Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Close Call

Sometimes, I’ll win an online auction for a price that I consider to be just pennies on the dollar compared to what it’s worth. Usually, I’ll resist the urge to contact the seller and tell them how delighted I am to have won, and to be super duper careful packing it, and to insure the package – after all, I don’t necessarily want the seller to think he should have gotten much more.

From past experience, when a seller thinks he’s been shortchanged, that tends to trigger all manner of online shenanigans, from "oh I can’t find the item now, I must have lost it" to "accidentally" sending me the wrong item, to claiming the item was lost in the mail.

So usually, as was the case in this story, I just sit as patiently as I can and bite my nails waiting for the item to arrive safely. I had won something in an auction from a Florida seller who didn’t know beans about pencils; he or she did a great job describing the item but a pretty bad job taking pictures of it. If it was what I thought it was, it would be a truly significant find, and if it was in decent condition it would really be something special. But, when the auction closed, I didn’t end up having to pay very much for it.

After standing next to the mailbox for a few days, I received my package from Florida. I carefully opened the envelope and pulled out what was inside:

Just a piece of styrofoam crudely hollowed out on one side . . . and no pencil. My heart sank. Either the seller sent me an empty envelope and was going to claim I received it, or whatever was left of my pencil was still flopping around loose inside the envelope. Cringing a little, I reached inside and felt around the bottom of the envelope . . .

Whew. Amazingly, after 161 years, this little pencil survived the last couple days of its journey.

What’s that, you say? 161 years? Ok, maybe I should say up to 161 years, somewhere between 1851 and 1868. How do I know?

The barrel is imprinted "Goodyear’s Pat. May 6 ‘51," a reference to patent number 8,075 issued to Nelson Goodyear of New York, New York:

What’s really interesting about this piece is the way it is put together. Rather than just a hard rubber barrel, this one features an all hard-rubber nose cone, similar to what Conklin used on its Duragraph line some 60 or 70 years later:

At the top, there’s a delicately turned hard rubber finial. The craftsmanship that went into this is really impressive, and even more impressive is the fact that this survived the journey from Florida intact!

Since Goodyear’s patent only involved his special process for making hard rubber, the question remains: who made the pencil itself? This is a rear drive pencil, with a fixed rod in the top that telescopes down. Sound familiar?

Here’s the Eagle Pointer, patented in 1922, from page 45 of The Catalogue, which uses the same basic mechanism. The Eagle Pencil Company was founded in 1856, and like Nelson Goodyear was also from New York City. If I had one guess, I’d guess our Goodyear’s pencil is the earliest Eagle I’ve ever seen, predating even the Eagle Stop Gauge by 10 years or more.

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