Those two Esterbrook metal repeaters came in one lot; the Artcraft metal Rex pencil came in another lot.  The Artcraft, however, was not the real target of my affections in that bunch.  What had me holding my card up from the first bid until the gavel fell was this one:

Yes, this is an early Heath-clip example of the Ever Sharp, made between December, 1913 and 1915:

I’ve written several articles concerning what the first Ever Sharps looked like – those very first pencils Charles Keeran took with him to set up shop in a corner of Wanamaker’s in New York in December, 1913.  I first wrote about them in Volume 2, page 50 and thanks to help from an English reader, we’ve found a 1913 advertisement providing more information (see Volume 4, page 29).   I may or may not have found one of these first Eversharps, depending on whether I have interpreted the evidence correctly (Volume 4, page 130), which would make that the earliest Eversharp in existence.

However, there is a certain amount of guesswork involved in my analysis, since parts of that last example were missing.  This pencil from the Raleigh auction, however, is completely intact – and it has a few subtle features which confirm that while it isn’t the oldest Eversharp in existence (with a “fibrous plug” and no metal tip, as shown in that 1913 advertisement), it is the earliest Eversharp in existence that I can confirm.

Here it is, between the Ever Sharp I believe may be one of the first from 1913 (bottom), and a typical intact Heath-clip Ever Sharp (top):

Let’s begin by comparing the top ends:

There are three subtle things to notice . . . and remember from that last article, my possible 1913 example came to me without a mechanism – the mechanism and cap came from something later.  First and most obvious is that the cap is shorter than the other two.  Second, note that the engraving around the cap is different – on every other Ever Sharp in my collection (including all the other Heath clip examples), the engraving on the cap winds into little eyes, like knots in wood, as shown.  This new example has sort of a floral pattern, but without those eyes.

Although I do not have that engraving on any other Ever Sharp, I did find it on one of my examples of a Heath leadholder – and Heath made the first Ever Sharps for Charles Keeran.

Third, note that like my possible 1913 example, the Ever Sharp imprint is located higher than it is on most Heath clip Eversharps, nearly overlapping the top of the barrel.

Next, look what you see when you compare the mechanisms:

On every other early Ever Sharp I’ve found, the internal workings are silver metal.  On this one, however, they are brass.  Furthermore, imprinted on the mechanism is something I’ve sought for a long, long time:

“Keeran & Co., Bloomington, Ill.”  The closest I’ve come to finding one of these was the mechanism only, which was discovered and reported by John Coleman:

Note that the cap on John’s example also appears to be a bit stubbier, and the engraving similarly does not seem to wind into circles.

The clincher, however, is at the other end.  Recall that Charles Keeran applied for his first patent for the Ever Sharp (patent 1,130,741) on October 10, 1913, sans tip.  On October 28, 1914, Keeran applied for a patent for his “rifled tip” (patent 1,151,016).  After that initial 1913 advertisement showing a pencil with no tip, there’s an advertisement from the Bloomington Pantagraph on July 18, 1914, which also appears to show a pencil with no metal tip.  If Keeran applied for a patent for the rifled tip in October, it must have existed before then – and possible before July of 1914, since the advertising art was in an advertisement for W.B. Read, a Bloomington stationer.

Compare the tip on the new addition to all my other Ever Sharps.  The tip on the new addition is significantly shorter:

And it isn’t rifled.

Mechanisms, including the caps, can be swapped out, and you might be able to explain away that higher-than usual imprint as a simple manufacturing error.  The tip, though, is conclusive.  This pencil was made before October of 1914 - within 10 months after Keeran’s first pencils were made, and perhaps earlier.  It is the second oldest Ever Sharp in existence . . . and the oldest that has been 100% confirmed.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Lifting the Veil

Just a few moments before I picked up that odd Sheaffer from Rich Lott at the DC show, I was talking with Michael Greaney, a dealer from England, about a few Victorian pencils he had to offer.  I was seriously tempted by one – I think it was a gold-filled Addison – but he needed the sort of investment that would put a serious damper on my shopping, and I wasn’t wild about curtailing my spending so early in the show.   However, he did have something else that was a bit more reasonably priced:

The box, with a “VP” logo and the year 1935, opens to reveal four matching pencils:

Each also bearing that same VP logo:

The presentation of these pencils far exceeds the quality of the pencils themselves, which are ordinary nose-drive pencils with exposed erasers . . . although the faceted top piece to prevent them from rolling around is kind of neat.

My real focus was that logo and what it meant.  I’ve seen these a few times before - Bruce Mindrup has had one on his table, and they turn up at flea markets from time to time.

I paid for the box and was just walking away from that table when George Rimakis flagged me down - he and his father were wandering around, and George had some things he wanted to show me.  We sat down at a nearby vacant table and, while George was unpacking his backpack in preparation for the big reveal, I showed him and his dad my recently acquired boxed set.

Then George showed me what he had in tow, and I was so overwhelmed I forgot all about the mysterious VP and what it meant.  After George and I were finished, though, his father came over with his cell phone in hand, browser up.  “Veiled Prophet,” he said.

At first it didn’t register what he was saying to me, so distracted I was by what George had just shown me.  “Your pencil set,” George’s dad said.  “The logo stands for ‘Veiled Prophet.’”

Back to earth I came, and he was right.  The Veiled Prophet is a quasi-fraternal, quasi-social organization founded in St. Louis in 1878, which to this day puts on an annual parade, known as “Fair St. Louis” these days.  It is difficult in today’s climate to know what is true about the Veiled Prophet, and I don’t know whether social justice warriors have been revising the history of the organization or revealing it.

The Veiled Profit Organization is attributed to Charles Slayback, and anti-Prophet sources say only that he is “a former Confederate Cavalryman,” as if 13 years after the end of the Civil War, Slayback still had done nothing else with his life.  That obviously isn’t true, since Slayback must have been a prominent member of St. Louis society to bring together the city’s rich and powerful, putting together a country-club sort of group to put on an annual parade and pageant.

Also true is that there was a massive railroad strike in 1877 in the area, and the organization of the Veiled Prophet to put on a spectacular parade is seen by some as an effort by the economically powerful to assert their dominance over the working class, and by others as an attempt by the upper crust of St. Louis to put on a nice event in an effort to put the ugly past behind them.

Sources committed to proving racism exists everywhere point to the fact that the Veiled Prophet organization was not racially diverse for the first century of its existence (not admitting its first African American member until the 1970s), although even one of the more slanted accounts I read conceded that since the criteria for membership was economic, racial exclusion of minorities in nineteenth-century St. Louis may have been less intentional than incidental.

Several sources also compare the appearance of the Veiled Prophet’s costume to that of a member in the Ku Klux Klan (the Veiled Prophet in garb is the grand marshal of the parade as well as the annual Veiled Prophet ball, which crowns one debutante in attendance as the “Queen of Love and Beauty”).  However, I find no source indicating that the Veiled Prophet was ever involved in violence or other forms of organized racial oppression.

As Missouri continues to bleed and America continues to tear itself apart, I can choose to see the bad or the good in anything, and I choose to see the good.  I choose to see an annual event which involves people coming together in peaceful celebration.  I am not ignoring any dark side to this organization, because I see no evidence of a darker motivation – only the opinions of those who choose to see them.

If these pencils bore KKK emblems, they would have no place in my home, since hatred and racism are contrary to the Constitution and to my beliefs.  They do not.  They commemorate the activities of people who, by today’s standards in certain circles, were damned no matter what they did solely because of the color of their skin.

And that, whether America chooses to admit it or not, is racism.

Now to get off my soap box and get back to pencils . . . as for that spectacular stuff George showed me, I’ll get to that.  The day after tomorrow . . .