Thursday, August 15, 2013

Presto! A Revelation!

On the last day of the DC show, Robert Speerbrecher visited my table with a stack of slotter boxes he’d acquired from the collection of Bert Heiserman, the proprietor of Pen Haven who passed away a couple of months ago.  Was I interested in anything in there, he asked?  Among a few other things (more on those later), I saw this one and I had to admit that yes, I was:

The mechanism is a cap-actuated repeater mechanism – interesting, since it’s also a ringtop, so you have to push down on the ring to advance the lead.  The barrel has some intricate machining:

The pattern is groups of 11 lines, and where the lines zig and zag, it creates the optical illusion of dart-shaped figures within the panels – more on that later (and no spoilers for those who see what I’m seeing).  On the cap, the design is slightly modified, with groups of nine lines forming arrows pointing the opposite direction, with squiggly lines in between.

For those who would think the different pattern suggests that a different cap has been substituted, I can’t say for sure.  As I’m fond of saying, unless you were on the shop floor when this one was made, you can’t either!  However, the cap is specially machined for this pencil, as it screws onto very distinctively machined threads:

The pencil isn’t marked sterling, although it certainly appears to be.  It is, however,  marked with something even better:

“Presto.”   No “Pat. Applied for,” and no “Patented.”  That’s really significant, and this piece really has me excited.    In fact, I found three examples of the Presto at the DC show:

Both of the larger examples are marked “Pat. Applied For,” and both are completely intact – complete with the caps, which are frequently missing and without which the pencils are inoperable.   This metal Presto is the first one I’ve ever found.

But that’s not why I’m excited.

The smaller example, when posed next to an unmarked pencil I acquired from Jim Carpenito at the Raleigh show in June, demonstrates without a doubt that the Presto was made not only in the muted browns, greens and plain black barrels, but also in brighter colors:

But that’s not why I’m excited, either.

Let’s step back for a minute and review where I left off the last time I was talking about the Presto.  Almost two years ago, in “My Find of the Year” (December 31, 2011, at, I’d connected some dots that I never expected to connect.  I’d learned that the patent for the Presto, number 1,592,502:

Was later imprinted on the Everfeed, which had an identical repeater mechanism:

The Everfeed is identical to the “Gilfred,” which in turn is nearly identical to the repeater mechanism Wahl Eversharp adopted for use on its Doric, Coronet, Skyline, Fifth Avenue and Symphony pencils:

In fact, Eversharp’s mechanism was so similar that Gilfred sued Eversharp for infringement of its patent.  In Gilfred Corporation v. Eversharp, Inc., decided in January, 1942, the Courts invalidated Gilfred’s patent rights, holding that the Presto/Everfeed/Gilfred design wasn’t any different from a design patented in the nineteenth century which was by then in the public domain.  (Note: as a final irony, the upstart Reynolds Pen Company did the same thing to Eversharp just a couple years later, invalidating Eversharp’s patents on the new ballpoint pen and crippling Eversharp so seriously that it never recovered.)

I’ve always had a nagging question lurking in the back of my mind about this story.  Why would Eversharp hijack a design from the Gilfred Corporation?   The company had a research and development department, and John Wahl was constantly cooking up new ideas, including several versions of a repeater pencil used by the John Wahl Co.  (see “Unique” on August 29, 2012 at

So why didn’t Eversharp use one of its own designs?  Why, out of all the pencil manufacturers in the world, would the goliath Wahl Eversharp have picked such an obscure manufacturer as the Gilfred Corporation to rip off?

My metal Presto at last gives us the answer.  Here it is, next to a pre-1924 Eversharp pencil:

I measured the diameter of these two pencils with a micrometer, and both are exactly .0300".   When the pattern on these two pencils are compared close up:

Eversharp called it the “Dart” pattern, pencils in that pattern show up in Eversharp catalogs from  1921 through 1926 – the patent for the Presto was applied for in 1924.   Barrel patterns are like fingerprints, and these two are a match – groups of 11 lines with the same zigzags to form Wahl’s dart pattern.  In my opinion, Wahl Eversharp made my metal Presto.

That’s why, out of all the writing manufacturers Wahl could have chosen to pick on, Wahl picked the Gilfred Company.  Wahl already had all the tooling it needed to make repeater pencils just like the Gilfred, because Wahl had started making Presto repeating pencils under contract, and much earlier than previously thought . . .

as early as 1924!!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It is most likely that yes, your Presto was made by Wahl Eversharp. At an estate sale I recently picked up a Presto 'gold filled' pencil and it came in a white box with an instruction sheet. On the instructions it reads Wahl Eversharp and the instructions and diagrams are exactly tailored to suit this pencil.