Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Specific Interest in a General Pencil

When this bland little pencil turned up in a lot of random items online, I had to bite:

This plain-looking pencil even has a generic name on it – "General":

But this one is no snoozer – at least not to me. See, this one has a couple identical twins in my collection:

With this roll call of names, I can hear one of the tumblers clicking into place in a decades-old mystery – just one of the tumblers, mind you, but I’m getting the feeling we’re very close to unlocking this one:

The Craig, Univer and General pencils are identical. This can mean only one thing: that this General pencil was made by Sheaffer, probably early in the Great Depression, right around 1930 or so. And the word "General" has a very specific meaning.

A few weeks ago, I posted an article here about the "Kaligraf," the weird lever-operated pencil made by the General Manufacturing Company of Sioux City, Iowa as a companion to the company’s weird "Snap-Fil" line of fountain pens ("Martin Borbeck’s Busy Day," posted February 11, 2013). Shortly after the article ran, Daniel Kirchheimer posted an article he’d been researching for some time about the origins of the Sheaffer Balance, and he presents a compelling case that Sheaffer didn’t actually invent the streamlined Balance concept – the company actually appropriated the idea from the General Manufacturing Company. In fact, he proved that Sheaffer even lifted the name "Balance" from a Snap-Fil advertisement!

Daniel’s article is posted at Take a few minutes to have a read. I’ll wait . . .

(music from "Jeopardy" plays softly in the background)

OK, so now that you’re up to speed with Daniel’s research, what does this pencil add to the discussion? We know that by 1930, the Federal Trade Commission was actively pursuing, prosecuting and enjoining businesses who put products out on the market which created a "likelihood of confusion" as to who manufactured them.
That’s why in 1924-25 the brothers Skidmore, even though their products were clearly stamped "Toledo Pen Company," "Skidmore" or "Ever Last," were hauled before the Commission and permanently enjoined from making pens that looked like they could have been made by Conklin – even though the patents had expired (see "My Question Was Answered . . . Six Years Ago" posted on March 5, 2013).

That’s why, if Sheaffer manufactured a pencil marked "General," I believe there’s only two possibilities: (1) either General Manufacturing was long since out of business and the name was abandoned, left for Sheaffer to scoop up and use, or (2) Sheaffer acquired the General Manufacturing Company.

There is a third possibility: that Sheaffer decided to bully General around by stealing its intellectual property, copying its advertising and printing the General name on its own products notwithstanding any objections by General, but I don’t think that happened. If Sheaffer was going to tout itself as the inventor of the Balance, investing countless resources into design patents, national advertising and the prosecution of offenders who dared manufacture anything that remotely resembled the streamlined shape of its "new" pen, it would have been financial suicide to base that investment on an infringement of someone else’s intellectual property (look at what Eversharp did to Gilfred over the Skyline pencil and how Reynolds did exactly the same thing to Eversharp – see "My Find of the Year" posted December 31, 2011).

Besides, since the latest references to General Manufacturing Company that Daniel has been able to find were from 1923 – some five and a half years before the introduction of the Sheaffer Balance – if General was even still in existence by 1928, it would have been on its last legs and Sheaffer could likely have acquired whatever it wanted from its owners for a song.

Perhaps – and this is just a theory – General Manufacturing quietly went out of business around 1923. Sheaffer, being headquartered just across the state in Fort Madison, had the opportunity to buy whatever was left – machinery, equipment, parts, and intellectual property – and did so just so nobody else would. After all, if Sheaffer had the opportunity to stamp out a competitor in its home state, why wouldn’t it do so?

Maybe General Manufacturing’s remains were hauled across state to Fort Madison and interred somewhere in cold storage at Sheaffer for awhile, until a few years later when someone decided to dust off what the company purchased and see what use could be made of the investment.

Perhaps. Maybe. It’s infuriating that I can’t figure out what happened. According to the Iowa Secretary of State, there’s a "General Manufacturing Company" currently registered in that state, but I contacted the attorney who represents the company and he says this company is unrelated to the former makers of Snap-Fil pens and Kaligraf pencils.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

This One Doesn't Bug Me So Much

Maybe Joe’s right. Maybe I am a little bit Patrician crazy.

I mentioned awhile ago, while discussing the Sheaffer desk pencil, how desk pencils generally bug me. Heck, they don’t even fit on the same shelves or the same drawers as all my other pencils! But when this one popped up in an online auction, I just couldn’t resist:

The seller called it a "Patrician styled desk pencil." I didn’t even notice who the seller was until after the auction closed, when I got a note from "ohiopenshow," and realized I was dealing with Ben Mawhorter, Terry’s son. It’s nice that Ben called this one "Patrician styled" when he wasn’t sure, but I think he would have been safe to call this one a Patrician desk pencil. Advertisements of the time show the Patrician in desk pen form, and besides, what else could it be?

There’s a couple interesting trim rings at the top and bottom of the center section, but you’d expect some slight differences in the trim configuration for the desk version of a pen and the imprint matches the one found on later Patricians (the earlier ones just say "Pat. Apl’d For"):

Compared to a regular Patrician pencil, you can see just how big this thing is:

The tip section, which is extremely long on the regular Patrician line, is freakishly long on this one!

With the tops unscrewed, both the regular Patrician and the desk version have the same eraser assembly:

I tried to put the desk taper onto the regular Patrician, but the desk pencil is ever so slightly larger and it fit more tightly than I was comfortable with (now THAT would be a dumb way to break a Patrician pencil). However, the regular Patrician top fit quite nicely on the desk pencil . . .

Boy. That’s just wrong.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

And Real Colorful, Too

Realite was a Chicago company established as a separate concern in late 1921. Here’s an Realite advertisement from the November, 1922 edition of Office Appliances:

As Autopoint fanatic Jim Stauffer recently documented, Realite purchased the Autopoint Company in 1923 and the combined company was renamed Autopoint Products Co. and later simply Autopoint Company. But that doesn’t mean the new Autopoint Company abandoned the Realite name entirely – in fact, it maintained the brand for decades after the merger and made some really interesting pencils in spectacular colors I’ve not seen elsewhere.

Take this one, for example – it was the last purchase I made at the Baltimore Show this year, and it was cheap since it was missing the cap (fortunately, I keep a few duplicates of these on hand just for such an emergency):

Up close, it’s easier to see the rich blue veins underneath that brown pearl. Note that the celluloid is a strip that is wrapped around the barrel like a barber’s pole:

I believe the clip is a little later than these other two Realites I’ve added recently, one in what looks like the same grey with red flecks used by Waterman and the other in green marble:

These ball-clip examples have a slightly domed top, reminiscent of another Autopoint subbrand, the "Realpoint":

But the real surprise for me (or should I say "Realite" surprise?) arrived by mail, after I bought a bunch of junkers in an online auction just so I could get my hands on this one:

I didn’t realize from the pictures that, in addition to the wild alternating strips of green marble and brown with white veins, this one was so much longer. Also, note that instead of a ball clip, this one has a more streamlined flat ball clip. I would suspect that, taking a cue from Sheaffer, the flat ball clip is a little later than the round ball version:

And there’s one more surprise when it comes to this monster Realite: the eraser is in a separate assembly, like a Waterman Patrician, instead of being on the end of the pencil:

Monday, April 15, 2013

At Least It's Where The Sun Don't Shine

Last August at the DC Show, Joe Nemecek sold me a Parker Bridge set, which included the bases for all four suits, one of which was boxed and included the correct pencil:

Included in the deal were pencils to fill the other three trumpets, including a mandarin yellow one and a burgundy and black example – nothing to sneeze at for sure. Was I happy with the deal? Plenty happy. Did it bug me that the set didn’t have two red and two black pencils? Not at all.

Okay. I’m lying. It bugged me a little bit.

Okay, I’m still lying. It was driving me frickin’ crazy.

I did find one red vest pocket before the show was over in DC, but I never put it in one of the trumpets. Why? Because I couldn’t decide which one to put it in – the heart or the diamond one. Yes, I know that’s insane. So I put it alongside all the other vest pockets in my collection instead, and I waited for a second red one to come my way.

At the Philadelphia pen show, I thought I caught a break – there was another red vest pocket pencil in the auction preview. It was the only reason I got a bidder number. I was the high bidder, but there was a reserve that was twice as high as my winning bid. This is nuts, I thought to myself. There’s no reason to pay twice as much as anyone else in this room is willing to pay for that dumb little pencil.

In a moment of lucidity, I passed. Even though it drove me bonkers doing so.

When the Baltimore Show rolled around, that same vest pocket pencil shows up in the auction again. And I’m the high bidder – again. And there’s a reserve – the same reserve – again. This time, I just couldn’t take it anymore.

It’s got the same imprint exactly as the one I found in DC:

But . . . oh crap . . .

I’d forgotten that Parker vest pocket pencils had two different styles of nose cones! I’d noted that difference some time ago and shot these photographs last fall, when I was comparing a "Moderne Black and Pearl" (that’s the Parker name) with a "Seafoam" example (that’s pearl with green veins – I don’t know whether that’s Parkerese or a collector nickname):

Since the Seafoam color was introduced later, I had theorized that the longer tips might have been introduced later, as well. Maybe that’s true, maybe not:

So my two red Parker vest pocket pencils are not as identical as I had hoped they would be. You might wonder, since I couldn’t even decide which trumpet to put my lone red pencil into, why I haven’t been committed to an institution while I try to decide which trumpet gets the longer tip, or whether to keep searching for another so there are exactly matching pencils in each of the two trumpets. The good news is I did find a solution short of medication for my problem:

As long as I don’t take them out of the socket, I can’t tell which one’s which.

Now, to find another black one . . .

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Re-memo These?

Back in January, I wrote about a Ross-Memo pencil I’d picked up when I went to a boat and RV show ("Take a Memo – Pencils Are Everywhere," January 23, 2012):

I had theorized that this celluloid example was probably earlier still than the thicker-walled black examples shown in The Catalogue, because the way the celluloid shrank caused these to warp and become unusable, probably in relatively short order. I found another example in the box at the Springfield Show last summer that seems to confirm that these poorly designed celluloid examples were the earliest:

The side of the box has the words "Patents Pending," which suggests they were made before Ruth Ross received his first patent in 1937:

You can see from the pictures just how badly warped this one is, but I was buying it for the box and also for the instructions that were inside:

Later, the company must have switched to a thicker walled, black plastic design that was less prone to the problems that plagued the early Ross-Memo pencils, but eventually the company must have decided that an all-metal design was the answer:

Both of these came to me by way of Michael Little, the black one by mail and the cool red patterned example at the Ohio Show:

The really neat part about that red one is that the inner barrel is chased and enameled to match:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

They Get Ugly

A while back, Matt McColm asked me if I wanted a couple more All-Rite pencils, one black and the other blue. I do get a kick out of the All-Rites, which were made in Hackensack, New Jersey and put out quite a few campy magazine ads in the middle 1950s (see "They Really Were . . . All Right, That Is" on May 13, 2012). The company was purchased by the Eagle Pencil Company around 1964 or 1965.

At first, I declined, because I have a black and a blue one:

But Matt said his were different – metal cap All-Rites that looked kind of like Parker 51s:

Obviously, that intrigued me just enough. Note that the clips, which looked just a little like an Eversharp Fifth Avenue clip on the plastic cap models, look even more so on these:

And both have black plastic "jewels" on top:

Matt included a note with these. "Don’t look at these too long," he advised. "They get ugly."

I have since averted my eyes.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Long-Awaited Laughlin Article

I’ll admit I’ve been dreading writing this article.

Back when I posted my report on the Michigan Pen Show last summer, I posted a picture of this Laughlin set I picked up as a teaser, promising to write more about it later:

I knew that Laughlin is a "cult" brand – a relatively obscure manufacturer whose devotees are really, really, REALLY fanatical. And what have I learned?:

Never tease a cult.

One reader emailed me when I announced I was going to take a break November to tell me that I simply couldn’t take a break before I wrote the Laughlin article, because Volume One of The Leadhead’s Pencil Blog just wouldn’t be complete without it. Another gave me a homework assignment to do while I was writing the article: to look into the rumor that Cincinnati manufacturer John Holland "stole" a master nibmaker from Laughlin.  A third emailed me excitedly to tell me he'd been collecting Laughlins for decades and he was looking forward to learning more about the company.

Suffice to say, there’s some folks out there with some pretty high expectations for this article.

I started my research by contacting Laughlin collector Jerry Kemp for some general historical background on the company.  Jerry directed me to a pair of articles he helped L. Michael Fultz write. , which appeared in the December ‘04-January ‘05 and February-March 2005 issues of Pen World. Neither article mentions anything about Laughlin producing mechanical pencils.

Yet here one is, proudly emblazoned with the Laughlin name:

Kind of a funny story, as an aside to these pictures. I borrowed this set at the Michigan show to photograph, before I thought I’d be able to purchase it. But since I kind of liked the way the pictures turned out, I decided to go with them rather than reshooting on the Leadhead's famous cutting board!

Fultz mentions in his article that by the 1920s, Laughlin was following the trend of other manufacturers, licensing a lever filling design and switching from black to attractive and colorful plastics. After Sheaffer and Wahl Eversharp began offering pen and pencil sets in 1917, Laughlin must have also felt the pressure to offer a pencil with its pen products, too. But did the company make its own?

Nope. At least not in this case.  Note the squared off clip and top assembly, which doesn’t really match the lines of the pen:

The top sort of resembles an early Parker "Big Bro" pencil – the type that has the straight top. At the Michigan Show I had a working copy of The Leadhead’s Blog Volume One, and here’s the Laughlin shot against the picture of the Big Bro:

And that two stage tip – look familiar?

It actually is nothing like a Parker – here it is, shown disassembled next to an oversized lapis Duofold pencil I picked up at the Michigan show.

Our Laughlin pencil has nothing to do with Parker. It is another member in the Rex Manufacturing Company's family of pencils, probably made under license of Rex's 1925 and 1926 patents by National Pen Products of Chicago. There were several manufacturers that had National Pen Products making pencils for them, from Sears, Roebuck & Co. (both Diamond Medal and Webster brands), Montgomery Ward (Gold Bond), as well as Corona, Johnson and several others,

Oh, and as for my homework assignment about the "stolen nibmaker" -- I asked John Holland collector Jack Leone whether he knew the story. He said he’d heard the rumor, but didn’t have anything more concrete than that to offer. But he did let me take a picture of a few of his Holland pencils:

Holland didn’t "steal" Laughlin’s pencils, but the company also had National Pen Products make some on their behalf, too!

NOTE:  this article suggests that National Pen Products made the Rex patent pencils - that's an overstatement.  More recent research has established that if National had anything to do with these pencils, it was only to add a colored celluloid tube threaded on either end for a barrel.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A "Pleasing Contrast"

Here’s one more that was on Andy Beliveau’s table at the Philadelphia Pen Show. I was so glad that I finally found sufficient time to pull up a chair, with loupe and camera in hand, and really study the things that he had there. You really do have to study hard to get all of the nuances that I knew would be there.

Take this one for example:

Such a neat little "magic pencil" – the tip extends when the rear is pulled back:

What’s really striking is the checkerboard-type pattern of what is probably 9-karat gold and mother of pearl:

I promised Andy that when I got the chance, I’d look up the patent that’s stamped on the upper portion for him:

It was a little tricky to find, because it wasn’t the mechanics that were being patented, but the appearance of the pencil. Here’s design patent number number 6,229, which was issued to Ephraim S. Johnson, of Jersey City, New Jersey on October 29, 1872:

Although our pencil has three rows of alternating gold and mother of pearl rather than two, Johnson’s patent was for the checkerboard concept itself:

And a pleasing contrast it is!