Friday, August 16, 2013

Alligators and Snakes and . . . Karungs, Oh My

Eversharp did some really, really weird things towards the end of its forty-year run.  Between around 1950 and 1953, the company made pencils wrapped in . . . really, really weird things.  On page 78 of The Catalogue, you’ll find this picture of the alligator and snakeskin pencils the company made:

By the time these were made, Eversharp was on its last legs.  More accurately, it was on its last snake legs.  The Ventura line had debuted, but thanks in no small part to the company’s ill-conceived advertisement of the Ventura as the “burp” pen, it was doing nothing to save the company from itself.

Eversharp’s 1953 parts and service catalog reeks of the company's desperation.  A copy is maintained at the PCA’s online library, with crude typesetting done on a manual typewriter and hand-drawn depictions of pens, pencils and parts that look more like a junior high school art project than commercial art from what had once been one of the largest and most successful writing instruments manufacturers in the United States.

However, what the 1953 catalog lacks in refinement it makes up for in information, and it’s a must read for Eversharp collectors.   The last page covers these pencils, which were known as the Model 117-A (for the alligator skin models) and Model 117-S (for snakeskin models):

And there’s the part that’s been bugging me for years:

Green?  Two out of three ain’t bad . . . it’s horrible.  I knew it was possible that Eversharp used some environmentally unfriendly green dye to color snake skin that gobbled up the material so that none of them were left.  Maybe the 1953 catalog contained something that didn’t really exist  I looked high and low (and everywhere in between), show after show, but I kept coming up empty.

Until Jim Carpenito approached me at the DC show this year and asked, “You’ve found one of these by now, right?”

From the look on my face I’m sure I didn’t really need to answer that question.  We went back and forth for most of the day about this pencil, partly because neither of us knew what it was worth and partly because Jim has enjoyed owning it and it’s hard to say when he’ll see another.  Eventually, we came to terms and at long last I can post this picture:

Posed between a Fifth Avenue and a Ventura, it’s interesting to note how the Alligator and Snake pencils draw elements from each.  The model 117 shares the top end treatment of the Fifth Avenue (sort of . . . note how the button’s a little different and is unique to this model) and shares the clip from the Ventura (sort of . . . the Ventura clip has a bit of an arch to it, while the Model 117 clip is flatter).

Note also that while the 1953 catalog shows only one pattern but describes three colors, when the three snakeskin colors are compared there are some subtle differences:

I acquired that example on the left in an online auction a few years ago.  It was complete with the original box:

Huh . . . makes you wonder whether there was a Model 117-K, for “Karung Reptile?”

Nope.  In fact, the tag that came with this pencil box apparently didn’t come with the right pencil, because the Karung snake, which is indigenous to Indonesia, has skin which matches the pattern on my red pencil.  Someone must have put the wrong tag in the wrong box.

Good thing I’ve got that red pencil.  That would be really horrible.

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