Friday, October 10, 2014

The Email from March

Note:  this is part two of a series.  Part one is found at

Last March, as all the pieces were falling into place with respect to the Riedell Repeating Pencil and I thought I had a pretty good handle on things, I received an email from a guy named Bob Leslie that set me back on my heels. Bob had been doing a bit of genealogy research, and while he was scouting around for whatever he could find concerning the "Riedell" branch of his family tree, he stumbled across my Mechanical Pencil Museum.

Bob doesn’t collect mechanical pencils, but he already knew more about the Riedell than I did. He indicated that his grandfather, Charles Martin Riedell, was a CPA from New Jersey with offices in New York – and that in the late 1920s, he embarked on a little side venture selling the Riedell Repeating Pencil. Even more exciting was that Bob's grandfather had passed down some of the pencils to his family members, several of whom - including Bob - still had them in their possession!

I replied to Bob quick as a jackrabbit and asked him if any of his family members would be willing to share pictures of what they had with me, and Bob said he’d check with his cousins and let me know. Shortly after that, I started receiving pictures from Lynn Riedell, and I was delighted to see that in addition to Riedell pencils, the family also kept this great advertising sign:

Lynn also shared with me pictures of some of the pencils he has – the largest spread of Riedell Repeating Pencils I’ve ever seen, in fact:

Wow... lapis blue examples exist as well as black ones! And look more closely at the lid of the cases – these are Riedell’s original salesmen’s sample cases:

All the stuff Lynn was showing me had me positively drooling. But then I noticed one small detail in this picture that proved to be one of those threads that unravels the whole sweater — something that appears when you look very closely at those tubes nested at the top of the tray:

These original, paper-labeled spare lead containers identify the location of Riedell Corporation as 217 Broadway, New York. That one detail proved immensely useful, since all my searches for "Riedell Corporation" over the years without a more unique additional piece of information have turned up nothing but page after page of sporting equipment. Now, as I searched for Riedell in connection with a specific address, I found some advertisements Riedell ran in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle in late 1928:

I also found an earlier advertisement in a September, 1928 in the Massilon (Ohio) Evening Independent (I know this is a fuzzy shot – I’m working on getting a better one):

And there’s more. Note that there’s a second name and address you can just barely make out on that lead container: "Demley Inc. 230 Fifth Avenue New York." That name, in connection with that very address, turned up an advertisement for cigarette lighters in the September 4, 1929 issue of the San Antonio Express:

A CPA might not have the capacity to manufacture mechanical pencils of a new design, but a company which manufactured cigarette lighters clearly would! The formation of Demley, Inc. was reported in the November 16, 1927 issue of Advertising & Selling, "to undertake the sale and distribution of the M. E. Bernhardt Co., New York, pocket lighters and novelty products." The Iron Trade Review added that the purpose of the company was to "manufacture" lighters and identifies the correspondent for Demley as J. Eisner, located at 866 Broadway – just a few blocks down from where Riedell set up shop.

Demley may or may not have been the actual manufacturer of the lighters the company sold. In 1933, H. Negbaur & Company was identified as both the manufacturer and distributor of "Demley" Lighters, with an address of 230 Fifth Avenue, New York in this excerpt from the July, 1933 issue of Automatic Age, a trade publication for the vending machine industry )posted at

H. Negbaur & Co. remained in business at the 230 Fifth Avenue location through at least 1948, as indicated by this advertisement in Billboard:

Ah yes . . . the "Miss Cutie table lighter" . . . for the man who likes his women naked, cut in half and on fire. Other than truly twisted products such as this, did Negbaur ever make writing instruments? Check out what’s found at the bottom of the advertisement, besides the address: "Manufacturers of Sure-Fire Lighter Novelties." Remember this one? It’s from "Lighter Pencil Week" (

Yes, Virginia. H. Negbaur & Co., which manufactured Demley lighters by 1933, also made lighter pencils.

Was it Demley or Negbaur that made the Riedell? There’s still a few gaps in the story. Demley was incorporated in 1927 – one source says to distribute and sell lighters, while the other says to manufacture them. Riedell starts advertising pencils in 1928, and Demley is occupying 230 Fifth Avenue in 1929. The first time Negbaur shows up, it is in 1933, at 230 Fifth Avenue, as the manufacturer of Demley lighters. No sources I have found put Negbaur at 230 Fifth Avenue earlier than 1933 – after the Riedell was made. But then again, no sources prove conclusively that Demley made any of its own stuff.

The truth concerning who made the Riedell pencils may never be revealed, because Charles M. Riedell himself apparently went to great lengths to conceal his past. On January 16, 1935, Riedell was called to testify as a witness in a lawsuit before the New York Supreme Court ( The case involved a business dispute between two brothers, one of whom had used Riedell’s services as a CPA, so Riedell found himself called as a witness to testify about the business transactions between them. When Riedell was asked to identify himself, the description he provided matches what Bob Leslie told me:

Riedell’s testimony was an exercise in trying to stay awake, but the fireworks started during cross-examination, when lawyers tried to attack Riedell’s credibility using Riedell’s financial history:

Although the judge didn’t allow too much abuse to be heaped upon poor Charles, a copy of the order denying him a discharge in bankruptcy court has been preserved in the trial transcript. The Court found that Riedell concealed information concerning his finances from the bankruptcy trustee:

If Riedell’s secrets were secure enough that a bankruptcy trustee couldn’t discover the truth in 1933, the odds are very long against finding much more, now that eighty years have passed. However, thanks to the Riedell family, we can finally put a name, a place and a time on the Riedell Repeating Pencil, and that itself is extraordinary.

Besides, who knows – maybe in a couple more years, someone else will stumble onto this article and have a few more pieces of the puzzle to add . . .


Anonymous said...

Your research here is incredible. What a find to get in touch with the family!

Jon Veley said...

Thank you! I was amazed that all it took was a couple small details to pull everything together.