Friday, November 20, 2015

The One that Kept Me Awake at Night

A few months ago, a friend of mine hinted that he might sell his collection of Eversharp pencils to me.  I had seen and photographed his collection before, long before there was any hint that he might part with it, but once there was a suggestion that the collection might be available, there was one piece . . . out of several trays full of nice stuff . . . which kept me awake at night.  I knew that if it were all or nothing, this one would be the one that would put me in the “all” pile.

A snake clip Eversharp?

Sure enough, it’s all Eversharp inside, and based on a scarce clipless model, to boot.  The “scales,” on closer examination, are hand engraved:

I’d never seen or heard of anything like this, and for months the implications of this find had my head swirling.  Conventional wisdom as of this writing is that before Wahl began making Charles Keeran’s Ever Sharp (two words) pencils, they were made by George W. Heath – at least, all the surviving examples bear Heath’s patented (at the time, patent applied for) clip.

Does this snake clip suggest there was another pre-Wahl manufacturer of Ever Sharp pencils?

Patent January 6, 1914 . . . just three months after Keeran applied for his first pencil patent.  The time is certainly right.  The G.T.B. on the clip stands for George T. Byers, about whose shenanigans I wrote about here back on March 16 (“The Snake that Wasn’t Wrapped Around a Pencil,” at  In a nutshell, Byers liked the snake clips the Frank T. Pearce Company was offering so much, that he ordered some blanks from Pearce’s supplier, applied for a design patent for it, and then tried unsuccessfully to sue Pearce for patent infringement.

If you read the timeline in the article I wrote about Byers, it fits perfectly with the hypothesis that The George T. Byers Co. made some of the first Ever Sharp pencils.  Incorporated May, 1912; patent for snake clip granted January, 1914; complaint against Pearce for infringement filed January, 1915; patent invalidated December, 1915; Byers disbands the George T. Byers Co. and joins John E. Hayes to form Byers and Hayes in June, 1916.

Keeran applied for his patent in October, 1913; begins test marketing the new pencils for the Christmas season, 1913; contracts with the Wahl Adding Machine Company to make his pencils beginning on October 1, 1915.

If this clip was on this pencils when it was made -- and it certainly looks like it was -- it was made between January, 1914 and December, 1915.

There's one other clue.  While the short tip indicates the pencil was made before 1924, which isn’t very helpful, the imprint can more precisely date the pencil.  During the time these pencils were made by the “Eversharp Pencil Company,” both during the time Keeran controlled the company and after Wahl’s directors acquired a controlling interest in 1916, known examples are marked “Ever Sharp / Patented..”  Note: that’s “Eversharp Pencil Company,” with Eversharp as one word, while the pencils were marked “Ever Sharp” - 2 words.

When Wahl began making the pencils on its own account in mid-1917, for a short time the pencils were stamped “Wahl Ever Sharp” - still two words.  A few months later, the space was deleted, and from that point on, pencils were stamped “Wahl Eversharp.”

The imprint on this one is difficult to read.  It was either poorly stamped, or someone made an attempt to obliterate it.  However, on one side there’s just enough of it showing to make a telling observation:

It took about two dozen attempts, to get a picture capturing the faint traces of the word “Eversharp” – one word.  And no "Patented."  If that means this was originally stamped Wahl Eversharp, then someone has created a special piece from a clipless pencil made later than 1918 and added a leftover GTB 1914 patent accommodation clip.  If so, it likely was not Byers himself: even though he wouldn’t have been above grinding someone else’s imprint off a pencil and passing it off on his own, by 1917 he was in a respectable association with Hayes and wasn’t looking back.

But there’s another and much more exciting possibility.  A couple paragraphs up, I carefully stated that known examples of “pre-Wahl” Ever Sharp pencils are stamped “Ever Sharp / Patented” – two words, with the word "Patented."  Although this one has traces of the “Eversharp” (one word), but there is absolutely no trace of the word “Wahl” preceding it on this pencil.  And it says "Sterling," not "Patented."  Is this an imperfect obliteration of a much later Eversharp imprint by whoever pimped this pencil out?  Maybe.

But . . .

Charles Keeran founded the Eversharp Pencil Company – not the “Ever Sharp Pencil Company.”  Why would the company name be one word, but the pencils marked with two?  The answer is that there was already an “Eversharp Pencil” on the market:

It didn’t look the same, but it was called the same, and it was out there first.  By 1918, when Wahl decided to take over the name, the company was defunct.

Is it possible that Keeran, unaware that another company was calling its pencils “Eversharp,” was marketing pencils under the same, one-word name?  To date, the earliest advertisement recently brought to light was the one Bob Bolin has posted on his website, from September, 1915, clearly showing the two-word version.

However, I went back and thumbed through old issues of Charles Keeran’s hometown paper, The Bloomington Pantagraph, and I found a few that were earlier – much , much earlier.  The first ran on July 18, 1914:

There may be a slight space between “Ever” and “Sharp” at the top, but look at what’s dead center in this advertisement: “There is only one genuine EVERSHARP.”

Yes, Virginia.  Keeran may well have caused his first pencils to be stamped “Eversharp,” with one word.  If he did, then this pencil may be the earliest Eversharp in existence.