Friday, October 31, 2014

Something Even Cooler Than the Cap

Michael McNeil emailed me awhile ago to ask me if I might be interested in a hard rubber pencil with a cap. When he sent me the pictures to clarify, there wasn’t any question that I’d be interested in it, and we entered into one our strange negotiations in which he asks what I think it’s worth, I tell him, he says that’s too much, and we finally settle on a price that’s the most he will accept and the least I’m willing to pay:

No, I won’t show you a picture of it with the cap on, because it is really, really, REALLY tight, and I was on pins and needles gently rocking it back and forth to get it off there for this picture without cracking it. The capped pencil idea is one that never really took off: the idea grew out of Cross’ bread-and-butter business of making stylographic pens, which really did need caps. It was a great way to kill two birds with one stone, providing for the more efficient use of hard rubber parts on hand as well as providing us with one of the only vintage pencils out there with a cap.

But that’s not the cool part.

As is the case with most victorian pieces made by A.T. Cross, this one has the name and patent date on the nose, in letters small enough that they aren’t visible with the naked eye (or at least my naked eyes, anyway):

"A.T. Cross Pat. Aug. 29, 82." The patent date refers to a really interesting document – in fact, probably one of the most important patents in the development of the mechanical pencil. August 29, 1882 was the date on which Alonzo T. Cross himself was awarded patent number 263,392:

Huh, you might say. That looks familiar, you might say. And you would be right on both counts:

Alonzo Cross’ mechanism had a two part lead carrier - the outer part held the lead, but when the mechanism is advanced all the way forward, the outer part stops moving forward while an inner push rod continues just a bit more, forcing any bits of remaining lead out of the collet.

I’ve been as guilty as anyone in giving Walter Sheaffer credit for inventing the propel-repel-expel mechanism. And I have been wrong. The mechanism we find on so many mechanical pencils from the golden age was actually invented by Alonzo Cross, patented thirty-five years before Walter applied for his first patent for a pencil.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I'm Feeling a Little Bit Exposed

A couple weeks ago, Janet and I decided to stop by the Springfield Antique Show at at the Clark County Fairgrounds. The cold, drizzly weather had most of the outdoor vendors covering up their wares with tarps, so we spent most of our time browsing around inside. I didn’t find much indoors, but by the time we started wandering back to the parking lot to leave, the weather had eased a bit and a few brave dealers had uncovered their tables – including the one who had this on his table:

What makes this one is the exposed eraser. Although the usual solid-color Sheaffer utility pencils always have them, they are quite a rarity on the Balance line:

But that wasn’t what really had me excited about this one. All the other examples of these I’ve been able to find were in brown or green, and I’d never seen one in grey pearl before:

Note also that all three of the ones I’d turned up before this one have plain clips and some pretty wide cap bands - I think Matt McColm told me the trim matched the Sheaffer "Statesman" pens and pencils. And there’s a couple other things to notice about these, too. Note that while my grey pearl example has "Sheaffer’s" on the clip, the clips on all three of these are plain. And as for the imprints, here’s these three close up:

The example with the smooth lower barrel is marked with a generic Sheaffer imprint, while the two with ribbed lower barrels have a "300" imprint, denoted that they sold for $3.00. As for the grey pearl example, it has a simple bead band on the lower barrel, and the imprint is adjusted accordingly:

"150," for a buck and a half.  Seventy years or so later, I paid exactly twice that to pull it out of a junk dealer’s box of leftovers, but I hardly think that’s an accurate measure of the pencil’s appreciation. At least, I certainly appreciate it much more than that!
Update (from Daniel Kirchheimer):

"The gold-banded Sheaffer pencils are the Statesman Utility II; the striated Gray Pearl example is a Cadet Utility II. There’s also a similar model to the Cadet but with gold-colored trim at $2.50; because this pencil matches multiple pen models, it had multiple names – Sovereign, Admiral, and Craftsman Utility II. Now, if you wanted a pencil to match one of those pens in striated Gray Pearl (which would have chrome trim), it too would have chrome trim, not gold, so Sheaffer might actually sell you the Cadet Utility II (the one you have) and charge you $2.50! There is actually precedent for this…"

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Matryoshka Herring

There was something in yesterday’s article that I promised I would get back to, and yet I didn’t. It concerned an offhand remark that the pencils advertised by Dunn & Rodenberg in 1919:

Bore more of a resemblance to these pencils, made by the American Lead Pencil Company of New York:

As I followed up on that thought, the train was taking me farther and farther from the story I was trying to tell you . . . which in itself was inside a story I was trying to tell you about the Ever-Rite. I keep thinking that like a set of Matryoshka dolls, maybe there’s one at the very center of this story holding a little sign that says "Congratulations! The answer is . . ."

No such luck just yet, but to introduce you to this next sized smaller red herring, I’ve got to back up just a little bit more, to address another offhand comment I made, this one in the original Ever-Rite article. When I was going through my small stash of Ever-Rites to see whether they ticked just like a Sheaffer inside, I made the comment that four out of five of them look like this when you pull off the top:

Was anybody wondering what that fifth one out of five looks like?

When I gave the cap on this one a tug, rather than seeing a Sheaffer-style lead magazine, the entire works pulled out, and it looked like this:

The mechanism on this is really odd – the inside of the barrel is threaded to accept this short bushing, which is pinned to a short pushrod:

I can’t find a patent for this one anywhere, and it isn’t marked that there was one. In fact, there’s no imprint on the barrel at all – the only lettering to be found on this one is found on the top of the cap:

It wasn’t until I stumbled across that Dunn & Rodenberg ad at the beginning of this article that I started looking a little closer at my American Lead Pencil metal pencils, and an association I had always considered to be random came into sharper focus. These pencils – when they aren’t capped by a really tacky fake jewel like that shorter one – are marked . . . you guessed it . . .

. . . and my one example of the Ever-Rite and these A.L.P. Co. pencils are the only two metal pencils I have that are marked like this.

Seems like a pretty thin connection. After all, the Ever-Rite is a rear drive mechanism, and the Americans are nose drive. That means, when I pull off the caps on my two examples of the American, I wouldn’t expect to see . . .

There’s no reason why the American needs a lead magazine like this - it doesn’t have a mechanical function. Why? I don’t know.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Red Herring

Note: this story grew out of research for yesterday’s article on the "Ever-Rite."

Out of these four "Ever-Rite" pencils, one is marked "patent pending," the other three are marked "Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.," and all four are made using DeWitt-LaFrance patterns and Walter Sheaffer’s mechanism, which was patented in November, 1918:

The "Reg. U.S. Pat. Off." legend indicated that a trademark had been filed for the brand, which led me to this registration:

Following up on the M.S. Rodenberg Company took me in a surprising and entirely different direction. Milton S. Rodenberg was a jeweler by trade. Prior to the formation of the M.S. Rodenberg Company, he was engaged in business in a partnership named Dunn & Rodenberg. The earliest reference I found to Dunn & Rodenberg was a listing in the 1907 Rhode Island Report of the Commissioner of Labor, showing that the firm was located at 14 Blount Street in Providence.

But Dunn didn’t always have top billing: references I found prior to 1907 indicate that the firm was known as "Rodenberg & Dunn."

According to a source coming up here in a minute, the partnership was established in November, 1899. The firm’s manufacturing facility was located at Eddy and Baker Streets in Providence.

Did the firm show any interest in writing instruments before Sheaffer’s patent was issued in November, 1918? Yes. According to The American Stationer, was producing pencils made from spent military cartridges in 1916:

Note the careful language in the announcement that the pencils were "offered to the trade" by Dunn & Rodenberg. That’s not a claim to be a manufacturer. In fact, the reports of industrial inspections made indicate that the firm was primarily engaged in the business of making chains.

By the way, according to the 1919 Providence (Rhode Island) Directory, the "Dunn" in Dunn & Rodenberg was Matthew J. Dunn. and I don’t find any connection with the Dunn Pen Company (Charles Dunn, inventor of the Dunn, was from Brooklyn, New York).

In 1917, the "Society for the Prevention of Vice" took issue with some of Dunn & Rodenberg’s knives, which had depictions of nude women on them:

No, I don’t have a picture of the knives in question, but from reading the magistrate’s comments in this article, there wasn’t much substance to the lawsuit – he seemed to think the case was about a bunch of do-gooders who considered any depiction of the nude form to be pornographic.

In addition to risque cutlery, the partnership was producing pencils, as this April, 1919 advertisement in Pacific Ports shows:

Even though this advertisement claims that the partnership was a "manufacturer" of pencils, I have my doubts. Note that this pencil doesn’t look anything like the Ever-Rite: the squared off shoulder at the nose, combined with the joint suggesting a nose-drive mechanism and the vertical lines on the crown suggest that the pencils Dunn & Rodenberg were selling were made by someone else:

Such as the American Lead Pencil Company, which made these very similar-looking pencils. . . we’ll come back to these.

Later in 1919, Dunn and Rodenberg parted ways. On July 30, 1919, The Jewelers’ Circular reported that Matthew Dunn’s sons set up a new firm named "Dunn Bros." at the firm’s original location over at 14 Blount Street in Providence:

Meanwhile, M.S. Rodenberg Co. was incorporated on June 16, 1919, by Ralph M. Greenlaw, Clara E. Waterman and Grace A. Gardiner for the purpose of making "jewelry and novelties":

Pacific Ports reported that Milton was the president of the new firm, and that he had bought out his former partner:

In October, 1921, the new company placed advertisements in Commercial America for several of its products, including pencils:

Unfortunately, there’s not much detail to see in this advertisement, so it’s hard to see whether the pencils shown here match the profile of the earlier pencils offered by Dunn & Rodenberg.

Legal troubles continued to follow Milton after the formation of M.S. Rodenberg Co. By 1921, the vice scuffle must have been over, but Rodenberg’s "bathing girl" knives attracted the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which issued an order in March, 1922 restraining M.S. Rodenberg Co. from artificially inflating the price of its goods:

The notation that Rodenberg’s deceptive practices were discontinued as of 1920 suggests that there was a lot going on for Milton that year – and a couple clues revealed in the story so far suggest something even bigger.

Did you notice the name "Waterman" among the incorporators of M.S. Rodenberg Co.? Clara E. Waterman was an incorporator of not just one, but of three jewelry firms. Here’s the announcement for the "Talbot Manufacturing Co." formed in 1917:

and here’s the Royal Jewelry Company, which appears to have been a wholesale firm, formed in April, 1919, just a couple months before M.S. Rodenberg Co. was organized.

Hmmm. Rodenberg’s New York office both before and shortly after the incorporation of M.S. Rodenberg Co. was located at 15 Maiden Lane, New York.

Hmmm... a Clara D. Waterman (not Clara E.) had a brother by the name of Frank D. Waterman, who happened to be the president of the L.E. Waterman Company; her other brother, Fred S. Waterman, was a director of L.E. Waterman as well as both treasurer and director of Aiken-Lambert. And guess where Fred’s office was:

In the building right next door to the building where Milton S. Rodenberg’s offices were located. Sure, 15 Maiden Lane, or the "Silversmith’s Building" as it was sometimes called, was a big building:

There were a lot of players with offices in this building in 1915, including Mabie Todd as well as J.R. Wood & Co. (the producers of the "sigma" or "lazy W" pencils I wrote about here on September 10). But still, if it’s a coincidence, it’s one heluva coincidence. Although the middle initial for Clara the incorporator is consistently reported as being E., I think that Clara is one and the same as Clara, the niece of Lewis Edson Waterman – and the variance in the middle initial might have been a deliberate obfuscation to partly conceal her involvement in a jeweler’s concern. Why? I have a theory . . .

The Waterman "tree trunk" pens are one of the most famous in the hobby. Only a dozen or so are known, and the consensus among experts are that they were custom overlays made by some unknown jeweler around 1915. The fact that there’s a dozen or so of these suggests that this was a small custom run rather than a random jeweler with a thing for Waterman pens.

I’ve written about an Eversharp pencil which appears to be based on the Waterman tree trunk pen here at the blog before (see

But the Wahl imprint on the pencil barrel indicates that my pencil dates from late 1917 or later.  Clearly the same jeweler made both the Waterman tree trunk overlay and my Eversharp tree trunk overlay. The same hands also fashioned this wood pencil holder Joe Nemecek picked up in Philadelphia last January:

Step back and look at where all of these clues are pointing. We are looking for a jeweler close enough to Waterman to make a limited run of tree trunk pens without getting sued, yet distant enough to also play around with the occasional Eversharp and even make some interesting wood pencil holders. Someone with whom Waterman might not want to be openly associated, perhaps someone with a bit of a checkered past – say, someone targeted for making obscene products in the past, or whose possible shady dealings were attracting the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. Someone who, notwithstanding these difficulties, had the talent and an established jewelry business valuable enough that Waterman – through a non-officer relative to the Waterman family – might have had some interest in financially backing him in buying out his partners, even though she already had both a jewelry manufacturing company and a jewelry wholesaling company.

There were a huge number of jewelers in New York who could have made Waterman’s tree trunk overlays. When you pare that number down to the ones who were right next door, with a Waterman family connection, the list of suspects got much shorter. I believe Dunn & Rodenberg was the jewelry firm which fashioned the Waterman tree trunk overlays, my Eversharp tree trunk overlay and Joe’s wood pencil holder.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Evidence Continues to Build

The other day, as I was getting caught up on taking some pictures, I found myself looking for a pencil I just knew I last saw right over . . . there . . .ish. I don’t know what made me think that it might have been in this box, because I remembered it didn’t come with one, but that didn’t stop me from opening this up and forgetting completely what I was looking for:

This was in a drawer with other stuff I found at the Chicago Pen Show last May, and I remember I saw it late in the show on my good friend Presnall Wood’s table. Presnall is a great guy to talk to, and I know as usual I must have stopped to chat with him a dozen times or more over the course of the weekend, but whether I had been too wrapped up in talking with him or whether he had just pulled this set out from under his table late in the show, I hadn’t noticed it before.

I’d bought plenty that weekend, including other things from Presnall, and I wasn’t showing much interest in the set – after all, it included one of those pesky pens I don’t have much use for. Yet for whatever reason, Presnall was determined not to take it home with him. I don’t remember what his offer was, but I do remember that it was one I was powerless to refuse.

Now, in light of some research here at the blog, I’m glad I didn’t.

The set isn’t the highest in quality, probably what most collectors would refer to as "third tier." The pen, for example, is fit with an ordinary Warranted nib; sure, it’s marked as a #4 14k nib, but I think the "4" size is quite an exaggeration – even a guy like me who doesn’t use nibs knows that’s a number 2 nib all day long.

The pen is fully marked, with the Ever-Rite name on the clip, the cap and also on the lever . . .

but if you’ve got a sharp eye, there’s something else going on here. The first thing I noticed was the pronounced pattern of repeating sets of three offset diamonds – a distinctive DeWitt-LaFrance pattern. On the pencil, I noticed a little rib near the top, about an eighth of an inch or so below the cap. As I looked at the pencil a little more closely, I also noticed that the clip looked familiar:

Here’s the Ever-Rite pencil next to the Bonnwear I wrote about recently (see

It gets better. Notice how the tops are a little different? I went back through my archive of metal pencils, and I had four other Ever-Rite pencils – here’s one of the others next to the Bonnwear:

Same clip and crown, almost exactly!

And that one has an imprint that is different from the other Ever-Rites:

"Ever-Rite / Patent Pending."

Here’s four out of the five Ever-Rite pencils I’ve got, including the dead ringer for my Bonnwear:

When I give each of the crowns a little tug . . .

That’s the same Sheaffer-patented combination eraser holder/spare lead magazine. Pulling these clues together, if the "patent pending" reference on my earliest example in fact refers to Walter Sheaffer’s patent rather than a purely coincidental and nearly identical design, then the Ever-Rite, which is identical to the Bonnwear, entered production prior to November, 1918 – and DeWitt-LaFrance probably made Sheaffer’s first pencils.

But there’s a problem. The time may or may not fit.

The "Reg. U.S. Pat. Off." designation on my Ever-Rite pen, which is duplicated on the other three Ever-Rites shown here, doesn’t actually refer to a patent - it indicates that a trademark for the name "Ever-Rite" was registered. I found one of them:

The M.S. Rodenberg company filed a trademark in connection with "mechanically-operated lead pencils" on January 17, 1922. Note that the date Rodenberg first claimed use of the Ever-Rite trademark was August 30, 1921 – about three years too late if the "patent pending" reference on my Ever-Rite was indeed to Sheaffer’s patent (issued in November, 1918).

Unless, of course, Rodenberg had a reason not to claim an earlier use of the name. Say, for example, if there was another company in the area that had already filed a registration for "Ever-Rite" . . .

Or two...

The "E.E. Taylor Company" of Boston was a well-known shoe manufacturer which filed these trademarks for leather shoes, heels and soles, and this trademark look a lot more like the imprint on my Ever-Rites than the Rodenberg trademark (note the sans serif print). Further, the timing on the Taylor registrations fits perfectly – early 1918, before Sheaffer’s patent was issued. And Taylor’s location in Boston, Massachusetts was only a stone’s throw away from DeWitt-LaFrance, which was located in nearby Cambridge.

No, I’m not suggesting that a shoe company got a wild hair and started producing pencils, and I’m not finding any evidence that Taylor’s product lines included any novelties to accompany their shoes. I am suggesting that if a shoe company in Boston started using this Ever-Rite trademark in early 1918, and a nearby manufacturer thought it would be a neat name for a pencil or pen, the following is true:

1. Putting the Ever-Rite name on pens and pencils, even without Taylor’s permission, wouldn’t be illegal unless it would create a "likelihood of confusion" as to whether Taylor produced the pencils – and I have no evidence that Taylor ever had anything to do with writing instruments.

2. If a manufacturer was copying a trademark being used by another nearby business, filing a trademark application to protect it might unnecessarily poke the bear.

In short, if a nearby pen and pencil manufacturer were determined to use the Ever-Rite name, the safest course of action would be to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission.

While I’m not suggesting E.E. Taylor ever made or produced pencils, I can’t discount the fact that the clue that unraveled the Bonnwear story was the appearance of the tradename in connection with leather wallets. It is possible Taylor had these made for the company as promotional items.

I wish I had something more than speculation from this point. A 1918 advertisement for Ever-Rite pens and pencils would be fantastic. An announcement that E.E. Taylor offered free giveaway pencils with their Ever-Rite tradename on them at some point? Fabulous. I don’t have any of those things.

But even though my search for hard evidence concerning the humble Ever-Rite came up empty-handed, in the course of researching this article I ran across something else - a couple curious details about Milton S. Rodenberg -- details which, strung together like crime photos in a darkroom clipped on a line to dry, blossomed into an enormous red herring.