Thursday, September 26, 2013

Better Than The Real Deal

The Springfield Antique Show in Springfield, Ohio is a monthly affair, and most of the time, it’s a lot like most other antique shows.  But a couple times a year, the show takes a big dose of steroids and turns into a monstrous, 2,000-plus dealer, indoor/outdoor, four-day affair called the “Extravaganza.”  It’s impossible to see everything in one day, so Janet and I have taken to getting a room over in Springfield and spending Saturday and Sunday browsing at a more leisurely pace.   Janet swears it’s all me stressing about whether we get to see everything, but secretly, I believe she can’t help but wonder what she might have missed, too.

We try to do all of the outdoor stuff first, because we never know when the Ohio weather will stop cooperating and besides, the indoor dealers are there every month – it’s the outdoor vendors you’ll typically see only on Extravaganza weekends.

Sunday morning, while we were browsing around outside, a big breakfast and a few belts of coffee caught up with us, so we ventured inside one of the main buildings to answer nature’s call.  Of course, it’s nearly impossible to walk down an aisle full of antiques without stopping to look at anything, and of course, the first vendor inside the door was someone I see every month and buy something from every month.

Usually it’s nothing spectacular she has for me – maybe a couple cheaper pencils in colors I don’t have or a few dip pen nibs that look just interesting enough to shell out a buck or two.  This time, I saw a great box marked “Zaner-Bloser” on the side, about half full of erasers, lead and ballpoint refills.  Since Zaner Bloser is a Columbus, Ohio company, I couldn’t resist.

But there was a problem.  The dealer wanted $12.00 firm for the box, I’d spent all my small bills and the dealer couldn’t break a fifty.  She said she’d hold it for me while I went to break a larger bill.  Just as I was about to leave her booth, I noticed this laying nonchalantly out in front, separate and apart from where she usually keeps her pen and pencil stuff:

When I first laid eyes on it, I thought I was looking at another example of an F.T. Pearce leadholder, which have snake clips sort of like this (see “It’s Not File Transfer Protocol” on January 11, 2012 at

The Pearce clip, which is also sometimes found on comparable pencils made by A.T. Cross (there was some relationship between the two companies, both of which were located in Providence, Rhode Island), was patented by George T. Byers on January 6, 1914 as Design Patent Number 45,102:

But then I looked a bit closer, and I saw that the clip on my new find was no snake:

The head resembles more of a dragon or sea serpent, and the clip is much more detailed and elaborate even than what you’ll find on a Pearce.  Here they are compared:

On the reverse side, notice the delicate fins down the creature’s spine and the finely detailed tail, neither of which is present in Byers’ design:

Yes, the clip can be removed, but underneath it, the metal of the barrel is brighter, suggesting that if it hasn’t been there since it was made, at least it has been there for a very, very long time.  I also believe the clip is original to the time period, since on the underside of the head, there is wear consistent with decades of slipping in and out of a shirt pocket.  I haven’t been able to find any modern clips that match it, either.

In addition to the clip, the pencil has another interesting detail in the machine work on the barrel.  One half of the barrel is machined with a checkerboard pattern, while the other side is different altogether.  I've seen a lot of pencils with different machining from the top part of the pencil to the bottom, but I don't think I've ever seen one that's different from front to back:

So who made this piece of art?  The only engraving on the barrel was the word “Sterling,” which wouldn’t have deterred me from buying the pencil with that killer clip.  However, this is a leadholder, which means the top screws up a little bit to release the lead and screws down a little to clamp down around it.   I recalled that many pencils of this style, such as those made by Heath, had the manufacturers imprint on the inner barrel, so that it’s only visible when the top is unscrewed.  I unscrewed the pencil, and there it was:

“Salz Bros. Mfg. NY.”  No longer did I have any worries about breaking a larger bill to buy the Zaner Bloser stuff – I used a bigger bill or two and threw this one into the deal.

It makes sense.   Ignatz Salz, like David Kahn and his Wearevers, has a reputation of being a lower-quality manufacture turning out writing instruments made to look (sometimes a little too closely) like higher-quality manufacturers made by first tier companies.  This is vintage Ignatz Salz, turning out a sterling leadholder that resembles a Heath and adorning it with a clip that certainly calls Pearce and Cross to mind.  In my opinion, the Salz name on this pencil is additional evidence that the clip is original and is original to this pencil.

And in this case, Ignatz outdid himself, turning out something that was better than the real thing!


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful clip, with its outstanding silver work.

Coincidentally, a couple of days after reading this, I was looking through the photos on Joe's Pencil Pages and spotted a similar type of clip in a vine or floral pattern. In place of the serpent's head and tail, it has ivy leaves or five-petaled flowers. The silver work is also elaborate, almost like the sea serpent. The vine clip has some stylistic differences: it coils in the opposite direction from the sea serpent and snakes, and the uncoiled part descends from a curve rather than a right angle.

The ivy clip is in Joe's box #060, which is in the 13th row, last column on the right. LLK

Jon Veley said...

Thanks for the comment, LLK (I'm trying to place the initials... have we met?). Yes, Joe has been a' droolin' over this one since this article first ran -- I'll have to point out his clip to him!

Anonymous said...

Jon, I just discovered your blog recently when I was googling for info on a Zaner-Bloser pencil that came with something unrelated. I quickly got hooked on the mini detective stories that you present here and ordered a couple of Wahl Eversharps from ebay to see what 1920s pencils are like.

I'm curious as to what kind of pencil Joe's clip is on. It has an interesting engraved leafy pattern but I can't see any name.

The sea serpent clip is amazing. LLK

Joe Nemecek said...

Hope this comment isn't too late to be seen: I've attached the pointer to my leaf clip pencil. As Jon suggested to me, it also is a Salz. Pencil is 3rd from the right