Wednesday, August 7, 2013

All American

I’ve had this one for years.  It appears on page 19 of The Catalogue, and it’s one of the few pencils in my collection that Joe Nemecek has gently tried to get me to part with over the years:

This is a No. 26 “Perpetual” made by the American Pencil Company:

At the top end are two patents.   When I wrote The Catalogue, I hadn’t yet figured out how to search for patents older than 1920 (the usual search terms don’t work on patents prior to then).  So, reading the imprint as best as I could, I concluded these patent numbers were 480,199 and 584,963.  Not so.  The earlier patent number is actually number 480,188, which Alfred Fornander of New York applied for on March 17,1892 and which was granted on August 2,1892:

I didn’t do any better with the other patent, either.  It isn’t 584,963, but rather number 584,999, which Byron Benjamin Goldsmith and William Burt applied for on December 23, 1893 and which was issued on June 22, 1897 (and assigned to The American Pencil Company).  The more complicated improved version required two pages of drawings:

The American Perpetual, like the Rapid-Fire Eversharp (not the Wahl, but the “other” Eversharp) and a few other similar brands, is a multi-pointed pencil (see “A Wooden Eversharp??” on February 19, 2013 at
At the Raleigh Pen Show, Joe Nemecek brought along an old American Pencil Company catalog, which proudly displayed the No. 26 and described how it worked:

Unlike the Rapid-Fire Eversharp and similar pencils, the American Perpetual – which sold complete with 33 pencil points for 25 cents – operated by depressing the top rather than using your fingernail to pull the next point forward.

Joe also had an old order blank for the pencil and spare leads:

What’s really neat about this is that the back of the order form has openings in which customers could put coins to pay for orders:

“Hey, I wonder what would happen if we sent this in?” I asked, and I was only half joking.  My American Perpetual is in fantastic condition, but it only has one worn nub of a point left.  I’ve always thought it would be really neat to see it work:

And then in another one of those weird coincidences, I got a break.  Bear in mind that I’ve had this pencil for years, and Joe just showed me his paperwork at the Raleigh Pen Show in June.  A couple weeks later, I received an email out of the blue from Mike Hungerford, a fellow pencil collector.  Mike couldn’t possibly have overheard me musing about how nice it would be to find refills for this pencil – he wasn’t even in the same state at the time.  But as if by magic, Mike wrote me to ask if I had any use for – you guessed it – a container of American Perpetual refills!

Of course I jumped at the opportunity.  Mike said the lettering on the container was extremely faint, and when these arrived I saw what he meant.  Try as I might, I wasn’t able to pick up the lettering on the paper label with the camera:

I was so excited to see how this thing finally worked.  I removed the top cap and dropped a refill in, and when I pushed the button . . .

Nothing happened.   The entire leadholding unit moved forward.  Dejected, I released the button, and I heard the plink! of the old lead shooting across the room and hitting the wall.  I looked down at the Perpetual to make sure I hadn’t broken anything:

Wow.  Pretty cool.  You can reload your pencil and shoot used pieces of lead at your friends!

Cooler still was that when I took off the cap to reload the Perpetual, something else clicked into place . . .

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