Friday, June 14, 2013

What the Very First Ever Sharps Looked Like

I’ve been particularly lucky in my pencil hunting over the last month or so. Here are three very early pre-Wahl Ever Sharp (that’s two words) pencils that have come my way:

The top example features the "trowel clip" sported on these pencils after Charles Keeran, inventor of the pencil and founder of the Ever Sharp Pencil Company, contracted with the Wahl Adding Machine Company sometime in 1915 or 1916 to make his pencils for him. Prior to his contract with Wahl, Keeran had his pencils made by the George W. Heath Co., which is why the bottom two examples, known as "Heath-clip Ever Sharps," have the distinctive pierced clip patented by George Heath.

Both of the Heath clip examples shown have a story. The sterling example at the bottom popped up in an online auction in late May. Although it was a duplicate of one I had in my collection, my other example has a large dent in the barrel – but even if it didn’t, I’d still have a hard time passing another one up in this unique pattern, which wasn’t used on any of the Eversharp pencils Wahl made:

The seller indicated that this pencil was engraved with the initials "H.G." – potentially bad for those who pooh-pooh initials. But the seller went even further, stating that the initials stood for Harry Guldenkirk. I couldn’t resist asking how the seller knew this, and her answer was as follows: "I originally lived in Bklyn,N.Y. I bought a house around the corner that had been vacant for 12 years.1983. The owners Harry & Anna Guldenkirk lived there since 1928 till they passed.. The house was loaded with antiques & collectibles from turn of century to 20's-30's 40's."

So Harry, wherever you are -- I'm taking good care of your pencil!

As for the gold filled example, David Ferguson brought it to the Chicago Pen Show in early May. Like the sterling example, I have another one similar to this, but this one has a neat feature I’d never seen before on an Ever Sharp, which made it "simply irresistible" to me:

"She’s so fine, there’s no telling where the money went . . ." I digress (with apologies to Robert Palmer fans).

I know all of this has been just a bit of show and tell so far, but I didn’t circle back around to these early Ever Sharps just to show off.  I’ve noticed something that changes the way I think about the development of these pencils:  although these early Heath-clip Ever Sharps may be the earliest Ever Sharps we know of, they aren’t the earliest. These are actually the second generation of Ever Sharps.

Collectors have long been on a snipe hunt for the original Ever Sharps – the ones Charles Keeran claimed to have test marketed at Wanamaker’s during the 1913 Christmas shopping season. To my knowledge, no one has ever turned one of these original Ever Sharps up. In large part, after studying the patent drawings more closely, I believe that’s because we’ve been looking for something that looks like an Ever Sharp -- and that's not what they looked like!

To begin, kudos go to David Nishimura, whose wrote an article that was published in the winter, 2001 issue of Pennant magazine titled "A Tale of Two Pencils: Keeran's Eversharp & Hayakawa's Ever-Ready Sharp" (the Pennant is the magazine that comes free with your membership in the Pen Collectors of America).  In case you don't have that one laying around, David’s article can also be found at his website:

Prior to the publication of David’s article, the common misperception was that the Eversharp pencil was invented by Hayakawa Tokuji, a Japanese inventor whose company, originally named the Ever-Ready Sharp Pencil Company, is today simply referred to as Sharp (that’s right, the electronics giant). Were it not for David’s work, the fact that the Ever Sharp was actually invented by Charles Keeran might remain forgotten. As David notes in his article, the historical inaccuracy may partly have been due to the fact that Wahl Eversharp’s leadership, which acquired Keeran’s company and ousted the inventor in late 1917, preferred it that way.

David identifies the patent for the original Ever Sharp as number 1,130,741, which Keeran applied for on October 10, 1913 and which was granted on March 9, 1915:

But this isn't the design used on any of the Heath clip Ever Sharp pencils I’ve seen -- not quite, anyway. As I was thumbing through George Kovalenko’s patent book the other day, looking as usual for something entirely different, I noticed there were actually two patents for Keeran’s Ever Sharp. It's mentioned in David's article, but it was the first time I'd taken a closer look at this one.  Keeran applied for his second patent on October 28, 1914, and the patent was granted on August 24, 1915 as number 1,151,016:

As David correctly notes in his article, this patent relates mostly to Keeran's "rifled" tip.  In the text for this second patent, Keeran explains that his new design uses a feed mechanism that is "substantially the same" as the one he illustrates in his earlier patent.  All of the Ever Sharps I’ve seen have this tip, and since the patent was applied for in late 1914, this probably wasn’t the design that appeared at Wanamaker’s in Christmas, 1913.

So what kind of tip did those first Ever Sharps have, if it wasn't Keeran's rifled metal tip?  That's the part that's interesting, because when I looked closely at Keeran’s first patent, I noticed that the drawings show something very different:

Here’s how he describes this end of the pencil in the text:

Translation: there’s a wooden plug in the end of these pencils with a hole drilled through it that sticks out from the end of the outer metal casing. I’m thinking this plug would look a lot like the front end of an Eagle Simplex, which also has an all wood tip drilled so that lead will squeeze through but will also be held snug enough to keep from falling out:

At the other end, note that Keeran's drawings show that his pencil had an exposed eraser. He mentioned in the text that the top could be covered with a "closed outer cap piece" which "if desired, can be of a decorative nature," but one of his drawings on page 2 of the patent shows that at the time, Keeran had absolutely no idea what this cap would look like:

The top of Keeran's first Ever Sharp, which Keeran says "may be of knurled formation, if desired," probably looked just like the tops found on Wahl Eversharp utility pencils made in the early 1920s:

So Charles Keeran’s first Ever Sharp pencils, the ones that debuted at Wanamaker’s in late 1913, wouldn’t have looked anything like what you’d expect. At the business end, it would have a crude-looking wood plug protruding from the metal casing. The innards might look familiar, but the top would probably be knurled with an exposed eraser, like a utility pencil. If it has a cap, it probably wouldn't look anything like an Eversharp cap.

It may or may not have a Heath clip installed.  The patent for the Heath clip was applied for in 1912, so it's possible, but Keeran never said who made his first Ever Sharps.  It would only have a Heath clip if it was Heath that made the pencils from the outset.

Would it be called an "Ever Sharp?" Maybe. The trademark for the word "Eversharp," with its spiky lettering, wasn’t filed until May 31, 1932, long after Keeran had departed the company, and Wahl’s trademark is for "Eversharp" as one word – Wahl didn't remove the space until 1918.

In the trademark registration, Wahl claims the date the mark was first used was in December, 1913 – but that probably comes from Keeran’s 1928 letter to Wahl, in which Keeran claimed he was entitled to more compensation for his accomplishments (which, by the way, Keeran embellished for the occasion).  Keeran’s Ever Sharp Pencil Company wasn’t organized until 1914, and Keeran never filed a trademark for the name "Ever Sharp," so there’s no direct evidence of what Keeran might have called his pencils when he set up his display at Wanamaker’s in 1913.

But even if we don't know all the details, at least this gives us a better idea what our snipe looks like than we’ve had before.  So now it’s off into the woods to hunt one!

UPDATE, December 8, 2015:  We now have a clear understanding what the first Eversharps look like, thanks to an advertisement published in December, 1913.  Full story is at

No comments: