Friday, September 20, 2013

I'm Sure That's What They Were "Shooting" For

Here’s a couple of pencils, both of which came from the DC show.  Well, sort of.

The red pencil (painted over brass) came from Frank Hoban, whose table was just a few doors down from mine at the show.  The moment I saw it, I knew I had to buy it – I was expecting a second one to arrive within just a couple hours, and I wanted to photograph the two together.  Later that day, Sue Hershey arrived at my table, and sure enough she had the green one in tow.  Sue had sent me a picture of it some months earlier, and she said she was bringing along a bag of goodies to the DC show for me to look at.  I had hoped (a) this would be one of them and (b) I’d get to bring it home with me.  Yes to both!

Neither of these is a particularly expensive pencil, but what had me fired up about Sue’s pencil – and had my radar in tune by the time I found the one on Frank’s table – was the name on the clips:

“Pierce,” with an arrow running through it.   You probably don’t need to be a car buff to know where this one is going.   In 1872, George N. Pierce of Buffalo, New York bought out his other partners in Heinz, Pierce and Munschauer, a metal specialties company, and renamed the outfit the George N. Pierce Co.  By 1896, Pierce was becoming preoccupied with things that go, introducing a bicycle that year.  The company began dabbling in automobiles and, in 1903, the company introduced the Arrow, a name that was so cool that the company name was changed to Pierce Arrow:

Pierce Arrows are instantly recognizable by their distinctive streamlined headlights,which the company started using fairly early on.  The logo frequently used by the company was just like you see on these pencils, with an Arrow skewering the word “Pierce.”  Here it is in a 1904 advertisement:

and one dealer even had the logo proudly emblazoned atop his four-story Pierce Arrow service facility:

Pierce-Arrow is best remembered for its luxury cars, including the ones supplied to William Howard Taft as the first presidential motorcars.   However, the company’s bread and butter were work trucks – construction vehicles, buses and cargo vehicles.  The company spun off its bicycle division in 1909 as the Pierce Cycle Company, with Percy Pierce (George’s son) as its president. Pierce Cycle introduced a distinctive inline four-cylinder motorcycle but, like so many other motorcycle companies in the first part of the last century, the company didn’t last long and Pierce Cycle folded in 1914.

Pierce Arrow, however, survived into the 1930s.  By the late 1930s, the Depression had all but eliminated demand for new work trucks, leaving the company as exclusively a luxury automobile manufacturer.  Since Studebaker had acquired a controlling interest in the firm, Pierce Arrow did not to introduce a lower-priced line (which would have competed with Studebakers) to make ends meet until times got better.  The proud company declared insolvency and shut its doors in 1938.

These Pierce pencils appear to date from the early 1920s (the red enameled example) and the mid- to late-1920s.  Initially, I thought a luxury brand like Pierce Arrow wouldn’t stand to have its name stamped on such low-quality pencils – higher quality writing instruments would have been more like it.  But then again, I had forgotten about the utility vehicles the company made.  These pencils might not have been at home in President Taft’s glove box, but that red one would fit right in on the dash of a Pierce Arrow fire truck.

Did Pierce Arrow get into the pencil manufacturing business?  I very much doubt it, even given the company’s origins as a metal specialties company.    Once Pierce Arrow became obsessed with things that go, I don’t think they ever looked back.  Did the company have pencils made with their logo on the clips?  Maybe.

But maybe, just like the UWANTAs and the UNXLDs, someone else just thought they’d rip off a cool name.

1 comment:

David Nishimura said...

On balance, I think it must have been a case of simple opportunism in an era when trademark protection was quite narrowly restricted to a single class of product (for example, "Duofold" could be registered by Parker for pens and pencils, even though it had long been in use for underwear).

If there had been a direct Pierce-Arrow connection, I'd also think that by now the car collectors would have discovered it -- and would have bid up the prices on these pencils to great heights!