Monday, April 30, 2012

Jim Rouse's Cross Collection

One of the first things Joe Nemecek said to me at the Ohio Show, last November, as I was unveiling The Catalogue, was that my book should have had more Cross.

He's right.   Since 99.9 percent of what's in the book are the things in my personal collection, and I only had two Cross pencils in my collection, I honestly forgot to include the maker until the last minute.  The A.T. Cross Company ended up taking a back seat, appearing on page 175 in the "Just a Couple More" section, which I wrote literally the day before the book went to press.

Everything I said in the book is absolutely true.  Cross is one of the oldest and most established manufacturers of pencils -- true.  Cross pencils are very high in quality and construction -- true.

And most collectors breeze right by them without a second thought, because in general most of the ones you see all look alike -- ok, you can send me all the hate mail you want, but you know it's true.

That's most of the ones you see.  I knew there were guys out there who had spent years accumulating examples of the brand that you don't see all the time and could teach me more about Cross in a couple hours than I would be able to learn in the next decade of picking through flea markets and pen shows.

Guys like Jim Rouse.  Jim was at the Ohio Show, but I had not made his acquaintance yet and even though Joe told me he had his entire Cross collection with him, I wasn't able to get away from my table long enough to spend some time with him.   

The Baltimore Show, however, was another story.  Joe introduced us on Saturday and I asked if I could bring back a camera to document his collection on Sunday morning.  Jim agreed, so early on Sunday morning, before most of the dealers were in the ballroom, My camera and I spent some quality time with Jim's portfolio of vintage Cross pencils:

Now I've already commented that my only criticism of the Baltimore Show was the quality of the lighting in the ballroom, but fortunately with an early morning sun streaming in the large gothic windows, I was able to get some pretty decent shots.

Yes, Jim does have a large number of the standard little Cross pencils you see all the time, in all manner of minute variations:

and these:

and he did have a few examples of the Cross Century:

but his Cross Centuries were nothing like anything I'd ever seen.  Check out these patterns -- he calls them "prototypes," and while that word tends to be overused in the collecting community, I believe him when it comes to these:

But most of what was there were wonderful Cross pieces I haven't seen before.  Rather than cram all of them into one article, I'm going to spend the next few days going through these in detail.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Lakeside, one of Montgomery Ward's store brands, appears on page 94 of The Catalogue.   This one turned up recently at an online auction:

I really like the clips on these:

I've heard rumors that Parker may have made the Lakeside.  While the example in The Catalogue doesn't have many Parker-esque hallmarks, the bell on this one does vaguely resemble an early Duofold . . .

but no.  This was clearly made by National Pen Products.  Compare this Lakeside to examples of another Montgomery Ward brand, Gold Bond, as illustrated on page 81 of The Catalogue:

The examples on the right are a dead ringer!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Big Bumblebees

A few weeks ago, when Joe Nemecek was weighing in on wafers (March 4), he had sent me this picture, throwing in to the shot the two bumblebee pattern dollar pencils at the top of the picture:

At the Baltimore show, Joe asked me at one point why I'd turned down that red bumblebee dollar pencil like the one he had.  The answer was simple:  I missed it.  Thanks to Joe, I swung back around and picked it up.  While it was a little rough when I bought it, after a little love and attention it's looking pretty good now:

There's only one problem -- it's not like the one Joe has.  Take a closer look at the top:

Note that Joe's has that extra metal section under the bell.  I've got one like that, but mine's jade.  Here's a shot of the two, plus my yellow bumblebee dollar pencil:

My yellow and red ones are along the same lines, with the only difference between them being the cap.  I hate to use the word "correct," since they are interchangeable, although I'm wondering if the cap on the yellow one, which matches the cap on Joe's, isn't . . . more right.  The cap on my red one matches some earlier dollar pencils and may have been a replacement.

(But we are certain that the clip on Joe's yellow one is a replacement, transplanted from an Autopoint!  Sorry, Joe, had to rib you a bit on that one.)

The internal workings of the jade one are different from my bumblebees.  The bumblebees share the same Keeran mechanism used since the earliest Eversharp metal pencils were made in 1913, while the jade one uses something else:

Yeah, that eraser retainer on the jade one says "Eraser No. 7."  I've not seen those, but they had to be the biggest the company made!  Since the retainer is a close match for the retainers on the later Equipoised and Doric lines, I believe my jade example is a little later than my bumblebees.

Joe and I have different collecting styles.  To him, he's got a red bumblebee and I've got a slightly different one, but it's still a red bumblebee.  His yellow one has a matching yellow cone, while mine have black cones with yellow trim rings, but that's ok. 

But as for me, it's driving me freakin' nuts!

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Saturday Night Special

I live in a town small enough that when someone does something as odd as write a book on mechanical pencils, it's front page news.  It's also small enough that when the front page of the local paper had my picture on it holding a copy of my new book, people were surprised that they didn't already know one of their neighbors had a stash of thousands of mechanical pencils.

My in-laws have a family friend named Jerry who has known my wife literally since the day she was born, and he's known me since I first started hanging around my wife.  He and my father-in-law joined the local Elks lodge decades ago, and I see him regularly on Saturday nights when Janet and I go down for the weekly drawing -- usually at the same table, usually in the same chairs.  When it's not the same table or the same chairs, that itself is a topic of conversation.  It's a comfort thing, I suppose.

"I never knew you collected pencils," he said to me after the article appeared in the paper.  "I've got some I'll bring down to you to see what you think."

That much I've heard from dozens of people since the book came out.  Only a couple actually followed through and appeared on my doorstep, and Jerry was one of them.  He had a pretty nice bunch of things, and I paid him well for them -- after all, if I didn't pay more than fair prices for the things he brought me, that would really be a topic of conversation on Saturday nights.

Here's one of the things he brought me:

It doesn't look like much at first -- but on closer inspection this one has some interesting details.  At the nose, the barrel is tapered into a triangular section with little triangular marks on it:

On the clip is the name "Kontour":

But what really got my attention was the distinctive lettering around the upper barrel:

On a hunch, I ran a check in the Patent and Trademark Office's database to see if there was a trademark for "Kontour," and I hit paydirt.  Here's Trademark Registration number 1,238,340 (serial number 73,382,975):
Although the trademark wasn't filed until September 1, 1982, the date of first use reported was in February, 1957 - which looks about right for this pencil.  The registrant was Tobias T. Kaplan, dba Kontour Pens, 172 Sharpe Avenue, Cleveland, Mississippi.

The trademark was renewed by a James R. Thomas of Syracuse, New York in 1990, but it appears the mark no longer has anything to do with pens (or pencils). 

As of this writing, that's all I've been able to find about Mr. Kaplan's Pen Company.  I missed bidding on a partially stocked storecard of Kontour ballpoints, but other than the neat colors, the card doesn't provide any more information than this:

I'll have to print off this article and take it down to the Elks with me next Saturday night!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Shaw-Barton: the Inside Connection

On page 8 of The Catalogue, I illustrate a couple of pencils that were given to me by a friend, Ellen McCoy, who found them in her mother's desk drawer after her mother passed.

What I didn't know at the time the book was printed was that both Ellen's mother, Della Hall, as well as her father Lauress, both worked for Shaw Barton in the 1940s.  At that time, Shaw Barton was the major employer in Coshocton County.  Since I knew my friend grew up in Coshocton, I guess it shouldn't have surprised me to find out that my friend's parents worked there. 

But it did surprise me when Ellen showed up on my doorstep with a couple other pieces of Shaw Barton memorabilia:

The first is a leather case marked "LFH"  for Lauress F. Hall.  Here's a picture of what's inside:

. . . and inside the lid . . .

Second is a large leather wallet with the name "I.J. Branson" on the cover, probably for taking large business sized checks to the bank.  Inside is the company's name:

But the third piece is the one that I consider myself very fortunate to have.  It is a large leather presentation folder, on the lower corner of the front of which is a name:

That's Jay S. Shaw, the founder of the company.  Looks like the Halls really had the inside scoop on what was going on at the company in their day!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Shaw-Barton Gets Its Due

Shaw-Barton, Inc. was founded in 1940 by a group of investors led by Jay S. Shaw, who formed the company and purchased the calendar and specialty advertising division of The American Art Works in Coshocton, Ohio.

You would think, since Coshocton is only about 30 miles from where I live, that I would have illustrated an extensive group of them in The Catalogue.  Unfortuantely, if you turn to page 134, there's a picture of one lonely example.  I just didn't have any on hand at the time I wrote the book. 

Shaw-Bartons don't get a lot of attention.  They're often written off as "only" advertising pencils, and usually they turn up in dollar boxes at flea markets.  But for what they are, they really are well made, and since the book was written I've made more of an effort to put together a better selection of the different varieties that are out there.

Here's what I've found so far:

The example on the left is the one illustrated in The Catalogue.  It and the one next to it share the same riveted clip:

Next are some very sleek and streamlined examples, one of which is an advertising piece for Shaw Barton:

Along the same lines, this one, also a Shaw Barton advertiser, has the same clip on an all-metal cap:

The next one also has a bullet shaped top, but the clip is a bit boxy,  reminiscent of the Rite-Rite Threadline:

It's also a Shaw Barton sample (you can see the "8061" just next to the clip) with a 1951 calendar on it, suggesting it was made in 1950:

And finally, the last two are really interesting.  The erasers are set in a specially designed plastic holder.  The white example has a 1960 calendar on it:

These are the latest Shaw Barton pencils I have been able to find.   From the information I've been able to put together, the company stopped producing writing instruments in the 1960s but continued printing calendars and other advertising materials long after.  The trademark lives on (last renewed in 2002), but it no longer has anything to do with advertising products. 

I'm sure that I'll be revisiting this topic as more information comes to light!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

There's Something Fishy About This Sheaffer

Ah, another fuzzy ebay picture, another irresponsible bid by yours truly.  I should probably do more articles on all the dumb chances I've taken that didn't pan out, because believe me -- they don't all turn out this well:

What made me bite was the wider band.  But on closer examination, I noticed that the clip lacked any markings:

The more expensive Sheaffers lacked any markings on the clip (although it does have they typical imprint on the back of the upper barrel).  But the real neat feature on this pencil is the center band:

Easy to see why collectors have nicknamed these "fishscale" bands, isn't it?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dawn of the Fingertip - and Beyond

The other day I introduced a brown and grey striated Mastercraft, with lettering on the clip that was "twisted" sideways:

Well, there were actually two brown and grey Mastercraft pencils in that lot, and the other one was even more unusual.  While the lettering runs horizontally on this one, as I would expect . . .

this one is a cap-actuated repeater!

Now here's where things get really interesting.  This one has an imprint on the barrel, unlike the rest of the Mastercraft series:

That same imprint is found on another Moore pencil:

The Moore Fingertip pencil!

But wait . . . there's more (or should I say "Moore")!  Doesn't that patent number look familiar?  2,358,091 - issued to Charles K. Lovejoy on September 12, 1944?  That's the same patent found on the Moore clutch pencil . . .

and also licensed to Eversharp for use on a Skyline-type pencil . . .

and finally, as revealed here a couple weeks ago, on pencils made by Dur-O-Lite!

Ever have one of those days when everything suddenly made sense?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Mastercraft's Little Brother

On page 102, fram 9 of The Catalogue, I've pictured what I call "Later Mastercraft style pencils:

Notice how closely the bottom example resembles the Mastercraft I discussed a couple days ago? 

I'm not sure whether these were produced as a different, lower product line contemporaneously with the Mastercraft series, or whether they were a later and lower quality version of the Mastercraft line.  Recently, I've found a couple more of these:

These are differentiated from the Mastercraft line in a couple respects.  First, notice the clips, which have a unique design that looks a little cheaper than the Mastercrafts:

The rivets on top are plain, while the Mastercrafts are ribbed with concentric rings:

While both of these features point towards a lesser quality product, the center bands on these are really interesting, with little rectangular deco windows:

For a cheaper model, they put a lot of time into designing these!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

One More Mastercraft . . . With a "Twist"

I found this one in one of those fuzzy ebay pictures and bought it for the color:

But when it arrived, there was something a little different about the clip:

Huh.  Sideways lettering.  That's the first time I've seen that!