Thursday, January 17, 2013

This One Is To Dye For

As I was passing up one of the aisles at the Ohio Show near the end of the day on Saturday, Bill Bender flagged me down to look at a few pencils. I don’t remember what the others were, but this was clearly the standout:

This is a Sheaffer Balance pencil with the early round ball clip, generally used in the United States on Balance pencils from 1929 until 1933 or so (Sheaffer continued to use the clip in Canada and sporadically on some models in the U.S. much later). What makes it interesting is the color – red and black!

Bill and I chatted about the pencil for awhile, and both of us suspected that the pencil may have been an ordinary black and pearl pencil that had been dyed red somewhere along the line. If that was the case, whoever had done it had done a really good job, as the imprint on the back of the barrel remained nice and crisp, and there wasn’t any sign that the trim had been stained:

I decided that I didn’t care if the pencil was modified. It was simply too beautiful for me to resist, and besides – it would make for a neat story. I made him an offer for the pencils and he accepted it. Just for fun, I put the pencil in my shirt pocket with the top end poking out and continued to make my way around the room. I knew it would get a reaction, but it ended up getting me a lot more!

Several people stopped me to ask about the pencil. Most of them, like me, assumed that it must have been owned by someone who, for whatever reason, decided they wanted to make their black and pearl Balance red. But another story – the real story – also came out.

It turns out that during the Depression, Sheaffer was looking for ways to save some money while making their products look more appealing. When the company introduced a lower priced line of pens and pencils called the Univer, one trick they employed to save money on the cost of celluloid was to dye black and pearl rod stock to produce other colors. Here’s a Univer set I picked up at an online auction after the Ohio Show in dyed green. The pen is a little worse for wear, but the pencil is excellent:

You can tell that the set is dyed from the end of the pen barrel, where the green has partly worn away to reveal the black and pearl underneath:

A couple of the people that I talked to at the Ohio Show that day indicated that Sheaffer had also experimented with dyed celluloid on its regular Balance line, as well. And to top it all, Bruce Mindrup collared me to tell me that someone at the show even had the matching pen to my red pencil!

Bruce led me, camera and pencil in hand, over to Kent Leichliter’s table in the smaller pen room and said simply to Kent, "show him the pen."  Kent didn’t have it out on display and it wasn’t for sale, but he proudly produced the matching red and black Sheaffer Balance pen, and I took pictures of the rare pen and pencil reunited:

So now that my dyed pencil had caused such a stir, and I learned the great story behind it and its rarity, that left me with one last piece of business to attend to:

I went back to Bill Bender and gave him some more money.

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