Sunday, November 30, 2014

Alexanders . . . Not the Great, But Still Pretty Good.

The last time we encountered the Alexander was with this stocked store display that I got from Joe Nemecek a couple years ago (

This display indicates that the "Alexander the Great" pencils were from the Alexander Products Corporation of Bloomington, Illinois, and the design of these was so unique that I don’t have any reason to doubt that Alexander Products made these. However, the "Model 100" pencils shown in that previous article were the only Alexanders I’m aware of which were intended solely as writing instruments rather than as advertising novelties.

There’s three possibilities for what happened: Ritepoint purchased Alexander, Alexander switched business models and hired Ritepoint to make advertising pencils, or Alexander was a Ritepoint subsidiary all along. Alexander pencils outside of the "Alexander the Great" series are clearly Ritepoint-made:

I rule out a fourth possibility – that there were two companies going by "Alexander," because the same logo appears on these as you’ll see on the Alexander the Great. The date of 1949 is helpful on the one example, and shows there may even have been overlapping production (the Alexander the Greats were advertised in 1946). On another example, AM-117-C suggests, in Ritepointspeak, an Alexander model 117 pencil, maroon, with a chrome cap:

Many of the clips have an A within a square above the name, but a few have something else that took a heavy-duty macro lens to capture:

"Union Made." The logo on the orange example has some great detail, too:

"Longhorn pencils . . .The Brand of Quality." I wasn’t able to find any evidence of a move from Illinois to the Lone Star state. However, the "Alexander Manufacturing Company" turns up in St. Louis – where Ritepoint was headquartered – and where it still operates today (the company’s website is According to the company’s website, the firm was founded in 1943, and the company’s chairman of the board was inducted into the PPAI hall of fame in 2003.

That chairman was Joe Lipic, Sr. ... so I don’t even need to speculate that these next three look like they might have a Lipic connection:

Funny story on that last shot: the green one has a powerful magnet.... so powerful, in fact, that I was having trouble keeping these three in line for a group photo. I ended up angling the blue and white one away from it, sticking it to the board with a bit of fun-tack, and capturing this shot as it drifted back towards the green one and came back into line.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Company I Misjudged

I don’t have any regrets about The Catalogue of American Mechanical Pencils. Of course I’ve learned a lot since the books was published that I wish was in there. Of course some of the things I thought at the time I wrote it have since proven not to be true. However, it was everything I knew in 2011.

One thing I thought I knew was that the Kemper Thomas Company of Cincinnati produced the Selfeed line of metal pencils. I had good reason to think that: the example I had with box and papers sure looked as if that was the case:

I did hedge my bet a little on this one – although I listed the Selfeed under Kemper Thomas at page 92, I indicated that "Kemper Thomas seems an unlikely source for an original pencil design." Why? Because Kemper Thomas was in the calendar and advertising business, not the pencil business.

With help from half a dozen or so people, I finally did learn that the "Selfeed Pencil Company" was a separate concern established to make pencils for the Wall-Stieh Company, and that Kemper Thomas had specially packaged pencils supplied to it for resale (the article was posted here a couple years ago at

Even though the Selfeed wasn’t a Kemper Thomas original, it does distinguish the calendar company as one of the earliest of the general advertising companies to offer pencils under its own name.

Later Kemper Thomas pencils resemble contemporaneous Ritepoints, with their bullet shaped caps:

In this next grouping, the top example has the same ball clip, but note that the top has more of a Quickpoint look to it . . . and the other two are clearly Quickpoint productions, with that distinctive spoon clip. Note that two of these are sales samples for Kemper Thomas:

In fact, the only difference between a Quickpoint clip and the ones found on a Kemper Thomas is the tiny lettering, tough to see with the naked eye (particularly when these have the typical corrosion that plagues both models):

That goofy top shown in the preceding picture is from one of three of these really bizarre Kemper Thomas examples:

The perpetual calendar is a nice touch, isn’t it? And then there are some metal-cap examples, which are clearly made by Ritepoint. I can’t find my Ritepoint-marked example for comparison, but I did picture identical Shaw-Barton marked pencils like these in "Shaw Barton Gets its Due" (

In this last pair, the blue ringtop is tough to pinpoint without a clip, but it most closely resembles the earlier Ritepoints with ball clips:

The upper example, however, has all the hallmarks of a Lipic: a low joint between upper and lower sections, wide band, long tip and Lipic-style clip. The more I examine different advertising pencils, the more I think Ritepoint, once the offspring of Lipic, was later reabsorbed.

Most of these the examples shown in today’s article are salesman’s samples, all of which came from one junk box at an antique show a couple years ago. Unfortunately, they didn’t come in the original case, but fortunately I’ve got another one of those Ritepoint sample cases in which they fit perfectly:

And by perfectly, I mean . . .


Friday, November 28, 2014

A Sin Pencil Update

Note:  this article updates one I posted a few weeks ago at

Figures . . . all I had to do was say I’d never seen one of these, and they come out of the woodwork. I recently posted about "sin pencils" that include dice, compass, stanhope, put/take game, cigar cutter and reversible pencil/dip pen:

And here they come:

These turned up on the items for sale page on a gambling memorabilia site. Although the seller touted one as being of the rare "left hand" variety (meaning the lettering on the put/take piece isn’t upside down when you hold the pencil in your left hand), the put/take spinner is threaded the same on both ends – that means if you want a left hand or right hand pencil, just reverse the direction of the spinner.

Also, don’t get hung up on where the clip is on these two new examples: these are accommodation clips which can be placed wherever you like. Unfortunately the purple one is missing the cigar cutter:

But the wild-colored example is all there:

These two confirmed two things I said in the previous article: first, while most of the nibs on these are unmarked, the purple example confirmed my initial suspicions concerning the origins of these:

"Made in Germany." And the wild example confirmed that the stanhopes originally contained pictures that are not religious, but which are otherwise . . . inspiring:

The Spors connection is still possible – Spors imported all sorts of novelties from both Germany and Japan. Spors catalogs turn up every so often, but they are still proprietary rather than archival: I mean, they haven’t worked themselves into libraries and are still closely guarded and held for resale. Unless I pony up a good chunk of change to start buying them it will be awhile before I can verify whether Spors advertised them and in what years. I did, however, learn that even if Spors brought some of these into the country, he wasn’t the only one:

This page, from a 1933 catalog for N. Shure, a novelty distributor in Chicago, shows a nearly identical pencil. What I have called (and used as) a cigar cutter is described in this ad as a cigarette holder – maybe it was intended to serve in either function, and maybe I just found a great way to misuse a tool.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Something to be Thankful For

A couple of years ago, while I was reporting on Parker’s weird "Writefine" pencils with the adjustable erasers (, I noticed that a cap I had found and planned to transplant parts from was actually from a demonstrator:

No, I haven’t found a lower barrel for this. But fortunately, Joe Nemecek did and he allowed me to photograph his in order to complete this story:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Suns also Rise

You won’t see three of these in one place again anytime soon:

I posted about that full sized example of the "Sun Pocket Pencil" a couple years ago (, and just last month the Walpuski story got a boost in the course of writing about Melville’s Solid Ink Pencil (

The top example in this picture belongs to Joe Nemecek, and we photographed them together while he was in town for the Ohio Show earlier this month. I’d seen and photographed Joe’s pencil some time ago, but I really wanted to get the two of them together for a picture, particularly so when I turned up another small example with a slightly different top treatment:

Only the large-sized example of the three has the Walpuski patent date on the opposite side.

Since I’m back on the subject, this also gives me something to circle back around to – an update on Melville’s Solid Ink. Daniel Kirchheimer rooted around a bit and found out that there was a Melville who patented a solid form of ink – in England. The first reference came in a story in the July 18, 1862 edition of The Illustrated London News, reporting on the attendance of "Perry and Melville" with their solid ink at the International Exhibition:

And then there was this in The Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry, reporting that an "A. Melville" had filed a patent application for an improvement on his compound on October 2, 1890:

Thanks again, Daniel!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Probably Unless It Isn't

Jerry Kemp is exclusively a Laughlin collector these days, but a few weeks ago he sent me an email recently to ask me if would be interested in photographing an unusual Parker Vacumatic he’s had for a while. After Jerry described it I was eager to do so, but since he’s Texas we both knew it would be some time before we would be able to meet up. So Jerry volunteered to send it to me for photographing, and I stood by my mailbox for a couple days, camera in hand, waiting to shoot this one:

It does take a minute to see what’s not quite right about this one, since it’s so well executed. You might notice that’s an interesting business end:

Is that a . . . ballpoint? Close, but not exactly:

That "LL" is the logo for a Parker Liquid Lead pencil, introduced in 1955. This is the only marking found anywhere, other than the word Parker on the clip. There’s no date code and no indication of whether it was made in the United States or in Canada.

You can debate all day long whether the Liquid Lead was a real technological innovation or just a ballpoint using a different writing fluid. I fall in the latter category, but that’s not to understate the complexity of formulating a liquified graphite paste that flows just like ballpoint ink. In fact, despite the massive engineering and marketing resources devoted to the project, Parker never got it quite right (neither did Scripto, which came up with the same idea at the same time, resulting in agreement between the two companies to share technology and avoid delays occasioned by patent litigation, according to Tony Fischer at Sanford recently tried to reintroduce a version of the Liquid Lead pencil under its Sharpie brand, but it hasn’t been very successful, either – after more than a half a century to figure it out.

I’ve got a few Liquid Lead pencils, and they appear on page 118 of The Catalogue:

Of course, all the ones I’ve seen are along these lines, made to match the sleek, modern look of Parker’s other metal-capped products. Why on earth would Parker put out a Vacumatic version which is simultaneously a giant step forward in technology and a giant leap backwards in styling?

I did some poking around, and the results have been disappointing. Most of what I found was discussion of this very pencil; I found Jerry’s comments on the Zoss lists in 2006 asking about this one – including his email conversation with the guy who sold it to him in 1998, who said "It came in a lot of items that I acquired that came from a retired Parker salesman." In 2008, during a conversation of later Vacumatic date codes on Fountain Pen Network, "Farmboy" claimed to have found examples in green and blue in his junk box - however, no pictures were posted. Another source claimed to have a brown one.

Regular Vacumatic production ended in the United States in 1948 or so, although they remained in production in Canada until 1953. Numbers as high as "61" appear stamped on Vacumatic barrels, but there haven’t been any real answers concerning whether these numbers substantiate production that late. There isn’t even any substantiation that these higher numbers were intended as date codes.

Since regular Vacumatic production ended much later in Canada (and only a couple years before the Liquid Lead was introduced), Canadian production seems to be a good theory, but it’s only a theory. The "split arrow" clip (with Parker in between the halves) is another suggestion of origins up north, since Parker USA switched back to the plain arrow clip around 1948.

Maybe. In September, 1955, a Winnipeg jeweler ran an advertisement in the Winnipeg Free Press for the new Liquid Lead pencils, and there’s no indication they were offered in Vacumatic plastics:

To borrow a line from an old friend of mine, who used to say in the winters that it would probably snow unless it doesn’t . . . these are probably Canadian unless they aren’t.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Carload Full of Clowns

When Joe Nemecek and I get together, we talk in advance to decide what we both need to bring along for a photo shoot. Since I’d finally managed to scare up a side-clip Chilton in the company’s distinctive "Clown" pattern (to my knowledge, that’s a collector nickname and not an official Chilton name for it), getting my examples and Joe’s together for a family picture was at the top of my list: Joe didn’t think it was worth doing, since it looked like we each had the same pencils. But I’m glad I insisted:

The side clip model that I found is smaller than Joe’s:

And a close comparison of our ringtops revealed that one of the ferrules is slightly longer than the other:

UPDATE:  Over on Facebook, Rick Krantz commented that the official Chiltonese for this color is "Harlequin."  I asked Rick for chapter and verse on that, and he gladly obliged with copies of contemporary advertisements, including this one:

Thanks, Rick!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ready Ritepoint? Or Riterpoint?

One of the more unusual pencils found in the salesman’s sample wallet of Vernon pencils I received from Michael Little is the one on the far left in this picture:

Here’s the top up close:

The Vernon sample advertising on the cap makes it unlikely that parts were switched out (getting press-fit top caps out of the top of one of these is generally more trouble than it’s worth). While it is of course possible that this pencil – or any of them for that matter – might have been added to this folder at some point over the last 70 years, I’m still prepared to accept that this was also made by Ritepoint. Here’s why:

All four of these pencils have Ritepoint stamps on the barrels:

Other than a different name on the clip and a stepped top button, the Readyrite is identical. I’ve had another Readyrite hanging around the museum for awhile, and when I put it next to this one, it was identical in every respect except one:

Sometimes the script runs in one direction, sometimes in the other. That difference had me scratching my head a little bit and eventually sent me headlong back into the "tub of doom." That tub is a sort of purgatory, where unwanted pencils that aren’t anything I’m interested in wind up. If I buy a lot of ten pencils online because there’s only one in the group that has me curious . . . this is where the other nine go. Sometimes it’s where all ten end up.

My wife is a very patient woman, and I have to say both of the dogs were too, as I spread out a couple years’ worth of castoffs on the living room floor to see what was in there. At the end of the day, the search was fruitful – here’s a group of Readyrites that were in there:

None of these are dated, but from the looks of things at some point they decided to flatten out the clips a bit:

I also found a couple examples with metal caps:

There’s just a bit of a difference between the clips on these:

And there’s one other wrinkle. There are Readyrites, and then there are Readyriters like these:

I asked Michael Little whether Ritepoint also made the Readyriter, and he said no – the Readyriter pencils were made by Lipic. Ritepoint sprang from Lipic, when one of Joseph Lipic’s sons set up the company while the other continued his father’s business. I don’t have any evidence that the relationship between the two was adversarial; even so, no matter how friendly the competition might be between two companies, the use of names as similar as "Readyrite" and "Readyriter" would doubtless trigger an unfair competition complaint with the Federal Trade Commission unless there was either cooperation, common ownership or a merger.