Monday, November 30, 2015

Nooks and Crannies at the Patent Office

My last purchase at the Ohio Show this year was this little guy, which Myk Daigle brought over to show me just as I was packing up:

This bullet-shaped metal case is stamped “E. Faber / NY / Pat Jan. 31, 88" on the side:

The top pulls off to reveal what appears to be a very old eraser:

An eraser is exactly what this turned out to be.  You won’t find the patent in my book, because it was classified off the beaten path in class 15, “Brushing, Scrubbing and General Cleaning,” in subcategory 434, “Eraser, directly adjustable erasive body.”  The January 31, 1888 on this little guy refers to patent number 377,209, issued to Frederick G. Osborn and assigned to Eberhard Faber.

Osborn’s patent was supposed to solve the problem of erasers stuck so tightly in their holders that they could not be turned and advanced.  His invention featured a slightly necked-down holder which only comes into contact with the eraser at the threaded portion, so that (in theory) the eraser can be turned and advanced.   Maybe, at one time, this worked – but 130 years later, this fossilized hunk of rubber isn’t going anywhere now.

Note also the squared-off, hexagonal cap shown in the drawings.  “I prefer to provide a polygonal head . . . so as to prevent the case rolling when laid down,” Osborn writes.  Faber apparently elected instead to prevent the case from looking less cool than it could by giving it a bullet-shaped profile.

All of the above is pretty neat.

And now that I’ve done the research, none of the above is what has me excited.

As I mentioned earlier, this patent wasn’t in my book because it was in one out of those mind-numbing number of little subcategories into which little piles of obscure patents like these have been tucked away.  Usually, I only stumble across these when an artifact stamped with a patent date surfaces and leads me in that direction.

So here I was in one of those out-of-the-way little corners, in a subcategory that has only been used 38 times since 1790.  Osborn’s eraser holder was the second earliest one filed, so out of curiosity, I clicked on the oldest – patent number 376,196.  My jaw dropped.

There, glowing from my computer screen, was an invention with which I was intimately familiar, and for which I have been searching for years.

Note:  the second part of this story can be found at

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Timely Mail Call

This one showed up in an online auction at a most inopportune time:

Inopportune, that is, because it was won, paid for and speeding towards pencil central as fast as the USPS was willing to bring it – the day before the beginning of the Ohio Show, at which I hoped to share this with people and find something out about who made it.

There was good news and bad news.  The good news is, since I live close enough to the Ohio Show venue that I come home on Thursday night, I checked my mail when I got home and lo and behold, my package made it in time.  The bad news is, after showing it to people Friday . . . and Saturday . . . and Sunday, no one has been able to tell me anything.

When the pencil is disassembled, it’s even simpler inside than it looks:

The inner portion has little nubs which engage the screw threads on the outer shell.  As far as a “mechanism” goes, that’s all there is to it.  The lead is simply stuck in the end of the inner portion.  It’s kind of like a Dow, but with a screw drive rather than a slider.

The pencil is unmarked.  Can anyone shed some light on this?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Before I Could Even Unpack

I had just arrived at the Michigan Show last month, pushing a cart heavily laden with totes, when Jerry Adair rushed up to me before I even reached my table.  There was a pencil, he said, that I just had to see and probably would have to have.

Fortunately, the fellow who had it was set up right next to my assigned table, so I was at least able to park my cart before I had a look.  Of course I had to see it.  Of course I had to have it.

Because, of course, I have no idea what to make of this thing:

If you’re wondering what that metal bar is on the side of the barrel, I am too.  My best guess is that it exists solely to create enough friction to hold what’s inside:

There are, infuriatingly, no markings whatsoever on either the barrel or the sheath to indicate who might have made this.  It has a faint “National Pen Products” kind of look, but all the long-short pencils I’ve seen screw into the sheath and aren’t held by friction.  Also, that tip looks newer than the 1920s.

All I can do is throw this on the back of a virtual milk carton, ship it out there and ask if anyone else knows what this thing is.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Little Extra

A few Ohio Shows ago, I found this guy:

It’s obviously an Eagle, and it bears a pretty close resemblance to one of the more common early Eagle pencils, the Number 872 “Supply”:

But that red color is a little extra nice . . . and that tip has a little extra bit of length added to it:

And at the top . . . there’s an extra attachment.  An eraser, concealed under the blind cap:

So what was this Eagle called?

The Number 873 “Extra,” of course.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Most of the time, when someone has one of these they don’t realize they have an Eversharp:

About the only clue is the clip, which is shared with the Equipoised Purse Pencil line.  The rest looks so un-Eversharply that frankly, I pulled all but one of these out of junk boxes at pen shows (the red one, with a price sticker, came from that collection which included the snake clip Eversharp and was a nice upgrade).  Maybe they knew, maybe they didn’t . . . maybe they didn’t care.  One man’s pencil is another man’s treasure.

I didn’t get away with stealing these, though:

Eversharp marked some of these specially for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933.  I’ve had the green one for some time, but when Larry Liebman had a black one in DC and was interested in my duplicate red one, it was a trade made in heaven.  I’ve also seen one in red.  These have my vote for “world’s coolest imprint”:

Then out of the blue, this one showed up in an online auction last week:

Eversharp called this celluloid “coral,” and I think it’s about the nicest color any manufacturer ever used.  Here it is alongside some other Eversharps in that same plastic:

I thought when I found this one that I had discovered some rare, off-catalog variant, but when I opened my 1932 Eversharp catalog, the colored barrel pencils cam in six colors – including also lavender, which I’ve seen, and lapis blue – which I haven’t.   Two more to look for, I guess.  The ones with the longer tips are cataloged with three different colored tips: “borneo,” “ceylon” and “india,” which corrolate to color names in the purse pencil line.   Two of the three have been identified:

Identification of what color “ceylon” was, however, remains elusive.

But then again, all of the pencils in this series are elusive.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Repair Tutorial: Fixing a Typical Stripped Mechanism

I’ve had this Waterman pencil laying around for awhile.

It’s a nice “Thorobred” pencil in a color I had not seen before.  The “red and gold” celluloid was cataloged in 1933 on the Waterman 91 (pen guys would call these “Waterman 92 pencils”).  However the 1936 catalog doesn’t show this color in use for the 91V or 93V (“Waterman 92V pencil” or “Waterman 3V pencil,” respectively).  And I’ve never seen one.

However, the mechanism was shot – I could tell the tabs on the lead carrier were stripped.  I got as far as wiggling the mechanism free from the barrel, but until last weekend I didn’t find time to fix it.  When I did, I thought you might like to see how it’s done.

Before you do anything, including pulling the mechanism out of the pencil, spend some time making sure that the mechanism is actually stripped.  If it isn’t, there are a couple other possible issues, all of which can be fixed without pulling things apart:

1.  A lead jam.  Start by trying to advance the mechanism all the way forward and all the way back.  If you hit a dead stop in either direction, the problem is a simple lead jam, not a stripped mechanism.  Caution: stripped mechanisms occur when someone has tried to force the mechanism when there’s a lead jam.  If the mechanism turns until it bumps into something, STOP and clear the jam, then try again.

2.  A mechanism that is “skipping the track.”  Some pencils were designed with an anti-stripping feature, which allows the mechanism to continue to turn when the mechanism reaches its mechanical limits.  While the mechanism may be stripped, it might also just be jammed at one end or the other of the mechanism.  You can tell this is the case if you hear or feel a faint clicking sound as the mechanism is turned.  If you think this might be the problem, first use a paper clip like a piece of lead, pushing gently up into the pencil as you retract the mechanism to see if you can ease the tab back onto the track.  If that doesn’t work, the mechanism might be stuck at the top end - make sure there isn’t any lead left inside, then try to access the back of the mechanism and force a paper clip into the top end while trying to advance it.

Only after exploring these two possibilities should you remove a mechanism, because there’s a strong possibility you will crack or break the barrel.  These are typically press fit into the barrel with enough friction to hold and operate the mechanism.  With a combination of wiggling, pulling and (if you can get at the mechanism from the back end) pushing, sometimes aided by heat, you can usually get them out.

Now, examine the mechanism closely.  At the rear end, you’ll see a retainer washer.  Sometimes you’ll find a two-part washer, but in this case, Waterman just used one thick one.

The back end of the drive tube is flared a bit to hold the retaining washer in place.  To remove, use a small pair of pliers to crimp that flared part down so the washer can slide off.  Use pliers without teeth on them to reduce the risk of deforming the drive tube.  Here’s what it looks like when you’re ready to remove the washer:

Watch out - that retainer washer will be tough to coax off without launching it across the room, but once it’s off, the spiral will spin right off of the tube, and you’ll be able to remove the lead carrier from the back end.  You might need to open the end of the tube a little to get the carrier out, depending on how much you crimped it down to remove the washer:

On a typical propel-repel mechanism, the lead carrier consists of two parts, each of which has a metal tab which sticks up and engages the track in the spiral.  The outer carrier, which has the forward tab, is the tube the lead fits inside.  The rear tab is attached to a pin, so that as the mechanism reaches its forward limits, the outer tube remains stationary while the spiral moves the rear tab forward to eject any last crumbs of lead from the outer tube.

In this case, our tabs have been partly sheared off.   Sometimes they are simply bent down and it’s possible to bend them back into shape, but I only do that when the mechanism has unique features and I don’t have a suitable donor.  Structurally, the metal has been compromised and will never be right again, and it’s best to replace these.  I keep a supply of junker pencils around for that very purpose:

These crappy plastic-tipped pencils are perfect for the job: they never worked well to start with, the tips are almost always chipped away, and the plastic usually shrank much faster than the celluloid barrels inside, so they are easy to pull out without much time or effort.  NOTE: make sure your donor mechanism uses the same diameter lead as the one you are repairing.

Fortunately, since they didn’t work all that great, the internal pins never saw much wear.  Here you can see the same basic innards, with pristine tabs engaging the spiral.  Note that this one has a two-piece retaining washer.   I removed these washers and kept them for future use some other day and removed the lead carrier.  Side by side, it’s easy to see why my Waterman wasn’t working:

I slid the lead carrier into the drive tube of my Waterman.  Once the carrier clears the rough part at the top of the tube, it should move freely up and down the channel.  If it doesn’t, use a paperclip, pin or toothpick to clean out any obstructions in the channel, and lubricate with a tiny amount of PB Blaster (like WD-40, but it doesn’t coagulate lead dust).  Be sure to wipe off any excess lubricant, because petroleum products and celluloid don’t play well together.

Next, slide the spiral back on.  When you reach the tabs on the lead carrier, screw the mechanism over them, being sure to engage the tabs.  Don’t force anything - it should simply engage the tabs and screw on.

Once the spiral is all the way forward, twist it to see if the tabs properly engage the spiral and move back and forth as you twist:

Work the washer back onto the end, making sure the spiral is held securely against the nose of the pencil:

And use your pliers to flare the end apart again to secure it.

That should do it, but put a piece of lead in and try it before you put the mechanism back in the pencil.  Better to know now whether your mechanism is working in practice rather than just in theory:

Last, press the mechanism back into the pencil.  This may require a pen press or some similar tool that can apply controlled pressure to the part.  Once it’s in:

There you have it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Calendar . . . And An Ad

This one took a really good book to figure out.  Even without the extra cool doohickie, I would have chased this one down.  It’s just got such a distinctive look to it, and I love that top:

Extra cool doohickies are a real weakness of mine, and this one has a whopper.  That metal rod on the side of the barrel pulls out and, like an old window shade, reveals what’s inside:

Why the last few months of the 1938 calendar are on one side of 1940, and all of 1939 is on the other, I don’t know.   Suffice to say it’s a fair bet this one was introduced in late 1938.  And what’s on the other side?

Sales tips for Buick salesman - ah, old cars!  Another specialty of mine!  I love that last line: “Never kill a prospect . . .” one sure step on the road to being salesman of the year, for sure!

Yet as good looks, a nifty calendar and thoughts of a 1938 Buick already had me swooning, there’s one last detail that put me over the moon on this one:

Ooooh, I love me a good patent mystery, and this is a particularly good one, because this is definitely NOT a living, breathing example of Patent Number 97,956.  That patent was awarded in 1869 for a fireplace stove.  Could it be a design patent?  Closer, but nope: that was for a belt buckle, granted in 1935.  I played around for a bit, transposing numbers and such, but nothing was turning up.

And then I remembered . . . there’s a great book on patents out there.  In fact, I wrote the damned thing.   I turned to the “patents by description” section in American Writing Instrument Patents Volume 2: 1911-1945, looked up “calendar,” and found an entry for patent number 2,111,362, for a “calendar attachment (scroll)”:

Joseph S. Fisher of New York, New York applied for this patent on August 26, 1936, and it was issued on March 15, 1938.  Am I sure this is the patent I was looking for?  Dead sure.  For starters, did you notice what’s written on the scroll in the drawings?

“CAL-AN-AD PENCIL.”  And the clincher is in the text of the patent:

Probably in a rush to put the pencil into production before the patent was actually issued, the manufacturer chose to print the Serial Number for his application, number 97,356.

But wait.  There’s one more detail here that’s interesting.  It has to do with the clip in the drawings, which doesn’t look much like the one on my pencil:

It does, however, look a lot like the clip on the only other example of this I’ve seen.  David Nishimura sent me these pictures about a year ago:

Although this one shows no connection to Joseph Fisher or the Cal-An-Ad Pencil Company, it does show a connection to something else: that clip is the same clip used by Tri-Pen - makers of the Triad.  The calendar on David's example includes all of 1937, suggesting that his is was made at the end of 1936 -- a year or two before mine.

Wow.  Cool looks, cool calendar, sweet Buick stuff, great patent mystery AND a lingering possibility of some connection to Triad?

Almost.  Nearly three years ago now, I wrote an article about that clip.  It was the subject of a design patent, not by Tri-Pen, but by Mabie Todd.  (Death and Transfiguration Part Two: The Transfiguration of Triad), at

The clip was found on a large, sterling pencil I ran across years ago, shown in this picture alongside a Mabie Todd and a couple of “lesser Triads”:

The top of the pencil was a hollow space, and the long slit along the side led me to believe it might be a Ross Memo sort of pencil, with an onboard roll of paper for writing notes:

Now I know it probably contained one of Joseph Fisher’s scrolling calendar attachments, and the probable maker of David’s pencil was not Tri-Pen, but Mabie Todd:

Whew . . . I need a drink of water.