Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Probably Mabie . . . Maybe

Sometimes I’ll buy a pencil I know absolutely nothing about, just because I’ve never heard of the name before and I’d like to learn a little more about it.  Such was the case with this one, which turned up at the DC show.  I don’t remember from whom I got this one:

This is a middle joint pencil.  Twisting the back half advances the lead mechanism:

I just love that great Jules Verne look:

In tiny letters on the side of the upper barrel, there is an inscription barely visible with the naked eye:

“R M & Co.”  When I started researching this one, all that was coming up were other pencils (and a few dip pen/pencil combos) which were observed as having the same imprint – and no clues or guesses as what it might be.

My first thought was that it looked a lot like the pencil pictured in John Mabie’s 1854 patent drawings:

This pencil shares the same streamlined, fluted barrel, and it also shares Mabie’s patented middle-joint design.  But if the “M” stands for Mabie, who with the name beginning with “R” would John Mabie have become partners with?  And another thing: Mabie’s name always came first in any partnership he was in (before there was Mabie, Todd & Co., there was Mabie, Knapp & Johnston, Mabie, Smith & Co., Mabie, Todd & Bard, among others); so to whom would John Mabie have been second on the letterhead?

I’ve got a guess.  According to David Moak’s book, Mabie in America, John Mabie first entered the writing instruments business in 1843, when he began working for John H. Rauch (the company was organized as “Rauch & Co.” in 1845).  According to Mabie’s obituary, Mabie worked his way up in Rauch’s shop,  “became a foreman for and then a partner of John A. [sic] Rauch, in the same business, in Cortlandt Street.”
In 1851, Moak reports, John Mabie “retired” from his partnership with Rauch at the ripe old age of 32 and bought a farm in the county.  Moak suggests that this wasn’t really a “retirement,” and I agree that the evidence suggests that Mabie was getting out of Dodge for awhile and laid low while he considered his future business opportunities.  Whatever happened during that time, Mabie came out of retirement in 1853, when he returned to the business with the establishment of  Mabie, Knapp & Johnston, the first of a series of short-lived partnerships culminating in 1860 with the establishment of Mabie, Todd & Co.

Out of all the different partnerships in which Mabie was involved, I haven’t found any trace of one called Rauch, Mabie & Co., but if Mabie became Rauch’s partner as Mabie’s obituary states, there’s no reason it wouldn’t have gone by that name.  Even this 1895 account in The American Stationer lacks any mention of such a partnership (at the time, Mabie Todd was going by the name of Mabie, Todd & Bard):

Note the glaring gap between 1851 and 1853?   When I look for clues for what might have happened during that time I find that Rauch patented a pen and pencil combination in January, 1852 – there’s no middle joint here, and while the case is fluted, it lacks the same streamlined profile found in Mabie’s 1854 patent drawings:

Yet the "R.M. & Co" pencil shares exactly the profile and mechanism shown in Mabie’s later 1854 patent drawings, which Mabie must have been working on during his “retirement.”  What this sparse evidence suggests that John Mabie may have been associated with Rauch later than 1851, but for whatever reason Mabie chose to edit that chapter out of his autobiographical accounts – and therefore out of history.

It’s fun to think about the human side to business relationships.  Did Mabie and Rauch have a falling out over the terms of Rauch Mabie & Company’s use of Mabie’s new design?  Was Mabie’s old business partner helping Mabie out with establishing Mabie’s fledgling company, lending Mabie the use of Rauch & Company’s equipment to start making the new Mabie pencils on the condition that Mabie stamp them with both their initials?  Or was Mabie really in “retirement” on doctors’ orders as he said, spending his idle time in the country cooking up drawings for new designs and shipping them back to Rauch for production under both their names?

Or have I got this all wrong?  Was there another “R” out there altogether?

1 comment:

sue hershey said...

That cute little pencil came from me!