Tuesday, September 3, 2013

It Would Have Been So Much Easier Had I Known This!

Sometimes you just know the answer is out there somewhere.  It has to be.  People didn’t just turn out these pencils by the hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands, work as hard as they could to sell them, and then vanish without a trace.

One of the shadowy figures I’ve been researching for years is Samuel Kanner, the assignee of the original patent (and inventor of the improved patent) for the “Presto” repeater pencils.  I even have his personal demonstrator Presto in my collection:

Doubtless it was Kanner behind the wheel, guiding his repeating pencils into the slimmer “Everfeeds” made by the Gilfred Corporation, eventually squaring off against Eversharp in the patent infringement case in which Gilfred claimed Eversharp stole his design for Eversharp’s repeating pencils (see “My Find of the Year” on December 31, 2011 at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2011/12/my-find-of-year.html):

From the top, that’s a later Presto, a Gilfred, an Everfeed, and an Eversharp Doric repeater.  Unfortunately for Kanner, Eversharp won the infringement case in 1942, convincing the judge that since the Kanner mechanism wasn’t significantly different from a repeating mechanism patented in the nineteenth century, Kanner’s patent was therefore invalid.

The Presto/Everfeed/Gilfred design turns up one more time on a pencil marked “Decat” that Michael Little sent to me (“Welcome to Pencil Island” on August 6, 2013 at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2013/08/welcome-to-pencil-island.html), and the only documentation I could find concerning the Decat was a November, 1946 advertisement:

But the part of Samuel Kanner’s story that was proving trickier to prove was my belief that Kanner had something to do with the “Nupoint.”  On October 26, 2012, I posted an article (“You’ll Flip Your Top For These” at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2012/10/youll-flip-your-top-for-these.html), in which I’d noted similarities between pivoting-top pencils marked Aikin Lambert, Nupoint and Hi-Speed:

And that squared with a Q&A in a 1922 issue of The American Stationer, which attributed the Nupoint to Aikin Lambert.   But then a metal pencil marked “Nupoint Repeater” turned up which was internally identical to a Presto (“And Now, For an Intermission from My Break” on May 21, 2013 at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2013/05/and-now-for-intermission-from-my-break.html):

A Nupoint-Presto connection was becoming much more likely in my mind, particularly when the distinctive Nupoint pivoting top turned up in a patent filed in 1922 and granted in 1924 to Abraham Pollak, the same man who assigned the Presto patent to Kanner shortly afterward:

And then, just a few weeks ago an all-metal Presto turned up at the DC show that looks an awful lot like the Nupoint Repeater, except this one was probably made by Wahl Eversharp (“Presto! A Revelation!” on August 15, 2013 at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2013/08/presto-revelation.html):

That’s too much smoke for there to be anything but a four-alarm fire raging somewhere.  But where?  A metal Presto looks almost exactly the same as a Nupoint Repeater, but when it came to tying together the pivoting-top Nupoints back to Kanner, what I had was good forensic evidence, but no proof:

From the top, the Aikin Lambert pivot-top pencil (marked only “ALCo,” not “Nupoint”) is identical to the Nupoint pivot-top pencil, which is identical to the “Hi-Speed.”  I’ve got another pencil marked “Hi-Speed,” the red hard rubber pencil second from bottom, with an identical Hi-Speed imprint, and it in turn is nearly identical to the Presto.  Logically, if Nupont is to Hi-Speed and Hi-Speed is to Presto, then Nupoint must be Presto, right?


Michael Rosen of Oregon, with whom I frequently correspond on pencil stuff, sent me an email last week.  He had recently found and purchase a huge stash of pen-related receipts and such, and there was one in the bunch he thought might interest me.  Boy oh boy, was he ever right:

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been researching this stuff for a while and I can’t begin to describe how rare it is to find a single piece of paper that ties everything together so neatly and so perfectly.  There it is: Samuel Kanner’s letterhead, with “Nupoint Propelling (note: not repeating, but propelling) Pencils” right underneath it, and it’s a 1926 sales receipt for a “#510 Black K Presto Pencil.”

A pencil like the Nupoint was in fact made by Aikin Lambert in 1922, as The American Stationer reported – that’s when Abraham Pollak applied for his pivoting-top propelling patent (say that five times real fast).  However, while Aikin Lambert probably also made the Nupoint, the company was making them under contract – for Samuel Kanner.

Best of all, this invoice tells me what Kanner did before he got into the pencil business and led me to what happened after late 1946, when the Decat was introduced.  Note that at the top of the letterhead, under the Nupoint revelation, are the names of other Kanner products: Kanner’s Slide Stroke Stopper, Kanner’s Sterling Stropper and Kanner’s Dubeledge Stopper.  A stropper is a sharpener for the straight razors men once used for shaving, and there’s a dedicated community of shaving ephemera collectors out there who collect, research and preserve shaving stuff as rabidly as some people do when it comes to  . . . well, pencils, I suppose.

Here’s an advertisement for Kanner’s Slyde Stroke Stopper (they must have changed the spelling of “Slide” at some point) from Cosmopolitan Magazine in June 1912:

The Slyde Stroke was patented on February 12, 1912, and the Dubeledge Stopper was patented on July 9, 1918, according to the imprints on examples currently listed in online auctions.   I didn’t see any Sterling Stroppers up for auction, but when I searched for more information on Kanner’s Sterling Stropper I was led to an online form dedicating to collecting straight razors (www.straightrazorplace.com), where Neil Miller posted an article concerning Samuel Kanner’s estate:

Samuel Kanner, who by then had also got into the hat manufacturing business, died in New York on September 10, 1947 – less than a year after the Decat was introduced.

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