Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Never A Dull Moment

While I was researching Byers and Hayes for yesterday’s article, I found a reference in a couple places suggesting that the firm made "Never-Dull" pencil cases, a fact which surprised me as I had always known the "Never-Dull" as Eclipse’s early metal pencils:

Most of these are pictured on page 50 of The Catalogue. With the exception of the top example, all of these are marked "Eclipse Never-Dull 14k Gold Fill." The full-sized side clip models add an additional line of text: "Pat. Applied For":

The possibility that Byers and Hayes may have made Eclipse’s early pencils put me hot on the trail for more information, but while I found a couple different sources that suggested this, none revealed their source for this information. Fortunately, one of those sources was George Kovalenko, who included the reference in a posting over at Lion & Pen back in 2005. I emailed George to see where he found that information, and he said he had probably learned that information from, back in the days when you could search for penmakers in city business directories – a function that has since been disabled.

Left to my own devices, I poked around a bit to see what I could find about the origins of the "Never-Dull" pencil. The earliest reference that I found was surprising. The August 2, 1919 issue of Advertising & Selling, a trade publication for advertising and retail professionals, included an article about how overcoming a potential customer’s objections can lead to sales. The article began with a case study:

From this, we know that there was a "Never-Dull" pencil which was new on the market in late 1919; that it wasn’t a clutch pencil; and that it had a cap under which was an eraser. The reference to Halifax suggests that either the author of the article is Canadian or that the transaction took place in Canada (interesting, since Eclipse had a Canadian subsidiary). And unfortunately, we also know that the salesman didn’t impress on his customer who made the frickin’ pencil.

A couple years later, others were still pondering who made the Never Dull pencil. The American Stationer published the question on April 16, 1921:

The question went unanswered. Three years later, however, when the question came up again in The American Stationer, this time the question was phrased a little differently:

Duh. Hey, while you’re at it, "Who makes the Parker Duofold?" Oooh. Oooh. I know that one...

These clues aren’t particularly helpful, but they do establish something of a timeline: the Never Dull was introduced in the late teens, and by 1924 the brand name appears to have been wholly appropriated by Eclipse. But did Eclipse make them? A close examination of the ones I’ve got on hand suggests that maybe Eclipse didn’t make them, after all. Here’s a closeup of the clips:

Starting with the top example – the one that doesn’t say "Never Dull" on it at all – the clip is a stock clip common to pencils made by several manufacturers, but when I show it side-by-side with a Morrison, the similarities are undeniable, right down to a wreath not found on any other Eclipse:

And the middle example has an identical twin. Here it is, shown next to a Superite made by DeWitt-LaFrance:

It’s interesting that the clip on this one says neither "Pat." nor "Pat. Pend.," since the clip clearly would have been made under license at the time. But then again, just a couple years later after the Carter Ink Company bought DeWitt-LaFrance and began putting the clips on its pens and pencils, Carter didn’t mark the clips either (except with the Carter name).

The bottom example is interesting in the intricate detail work seen on the barrel. I was so enamored with it that I paid a lot more than it was probably worth at the 2012 Ohio Show:

But as to who might have made this one, if not Eclipse – I don’t know. However, this one does have an identical twin, which I picked up just a couple weeks ago in an online auction:

The clips are distinctive and identical:

And although the sterling one is a bit slimmer, they share the identical intricately engraved pattern:

But this sterling example has me thinking maybe the question "Who makes the Eclipse Never Dull" isn’t such a silly question after all. Maybe, what they meant, was who made the Eclipse Never Dull as opposed to other the other ones.

Other ones?

"RexHold / Never Dull / Sterling / Pat. Applied For."

Believe me, as a Rex Manufacturing Company devotee, I’ve thought about whether there might be a connection. But other than the word "Rex" used in the name, I don’t have anything else to establish a connection and it doesn’t seem to match any other Rex products. But it does show that "Never Dull" pencils were marketed by companies other than Eclipse, or that Eclipse initially marketed pencils under a different name (in the same way Sheaffer marketed the "Sharp Point" pencil and The Wahl Company had its "Eversharp").

And the "Rexhold" wasn’t the only non-Eclipse brand to use the Never Dull name. Sue Hershey emailed me pictures of a pencil in her collection last night:

Hers is marked "Albert Howard / 14k gold filled / Never Dull / Pat. Applied For":

And what is most interesting about Sue’s pencil is the barrel pattern, which is like a fingerprint. It has a twin:

That’s a DeWitt-LaFrance Superite. No question in my my mind that whoever made the Superite – and I always thought it was DeWitt-LaFrance – also made the Albert Howard Never Dull.

All this started with a hint that Byers and Hayes might have made "Never Dull" pencils or supplied pencil cases. Was it Byers and Hayes, or DeWitt-LaFrance? Maybe. If Byers and Hayes made them, did they also make the cases for DeWitt-LaFrance? Maybe, and that would really be something interesting to prove.

Was Never Dull exclusively an Eclipse trade name? Maybe – and it’s also possible Eclipse marketed Never Dulls under different names, such as "Rexhold" and "Albert Howard." Maybe the name was being used in a generic sense by several companies (like "Eversharp" sometimes is), or maybe several companies marketed "Never Dull" pencils made by some outside company such as Byers and Hayes or DeWitt-LaFrance. But if some outside company was supplying "Never Dull" pencils to several penmakers, why isn’t there a trademark?

For now, this is all I’ve got to go on, and I don’t have all the answers for all the interesting questions that have popped up. One thing’s for sure, though . . .

This pencil research is never dull. Sorry – I couldn’t resist that one.


George Kovalenko said...

Perhaps the Rexhold pencil was made for Rexall briefly, since Superite was also one of the Rexall inhouse brand names.

Are you sure that the Carter Ink Co. bought De Witt-La France?


Anonymous said...

I have one that's just like the 2nd from the top in pic #1. The clip, however, is flatter and just like the pencil 3rd from the top in pic #1. Also, mine just says "Never Dull" then "sterling" then "pat. applied for". There are no other markings or names that I can see. May I ask what you purchased your previous pencil(s) for? ~ Lisa

Anonymous said...

And one more thing I find is that all of your photos have a taller portion of the pencil right above the top of the clip, where mine is shorter and I had to take off the top of the pencil just to be able to read "Never Dull". ~ Lisa

Jon Veley said...

I'm a little late to my own party here, but George, yes I'm confident of the acquisition of D-L by Carter's.

Lisa, I don't get into pricing here at the blog - this is for historical information only. That's interesting that you have an example marked "Never Dull" under the cap - email me a picture if you think to do so!

Michael said...

A very interesting piece. I have a JiE pencil of about the same vintage, but in silver. A lovely little pencil that I found while metal-detecting in my garden. Sadly, over the years it's been injured pretty badly, and doesn't want to function properly. Still, it's a nice piece to use occasionally.