Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The "R"

A little more than a year ago, I posted an article here about a mysterious pencil marked "R.M. & Co." that was a dead ringer for an early Mabie Todd ("Probably Mabie . . . Maybe" at

I had speculated that the "M" was "Mabie," as in John Mabie, and that the "R" might have been John Rauch, one of America’s earliest pencil manufacturers. Mabie apprenticed with Rauch during the early 1840s, and there’s no evidence that there was anything adversarial about the younger John’s decision to move on and start his own shop. It may seem like an obvious conclusion that the "R" stood for Rauch, but there was a reason I hesitated: none of the Rauch-marked pencils I’d seen look anything like a Mabie Todd:

That changed when this one came along a few months ago in an online auction:

The pencil advances by twisting the back half of the pencil, just like a Mabie Todd:

That finial at the top had me a little confused. It twisted independently of the barrel and didn’t seem to do anything, so I gave it a gentle tug and found . . .

It’s a dip pen nib holder that can be pulled out and reversed. Best of all, there’s an imprint (in addition to that great barrel chasing) that helps me tell even more of the story:

"Rauch Patent Decbr.8.1863." Thanks to a good book on the subject (insert sham;eless plug for American Writing Instrument Patents 1799-1910), in just a few seconds I looked up patent number 40,855, issued to John H. Rauch himself:

The drawings are slightly different from the example in hand, but the general idea – nesting a reversible nib holder in the aft end of the barrel – is present. "This screw arrangement for operating the pencil is quite old and well known to those skilled in the art," Rauch writes in the text of his patent, "and therefore does not require a minute or special description."

Old and well known, perhaps . . . but perhaps still protected by John Mabie’s patent of October 3, 1854, depending on when this Rauch was made:

And now that I have a Rauch that is almost a dead ringer for a Mabie 1854 patent pencil:

I’m prepared to say that yes: Rauch and Mabie did enter into a partnership known as R.M. & Co., and further, that even though that association would have ended by 1854, it appears that the two continued to cooperate long after their formal business relationship ended.

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