Friday, September 19, 2014

My Philadelphia Distraction

When I traveled to the Philadelphia show last January with my friend John Hall, it was a long, cold drive from Columbus. Of course, any drive along the Pennsylvania Turnpike seems twice as long as it really is!

We decided to push through as far as we could on Thursday night after work, hoping that we would at least shave enough hours off of the trip that we could arrive at the hotel early enough on Friday to enjoy the sights and set up my book display. And push hard we did, all the way through to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, just a couple hours outside of Philly. By the time we reached the state’s capitol, we were DONE. D-O-N-E, get-me-the-hell-out-of-this-truck done, so we paid our three pints of blood at the toolbooth and wandered into town looking for something to eat.

Since I’d been hoping we’d make Harrisburg, I’d searched around a bit online to see what there was to do in town, and I’d found a place called Dockside Willie’s, on the west bank of the Susquehanna River. The view was more like looking out over the Susquehanna Glacier, with enormous chunks of ice accumulated along the banks, but I swear that first beer was in my top five best-tasting beers I ever had.

And as we waited for our food, weary from our travels and with hard earned-alcohol in hand, John and I did exactly what you’d expect a couple collectors on their way to a show would do: we checked out cell phones to see how our online auction bids were faring. I was delighted to see that I won the only auction I was hot and heavy after – and particularly delighted when it appeared that either no one else caught on to how unusual this pencil is, or just as likely that no one else was interested in another obscure Eversharp variant the way I am.

I’ll back up a bit first to give this one a bit of context. Here’s three full-sized Wahl Eversharp pencils from the mid-1920s:

The top example is the earliest of the three. When Wahl first began to dabble in barrel materials other than metal, the simplest way to add different materials was to replace the middle part with a straight tube, threaded onto ends machined using the company’s existing equipment. Eversharp catalogs available at the Pen Collectors of America’s online library are helpful in putting together a timeline: thin models the size of the company’s usual metal pencils were introduced in the 1924 catalog (the innards had to be shrunk a bit to accommodate the thicker walls of a hard rubber barrel); oversized models were catalogued beginning in 1925. 

There’s a bit of a gap in the documents available at the PCA, and I’d love to see the company’s regular 1926 and 1927 catalogs. All I know for certain is that by the time Wahl’s 1928 catalog was published, Wahl had developed machining to eliminate the large metal nose-cone and fashion attractive tapered barrels out of the new materials. The bottom example matched the pens in Wahl’s sleek new plastic line of pens, and all the examples I’ve ever seen have the tapered barrel and small tip to complement this slick new design.

All, of course, except the example that had me whoopin’ and hollerin’ over a beer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania:

Was this a thrifty company-sanctioned use of leftover parts, a "lunchbox special" some employee had fun putting together on a break, or a previously undocumented transitional model?

That’s the part I love about this. I have absolutely no idea.


Joris said...

Great story and great pictures, as usual. Great comparison also between the three different pencils.

I was wondering whether the later pencils are machined from one single rod. I guess that the front cone on the later pencils can not be unscrewed, to be replaced eventually by a metal cone.

Jon Veley said...

Thanks for the comment - you are correct. The tapered hard rubber and plastic barrels are turned from one piece.