Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Find of the Year

Today seems like the perfect day to bring out my top find of this year.  The series of impossible coincidences that have happened over the last couple weeks ended up bringing together three brands that I never knew were connected and led me to a conclusion that I never dreamed up: 

Eversharp stole the idea for its repeating pencil from someone else. 

This story starts innocently enough, with the article I wrote in early December titled "The Ferengi's Acfad."  After the article was published, I went back to Michael Little (the Ferengi in the article) and told him how excited I was to discover that his ACFAD was actually a pre-Moore pencil, from the days when Moore was known as The American Fountain Pen Co.  I didn't ask him to sell it to me - I just asked that if he ever did decide to sell it, to consider selling it to me.

Well, Michael did ask me how much I'd pay for it, and after I made an offer, we had a deal.  There was only one problem: 

he'd lost it.

He emailed me frantically after I'd sent him the check and said it just had to be somewhere in his apartment, that he was on the hunt for it and not to worry.  Fortunately, I know Michael well enough to know that he would find it - in fact, while he was looking, he might find some other cool things while he's looking for it.  From his description, his apartment sounds like Warehouse 13.

Sure enough, a few days later he emailed me to let me know he'd found it, along with about six other pencils he thought I'd like.   One of them, he said, was a "Gilfred."  Quite correctly, he pointed out that I did not list the Gilfred in The Catalogue.   He didn't send me a picture of it, but a little later in the day he sent me a link to a court case decided in January, 1942, captioned Gilfred Corporation v. Eversharp, Inc. (ok, the lawyer in me can't stop there -- the citation is 43 F. Supp. 645). 

I was amazed as I read the case.  This "Gilfred Corporation" claimed that Eversharp's design for its version of the repeating pencil infringed on Gilfred's patent.  Eversharp didn't defend by saying it came up with the idea first, and Eversharp didn't claim to have rights under its own patent.  Eversharp's entire defense was that Gilfred's patent claims weren't valid because someone else had thought of it before Gilfred, in 1896. 

Who won?   I'll give you one guess.  Ever hear of a Gilfred Skyline?   

(Now as an aside, stop here for a minute and ponder the irony of this.  Just three years after this case was decided, Eversharp was on exactly the opposite side of this argument, when the Reynolds Pen Company introduced the ballpoint pen and  Eversharp sued Reynolds for infringing on Eversharp's rights -- Reynolds, just as Eversharp had done in 1942, argued that the ballpoint pen had been patented in the 1880s and the rights to it had long since expired.    But I digress.)

To get back to our story, a couple days later I decided to dig a little deeper and look into the two patents that were mentioned in the case.  The "Clement Patent" from 1896 was number 566,444, issued August 25, 1896 to John Clement of Birmingham, England.

But it was the Gilfred patent that raised my eyebrows.  OK, it didn't raise them, it had them sailing off my forehead like in an old Warner Brother's cartoon, with a steam whistle blowing in the background.  The Gilfred patent was number 1,592,502 and was originally issued to Abraham Pollak.  The assignee was . . . Samuel Kanner.  Wow!  That's the patent for the Presto repeating pencil I wrote about just a few weeks ago.  Remember this?

The examples in the above photograph were the earlier Prestos.  At page 123 of The Catalogue, I've included a photo of a later Presto:

In the text for this photo, I stated "In addition to the Eversharp Doric-style band cutouts, the mechanism also strongly resembles an Eversharp repeater mechanism."  At the time I wrote that, this was the only example of a later Presto I had, and the plastic had shrunk to the point that I was unable to remove the mechanism for a closer look.  Fortunately, just a few days ago my friend Matt McColm sent me another example, and this one disassembled easily:

Wow.  I didn't know how close I was -- it's exactly like an Eversharp repeater, but bigger around.   But it wasn't the Presto copying the Eversharp -- looks like it was the other way around!

Under ordinary circumstances, if I stopped this story right now, I would be happy to call what I've figured out a huge success.  But the story gets even better when my package from Arizona.  I've finally got my ACFAD, but just as importantly, I've now got my "Gilfred":

Here's a closer view of the top section:

The overall appearance of this pencil, with its narrow lines, lightweight feel and distinctive bands, reminded me of another pencil  I've had.  In The Catalogue, I had commented that the "Everfeed" "look more than a little like Eversharp Doric repeater pencils."   Side-by-side, here's what they look like:

The bands are identical.  As I was comparing these two in more detail, I noticed something else.  The Gilfred is unmarked, except for the clip.  But on the back of the Everfeed was a very faint imprint I'd never noticed before (ok, it looks obvious now, but I highlighted it for this picture):

There it is!  The Presto patent again! 

I took the Everfeed and the Gilfred apart to see what was going on inside them.  Here they are, compared with an Eversharp Doric repeater pencil from about 1937:

No wonder Gilfred sued Eversharp, huh?  So the lingering question in my mind, when I got to this point, was whether Gilfred and Everfeed were separate companies or whether Everfeed was a Gilfred brand.    Now we get to the find of the year.

For this last part of the story, I have to step back for a minute and explain my philosophy of bidding on ebay.   When I browse around, I search for pencils listed in the order of "ending soonest."    Why?  Because I don't want to waste time.  I don't know which of the newly listed auction items will get bid out of sight a week later, or which ones the seller is going to end the auction early on because some schmuck talked the seller into selling it privately.  No, I'd rather bid on things that are ending shortly.  

And as for the "buy it now" auctions, most of them are priced ridiculously high.  If they aren't they get scooped up almost immediately by the guys who spend 23 out of 24 hours a day watching ebay (and the 24th hour looking for my ACFAD pencil--no offense, Michael). 

To get back to the story, later in the evening on the very day I received the Gilfred pencil from Michael, my wife and I were getting ready to go out for a night on the town.  OK, let me rephrase that.  I was ready to go out for a night on the town when my wife said she was going to do a few things to get ready for a night out on the town.   That meant I had -- we'll be generous here -- a few minutes before we were leaving.  So I fired up the laptop and logged onto ebay for a little pre-date entertainment.   I didn't want to get too wrapped up, knowing that at a moment's notice "we" would be ready, so for the heck of it I searched "pencils" and checked the newly listed "buy it now" items.

I haven't run a search like that in six months.

This was the fourth item on the list:

There it is.  An Everfeed display, completely stocked.  The Gilfred Corporation noted.  The Presto patent noted.   For $44.95 plus shipping.  It's like the planets lined up, the heavens opened, and some divine pencil being shone down upon a poor wretch like me on that day and decided that I was finally worthy to know the information this item conveys.

All right, maybe we can rule out divine intervention.  But stop for a minute and do a quick probability calculation:

1.  Michael only found the Gilfred (that I'd never heard of) because he'd lost another pencil I'd bought from him. 

2. Michael only knew about the Gilfred v. Eversharp case because he'd found the pencil and was curious. 

3. Michael shared the Gilfred v. Eversharp case with me, which I never would have found on my own (run a google search on "Eversharp" and try to find it). 

4. I am the guy who happens to own Samuel Kanner's personal Presto demonstrator pencil and recognized the patent as the Presto patent.

5.  I never would have known that the Gilfred and the Everfeed might be related until I received the Gilfred from Michael and took a closer look to see the imprint on the back of one of my Everfeeds.

6.  On the day I receive the Gilfred from Michael, I happen to be looking at newly listed Buy it Now items on ebay -- which I never do -- at the exact moment a fully stocked pencil display proving that Everfeed was a Gilfred Corporation product is listed for peanuts.

7.  Even if number 6 happened, I never would have understood the significance of number 6 if numbers 1 through 5 hadn't happened within a couple of days before then.

Is that creepy or what?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Mr. Culbertson goes to Detroit

With a title as intriguing as "Salz Culbertson pencil," I had to bid on this one:

The principle is very similar to that of the Apex scoring pencils posted yesterday; the outer barrel turns around a printed inner barrel, so rotating the outer barrel works as a scoring "calculator."

The barrel imprint explains the listing title:

As I was researching Ely Culbertson's accomplishments, I stumbled across something in his Wikipedia article that helped me to figure something out that I've been puzzling over for years.  Here is the picture from page 92 of The Catalogue showing a group of pencils marked "KEM Inc. Detroit Mich." on the clip:

I wasn't able to figure out what KEM, Inc. was until Mr. Culbertson came along.  It's not surprising that a professional card player would own a company that manufactures playing cards, and as it turns out, Mr. Culbertson owned one:  Kem Cards.

I'd run across the Kem Cards outfit in Detroit before while I was researching the origins of KEM, Inc., but I had dismissed it as having no connection to these pencils because the company's website (they are still in business) didn't indicate that they had ever produced writing instruments.

But thanks to Mr. Culbertson, it makes sense now.  Kem Cards didn't manufacture just any old playing cards - Kem was the first firm to develop and manufacture plastic playing cards.  Not just any old plastic cards, mind you -- cellulose acetate cards.

The same material used to manufacture celluloid pens and pencils!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Everytime I Think I Found the Apex, There's Another!

In The Catalogue at page 20, you'll find a pair of pencils manufactured by the Apex Products Corporation.   Since the book went to print, I've found a couple others that are worthy of note:

The top and bottom ones are the examples pictured in The Catalogue.  Typically, the "Magic Multiplying Pencil" is found with a painted wood barrel, so I was pleased to find an example in celluloid.  As for the top two, both are bridge scoring pencils; the celluloid example is the one pictured in the book, but I now know that the scoring pencils, like the multiplying pencils, were also made with painted wood barrels.

Plastic shrinkage on these was a serious problem.  While the multiplying pencils are often found with a top section that still turns, both of these scoring pencils have a top section that's shrunk so tight that it can't move. 

So who was Ely Culbertson, you ask?  Thanks to Wikipedia, I can tell you he was a rock star in the card game of bridge in the 1930s and 1940s.  His nickname, "the man who made contract bridge" comes from the fact that he invented his own system of playing the game, which became known as the Culbertson System.  He was on the winning side in the Culbertson-Lenz  match of 1931-1932 (yes, the game started in one year and ended in the other), known among bridge fans as the "Bridge Battle of the Century."   He even founded a magazine called "Bridge World" that is still being published today.  Carrying a Ely Culbertson scoring pencil in your pocket would have been the equivalent of having Arnold Palmer's name on your golf clubs... or something like that.

As I was browsing through the Wikipedia article, I noticed something else about Mr. Culbertson.  More about that tomorrow...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My New "Parts" Pencil

At shows, one of the things I enjoy the most is helping people get their broken pencils "back on the road."  This year at the Ohio show, there was a bumper crop of busted pencils hobbling in, and I had pretty good success with all of them.

One guy, who I've seen at the Ohio show before, brought me a 1930s Waterman pencil that had a nose cone that wouldn't stay on -- a common problem that occurs with these, since the goofy design Waterman came up with made these particularly prone to coming apart.  My friend not only had the pencil for me to work on, but he supplied me with a second pencil from which I could harvest the parts I would need. 

I took a look at the "parts" pencil and told him I thought the parts piece was nicer than the one he wanted me to fix.  Turns out what he didn't like about it was the name engraved on the clip, and that's why he thought it would be a suitable donor.

Now I don't want to start a pencil collectors' rumble or anything, because the collectors who are opposed to any engraving and those who don't mind it so much are like the Jets and the Sharks.  Personally, I don't mind a little engraving if it is tastefully done, and I certainly wouldn't condemn an otherwise nice piece to the parts bin because of it.

But before I could get into a discussion about this, my friend offered me a deal I really couldn't refuse.  If I could fix the pencil, I could have the "parts pencil."   It was tricky, but after a couple hours I had it repaired without stripping out the other pencil -- turns out that would have been the only way to do it anyway, since the parts between the two weren't compatible.   My friend went away happy, and I was a pencil richer.  Here it is, the green one (called "emerald ray") next to the one I had in my collection already, in red ("copper ray"):

Yes, it's a Waterman pencil, but which one?  There were, after all, three different models that looked very much the same.  Here are the three shown together:  from top, the Ink-Vue, the Ink-Vue Deluxe, and the Number Seven.

In The Catalogue, I explain the differences between these three models at page 164, but I didn't enough space to publish all the photos I wanted to.  Note first that the Ink Vue Deluxe is the only one of the three to have a tip section that is color matched to the barrel. 

Also, while the Ink-Vue has a single thin band, the Deluxe has a three-part band and the Number Seven has a wider single band.

Here's a closer shot of the bands, as well as the three different clips that were used.  The Ink Vue is decidedly different.  As between the Deluxe and the Number Seven, note that the top of the clip is flat on the Deluxe and pointed on the Number Seven.

Another cue is the top treatment.  Note that the Ink-Vue has a trim band just below the stepped top, and that the cap is more flattened.  The Deluxe does not have a separate top cap; rather, the barrel material is simply machined to the same shape.  The Number Seven has a black end cap but no trim band.

Of these three, I have to say the Deluxe is my favorite.  I just love the color matched tip, which is pretty unusual on the plastic Watermans or, for that matter, pencils in general. 

So remember:  friends don't let friends part out pencils.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Keen Pair

A few weeks ago I was the successful bidder on a lot which included a pair of Keen-Point pencils.  Keen-Point was a subbrand for Dur-O-Lite, and examples don't come around very often.  These were particularly nice:

Note the lettering on the side, still in the original gold leaf - these were salesman's samples.

I was also pleased that these examples had gold filled trim, as my only other example of this model was an advertiser with nickel-plated trim.  

All of the pencils in this lot were of salesman's samples, as shown in this group shot.  The lot came from a seller who had no other pencils or pens for sale, and this group looked like it had been together for a long time.  Perhaps a collector had picked a few up over the years, because it's unlikely one sales representative had all of these in his case; while the top two are our Keen-Points, and the bottom two are Dur-O-Lites, the two in the middle are Autopoints.  Autopoint and Dur-O-Lite were bitter rivals from the outset, and a salesman carrying both lines was as unlikely as a deliveryman with both Coke and Pepsi on his truck!

Since we are on the topic of the Keen-Point, I'll pose a mystery that I also presented in The Catalogue.   Since Keen-Point was a Dur-O-Lite brand, it's no surprise that Keen-Points and Dur-O-Lites strongly resemble each other. Here's another example:

Without the miracle of china marker, there would be no way to know these weren't identical pencils:

But here's a Keen-Point with no comparable Dur-O-Lite that I can't explain:

Although this one is unlike all the other Keen-Points I have seen, its lines should look familiar:

This is a rear-drive pencil with a distinctive clip and top cap that is similar to pencils bearing a wide variety of names.  When you hear the roll call of identical pencils, you may share my confusion:

From left, these pencils are marked Keen-Point, Diamond Medal, Ajax, Radium Point Pen Co., Ritzie and Weidlich.

The first two of these are what's the most interesting.  Why are there identical pencils from Dur-O-Lite and National Pen Products?

Monday, December 26, 2011

NIAOB: A Parker Find

I freely admit that I don't know as much about Parkers as a lot of people.  I am able to notice differences between different pencils, though, so when I see one that looks a little weird to me, I'll pick it up if it's priced reasonably.

So when I found this little jewel at the Scott Antique Market last month and the price tag said "Parker NIB $25," (NIB for "new in box") I thought it seemed like a pretty good deal:

It wasn't just that the pencil was in pristine condition and that it was in the box, it was the fact that it met my "a little weird" test for a Parker 51:

Note that the clip resembles the earlier Parker "wartime Duofold" clips and the cap design consists of  groups of three lines.  When I had the time, I started poking around to see what I could find out about it.  I checked a few of  the Parker 51 sites looking for this cap variation without success.   Could it be?  Could I found something really rare?

Fortunately, I asked the experts before I trumpeted my new discovery to the world.  A post in the Parker forum at Fountain Pen Network got me a quick answer, without even posting a picture:

it's not a Parker 51. 

In my defense, Parker introduced a bunch of different models from the 1940s through the 1960s.  While the pens had interesting features that differentiated them one from another, Parker used pretty much the same pencil with all of them.  You could swap this cap with that of a Parker 51 and never know which came from which; however, pencils with this cap configuration originally accompanied the Parker VS.  

The VS was made between 1946 and 1949, and according to Tony Fischer's site, VS stood for "Vacumatic Successor" or "Victory Successor."   With the cap on, the pen looked just like a 51 (except for the earlier Wartime Duofold Clip); however, with the cap off, there was no mistaking it, because the VS had an open nib rather than the 51's hooded nib. So essentially, the VS was a Vacumatic dressed up to look like a 51.

With diagnosis in hand, I cringed as I opened up The Catalogue to see how many VS pencils I had posed with my grouping of Parker 51s.  At page 116, I included two of them, both with the lustraloy rather than gold-filled caps.  But you know what?  At the end of my description, I wrote "The two examples on the right, with straight 'wartime Duofold' clips, are actually mates for the Parker VS."

Huh.  I guess I already knew all this at some point. 

In the meantime, I've corrected my description of this particular item.  It's no longer "NIB" for "new in box."  It's NIAOB:

new in any old box.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Eagle Automatic Part 3: Merry Christmas!

I said yesterday that the "Twas the night before Christmas" pencil was my second favorite of the Giant Eagle Automatics.  That's because this one is my favorite:

This was the 75-34 giant Automatic, and they usually aren't in very good shape.  This one is on the better end of the ones I've seen.  Painted on the barrel in the same silver paint as yesterday's example is another poem:

"With this giant pencil, I've checked off the toys
I delivered this Xmas to good girls and boys
So now that I've finished, I want you, my dear,
To keep my big pencilas your souvenir.

... from Santa Claus."

It's no wonder these pencils are never in good shape.  In the tiny hands that received them as gifts on Christmas morning in the late 1930s, they were impossibly big for writing -- the only reason they exist was to make them happy.   These pencils were showed off to friends, who were probably equally awestruck; they went to the first show and tell after Christmas break was over; they sat on nightstands or were kept safely under pillows. 

They were the prized possessions of the children that received them.  Holding one of these in your hand puts you in touch with the kids who found them and felt at that moment like they were the most important kid in the world.

It would actually be kind of sad to find one of these in mint condition.

I hope that those around you make you feel like you are the most important kid in the world, and that you do the same for those around you.  Not just today, but every day.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Eagle Automatic Part 2: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

My second favorite of the Eagle 75-12 Giant Automatics is this one:

The painted silver lettering on the side contains a short poem:

In case the lettering isn't clear enough to read from this photo, the poem reads:

"Twas the night before Chrismas
And this was the rub.
No one had a pencil, not even a stub.
Said Santa, "I'll fix that;" so chuckling with glee,
He brought this big pencil to hang on your tree."

Who am I to argue with that?

Happy holidays from Leadheads, and tune in tomorrow for Part 3!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Eagle Automatic Part 1: All Pencils Great and Small

When I wrote The Catalogue, I didn't just want to write a book about pencils that you never see "in the wild."  My goal was to write a book that beginners and experienced collectors alike would be able to use, so I included information about all the pencils I knew about, not just the superstars that are rarely seen.

But there wasn't room enough for everything.  While I was finishing up the editing The Catalogue, I received an email from "Steve," a visitor at my Mechanical Pencil Museum website, asking about what he referred to as his "Shaw Mechanical Pencil."   His example, marked "Property of the U.S. Army," was marked with Patent Number 1,859,433.

That patent number gave his pencil away as an Eagle "Automatic" pencil.  The patent, for the eraser tip, was applied for by Isidor Chesler on October 18, 1930 and was granted on May 24, 1932.  Here is a good example of the Eagle Automatic:

My example of the Eagle Automatic (known as the 75-10) also has patent number 1,859,433 on the eraser cap; however, note that the barrel of the pencil says "Pat Pend."  Chesler filed a separate patent application for the pencil itself, also on October 18, 1930, but it was not granted until April 24, 1934 as number 1,956,271.  Therefore, this pencil was probably made between 1932 and 1934. 

At first, when I emailed Steve back to tell him what I had found, I assumed that the word "Shaw," which he found on his example, probably referred to the military contractor who was making the Eagle Automatic under contract.  However, as I was highlighting the imprint on my example for this photograph, I noticed that spot up near the top of the pencil.  When I zoomed in close, what I found seems to indicate there may be more to it than that:

Who or what Shaw was in relation to the Eagle Automatic is unknown as of this writing; the patent databases do not indicate any inventor or patent assignee named "Shaw" in relation to any pencil patent. 

The Eagle Automatic was a popular and cheap pencil, made in both solid color and translucent barrels, that was the granddaddy of the Scripto, Faber and Wearever see-though pencils that would follow.  However, while the 75-10 was widely copied, Eagle also created a derivative of the 75-10 that remained unique to Eagle: the Automatic's big brother, the 75-12:

The 75-12, largely touted as "the Worlds' Largest Pencil," adapted the design of the Eagle Automatic to a wood-barreled pencil.  While the pencil used a conventional nose-drive design (the 75-10 was rear-drive), the eraser tip is clearly the same as from Chesler's original patent.

The 75-12 proved to be a moneymaker for Eagle.  Yes, it was produced as a standard issue pencil, but it was far to big to be held comfortably, at nearly three quarters of an inch in diameter and nearly a foot long.  What made the 75-12 so popular was its status as a novelty pencil.  Eagle obtained the rights to imprint these pencils with Popeye, a popular comic book character at the time.  In addition, the pencils were labeled or painted with designs and logos for tourist destinations across the country and were sold at souvenir stands from Yellowstone National Park to the Empire State Building.

Which brings us to tomorrow's installment . . .

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Indian the Wife Doesn't Mind Too Much

When it comes to the Slencil, there are two basic types.  The first are the quirky little metal pencils which come in a wide variety of styles and options, invented by Carl C. Harris in 1933.  The second variety, while still unique, is the rectangular plastic pencils which have a  more conventional nose drive mechanism:

When these were first introduced, The Slencil Company called them the "Stag Slencil," a name which may not have lasted for very long due to its racy connotations.  Here's part of the advertisement in the 1942 Pencraft Wholesale catalog:

The examples shown above have three different style clips:

The top example has the early "Stag Slencil" imprint shown in the 1942 catalog.  The middle example is probably the latest of the three, judging from the advertising that is usually found on them.   The bottom one shares the same side imprint as the top one:

The Stag Slencil line was nowhere near as good as the earlier metal pencils.  Note that, in addition to the fact that between these two there's only one good imprint, they weren't particularly careful about which side of the barrel they installed the clip.  Also, out of these three patents, two of them don't have anything to do with the Stag Slencil (the first is the reissued design patent number on the early metal pencils, while the third is the patent on Harris' wire "clamping clip" not used on the Stag).  Only Design Patent 119,263 pertains to these pencils:

Even though the quality on these later Slencils is nothing compared to what was produced before them, sometimes I just can't resist one.  The maroon one was one of those examples, but not because of the interesting clip or the imprint on the side.  It was what was on the back that intrigued me:

The Indian Motorcycle Co. was founded in 1901 and closed in 1953.  Although the name was revived briefly in the 1970s and was used on Royal Enfield motorcycles and dirt bikes, the Indian logo shown on the cap here was not used after 1953:

Motorcycle memorabilia commands high prices, so I knew when I got into the bidding it was going to cost me.  While a typical Stag Slencil will run you just a dollar or two, this one set me back a little more than fifty bucks.  I never would have paid that much, except for the fact that a 1942-1953 timeline during which both the Stag Slencils and the Indian Motorcycles were being made left no doubt in my mind that this is a genuine advertising piece from the day and not merely some made-in-China-to-be-collected piece of motorcycle hype.

And besides, I didn't get into nearly as much trouble as I did the last time I brought home a piece of Indian memorabilia:

. . . and I don't even need to change oil in it!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's All Adding Up Now

At page 90 of The Catalogue, I've got an entry for the Houk Adding Pencil Co.  Here's the picture:

I noted in the book that it appeared something might be missing from the top of this pencil.   At the Ohio Pen Show this year, I happened upon another example.  This one appears to be intact:

Talk about luck - the only markings on these pencils to identify them are the fragile paper label around the lower barrel, and I ran across two!  Here's a closeup:

Note that the new example has five tumblers and a different end piece.  Even though it looked more complete than the example I already had, I still wasn't completely convinced that the gold end piece was correct:

Here's the part where a great community of collectors picks up after everything else leaves off.  By coincidence, I received an email from Mike Rosen, a pencil collector from the west coast, asking if I had any information about a strange pencil he'd found.  His was missing the label, without which it's a very difficult pencil to identify, but it was clearly a Houk and it looks just like this one, strange end cap and all.  Once Mike had his identification, he did a little bit of digging and found an advertisement in a 1928 issue of Popular Mechanics:

Thanks Mike for writing - although you were asking a question, you ended up providing a few answers!