Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What's Going On In That Phone Booth?

Note:  this is the third installment in a series of articles.  The first part was posted here:

In 1924, just as brightly colored celluloid pencils were about to render all-metal pencils out of style, the Dollar Point Pencil Corporation and J. E. Roach & Co., both of which claimed to manufacture Artpoint and Dollarpoint brand pencils, apparently vanished. What made these pencils distinctive, in addition to their heavy, durable construction and spot-on styling, was the patented mechanism, invented by Wade W. Moore and assigned to Jesse E. Roach:

I have never heard of or seen an Artpoint or Dollarpoint in celluloid, so one possible explanation for the company’s disappearance is natural extinction - a failure to adapt to the new trend in writing instruments. But then I remembered another brand that I’ve thought about for a long time:

All of these are marked "Western Pencil Co. / Los Angeles." I’d like to make the sweeping statement that while the Artpoint/Dollarpoint pencils are never found in plastic, Western Pencil Co. pencils are never found in metal, but in all my years of scrounging around and buying every one of these I’ve ever seen, these are the only three that I’ve seen (most recently more than ten years ago). Such a sweeping statement would hardly be based on a very representative sampling.

The Los Angeles connection seems obvious. . . how many pencil companies during the golden age can you name from LA? Still, that alone didn’t convince me that Western Pencil was a successor to Dollar Point and/or J. E. Roach – connecting companies solely based on both being located in the same major U.S. city is thin, even by my standards. Fortunately, there’s more here you should see. Look more closely at the nose:

There’s the same ribs you would find on an Artpoint, and a key element of the design patents for the Artpoint assigned to Jesse E. Roach. And should you prod further and remove the nose . . .

There’s exactly the same rear drive pencil mechanism. It’s as if mild-mannered metal pencil company Dollar Point went into a phone booth, and moments later Western Pencil Company emerges with flashy new plastic products. Daa dada daaaaa....

Unfortunately, all I have are the pencils themselves to support my suspicions. I still haven’t turned up any documentation concerning the Western Pencil Company - not at the 16th Avenue address formerly occupied by Dollar Point and not in connection with any of the names of the principals of either Dollar Point or J.E. Roach & Co.

Fortunately, the pencils themselves do provide a clue as to what became of all of them, and that’s another story entirely: none of the Western Pencil Company pencils are marked "patented," even though all of the Taussig and Moore patents assigned to Roach were still less than ten years old and would presumably still have been in effect. That curious omission, combined with a stunt before the Patent Commissioner by a competitor fifty years earlier, suggests a likely answer to what became of Dollar Point, J.E. Roach and Western Pencil.

This story continues at

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