When we left off yesterday, the Tri-Pen Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island, vanished without a trace in 1932, leaving the Improved Pencil Company to take over its space at 581 Pawtucket, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. What happened next is sketchy.
One possibility is that the Improved Pencil Co. began turning out pencils just like whatever Tri-Pen was making when it shut down, using existing materials and machinery that Tri-Pen left behind.
I don’t think so, for one simple reason – the clip:
As I was writing this article, I was racking my brain trying to remember where else I’d seen that clip before. I finally remembered:
Shown side by side, it’s exactly the same clip:
The green marbled pencil is completely unmarked. At one point, someone told me it was probably a Mabie Todd Swan, but in the absence of anything conclusive I didn’t include it in the pictures with the other Mabie Todd pencils in The Catalogue and in fact, I left it out completely.
The sterling pencil is one I’ve had laying around for years, and it’s been sitting on my table at several shows. At the top, that slit looks like it was probably meant to contain and dispense a roll of memo paper, kind of like the Ross-Memo, Mem-O-Riter and Rolin pencils shown in The Catalogue and here at the blog:
It doesn’t work very well, and it’s got a few dents, so I never really spent too much time studying it. But now, hot on the trail for answers to my questions about what happened to Tri-Pen, I took a loupe and gave this one a thorough examination, and there at the top was a tiny hallmark:
"MTCo." These are Mabie Todds after all! So back I went to David Moak’s book, Mabie in America: Writing Instruments from 1843 to 1941, and there was a wealth of information to follow up on this new lead! David’s book pictures several examples of Mabie Todd pens with this same clip and, with the help of an advertisement in the New York Times for Gimbel’s department stores pictured on page 174 of David’s book, we know that these clips were used on Mabie Todd pens in 1937.
According to David, Mabie Todd & Co. was dissolved in New York on July 27, 1938, but a new "Mabie Todd & Co." was incorporated in the state of New Jersey on July 28, 1938. Moak pictures a couple examples of New Jersey-marked Mabie Todds on page 177, with this same clip.
Was the clip borrowed or licensed from somewhere else? Absolutely not. Remember Mabie Todd VP Herbert Carman’s design patent number 86,826, from the article on the Ever Ready just two days ago?
Herbert L. Carman was the vice president of Mabie Todd when the company was dissolved in New York in 1938; when the New Jersey company was incorporated the following day, the address provided for the company was Carman’s home address. According to Moak, Carman died sometime before 1941, when Mabie Todd – the New Jersey incarnation – was finally dissolved on July 7, 1941 (on the dissolution paperwork, Carman’s shares were owned by Ellen D. Carman, who was "presumably" Carman’s widow.)
All of this Mabie Todd history dovetails perfectly with the end of our Tri-Pen story. As I suggested yesterday, there is almost nothing in the historical record about Tri-Pen after 1932. But there is one: on March 15, 1940, this epitaph appeared in "Printer’s Ink":
Tri-Pen assigned all of its patents and equipment to the "newly organized" Triangle Pen Co. of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The president of this new company was none other than George Coby, former president of Tri-Pen, and Herbert E. Sweet, Tri-Pen’s former head of sales, was Triangle Pen’s sales and merchandising department.
So Coby and Sweet closed the failing Tri-Pen in 1932 to concentrate on their Triad Radio Tubes business. In 1940, as Mabie Todd was failing, Coby and Sweet decided to get back into the business, not as high end manufacturers but to make cheap triangular advertising pencils. They incorporated a new company called Triangle Pen Co., assigned Tri-Pen’s design patents for the triangular pencil to their new company and apparently, they also acquired the design patent rights to Mabie Todd’s arrow clip to put on their newly designed pencils. From the looks of things, they probably also bought out whatever arrow clips Mabie Todd had left on hand.
I also found one last, tantalizing clue, in a snippet view of page 40 in a 1956 magazine called "Coffee and Tea Industries and the Flavor Field," which lists a "Triad Pen & Pencil Co." located at 24 Palmer Street, Providence, Rhode Island. Who owned this company or whether it was even a viable concern by that point is unknown.
So, circling all the way back around to the pencil that started this whole discussion -- that triangular red, white and blue V-mail pencil . . .
it is not. Conclusively. By the outbreak of World War Two, the Tri-Pen Company that made Triads was gone, replaced by the Triangle Pen Company, which made triangular pencils using clips acquired from the failing Mabie Todd Company.
On the plus side: even if it isn’t a Triad, it is still pretty cool.