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.

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