Friday, January 23, 2015

A Very Convincing Disguise

The first thing I found at the DC show last August is the kind of thing I don’t usually buy:

It’s not marked, and it’s clearly not American – two strikes and usually that’s an out in my book. On the plus side, though, it’s a really interesting pencil to look at . . . and I’ve already written about them before:

Here it is accompanied by a Brown and Bigelow "Pat. Pend." pencil and a Japanese "Peace" pencil. The article I posted a couple years ago ( – established that it was Brown and Bigelow’s design patent, number 105,622, which found a use in post-War occupied Japan, making metal pencils as a part of rebuilding the Japanese economy.

You might well be thinking this is a stretch. The clip is different, the shape of the barrel is different, and the barrel itself . . . well, that’s really different. How can we be sure this pencil is another adaptation of Brown & Bigelow’s design?

Because I never met a pencil I didn’t try to take apart. The mechanism is clearly, indisputably a Brown and Bigelow copy. That doesn’t trivialize in the least the significance of the new find in its own right – I would have bought it anyway, two strikes and all, for a couple other things about it. First, there’s some great enamel work on the back side of the barrel, in perfect condition:

But most impressive of all is the barrel itself. That scrollwork isn’t just a design:

Everywhere you see what appears to be black is actually cut out. This isn’t properly called filligree, which is open metalwork made from twisted wire. It couldn’t be – twisted and soldered wire wouldn’t be strong enough to serve as the barrel of a pencil without some material underneath to support it. If this barrel was cast, it was the most intricate mold I can imagine. If it was cut out – just think how much time and attention it would have required to turn just one of these out.

I think "adaptation" is more accurate than "copy."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jon! I saw this beautiful and unusual pencil when I stopped by your booth in DC, so I'm delighted to see the close-up photos and learn more about it. I still can't make up my mind about how it's made. One thought: if you can get a look at the inner surface of the barrel, it would look quite different from the outer surface if it's been cast.

Another thought: perhaps the heavier outlines of the design were cast, and then filled in with actual filigree (the individual wire curls).

LLK from Ohio