Thursday, March 26, 2015

This isn't a "break."

Sometimes as I'm tugging on a thread, it unravels a sweater.

The one I started tugging on about two weeks ago is unraveling something much bigger.   There's a lot of moving parts to this story.

Here's a hint:  I think I finally have found the proof that Sheaffer did not make Sheaffer's first pencils, the proof of who did, and the one man history has largely forgotten whose career trajectory through three of the Big Four pen companies explains an amazing amount of what happened to the writing instrument industry -- both pens and pencils -- in 1917.

Once I put all the pieces together, I'll be back . . .

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ringing a Couple More Bells

A while back I posted an article titled “This One Rings a Bell Now,” ( which I attributed a pencil marked only with “Bell System” to Rite-Rite based on the unusual hexagonal plungers found on both:

John Coleman was quick to respond with this pair of Bell System pencils, one of which is unmarked with a phone dialer, and the other of which sports a Rite-Rite ferrule:

That, I thought, was a significant step towards nailing that down . . . if only it weren’t all too easy to stick any ferrule of the correct diameter on the end of a pencil.  But the clincher has arrived, by way of an online auction:

There’s no doubt about it when the clip is bolted to the side of the barrel . . .

. . . the pencil has a Bell System imprint . . .

. . . and inside is exactly what you would expect to see!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Because I Liked the Clip

I’ve been paying a bit more attention to Redipoints when I see them online lately, after finding “Bug,” “Son of Bug” and “Granddaddy of Bug.”  When this one showed up in an online auction, though, I was looking at something else:

That accommodation clip perfectly matches a typical Brown & Bigelow clip, but it’s topped with cutouts in the shape of “BB”:

In fact, I was so taken with this cool little clip that I looked no further before bidding.  When it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see there was more to it:

That top could only signify another example of “Granddaddy of Bug,” and this one even has a little arrow on the cap to show which way to turn it in order to release it:

This one has the same imprint found on the other example: “REDIPOINT / Pat. Pdg. B&B St. Paul,” but it also says something else:

“Providence Art Metal Co. / Edgar E. Craddock, Gen. Mgr.”  Now stop for a second and think about that: “Art Metal” suggests a company that makes all sorts of metal “specialties,” including mechanical pencils.  Ronson Penciliters, for example, were made by the Aronson’s “Art Metal Works.”  As I detailed in “Granddaddy of Bug” recently, these repeating pencils were made at the very dawn of Brown & Bigelow’s foray into mechanical pencils – before these were made, the company only made advertising calendars and such.

Let's weigh the two possibilities this pencil suggests.  The first is that a Minnesota advertising calendar company suddenly filed patent applications for a new mechanical pencil, invested a significant amount of capital needed for large-scale production of the pencils, and sold some of the very first ones the company made to an art metal company which was already set up to make these pencils themselves.  That’s like finding a Sheaffer pearlie with an advertisement for Parker on the side.  If that’s what happened, old man Bigelow was truly the greatest salesman in history, literally selling ice cream to eskimoes.

The second possibility is that Brown & Bigelow had the design but hired out the manufacture of a new and unproven product line to a fabricating shop.  No contest - this second scenario has to be right.  Even better, I now suspect that the likely manufacturer was some outfit called the “Providence Art Metal Company,” about which I have been able to find absolutely nothing.

Maybe the Providence Art Metal Company was a standalone concern.  Maybe it was set up by Brown & Bigelow as a separate company to test the waters in the mechanical pencil field, quickly folded back into B&B when the pencils were commercially successful.

And to think I only bought the damned thing because I liked the clip!

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Nicholson Mystery Solved

I don’t remember which mess o’ pencils these three came in with, but I do remember pulling them aside and thinking to myself, “one of these days I’m going to figure out what these are all about.”

Ordinarily I don’t care much for those plastic-tipped nose drive mechanisms.  On these, however, they just work.  The clips closely resemble those found on later pencils made by Artcraft, a company out of Birmingham, Alabama – however, I can’t rule out that the clip was jobbed out to any number of firms.  The part that I wanted to figure out, though, was just below the clip:

The words “Nicholson USA” flanking a crossed pair of what look like cannon.  On more than one occasion, I’ve seen these sold as military items; at one point I thought someone said it was a military school, and at some other point, a firearms manufacturer or distributor – and of course, let’s not overlook the possibility that there’s a “Nicholson Pencil Company.”  Every lead I chased down proved to be a dead end, and these slipped into the dead letter office for a while.

The plot thickened a couple of months ago, when Mike Little asked if I had any interest in this one:

Obviously I did.  This one is marked “Welsh” on the clip, but with that same logo enameled under the clip:

The Welsh name, I assumed, signified the Welsh Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island – that probably rules out the existence of some “Nicholson Pencil Company.”  My interest in this pencil was twofold: first, it added a bit more to the Nicholson story, but also, I knew what I would find imprinted on the barrel:

Patent number 2,358,091: Charles Lovejoy’s 1944 patent for a repeater pencil, original assigned to Moore, and licensed out to Eversharp and Dur-O-Lite:

And also, apparently, to the Welsh Manufacturing Company:

It was nice to fill in a bit more of the Lovejoy Patent saga, but Mike’s pencil left me no closer to unraveling the Nicholson mystery.  My big break, and the one that solved this one once and for all, showed up in a recent online auction and arrived in the mail last week:

Yeah, I know.  The clip is broken.  But I’d never seen this variation of a Nicholson-marked pencil, and sometimes you’ve just got to bid on something so you can get it in your hands for a closer look.  Besides, the online seller showed pictures of this one with the top pulled off to reveal a nail file, and I’m a sucker for a pencil with any on-board gizmo:

Also, the seller indicated that there was a patent number on the barrel, and I’m a sucker for a good patent number:

In this case, the patent number proved that Mike Little’s Welsh pencil was no fluke.  Patent number 2,110,999 for a “pocket implement” was applied for on April 14, 1936 by Raymond B. Miga, and issued on March 15, 1938.  Miga’s patent was assigned . . . dum da da dummmmmm . . . to the Welsh Manufacturing Company:

However, there was one detail the seller left out, and it was the one detail that solved the Nicholson riddle once and for all.  In this case, the Nicholson logo didn’t appear just on the barrel:

It’s also on the tang of the file.  While an imprint on the barrel could mean anything, a logo in that location on the attachment is almost certainly a manufacturer’s mark, and when I shifted my search to “Nicholson File,” all was revealed just as fast as Google could deliver me a list of search results:

According to the Nicholson File Company’s website, the company was founded in Providence, Rhode Island in 1864.  The trademark for the logo found on all of the pencils in this article, “in which there is a representation of two crossed files,” was filed on June 12, 1905 and was registered as number 50,882 on April 3, 1906:

According to the registration, the company first used this mark in 1899.  A revised version of the trademark, filed in 1959, dropped the “USA,” apparently a harbinger of things to come.  While the company remains in existence today as part of the “Apex Brands,” I noted online grumbling about the inferior quality of the foreign-made files now being sold under the name.  Unfortunately, it appears we can chalk Nicholson up as yet another American manufacturer that no long manufactures and whose products are not American.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Driving Home the Point

These three Autopoints have come my way in recent months:

Note that the yellow example has the early spoon-shaped clip, while the red one has a slightly later ball clip:

The spoon clips are shown on all of Autopoint’s models in the 1927 catalog; in the 1930 catalog, the spoon clips are shown on the utilitarian models with nickel trim, while the more upscale models with gold filled trim have the newer style ball clip.  Absent 1928 or 1929 catalogs, or a more healthy supply of date-marked Autopoints, I’m not sure precisely when the ball clips were introduced.

As for that short, utilitarian model with an exposed eraser and nickel trim, it doesn’t seem to have much in common with the other two, besides its origins.  I included it because it shares one interesting feature with the other two:

All three are stamped “Bakelite.”  Bakelite, besides having a dedicated group of collectors who go ape for anything made by the stuff, has another distinction in the Autopoint context.   In 1925, the Bakelite Corporation became so enamored with Autopoint that it made an offer to purchase a controlling interest in the pencil company.  The offer, we’ll just say, was better received by some of the principals than others, and when the deal was approved, several of the principals left the company to form Dur-O-Lite.  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tempting Enough

Normally I don’t chase after wood lead containers, but this time I just couldn’t resist:

The Louis F. Dow Co. of St. Paul, which made “The Universal Pencil,” is something I’ve had a soft spot for since posting “The Real Housewives of Minneapolis” here almost three years ago (  Just after I posted the initial article, a swarm of them seemed to turn up in rapid succession, then as quickly as the deluge began, it stopped.   This is the first bit o’ Dow I’ve seen turn up since 2012.

And it goes sooooo nice with this:

Friday, March 20, 2015

That Last Nagging Doubt

I’ve thought for some time that Victorian pencils marked “Sterling.A” were made by Aikin, Lambert & Co., one of the New York companies that supplied nibs to the fledgling L.E. Waterman Company in the late nineteenth century and which by 1907 had become a Waterman subsidiary.

I’ve been told by the experts that’s right,

I’ve never been completely satisfied with that reassurance.

The universe of words and names that begin with “A” just seems a bit broad for that kind of conclusion, without some other supporting evidence – at least, that’s what I’ve always felt.  Maybe the experts had seen that supporting evidence and had not shared it with me, but on the other hand they could simply be confident that no contrary evidence would surface to challenge the notion.

Recently I ran across this pair of sterling silver pencils - one at the DC show, and the other in an online auction:

Yeah, I could shine them up . . . but I kind of like the patina.  Both the knurling at the nose and the tops on these are just too similar to write off as coincidence:

In fact, the only real difference between the two is that one example has a green glass “jewel” set in the top instead of a plain metal cap:

Well, that and one other detail, which is the reason I’m writing about them today:

Both are marked “Sterling.A,” but the jeweled example also has Aikin Lambert’s “ALCo” hallmark.   And then, as if to add an explanation point to the end of the argument, this cedar pencil holder came my way in the “Mother Lode” hoard from Philadelphia in January:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rarer than Rarer (than Rare)

A few weeks ago I posted my first article of these harder-to-find Autopoint pencils, with rounded upper bands and round plastic caps with a slight hump on the top:

Tough to find, I’d reported of the oversized models.  Of the thin model shown at the top?  Dang near impossible, I’d reported, and the backchannel chatter from the Autopoint set confirmed that observation.

In fact, you so rarely see those thin models that when you do, you’re likely to breeze right on by . . . especially when it’s a thin model in a disguise.  As I was preparing to go to Baltimore, I didn’t have room for my great big bin of “junkers” from the Philadelphia Mother Lode, so I combed through them a bit more to cull out some of the better ones to bring along.  I’d already been through this bunch twice, and it wasn’t until that third pass that I noticed this one in there:

Yep, it’s a demi-sized, clipless thin model!

And it packs one more surprise, which must have been what threw me off with this one: the cap isn’t plastic.  It’s made of anodized aluminum:

That makes three variations on this theme so far:

Rare, more than rare and holy cow.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Murco Revealed

When I embarked on a project to document little known advertising pencils a few months ago, one of the groupings of pencils I assembled was this bunch, all marked “Murco” on the clip:

Each of these bears a strong resemblance to products manufactured by the Ritepoint Company, but I hadn’t gotten around to writing about these yet because I didn’t have any idea what Murco meant:

Jim Carpenito answered this question for all of us at the Baltimore Show weekend before last, when he revealed a stash of new old stock Murcos he’d found:

It’s nice to find an example this clean, since the plating wasn’t that good on pencils intended to be given away:

Underneath these pencils was paperwork explaining everything:

The Thomas D. Murphy was another calendar company - just like Shaw Barton, Gerlach Barklow and Osborne among others, Murphy also chose to offer advertising pencils to its customers – also made by Ritepoint, but in much smaller numbers.  

After I read the paperwork that came with Jim’s pencil, I couldn’t wait to get home and ransack pencil central, because I knew I had a pencil marked “Murphy” somewhere at home that Mike Little had sent to me.  Took a bit of rooting around, but I found it:

This one sports a little nicer clip, with Murphy and a little picture of a tree on it . . .

. . . and there’s a band of unusual little red trees around the lower cap, as well:

I had no idea what those little trees were all about until I unfurled the Murco paperwork.  Those aren’t just trees:

Those are oaks.  Red oaks, to be specific!