Monday, June 17, 2013

Maybe It Stands for "Great Freakin' Pencil?"

Joe Nemecek knows that, while I may not be a rabid Buckeye fan, I am through and through a proud Ohioan. That’s why he brought this one with him to the Raleigh Pen Show and insisted on giving it to me:

At the top is a nice imprint:

"Trade Mark GF Youngstown, Ohio Reg. U.S. Pat. Off. 20 YR Gold Filled." I’ve seen these pencils before, usually marked only with Youngstown, Ohio, but I didn’t recall seeing one which also had the "GF" logo above it. That clue, it turns out, was the only missing piece of the puzzle.

"GF" stands for The General Fireproofing Company. According to The History of Youngstown and The Mahoning Valley by Joseph Green Butler (1921), the company was established in Youngstown in January, 1902 originally to manufacture building products, particularly fireproof insulation and steel reinforcement for concrete. However, the financial panic of 1907 (an event on the scale of our recent "great recession") slowed the building industry significantly and threatened the survival of the fledgling company, so GF’s management decided to diversify – into office furniture and products. I’ve found references to metal desks (painted to mimic the appearance of wood), but now I also know the company produced mechanical pencils.

That’s "produced," not "manufactured." I’ve long drawn a distinction between who makes a pencil (the manufacturer) and who causes a pencil to be made specially for them (the producer), and proud as I am of this little piece of Ohioana, I’m fairly convinced General Fireproofing did not actually make this pencil. But I think I know who did!

At the 2012 Ohio Pen Show, I found some great stuff on Terry Sell’s table. By the time I found a tired, dented up and cracked relic on his table that piqued my interest, I’d spent enough money that Terry just told me to take it. I was happy to oblige, since I figured at some point it would explain a few things. When I compare my GF ringtop to the pencil Terry gave me, I note the very close similarity of the barrel design, which is a lot like a fingerprint:

Notice also the crowns, and you have to look past the dents on Terry’s pencil. Another matching fingerprint here:

Terry’s pencil, though, is a full sized model with a side clip, and it’s a clip that you might recognize:

The imprint on the back of Terry’s pencil indicates that it too is "20 year gold filled," and that’s not all it says:

"SHARP POINT." Terry’s pencil is one of Sheaffer’s first mechanical pencils, which were marketed under the Sharp Point name.

What interested me in Terry’s Sharp Point was that this example is a little different from all of the other Sharp Points I’ve seen. I haven’t seen this pattern or cap style on any others, and the pencil feels like it’s significantly lighter – probably due to thinner barrel walls, which probably also explains the crack in the barrel. Now that a nearly identical example made for General Fireproofing has surfaced, I’m inclined to believe this slightly cheaper Sharp Point design was made for other customers, who would have their own names specially imprinted on them.

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