Friday, February 6, 2015

The Other News from the 1936 Olympics

The 1936 Olympic Games, held in Berlin, were a pivotal moment in human history. The location of the games was chosen before the Nazis came to power, and Adolf Hitler hoped to capitalize on the moment to showcase his new order before the world. The United States nearly boycotted the event out of concern that participation might be viewed as supporting the Nazis, but in the end the decision was made to put aside political differences in the spirit of the Olympic tradition.

It was a good thing they did, too. Jesse Owens, the "Buckeye Bullet" who a year earlier had broken three world records and tied a fourth in 45 minutes during a Big Ten meet while he attended Ohio State, won four gold medals. The Americans finished second in the medal count, behind the Germans, but Owens’ accomplishments wound up being the story which has endured over the decades.

All these thoughts were swirling around in my head when I saw this pencil at the Scott Antique Show last month, located just a couple miles from Ohio State. It wouldn’t have mattered to me whether the ‘36 Olympics legend were on a token, a plate, or whatever . . . our collective local connection to the games around here meant a sure sale if the price was reasonable. Imagine my luck, however, that it was on a pencil:

And also, that this one fits into a bigger story.

I last visited the topic of these pencils in connection with a Brown & Bigelow "Patent Pending" pencil, shown at the top in this next shot, and the open filigree copy of this design at the bottom (see

There’s three different styles of clips shown here:

The Brown & Bigelow and the ‘36 Olympics examples have a clip welded to the side of the barrel. The Japanese versions have a similar clip, but in an accommodation form that can be slipped off, while the open filigree one has something similar to an Eversharp clip welded on. The ‘36 Olympics souvenir is all German, as indicated by the letters stamped on the clip:

"R.Gm." There’s a problem. If the Germans were making these pencils in 1936, the timeline of what I thought I knew is all wrong.

A couple years ago, when I first wrote about the Brown & Bigelow (, I had traced the patent back to American design patent number 105,622, which was granted to Martin E. Trollen and assigned to Brown & Bigelow. I reasoned that after the conclusion of World War II, when this design patent had expired, the Japanese began making knockoffs.

Not so. Trollen applied for his design patent on November 16, 1935 - just seven months before my German version would have shown up at some Berlin souvenir stand in 1936. Was Trollen in Germany prior to joining Brown & Bigelow? No - according to the 1930 census, he was a Swedish immigrant born in 1897 who was already a resident of St. Paul, Minnesota – where Brown & Bigelow was located.

I no longer know whether Trollen was the inspiration or the inspired, because the timing is just too close to call. Could the Germans have quickly whipped up a design based on Trollen’s patent application and had it ready for distribution in seven months? Yes, I think they could. Could Trollen have seen an even earlier version of the pencil made in Germany and used it as the basis for his design? Yes. Could there have been cooperation between Brown & Bigelow and whatever German firm made the ‘36 Olympics pencils? Sure, that fits too.

The only thing I can conclusively say now is that my previous article was wrong. The Japanese "Peace" pencils were not a copy of Brown & Bigelow’s American design – they were copying the Germans.

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