Monday, July 23, 2012

The Twist is in the Plot, Not Just the Pencil

Back on July 13, we were discussing an interesting cable-twist pencil made by the J.E. Mergott Co. That got the attention of Dan Linn, a frequent contributor of information here (most recently with regard to the "Beats All" pencils), who emailed me some pictures of a nearly identical pencil.
I complimented him on the find and asked if he was keeping this one to himself – instead of a reply, I received a package. Here’s Dan’s pencil, at bottom, next to the Mergott from the article a few days ago:

Remember how I said "nearly identical?" In addition to the slight differences in dimensions, there are a couple other distinctions. First and most importantly is the different name stamped on the nose:

"Dixon," as in The Joseph Dixon Crucible Company, which like Mergott hails from New Jersey. I had assumed that Mergott, which made such a wide variety of pencils, made its own pencils, but this find left me with some questions. It seems unlikely that a pencil company would have a general metal specialties factory make pencils for it, but on the other hand Mergott made such a wide variety of metal products that it certainly had the capability to make its own pencils. Perhaps there was a licensing agreement between the two companies? Or maybe a blatant case of copying?

Part of the answer can be found on the end of Dan’s pencil:

Since the pencil itself is no technological marvel, my first thought was that perhaps it was the interesting twist design of the barrel that was patented, so I checked George Kovalenko’s patent book and sure enough, there was a design patent issued on May 21, 1912:

Frederick W. Tolfree applied for a patent based on the looks of the pencil on January 25, 1912, and it was granted May 21, 1912 as Design Patent Number 42,553. And the patent was assigned . . . drum roll . . . to the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company.

So Dixon was the owner of this pencil design – at least the one shown in the patent drawing. Notice that the actual pencils pictured are a little different from the drawings, in that they lack the knurled section at the back end of the pencil. Could it be that Mergott started turning out pencils that were just a little bit different from the Tolfree design in order to get around Dixon’s patent, so Dixon began producing an identical pencil but marked with their patent date? Maybe.

The 1917-1918 edition of the American Trade Index, published by the National Association of Manufacturers, lists Dixon Crucible under several categories, including paints, foundery equipment and, of course, pencils. Mergott, however, is only listed as making metal frames for purses and handbags. While patent wars are always fascinating, I think in this case it makes much more sense that Mergott would have Dixon, an established pencil maker, produce pencils marked with the Mergott name to go with Mergott handbags. That certainly is a simpler answer than Mergott gearing up to produce pencils and going head-to-head against one of the largest manufacturers of pencils in the world.

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