Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Steelreath Was No Hack!

At first, I thought there was a typo in Dan Linn’s email, which he titled "An American Haack?" Here’s the pencil he was talking about:

The imprint on the barrel reads "Patented June 17, 1919 / Steelreath Pencil Co. Inc. / Basic, Virginia U.S.A."

The patent date made it easy to find patent number 1,307,159, which Victor Steelreath of Basic, Virginia applied for on March 20, 1919:

Poking around a bit turned up a couple of stock certificates issued in September, 1920 and signed by Victor Steelreath himself, as president. The July, 1920 edition of Typewriter Topics indicated that Victor Steelreath had applied for a patent for a "stylograph":

However, the date of March 20, 1919 matches the application date for today’s pencil, and I can’t find where any other patents were issued to Victor. If he also applied for a patent for a stylographic pen on the same date, it would appear no patent for it was ever issued.

According to the 1921 Annual Report of the (Virginia) Secretary to the Governor of the Commonwealth in 1920, Steelreath Pencil Co. was organized on August 24, 1920 in Basic City, Virginia. The American Stationer and Office Outfitter reported the incorporation on September 18, 1920, along with a surprising detail:

Victor Steelreath is identified as the President, and John I. Rhoads was the secretary. The third name, with whom no office is associated, is C.M. Faber.

Hmm. A guy named Faber, associated with a leadholder in of all places, Basic City, Virginia. I can’t find anything else out about this particular Faber.

As I admired Dan’s pencil, and the quality with which it was made, I was wondering to myself why Dan would characterize Steelreath as a mere "hack."  Then it dawned on me that I might be missing something, and I was.

"Haack" was no typo.  It's a brand of German technical leadholders manufactured by Haack Sparbleistift GmbH. I’ve commented before on how the pencil collecting community has a few subsets, which for whatever reason don’t intersect much – since I’m a guy who likes American mechanical pencils, I hadn’t had the occasion to study German leadholders, and I’d never heard of the Haack before ... mea culpa, and many apologies to you leadholder guys!

The reason Dan had referred to the Steelreath as an "American Haack" was due to the close similarity between these mechanims. The Steelreath, like the Lippincott, the Lamson and the Triangle Reflex, is a slider pencil, with a tab that slides up and down to move the lead:

But, just like the Haack, the Steelreath adds an additional feature. That knurled section near the nose isn’t just a decorative feature that makes it easier to grip the pencil:

It’s a locking ring that screws down to clap the lead firmly into place:

Thanks for sharing that one, Dan, and for unintentionally educating a mechanical pencil hack!

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