I’ve been thinking about this article since the Chicago show last May, tucking away little pieces of information until I felt I had enough to write something about Chilton. Chilton is another of those "cult" brands that has a hardcore, dedicated group of devotees who have forgotten more than I will probably ever know on the subject, so I can almost hear the corrections filling my email box as I’m writing this.
First, a quick history. From what I’ve put together, Chilton was formed in late 1923 when Seth Crocker sold assets from the Crocker Pen Company to a partnership in which he was one partner, and at least one of the other partners was the DeWitt-LaFrance Co. Chilton began producing pens in 1924 in Boston, Massachusetts. After the stock market crash, Chilton moved its operations to Long Island City, New York between 1929 and 1931. In 1937, the company moved one more time, to Summit, New Jersey.
My recent Chilton odyssey began in Chicago, where Rick Propas was staffing a table stocked with a lovely spread of Chiltons. They weren’t for sale – not yet, anyway. Rick had just taken a position in the Fine & Vintage Writing Instruments division of Swann Galleries, a New York auction house, and he was at the Chicago show to generate interest in an upcoming auction of pens and pencils, in which most of the lots were the Chilton collection of William Baisden. Although I couldn’t take any of them home with me, Rick did allow me to take some pictures of some of the pencils:
That’s a pair of Chilton "Wingflow" pencils from the mid-1930s, in burgundy and the ultra rare cherry red, alongside a more routine burgundy marble pencil with a bulged top, indicating it was made in Long Island in the early 1930s. I actually learned that from Swann’s auction catalog, which arrived in my mailbox shortly after Chicago.
Sometime either just before or just after Chicago, I saw an auction for a pile of pencils that were, for lack of a better word, crap. All of them, that is, except for one:
It’s the black one in this picture, below the burgundy Wingflow. While I knew from the inlaid design it was a Chilton, the clip had me stumped for a bit:
All of the examples in the Swann catalog with that clip are identified as "Summit Wingflows," meaning they were made after Chilton moved to Summit, New Jersey sometime around 1937.
In DC, I turned up another Chilton pencil, in a black plastic with red streaks:
This one has a flared top that is indicative of the earlier Boston Chiltons:
But the best part of the story came after the Swann auction was held on September 13. I’d say that I forgot about the auction, but that would be a lie. I’d say I wasn’t interested in anything, and that would be a lie, too. Truth be told, I was just overwhelmed by the dept of Baisden’s collection, and I knew that with all the Chilton fanatics out there, I probably wouldn’t stand a chance at winning anything. So on September 13, I made a point to put the catalog in my desk drawer and put the auction out of my mind.
That next week, though, I decided to check out the auction results online, and I was surprised to see that out of about eight lots that interested me, three lots (with seven pencils in total) didn’t sell! I sent an email to Rick Propas, and he invited me to make an offer on them. I did, and when I arrived home from the Michigan Pen Show, a UPS package was waiting for me:
In this next shot, note that the top three have the bulged "Long Island" top, while the bottom one has a flared "Boston" top:
These examples with the metal tops are interesting:
The auction catalog doesn’t specify, but the example with the bulged top matches the Long Island Chitons. The other one, with the straight top, was identified in the catalog as being from Boston. What struck me as interesting about it was the fact that it has a z-clip – the only one I’ve seen like that. Oh yeah, and that price sticker on the black one didn’t break my heart, either:
The last of these seven pencils is interesting for what it’s not:
It’s not a solid color. Every Chilton Wingflow I’ve seen has been in black, burgundy or red, but this guy is in "quartz." Note that the Wingflows, unlike the earlier models, have the name imprinted at the top of the lower barrel:
To wrap things up, I’ve got to circle back around to the Chicago show, where I found these lead containers at the same table where I found that Hutcheon "Hutch Clutch" pencil I blogged about last summer (July 6):
I only needed one – ok, I didn’t need any of them – but in this case I thought it made sense to buy every one the guy had: