Thursday, February 5, 2015


I’m sure there’s a story behind this one, but so far I haven’t been able to figure out what it is. It’s been sitting in the "I Dunno" file long enough that I think it’s time to just put it out there and document it, in the hopes that it will draw out the backstory:

This metal pencil is typical of those from the late teens and early twenties. The alternating panels of checkerboard and floral chasing are both identical to what you’d find on an early Eclipse "Never Dull" pencil (see In that previous article, I was trying to track down hints that either Byers and Hayes or Rex Manufacturing Company might have had something to do with the Eclipse Never Dull, as well as others including the Albert Howard.

The Byers and Hayes hint has remained just a hint, but the Rex connection (specifically, the appearance of an early Rex patent imprinted on one like this) seems more concrete – as does the Providence connection:

This one is stamped "Big Van / V.A. Co. Prov. R.I."

Who was "Big Van?" There was a boar bred in Minnesota by that name in 1919 – an odd fact that I mention only because someone thought that fact important enough to document. I’m sure that’s not it. More likely, I think, is that the name was drawn from the name of a fictional character in a novel by Capt. Charles A. Botsford, Joining the Colors, released in 1918:

Botsford reprised Big Van in his next book, In the Trenches, released in 1920 and At the Front, from 1921.

I suspect that the popular fictional character’s name was a convenient opportunity for a clever play on words, with "Van" sounding close to whoever the "V" in "V.A. Co." might have been.

There was a Vaughn Upton of Boston . . . could the V be for Vaughn? If so, who was "A"? Unfortunately, searching "V.A." is inevitably interpreted as "Virginia" by the search engines, and I’m at a dead end. Until someone comes up with the names of Mr. V. And Mr. A., or a nice piece of paperwork that documents where this one came from, this one’s going to elude me.

1 comment:

Martha said...

An early competitor of the Cross company, maybe? I seem to recall reading there were several pen and pencil companies in Providence.