Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Nu Take On The Nu-Type

If you look up theNu-Type in The Catalogue, the book will direct you to the entry under “Ditto” where, on page 41, you’ll see a grouping of these oddballs, posed with a typewriter ribbon tin bearing the same Ditto logo:

I didn’t know quite what to make of these at the time the book went to press.  All of the Ditto-marked examples I had found also had “Nu-Type” imprinted neatly around the lower ring, in addition to the word “Ditto” imprinted neatly around the cap:

Of my three Ditto-marked examples, two have a small porcelain medallion mounted at the top of the gold-filled clip; the third has nickel-plated trim, is marked “Pat. Pend.,” and doesn’t have the medallion:

What the nickel-plated one lacks in medallion, it makes up for in style – on the top of the cap, the nickel-plated example has the Ditto logo neatly engraved.  In contrast, the two gold-filled examples have crudely engraved block letter initials.  When I found the first one, I assumed someone might have carved their own initials into the cap, but finding two with the same letters suggests that all of them might have been this poorly executed:

Since the overwhelming majority of these were marked both Ditto and Nu-Type, I had assumed a few things.  I assumed, first, that Ditto was a general office supplier that had “produced” these pencils (as opposed to manufacturing them).  I had commented, since all of the Nu-Types I had seen with any other markings were marked Ditto, that “it is unknown whether Ditto had the pencils made for them or whether Nu-Type was a Ditto brand.”

I got that part a little bit backwards.  Here’s a couple of Nu-Type pencils that are not marked Ditto.

The ringtop is pictured in The Catalogue, and it lacks any other markings.  However, the full sized one has a barrel imprint:

“Strom Ball Bearing Mfg. Co. Chicago Ill.”  Well, that blows that theory – now that I know there’s a Nu-Type pencil out there advertising something other than Ditto, I know that in my book the entry under “Ditto” should have referred you to “Nu-Type,” rather than the other way around.   That led me to browse around a bit more in The American Stationer, where I found this writeup in the September 9, 1922 edition:

There’s a lot of great information in this article.  There was a “Nu-Type Manufacturing Company” located at 4532 Palmer Street in Chicago, and the Nu-Type was available in three sizes (so far, I’ve only seen the two).  It’s also supposedly available in sterling silver or 14k gold, but none of the ones I’ve seen match either of those descriptions.

But there’s a curious choice of words at the end of the article.  Note that it identifies W.H. Newhall (a representative of Shea, Smith & Co.) and L.B. Graham as being “interested in the sale and distribution of the Nu-Type Pencils.”   “Interested in” suggests more than a passing curiosity in the product.  Were they exclusive agents, stakeholders, owners or something else?

As I researched the answer to this question, one of my own articles popped up.  I just hate it when that happens (I really do – it makes me feel like Shaggy in a Scooby Doo cartoon, following my own footprints without realizing I’m walking in circles).   Back on February 23, 2012, I was discussing the similarities between a Sears metal “Gold Medal” pencil and a Nupoint in “”A Pair of Gold Medals” (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2012/02/pair-of-gold-medals.html), when I commented that “Nu-Point" as a trademark was registered on October 23, 1923 by William C. Steffan on behalf of the Nu-Type Mfg. Company, which claimed use of the name since July, 1921.”  Here’s the published registration:

According to this, the Nu-Type Manufacturing Company began using the trade name “Nu-Point”  in July, 1921, and the Nu-Type Manufacturing Company was “composed of the following members, William C. Steffan, Frank B. Ackerkman and Walter Greiner.”    (NOTE: there's a monster footnote at the end of this article about that.)

That tidbit helps explain something else that turned up in the following article, from the September 1922 edition of Office Appliances:

The Office Appliances article repeats the assertion that the trim on Nu-Types was either sterling silver or 14k gold, but since the prices were from 75 cents to $3.50 -- no, they really weren’t.  But there’s more here: “These pencils have a patented and distinctive feature in a panel in which may be imprinted the designs of fraternal organizations or other emblems . . ..”  That might go a long way to answer my question about the references to “patent” and “patent pending” on these pencils.

At the DC show I picked up another example of the Nu-Type, this one with a different sort of emblem:

There’s nothing on the pencil to say what the design is supposed to represent.  I asked around a bit to see if it might be a Chinese character, but to no avail – it might be, like the Ditto logo, just a logo.  What’s the most interesting about this one is that the emblem is detachable from the pencil:

And this one is marked “Pat. Pending.”  Armed with the Office Appliances article, the Nu-Point trademark registration, and a few new names, I went back for a fresh look at the patent databases, and here is what I found:

William C. Steffan, Frank B. Ackermann (note the two n’s) and Walter J. Greiner, of Chicago, applied for a patent for the clip found on the Nu-Type on October 9, 1920.  Their patent was granted on June 22, 1922 and issued number 1,421,318.

You’d think that would neatly wrap up this story, wouldn’t you?  There’s only one problem: I’ve got three examples without the patented clip emblem -- my ringtop and two of my full-size examples – and all three are marked “Pat. Pending.”  The clip wasn’t the whole story here!

When the Nu-Type is disassembled, it has some unusual and distinctive features:

The inner metal tube is friction fit into the barrel.  Inside is a pushrod with a threaded rear section.  The pushrod is square and fits into a square hole in the barrel to keep it from twisting, so turning the cap causes the rod to advance.  The lead is secured by friction in the tip.   There was someone else in Chicago in the late teens and early 1920s who was inventing, patenting and manufacturing this kind of pencil:

Here’s an early Autopoint, invented by none other than Charles Keeran after his ouster from Wahl Eversharp (the photo was an outtake from The Catalogue).  Prior to Autopoint’s merger with Realite (another company whose pencils Keeran invented) in 1923, Autopoints were rear-drive pencils just like the Nu-Type.   Keeran patented literally dozens of variations on this basic theme; some had a flattened rod, some had a fin or a hexagonal plug.  Here’s one example, patent number 1,372,296:

I went through all the Keeran patents I could find, and none of them exactly matched the Nu-Type’s square pushrod; however, the mechanical differences between the Nu-Type and this Keeran patent are trivial.  Maybe the pencil itself wasn’t “nu” after all!  There’s a few possibilities, and as of this writing I don’t know which is the case:

1.   The Nu-Type Manufacturing Company had nothing to do with Keeran or Autopoint, and since Keeran never patented a variation with a square pushrod, William Steffan and his cohorts tried to patent this variation separately.  Either the patent application was denied because it was so similar to the ones Keeran had patented, or it was issued and I haven’t found it yet.

2.   Keeran and/or Autopoint licensed this design to Nu-Type.

3.   Keeran and/or Autopoint had a hand in manufacturing the Nu-Type.

Now that’s something nu to think about.

(And now, for the monster footnote . . . you know what?  That footnote is a story in itself.  I'll post a full article on that tomorrow.)  

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