Thursday, September 11, 2014

Best Buck (Less a Penny) I Ever Spent

As I’m dusting off the blog and getting back into the swing of things, there’s no pipeline of articles on the shelf ready to go. So as long as I’m doing articles in "real time," I thought it would be fitting to write about the item that arrived in the mail just yesterday:


This little gem was in a lot of five items in an online auction, and it was the one thing in the bunch that caught my eye. With time winding down and no takers at the opening bid of 99 cents, I figured what the heck – at that price, I’ll pay the shipping just to see what this thing is. I bid a dollar, but that last penny proved unnecessary when I was the only taker.

There were a few interesting details here that made me think this might be worth a buck, even if the pencil mechanism was broken as it appeared in the pictures. First, the trim at the front end was shaped a little differently from anything I’d seen. Second, it looked like there might be some writing on that tip from the picture, but I couldn’t be sure. Third, that band in the middle suggests that the pencil might be a Fairchild or a Mabie Todd, although the overall shape didn’t look like one and a shiny black barrel is a bit outside the norm. Finally, the butt end of the pencil was flat, when I would expect to see something rounded off or more finished.

Now that it’s here, I’ve been met with one pleasant surprise after another. My most obvious concern was that the pencil appeared to be broken, which I’m sure is why I got this lot for the bargain basement price I did. Amazingly enough, the only thing wrong with the pencil was that the seller hadn’t bothered to fully extend or retract it. The action smoothly advances forward to an impressive length by turning the gold filled metal finial at the nose:


But the real surprise was at the other end - had the seller shown a picture of the end, it would have been easy to see that there’s a pen nib inside. But as you can see, there’s no slider, so how does it advance? This little gem is well ahead of its time: that is in fact a middle joint, and when the two halves of the barrel are turned, the nib extends out like a safety pen from the early 20th century:

The nib looks like it hasn’t seen the light of day in decades. It’s a healthy-sized number 4 nib marked "Pearce and Hoagland":

Frank T. Pearce and John Hoagland went into the pen and pencil manufacturing business in 1878, according to Commerce, Manufactures and Resources of the City of Providence and Environs, published in 1882. This article on the company appears on page 114:

Page 115 also has a nice illustration of some of the company’s wares:

Pearce & Hoagland continued until 1888, according to Writing History: 150 Years of the A.T. Cross Company by Barbara Lambert. Upon dissolution of the partnership, F.T. Pearce and Company was founded to take its place (the firm was later incorporated in 1907 when the company was reorganized as F.T. Pearce Co., Inc -- if Frank T. Pearce’s obituary in the June 26, 1913 edition of Geyer’s Stationer is to be believed:

I’m just a little suspicious of the historical accuracy in Pearce’s 1913 obituary, since it claims Pearce and Hoagland was founded in 1880, not 1878. However, the obituary contains another interesting detail, corroborrated by Cross: that Frank T. Pearce got his start working for Alonzo Cross in 1871. From all accounts, and judging from the nearly identical pencils made by Pearce and Cross, the competition was friendly and even collaborative.

But to get back to the pencil at hand, there’s one last detail about it that made this deal the best 99 cents I ever spent. In fact there was some lettering on the nose of this pencil:

"Patd. Nov. 18 1879." The reference is to patent number 221,715, issued to William Appleton of Providence, Rhode Island:

The patent was assigned – you guessed it – one half to Frank T. Pearce and the other half to John Hoagland. It was the earliest patent assigned to the pair, and the only one that had Frank T. Pearce’s name on it. If as the historical record indicates Pearce and Hoagland was founded in 1878, this likely is the pencil which founded the firm.

1 comment:

mark_a_line said...

WOW!! an amazing piece of history. What diameter lead does it hold?