Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Dummies For Pencils, Instead Of Pencils For Dummies

Desk pencils generally bug me. The bases are big and heavy, the pencils never fit in the folders I carry around at the shows, and I’m always fearful that if I spend any serious money on one, it’s going to get broken. Besides, desk sets usually come with one of those pesky pens!

Even so, every so often I get the urge to splurge on one, just because they are a pretty rare sight. Since the image of an executive writing instrument and that of the lowly pencil are at opposite ends of the spectrum, I don’t think they were ever in high demand, and if they were it would only as an occasional mate to a desk pen.

So when Don Lamkin had this solo desk pencil with base on his table at the Ohio Show, it was just too much for me to resist:

It’s a Sheaffer, from the mid-Balance (1940 or so) era:

The nose is the typical early Sheaffer point for .046 inch (1.1 mm) lead, and there’s a green stripe on the barrel to alert the user that the point hidden in the trumpet is a pencil, not a pen. That stripe isn’t solid green – on closer inspection, it’s a piece of Sheaffer’s jade celluloid:

The imprint is middle Balance era, and the 500 indicates it sold for the lofty price of five bucks:

But the trumpet is what turned out to be the real story. After I bought the pencil, I had it out on my table – not because I was selling it, but because I didn’t have anywhere else to put it (did I mention that desk pencils bug me?). Along comes Alabaman (and Artcraft Pen Co. fanatic) John Hubbard, who made the trip up north to attend the Ohio Show. John commented that it was unusual to see a "Dry-Proof" trumpet for a pencil.

Since I don’t pay much attention to pens and I don’t usually buy desk pencils, I had to admit I had no idea what John was talking about, so John explained to me that Sheaffer had come up with a trumpet for its desk pens, the end of which could be rotated to seal the pen into the trumpet and prevent the tip from drying out. Mine, he said, looked just like a Sheaffer Dry-Proof trumpet.

I tried to rotate the top and it wouldn’t budge. Maybe, I thought, dried ink had fossilized the parts together? So I examined it under a loupe, and look at that – no seams! Looks like Sheaffer made dummy pencil trumpets styled to look like functioning Dry-Proof trumpets for the pens.

A few weeks after the Ohio Show, I received an email from Roger Wooten, a Sheaffer afficionado with a particular affinity for Sheaffer desk sets. In the course of his research, Roger had cause to ask what I knew about Sheaffer desk pencils, and I told him about my "dummy Dry-Proof" desk pencil.

Roger shared with me an article he wrote about Sheaffer’s Dry-Proof (
by the way, and a great read), which came in a couple different variations. According to Roger, the two-piece trumpet was introduced in 1940 and was only produced for a short period of time, until 1942 or 1943. Roger gave me permission to use his photograph of a disassembled Dry-Proof trumpet:

Roger was skeptical when I told him my pencil trumpet is a one-piece Dry-Proof dummy, and he thought (the same as I originally did) that I might have a two-piece trumpet gummed up with dried ink. He said he would be surprised if Sheaffer made a specially made pencil socket.

So I shot and reshot and reshot pictures of my trumpet, trying to shoot close enough to get the detail inside the trumpet and get the flash down inside as well – without success. I finally went low-tech and just aimed my cell phone camera down the trumpet, and got what I was trying to capture:

The effort was worth it. "I think you are on to something," Roger says.

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