Friday, July 5, 2013

Back To The Drawing Board

I missed something.

On Monday, I showed off John Coleman’s Ever Sharp mechanism, bearing a "Keeran & Co. Bloomington Ill." imprint, and proudly announced that part of one of the original Ever Sharps, introduced in 1913, had been found.


On the plus side, I did get a few things right. Yes, before there was Wahl Eversharp, there was the "Ever Sharp Pencil Co.," and before that, Keeran & Co. Yes, this mechanism is out of one of the earliest Ever Sharps, and yes, I’m still hoping John finds the barrel that went with that mechanism. But, unfortunately, it’s not from one of the original Ever Sharps of 1913. Daniel Kirchheimer sent me the following sources which convinced me that I got this one wrong.

In my defense, I thought my sources were pretty solid: Charles Keeran himself claimed that he founded the Ever Sharp Pencil Company in early 1914 in his widely publicized letter to Wahl in 1928, so if a company called "Keeran & Co." predated it, there isn’t much farther back to go – Keeran’s development of the Ever Sharp began in the second half of 1913.

On the other hand, David Nishimura’s article on the subject indicated that Keeran & Co. was set up in early 1914 – putting two and two together, I assumed that "Keeran & Co." must have been the informal, unincorporated name Keeran used prior to early 1914, and I thought maybe David was a few months off.

But it was Keeran himself and not David that got his facts wrong -- or at least half wrong. The discrepancy between the two versions of the story is resolved in a transcript of hearings before the United States Senate’s Committee on Finance concerning the proposed Tariff Act of 1921. C.J. Frechette, by then the Secretary and Assistant Treasurer of the Wahl Co., appeared and testified before the Committee to argue that the proposed new tariffs should exclude mechanical pencils with plated base metal barrels rather than precious metal barrels. Frechette also filed a written brief with the committee, reprinted in full in the hearing transcripts, and his introductory material contains the following statement:

"The Eversharp Pencil Co. was originally incorporated as Keeran & Co., an Illinois corporation, on April 28, 1914, for the purpose of manufacturing and dealing in mechanical pencils, with an authorized capitalization of $25,000. . . . Later, August 10, 1916, the name of the corporation was changed to the Eversharp Pencil Co."

Frechette’s statement should be read with some skepticism. His brief was written in 1921, long after Wahl had ousted Keeran, and it does contain inaccuracies. Note first that Frechette says "Eversharp" (one word), when the product and company name used by Keeran was "Ever Sharp" (two words). And Frechette also claims in his brief that Wahl expended large sums of money "in the development of a mechanically perfect tip" in early 1917, when Keeran had developed and patented this feature in late 1914.

However, the historical record confirms that Frechette appears to have gotten the early history of Keeran’s company pretty close. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported the incorporation of Keeran & Co. on January 13, 1914:

The September, 1915 edition of Typewriter Topics reported that Keeran & Co. had opened a Chicago "branch" in the Lytton building:

If this was only a "branch," it must have been the tail that wagged the dog, since this advertisement, which appeared in the September, 1915 issue of Office Appliances, which Bob Bolin published on his Charles Keeran page ( makes no mention of the company’s ties to Bloomington:

So Keeran founded the company that would become the Ever Sharp Pencil Company in early 1914, but the company was originally called "Keeran & Co." Since the company’s name wasn’t changed to "Ever Sharp Pencil Company" until late 1916, that means John Coleman’s mechanism could have been fitted into Heath clip or Trowel clip pencils, or possibly even a pre-Wahl example with a Wahl clip. However, if Keeran’s establishment of a "branch" in Chicago in September, 1915 was really (as I suspect) an abandonment of Bloomington as the company’s headquarters, John’s find was probably made before September, 1915.

But unfortunately, since "Keeran & Co." didn’t exist in late 1913, John’s mechanism probably was not what you would have found inside Keeran’s earliest pencils.

That’s "probably." Could Charles Keeran have informally used "Keeran & Co." as his business name while he was test marketing his pencils, even before he formally incorporated? Possibly, although I don’t have any evidence yet to support that. However, if John turns up an original Ever Sharp barrel, the kind with the "fibrous" plug in the end instead of a metal tip, I’d say definitely.

And then I’d get to un-retract at least part of this retraction!


Martha said...

The title was right, though--so close!

David Nishimura said...

Sorry I haven't had time to keep up with your posts lately. I do have at least a couple of Heath-made Ever Sharps with the Keeran & Co. imprint on the inner mechanism, so the example in your photos isn't unique.