Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Optional Mr. Mooney

Conklin was a major player in the American writing instruments industry, leading many writers to say that the industry wasn’t dominated by the "Big Four" of Parker, Waterman, Sheaffer and Wahl Eversharp, but by the "Big Five." Before Sheaffer’s lever filler pen took the market by storm in the early teens, Conklin’s "Crescent Filler" pen was the most practical self-filling design.  That's what put and kept it in the "Big Five" fraternity – and not in the number 5 position, either!

But if we as historians were to assemble a list of Conklin’s top two innovations, the second one (right after the crescent filler) would have to be the "Mooney Clip," for which Frank H. Mooney applied for a patent on May 7, 1917, and which was issued as patent number 1,267,575 on May 28, 1918:

This distinctive clip makes it easy to spot a Conklin a mile away, and it was used, with a few cosmetic modifications, on nearly all of Conklin’s pens and pencils from its introduction until the company left Toledo at the end of the 1930s

Nearly all, that is. Except for those weird side clip examples from yesterday. And also, I learned at the Philadelphia Show, except for this one.  It turned up on Don Haupt's table:

While that great clip is what attracted me to look more closely at this one, it surprised me that this is a Conklin pencil.

My first thought was that maybe this pencil predates the introduction of the Mooney clip, but after I thought about it I knew that couldn’t be right . . . Conklin’s earliest pencils were designed by Harry Fairchild, who received a patent for his design on July 6, 1920. The original Fairchild pencils are distinguished by a six-chambered lead magazine. In 1921, C.N. Johnson applied for a patent for an improved design, with a three-spoke lead magazine.

Every early metal Conklin pencil I’ve seen, with the exception of this one, has the July 6, 1920 patent date on it, whether it has the six-spoke or later three-spoke lead magazine. That’s because the patent for Johnson’s improved design wasn’t issued until 1924, after Conklin had moved on to hard rubber and celluloid with the Endura series.

This example has the later three-spoke magazine. So by all rights, this one should have a Mooney clip, right?

I was puzzled, so I turned to the online library at the Pen Collectors of America (PCA) which, if you haven’t joined already, you should. It didn’t take me long to find my answer.

There are no pencils shown in Conklin’s 1921 catalog, which may explain why all the pencils I have found are imprinted with the 1920 patent date and none are imprinted "Pat. Pend." For 1922, however, Conklin advertised pen and pencil sets and also an impressive array of metal pencils for sale individually. Here’s page 5:

It’s too bad that one of the pictures has been cut out, but the one next to it appears to have this same clip. The pencil also appears in the 1923 and 1924 catalogs, but the 1924 catalog is the only one to show the pencil from the front:

The 1922 catalog advertises five styles of pencils. From the most expensive, they ranged from 14k green gold filled, gold filled, sterling and silver plate, all of which were equipped with the Mooney clip. At the bottom of the heap were the silver plate pencils without the Mooney clip, which at $1.00 cost fifty cents less than the silver plated models with the Mooney clip. This was also true in the 1923 and 1924 catalogs.

Conklin customers must have overwhelmingly decided to spring for the extra fifty cents and get the nifty new Mooney clip. Like a Miata with automatic transmission, sure they were available if you wanted one – but who would?

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