Thursday, May 31, 2012

Parker Writefine: A "Variant"

Over the winter, a fellow stumbled upon my Mechanical Pencil Museum online and sent me an email.  He claimed to have, among other things, a Parker Writefine which, instead of an exposed eraser, had an eraser under a cap.  The pictures he sent me weren't very clear, but we were finally able to agree on the price:

This example is identical to other ones I had in my collection, so the only reason I bought this one was for the different top treatment:

And under the cap:

However, when I got the pencil and looked at it closely, I became suspicious.  The color and sheen on the cap were just a bit different from the barrel of the pencil, and while the cap fit perfectly, it just looked a little bit off -- that slight taper of the cap doesn't quite fit with the perfectly straight lines of the Writefine series.  So I checked the rest of my collection to see if maybe the cap came from something else, and I found the culprit:

I switched caps, and yes, the Wearever cap fits perfectly on a Writefine.  Lesson learned; chalk that one up to tuition.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Parker Writefine: Later Examples

The second generation of Parker Writefines came in a nice variety of colors:

The trim rings found on earlier examples have been abandoned, and the top section on these is fixed, so there's no more unscrewing them and losing the clip.  Unfortunately, the top example in this picture is missing the knurled plastic piece, which is a shame (on ebay, it had a large rubber eraser over the top which hid this problem). 

Barrel imprints appear either at the top opposite the clip, or as two in this picture show, just above the lower barrel section.    Notice also the one second from bottom has a longer lower barrel and shorter upper barrel.

The clip on these is slightly different from the one on the earlier "striped Duofold" models, and this redesigned clip appears to have been unique to the Writefine line:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Parker Writefine: "Striped Duofold" Writefines

When Sheaffer introduced its "working togs" utility pencils in the late 1930s, they quickly became a very successful seller for the company.  The robust design and exposed eraser made them a perfect no-fuss writing instrument, and the company sold millions of them over the course of decades.  Sheaffer also came up with a thinner lead for use in these pencils, called "Fineline" lead, and eventually created the "Fineline Division" dedicated to producing lower-cost writing instruments, including the "pearlie" pencils, up into the 1970s.

Sheaffer's success did not go unnoticed by Parker, so Parker decided to try to get into the game.  Parker's response was the "Writefine," and the earliest examples strongly resemble the "wartime" or "striped" duofolds of the early 1940s:

The Sheaffer influences are impossible to ignore:  exposed eraser, strong middle joint mechanism, even a ribbed lower barrel.  The clip is very similar to what is found on the Wartime Duofolds:

My research has not yet led me to any conclusions about whether these were offered with or without a clip; however, on these early examples the top unscrews, so it's easy to remove a clip, and I suspect my "clipless" model has simply lost its clip somewhere along the line. 

The most interesting thing about these early Writefines is the plastic, which is red and blue.   Here is a Writefine, in the center, flanked by a pair of Wartime Duofolds:

Writefines are red and blue, while its closest Duofold relatives are either red and grey or blue and grey. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Getting a Better Grip on Ronsons

Bruce Mindrup said that I had to have this every time I picked it up at his table in Chicago, and I must have picked it up a dozen times.  I knew he was right, and it was pointless to resist:

This is a first generation Ronson Penciliter (see my post on March 13).  The only reason I tried to resist at first was that I had some reservations about that grip at the nose end, which is  shaped almost like a fountain pen section:

At first, I thought it looks like something somebody may have just slipped onto an ordinary Penciliter, but on closer examination it doesn't appear to be added and it isn't removable.  Bruce says he's had a couple of these with this same odd gripping section, which goes a long way towards convincing me this is a Ronson variant.

When I compare it to the one I have in my collection, it is identical in all respects at the top end:

But at the nose end, there is a slight difference.  These are known only to come with a black lower section or one that is green marbled with brown flecks. 

The new one looks more brown marble with green flecks, doesn't it?  Although it could just be a batch variation of the same color, that's an awful lot of brown.  Time will tell as more of these turn up whether the color truly appears to be different.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Also Seen at Chicago

Lee Anderson stopped by my table to ask me what I thought about this one:

What I thought was "wow."   Lee's first concern was whether this truly was a Parker vest pocket pencil (see pages 112 to 113 in The Catalogue), because it didn't appear to have a barrel imprint.  On closer inspection, if you know where the imprint should be, you can just make it out traces of it as you rotate the pencil in strong light.   I don't know whether the imprint was badly worn or whether it wasn't struck that well to begin with, since the trim on the pencil is in really nice shape.

I've never seen this brown marbled color in a Parker Vest Pocket pencil before. 

And since Lee collects Parker Vest Pockets, there was zero chance I was going to talk him out of it!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Seen at Chicago

When I passed by Cliff Harrington's table in Chicago, I noticed this one:

From what I could see, this one didn't appear to be marked at all, and if it weren't "brazilian green" (green and bronze), I've got to admit I might not have considered that it could be an Eversharp.   But according to Cliff it is, and I certainly believe him, because he had the whole set:

That pen converts into a matching desk pen, too.  According to Cliff, the only thing missing from this ensemble is a short finial that you could use in place of the taper on the pencil, so that you could use it either as a desk pencil or as a golf pencil.  Talk about going from one extreme to the other!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Nothing New Under the Sun

Today I'm taking a break from talking about the things I found in Chicago, because the neat story behind this one keeps nagging at me, saying "Ooooh!  Pick me! Write about me!" and I just need to get it over with!

This Eagle "Turquoise Twenty" arrived in my mailbox some time ago from ebay:

It came complete with lead and in the box:

On the side is a clue that allows us to date this one pretty specifically:

After a century of being the Eagle Pencil Company of New York, the firm moved to Danbury, Connecticut in 1959.  Less than ten years later, the name of the company was changed to Berol; I've heard this was in 1969, but in the All-Rite article I ran a a couple weeks ago I mentioned that Berol filed a trademark for the "All-Rite" name in 1965.

Today's pencil has that sleek George Jetson/Space Age look to it, consistent with something being made in the late fifties to early sixties.  The pencil uses a super-thin .5 mm lead, which makes it a bit ahead of its time, and the thinner lead presented a bit of a design challenge.  Before the days of polymerized lead, ordinary clay and graphite lead in this diameter was too fragile to try to feed through the tip, so the Turquoise Twenty has an ultra-modern mechanism that compensates for this.  To load the lead, you pull off the nose and drop the lead into the nose cone.  When the top is turned, a fixed rod moves up and down to advance the lead.  Spare leads are contained in a chamber in the barrel, under that black cap:

Pretty slick, huh?  It's such a simple, elegant solution that it makes you wonder why someone didn't think of that sooner, doesn't it?


Here's an Eagle Pointer, designed by Alfred Michael and patented on February 7, 1922 (Catalogue readers, see page 45):

In order to feed lead into the Pointer, sure you can feed it through the tip, since it uses a standard 1.1 mm (.046 inch) lead that doesn't break.  But what Eagle intended was for the user to remove the nose cone and drop a lead in from the back:

That cap on the back of the Pointer's nose cone unscrews to reveal a spare lead chamber.  The fixed rod in the barrel moves up and down when you turn the crown.

So there it is.  Eagle's "new" Turquoise Twenty was a dressed up Pointer that was nearly forty years old at the time!  But don't knock it -- this decades-old design turned out to be the perfect solution to the engineering challenge posed by new ultra-thin leads.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Better than Terrible

Mention the name "Stratford" to a collector of fine writing instruments if you want to see someone look like they just took a big swig of month-old milk.   True, there are some really, really bad Stratfords out there, in plastics that are mousy and prone to shrinking and warping.  And they were made by the millions, so you can hardly swing a dead cat at a flea market without hitting one.

But bear with me now, and try to keep an open mind about this . . .

"Stratford Pen Company" was the later incarnation of Salz Brothers, Inc.  One source I read somewhere said that the company was set up separately by Ignatz Salz, and eventually purchased Salz Brothers.  Ignatz died in 1958, and the company may have continued on for a few years after that.  The earliest Stratfords I've seen, until the Chicago show, appear to have been from the late 1930s and loosely copied the lines of the Eversharp Doric (complete with a little gold seal that instead of a double check mark had the number "77") .

Until the Chicago Show:

I'd date this one to the late 1920s, maybe 1930 or so at the latest. The riveted clip at one time had a thin gold wash:

I've thought about the possibility that it was just a coincidence that some other maker had used the name "Stratford," but I'm confident this is a Salz brand.  Here's the new addition posed with one marked "Salz Classic" and a second marked only "Classic":

And a closeup of the clips:

So now we know that whether or not a separate "Stratford Pen Company" was set up and ultimately purchased what was left of Salz Bros., Salz was using the name "Stratford" long before!

The Chicago Show also turned up another Stratford that filled in a blank for me -- and leaves me making a correction to something I reported in The Catalogue:

This is a plain but nice pencil, with a distinctive rounded tip and an interesting clip integrated into the upper barrel:

I've seen this pencil before.  In fact, it's pictured in The Catalogue.  Here is the new Stratford pictured next to two pencils marked Belmont, pictured on page 25 of The Catalogue:

No question about the heritage here:

Belmont was a Rexall Drug Store brand, and in The Catalogue I've identified Moore and Eagle as having produced at least some of the pencils.  Since it looks like Eagle produced Rexall's later Belmonts, I had concluded that these two must have been made by Eagle, but much later than the ones you usually find.  Looks like Salz (or by that point, Stratford Pen Company) also had a hat in the ring late in the game!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Faster than a Speeding Bullet

My other walk-in find at the Chicago show came from Keith Lange, who stopped by just as the show was starting to wind down for the weekend.  Keith had with him a box of odds and ends, and when I found a Penman in there, I think I bored the poor guy to death with the tale of Penman, Starr, war profiteering and the tax evasion scandal that brought down Joseph Starr (see pages 151 and 152 in The Catalogue).

As I dug a little deeper into the box, this pops out:

I really like early Salz pencils; even though they were pretty cheaply made on the whole, they were just a little bit different and more interesting from other pencils from the mid-1920s.  From the age of this one, I would have expected it to have one of the Salz 1925 patent clips, but instead, this one has what appears to be an ordinary Z-clip:

But what really gets me about this one is the color:

It's not your usual woodgrain patterned plastic.  This one is swirled blue, yellow and red.  A while ago, I was reading a book on vintage marbles (a book I decided to put aside, because I am absolutely not going to start collecting marbles, I told myself) that described swirled red, blue and yellow marbles as "Superman" marbles.  I think there's also an ice cream flavor in these colors that goes by the same name.

But Superman doesn't quite do it justice, does it?  How about . . .


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

If You're Going to Look at All, Look Reeel Close

On Sunday, a fellow named Gary Steinberg brought a pencil by my table to ask what I knew about it:

Now most people breeze right past these, because at first glance it looks like a typical Wahl Eversharp sterling pencil, with the "full jacket" engraving on it.  Although they are simply beautiful, Wahl made so many of them that they remain a relatively common sight -- although the price of silver certainly hasn't made them less appealing lately. 

I've learned never to judge a book by its cover when it comes to these, and in this case it paid off handsomely.  A close look at the imprint reveals something neat:

No "Wahl," and "Ever Sharp" is two words.  Collectors frequently refer to these as "pre-Wahl" Eversharps, but this one is definitely made by Wahl, even though it doesn't say so.  Gary's pencil fits neatly into a very narrow window of time in the history of these pencils -- mid to late 1916.

Charles Keeran invented his Ever Sharp pencil in 1913, and his patent was granted in 1915.   To my knowledge, all the truly "pre-Wahl" Ever Sharps were made by Heath and sport a unique clip which pierces the barrel and folds inside:

More on these guys later.  Sometime in 1915, Keeran approached The Wahl Adding Machine Company initially to inquire into purchasing some machinery so that he could increase his production.  For whatever reason, Keeran ended up hiring Wahl to produce his pencils.

There was just one problem:  the clip was a Heath design, for which Heath had applied for and ultimately received a patent, and apparently Keeran wasn't able to convince Heath to allow him to use their clip on pencils to be made by another company.   So Keeran invented a new clip, called the "trowel" or "spade" clip by collectors, which was soldered onto the barrel:

Yeah, I know the middle one is broken off, but they are so darned rare that finding one in any condition is a prize.  Why?  Because soldering clips onto barrels was too labor-intensive for mass production, so the design didn't last long.   To streamline production, John C. Wahl himself invented the clip that appears on Gary's pencil, which simply slips into a tombstone-shaped hole in the barrel and is secured by the inner barrel.

Wahl's new clip was adopted sometime in mid- to late 1916.  Before 1916 was over, Wahl persuaded Keeran to sell Wahl his Ever Sharp Pencil Company and become a salesman for Wahl.  From that point forward, beginning right around the start of 1917, Wahl was manufacturing the pencils on its own account, and the word "Wahl" was included on the barrel imprints.

So there's the rest of the story.  Gary's pencil was made by the Wahl Company for Charles Keeran's Ever Sharp Pencil Company, in those last few months before Keeran's company was absorbed.

This is the first time I've seen a sterling engraved pre-Wahl Ever Sharp, and one last detail surprised me.  On all of the Wahl engraved pencils, the floral pattern is the same (there are two variants; the fully engraved barrel and those with only a portion engraved).  However, on closer examination of this one:

Gary's pencil is the one at the top.  The pattern is completely different from those found on the later Wahls.

Monday, May 21, 2012

There's GOTTA be a Connection

All but the last 17 miles of my drive to the Chicago Pen Show were a breeze.  I'd done a bit of work at the office before taking off shortly before noon, then stopped to have a leisurely lunch with Janet on the way through Columbus.  It was sunny and 80 degrees, and I hummed along with a Gotye CD as I cruised across western Ohio and through Indiana.   

But things got ominous as I neared the end of I-65.  I was driving the wife's car because it has GPS, and the nice lady was telling me in a soothing voice to turn right when I didn't think it was a very good idea. 

Turns out I was right . . . I was exiting onto 15th Avenue in Gary, Indiana, and as I was leaving the highway -- with no way to reenter -- I saw the exit for I-90 just a couple hundred yards away.  It might as well have been a million miles away.

I had quite the one-sided discussion with the GPS lady as she calmly recalculated my route, sending me down a Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway that didn't look like it had been mowed yet this year, and through a war zone of a neighborhood where mine was the newest car by a decade and three out of four houses had plywood for windows.  I finally decided to quit yelling and listen to her, since she was the only chance I had of getting out of Gary, Indiana alive.   I have never been so happy to see an Interstate sign in my life. 

Turns out my little detour did bypass the tollbooth to get onto I-90 and saved me 60 cents, but I can tell you with confidence:  they could charge 60 dollars to avoid that little jaunt and I'd still pay it!

Anyway, just as I was beginning to relax again, I hit two obstacles:  Chicago traffic and a gullywasher of a rainstorm.  I was becoming irritated with GPS lady again, as she calmly told me to "proceed on the current road" when I was at a dead stop in the pouring rain.  But hey, I thought to myself, things could be worse:  I could be in Gary, Indiana!

I arrived at the Westin O'hare and was in my room at around 8 o'clock.  Trading for the day was over, but Judd Perlson's pizza party was just getting started, so the day was by no means a total loss!  After a bit of socializing and unwinding, Michael Little and I decided we should go through each other's stuff and do our swapping that evening.

He pulled a bunch of stuff out of my boxes, and I pulled a bunch from his. We compared piles and decided that we were both happy.  Among the things I got from him were these:

All three are advertising pieces, probably from the late 1940s or early 1950s, bearing the name "Lyncraft," and they have a very distinctive clip:

So distinctive, in fact, that they reminded me of something else:

There is no way the similarities to the logo for George Kraker's "Pencraft" logo are a coincidence.  Someone either bought the rights to the logo or blatantly copied it.  Although I'm at a dead end on this for now, I found another clue, from another pencil I acquired from Mike in that same swap:

Same size, same clip, but this one has a twist:

The lettering is so heavily stylized that I'm having a hard time making it out.  It appears to read "Esandar" or maybe "E Sandar?"

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Zaner- Au Naturale

I think it was Mike Carter that had this one on his table in Chicago:

No question from the profile that it is a Zaner Bloser, made in Columbus, Ohio.  Although I've posted pictures before of wood examples, all the ones I've had are painted, rather than stained and varnished like this one.  Judging from the good condition of the trim, I was sure this was originally finished like this rather than by a do-it-yourselfer who wanted to clean up a chipped pencil:

To be sure, I turned it over to see if the typical "Zaner Bloser Cols. O." imprint had been obliterated, and I found a different imprint entirely:

Yep, I'd say it's definitely supposed to be like that!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

These Slither

There's a lot of plastics that have been nicknamed "snakeskin" or "lizard skin" by collectors.  But Eberhard Faber takes the cake with these:

The pencils themselves are nothing spectacular, just your typical 1940s nose drive, middle joint pencil with a simple press clip.  I paid way too much for the brown one at The Ohio Show last November just because I like the color that much, and in Chicago a fellow had the green set from which I was able to peel off the pencil (and again, paid way too much).  The color on these is really impressive:

I wonder -- if you squeezed a fat piece of checking lead in these, would they swell up and have to lay in the sun for a while to digest it?