Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Monster Footnote

As I was researching yesterday’s article concerning the Nu-Type Manufacturing Company  (for those who hotlinked here, yesterday’s article is at, I’d stumbled across my own footprints when I found a reference in an earlier article I’d written to the fact that the Nu-Type Manufacturing Company registered a trademark for “Nu-Point”:

This was one of those things I had forgotten that I knew, and it was also a pretty weird coincidence.  Earlier this month I posted an article in which I had finally established that by 1926, “Nupoint Propelling Pencils” were in fact produced by Samuel Kanner (see “It Would Have Been So Much Easier Had I Known This” on September 3, 2013 –

Kanner, formerly of razor-stropping fame, picked up the pencil manufacturing ball and ran with it.  In addition to the Nupoint, Kanner introducing the Presto, which later morphed into the Everfeed and the Gilfred.  Eversharp appropriated the design for use on all of its repeating pencils, from the Doric on.  If Eversharp hadn’t won the patent infringement case Gilfred brought against it, history would have been quite different.

Nu-Type’s 1923 trademark registration for “Nu-Point” raises a few questions.  At first, the answer looks pretty simple: Nu-Type started using the name "Nu-Point" in July, 1921, registered the trademark in 1923, and by 1926 (the date on the Samuel Kanner invoice) Kanner had somehow acquired the rights to use the Nupoint name.

But in the rough-and-tumble pencil business of the teens and 1920s, when companies routinely jostled shoulder to shoulder imitating, copying or outright stealing whatever they could from each other to get ahead, the answers aren’t always that simple.   In this case in particular, I don’t think the answer is simple at all.

First, let’s examine the trademark registration closely.  The Nu-Point trademark includes not only the letters making up the name, but a drawing showing the name spelled out in the same font as what is found on the Nu-Type pencils.  Note also that there’s a hyphen in “Nu-Point.”

I’ve never seen this trademark stamped in this font on any pencil, but if I did, I think that would go a long way towards answering my questions.  The flip-top Nupoints that I’ve now attributed to Samuel Kanner may share the same letters, but that’s about all.  I have a red enamel-over-brass Nupoint set, and while the pencil lacks any markings whatsoever, the pen is marked on the lever:

Note the absence of a hyphen, and the letters are italicized.  What’s more, inside the box lid, instead of a Nu-Type style logo, there’s a script logo:

Again there’s no hyphen, and see how the end of the capital N is carried across the rest of the word, and there’s no hyphen?  That particular design element is imprinted on all but one of my Nupoint-marked pencils:

The only example I have that lacks this distinctive feature has the Nupoint name imprinted in plain block script – not in the same font found in the Nu-Point trademark registration and again, with no hyphen:

The last reference I found in the historical record concerning the Nu-Type Manufacturing Co. is the 1923 trademark registration – but since that was filed on August 13, 1921, it could be that the writeups in The American Stationer and Office Appliances in September, 1922 announced not only the beginning of the company, but the end as well.  Although I don't know exactly when Samuel Kanner emerges from the world of stropping and gets into the pencil business, we know that the patent for the original Presto (invented by Abraham Pollak and assigned to Kanner) was applied for in 1924 and granted in 1926.

Did Kanner have anything at all to do with Nu-Type?  I don’t think he did.   The American Stationer’s report that the Nupoint was made by Aikin Lambert was published in the November 18, 1922 edition – just two months after The American Stationer ran its article on the Nu-Type panel pencil, and just a year after Nu-Type filed its trademark appplication.  Nu-Type and whoever was making the Nupoint at the time were using essentially the same name at the same time.

Which came first?  There’s not enough evidence for me to say either way for sure.  The trademark registration filed by Nu-Type indicates that the company first started using the name in July, 1921, but since I’ve never seen a pencil marked with that trademark, that may or may not have happened.  The American Stationer’s report doesn’t say when Aikin Lambert supposedly began making Nupoints.

Any attempt to argue that the two names were different enough that both could use their variation on it wouldn’t survive Federal Trade Commission scrutiny, which looks to whether there is a “likelihood of confusion” as to which company made a particular product.  If either of the companies challenged the right of the other to use the name, only one would have prevailed – but I haven’t found the case if it’s out there. If there ever was a Nu-Point/Nupoint smackdown, Samuel Kanner’s 1926 letterhead suggests that he was the winner.

Did one blatantly copy the other?  Maybe.  Was it an accident?  Maybe.  Nu-Type and all of its principals were from Chicago, and as yesterday’s article illustrated, Nu-Type pencils strongly resemble early Keeran-patent pencils made by Autopoint (Charles Keeran and Autopoint were also located in Chicago).  Samuel Kanner was a New Yorker, and if his Nupoints resemble anything, they look so much like pencils made by Aikin Lambert (another New York company) that The American Stationer attributed the Nupoint to Aikin Lambert.

Were the Chicago and New York markets so localized that the makers of Nu-Points and Nupoints could both carry on under the same name, each oblivious to the other until national exposure in The American Stationer brought the overlap to light?

Crap.  There’s my enamel-over-brass Nupoint, in between a Gold Medal produced by Sears, Roebuck & Co. in Chicago (nearly all Sears’ Gold Medal products during that time was made by National Pen Products of Chicago), and a Salz Manhattan, made by Salz Bros. of – you guessed it – New York City.  Identical clip, clip mounting and identical flip tops (the Gold Medal has the slots, just not the bracket).

Sometimes I wonder whether this pencil stuff is keeping me sane or driving me crazy.

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