Monday, February 11, 2013

Martin Borbeck's Busy Day

Snap-Fil pens, made by the General Manufacturing Company of Sioux City, Iowa, are a cult classic among pen collectors, with their pointy barrels, flattop caps and levers that open backwards from the direction you’d expect. I don’t have any on hand, but here’s a picture of one from the catalog in the online archives of the Pen Collectors of America (pretty handy membership to have, isn’t it?):

The patent for the Snap-Fil was applied for by Martin Borbeck of Sioux City, Iowa on March 23, 1919, and was issued as number 1,342,736 June 8, 1920:

But here’s the really neat thing: Martin actually received two patents on June 8, 1920. Earlier that same day, he received Patent number 1,342,416: for a lever-operated pencil, which he’d applied for on July 28, 1919:

While the patent for the pen was issued to the "Houston Pen Company," Borbeck’s pencil patent was not assigned. The pen design was marketed under the tradename "Snap-Fil," but since the lever on the pencil just sort of scoots the lead forward bit by bit, the name didn’t make much sense – so the company marketed the only lever-filling pencil ever produced under the trade name "Kaligraf," as shown on this advertisement, sent to me by Joe Nemecek:

I don’t have a Kaligraf, but when Joe Nemecek spent a night here at pencil ranch on his way home from the Ohio Show, he brought with him the only example in his collection, a mottled hard rubber ringtop:

The tip is reminiscent of an early Waterman, but Waterman pencils weren’t introduced for a couple years after the Borbeck patent was issued:

The imprint on Joe’s example is very faint, and took some real gymnastics to get the light at the right angle to show it in these photographs:

General Manufacturing Co.
Pat. Kaligraf June 8, 1920
Sioux City, Iowa

Note:  after this article was first published, I heard from Dave Johannsen, who admitted to an affinity for Kaligraf pencils and, with a little prodding, agreed to send me a picture of the ones from his collection:

The levers are on the opposite side.  That side clip example is just killer, and the imprint on Dave's ringtop is nice and sharp, too.   Thanks for sharing those, Dave!


Anonymous said...

Nice to see the Kaligraf get some press. I've got two of them and the instruction sheet in my modest Houston collection, but it's taken quite a few years of looking just to acquire these examples - they're fairly scarce. I hope that you soon find an example for yourself.


Jon Veley said...

Hi Dave, and thanks for the note. For now, I'd settle for a nice picture of the ones you have, if you wouldn't mind taking one for me? I can update my article to add them, giving you credit (or not, depending on your preference).