Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year of the Vac

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 4; copies are available print on demand through Amazon here, and I offer an ebook version in pdf format at the Legendary Lead Company here.

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For the last day of the year, I usually run an article called “The Leadies” summarizing the top finds of the year.  As I sat down to mull over what were the most significant things that popped up, however, it became clear: 2015 was the year of the Parker Vacumatic. Here’s my “killer Vacumatic” collection:

What’s neat about this picture is that five out of these eight have come my way since August – and I haven’t had the chance to tell you about two of them yet.  We’ll get to the one on the top and the one on the bottom in just a second.

Second from the top is the “Ripley” Vacumatic that turned up in an online auction just recently (

The next two are the stars from the DC show last August – the article I posted about them, “That Kind of Show” ( became the most read article I’ve ever posted at the blog within just a few weeks:

That next one down is the one I’ve had the longest - at the time I wrote the article about it (’t-be-too-quick-to-dismiss-this-one.html) I was still on the fence about whether it was a Parker concept pencil or something put together by someone with waaay to much time on their hands.  The more I learn about early Parker Vacumatics and some of the weird things Parker did with the pencil line, though, the more convinced I am that this is the real thing:

On the weird scale, though, the next two probably win first prize, with their hand-engraved Vacumatic bands and Autopoint-style mechanisms (the full article can be found at

Which brings us, for your 2015 Leadhead’s finale, to these last two, both of which came my way from Dan Zazove at the Ohio Pen Show this November:

We’ll do the less obvious one first: that lower example looks like any ordinary, early production Vacumatic pencil – but the imprint sets it apart as something really special:

Before there was the Vacumatic, there was the “Vacuum Filler” . . . and before that, for just a few weeks, there was the “Golden Arrow.”  The part I like best about this one is that the Arrow isn’t gold!

Last, and by far the best of the bunch, is that one with the silver nose section:

Ever since Dan Zazove co-authored the Vacumatic book, in which this pencil was pictured, it has taken on almost mythical status among we pencil collectors.  The pencil, a prototype from Parker, bears no imprint, and appears to be the natural end product from the research that went into the other two Autopoint-style pencils, but in this case, the nose doesn’t come off – at least, it doesn’t willingly come off, and I’m not going to roll the dice and push it with the only example known to exist.   When it accompanied Dan to the Ohio Show, the question wasn’t whether I would purchase it, but whether I would have the opportunity.

I did and I did.  And when I balanced my checkbook the following month, I experienced that sinking feeling in my stomach of “why the heck am I spending all this money on this stuff?”   I still have that feeling when I think about how much I paid for the stupid thing, but every time I do, all I need to do is pick it up and look at it:

That eases all of my apprehension.  Whatever I paid, it was worth it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Also Rans

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 4; copies are available print on demand through Amazon here, and I offer an ebook version in pdf format at the Legendary Lead Company here.

If you don't want the book but you enjoy this article, please consider supporting the Blog project here.

Two of the “other” pencils out of the 40-pencil lot that yielded a Parker “Ripley” Vacumatic ( were these:

If these two had not both been in the same lot, I might have missed the fact that the desk pencil is an Autopoint – but side by side, the nose sections are a dead giveaway:

The pencil is in the same series as these, which I wrote about last February (see “Shared Custody” at

I’ve never seen one of the pencils in burgundy and black, so the pencil is a score regardless of whether the desk taper is original to the pencil.  But is it?  I’ve never seen an Autopoint desk pencil, but there’s no reason why they wouldn’t have made one – after all, if you really liked desk pencils in the early 1930s, Autopoint would likely have filled your needs.  It wouldn’t have been hard for Autopoint to turn out a taper – and this one has no clip!  I’d still like to see some documentation that Autopoint made a desk pencil.

And then there’s that black pencil.  Although it was the nose on this one that tipped me off that the other was an Autopoint, you might have noticed that the clip is much different from the ball clip seen on the models comparable to that desk pencil:

But what’s really odd is that cap – almost a transitional piece between the round caps with the little hump on top and the later “diamond cut” faceted clips.  That “jewel” on the top is faceted:

As I went through my Autopoint stash looking for something comparable, I did find two other examples which are from this series.  The reason I couldn’t remember seeing this cap before must have been because it wasn’t the most distinctive feature on the other two I found:

Them are some wild colors.  I do think transitional is an apt description, from round to diamond cut caps.

And speaking of wild colors . . . with an odd twist . . . here’s something that came in a plastic baggie of pencils I picked up for next to nothing at an antique show – and no, this one wasn’t the reason I bought the bag:

You’ll note this one has a nearly identical clip, although this one is marked “Realite” - the original name of what would become of the Autopoint Products Co. after Realite purchased Autopoint.  Autopoint continued to use the brand name from time to time, and the easiest way to spot a Realite is that short, short metal tip.   This series must have been contemporary to the Autopoints pictured above, and there’s a whole bunch of really bizarre and unique plastics that were used on these Realites.  What stands out on this one, however,  is that anachronistic cap.  Here’s what you would expect the cap to look like:

In fact, I’m sure this cap has been swapped over from something else – the cap from the red one fits perfectly on the brown example.

The fine detailing on the top of that gold filled cap suggest that while the cap itself isn’t right, the bloodline is: that’s an early Autopoint cap from the mid to late 1920s.

Did it come from the factory like that?  I think this falls into the “who knows, who cares” pile.  Yes, it could be that before this one was shipped, some worker put an old Autopoint cap on the top of a brown/blue Realite.  Sure, it could be that a customer just wanted his advertising pencils to have a little unique twist to set their pencils apart – as if that color didn’t do the trick – and with a few old caps laying around, Autopoint Products was happy to oblige.

But if it’s that easy to “make” a rare variant from common parts, would I pay any more than I would for an Autopoint gold filled cap and a Realite pencil missing the cap?  No I wouldn’t – any more than I would pay for a “rare transitional model” like this:

Yeah. No.  Forget I did that.

Update: after some discussion on Facebook, two other points bear mention:

1.  The clip was the subject of design patent number 115,544, issued to Frank Deli and Eric Patau, applied for on March 29, 1939 and issued July 4, 1939:

2.  The patent history isn’t very helpful, because the clip was used earlier than 1939.  In an article I posted here about a year ago (, I showed two Realite pencils, both dated 1937, one of which has an earlier ball-style clip and the other bears this clip, suggesting the Realite brand transitioned to this clip two years before the patent was issued:

3.  Mike Little questioned whether the Autopoint shown in this article might be simply a Realite with an Autopoint clip, but I think it’s more complicated than that.  Realites have much shorter metal tips, and the Realite nose sections are not compatible with Autopoints with the same clip:

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Dawn of the Industry

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 4; copies are available print on demand through Amazon here, and I offer an ebook version in pdf format at the Legendary Lead Company here.

If you don't want the book but you enjoy this article, please consider supporting the Blog project here.

These came from an online auction a few months back:


 I kind of liked this shot - a little “behind the scenes” at Leadhead’s, showing the scrap piece of wood flooring I use for a background, the lighter cutting board underneath and an old piece of styrofoam I put on the back of my lightbox to help bounce the light around a bit.  Each of these little boxes has that decorative paper around the sides, and the lettering on the top labels had me really intrigued:

“Moses Cohen’s / Everpoint Leads / New York.”

A complete run of boxes from number one through number nine, too!   There was a duplicate Number 4 box, so I gave that one to Joe Nemecek.   Inside each one of these little boxes were tiny metal tubes:

And each of those metal tubes was marked with a number, generally matching the label on the box lid.  The 2, 4, 5 and 6 were full with an even dozen each; the only number not represented was number 3 (that box had three tubes of No. 5s in it):

Note that the number nines are marked “IX,” so you can’t confuse them with a six.  Nice touch.  Curiosity got the best of me, so I opened up a tube of No. 1 leads and No. 9 leads to see if there were any obvious differences.  There were:

The No. 1 leads were significantly fatter.  Were there nine different sizes of lead represented here?  Were sizes that chaotic in Victorian times?  I pulled out a micrometer to see, and yes, there were and yes, they were.  Here’s the diameters of the respective sizes:

No. 1: .0535 inches
No. 2: .0500 inches
No. 3: ? [probably .0475 inches]
No. 4: .0450 inches
No. 5: .0420 inches
No. 6: .0410 inches
No. 7: .0385 inches
No. 8: .0340 inches
No. 9: .0335 inches

The use of the term “Everpoint Lead” was an indicator that these were very early production – “Everpoint” was the generic term for a mechanical pencil long before words like “propelling” came into general use.   How early this story would take me back, though, surprised me.

The first time a Cohen is found in New York selling Everpoint leads is in 1827, just five years after the first mechanical pencil was patented in England in 1822.  The earliest advertisement ran in the New York Evening Post on June 6, 1827, for an “L.I. Cohen” at 30 Pine Street:

On October 16, 1830, Lewis J. Cohen announced that he was heading back to London for a few months, but not to worry: “so as to ensure no disappointment to his customers during his absence,” he left John Pendleton with an adequate supply of goods at his store, now located at 71 Williams.

There’s no record concerning when Cohen got back from England, but he didn’t return to the New York press until 1833, with the publication of an announcement that first ran in the Evening Post on March 29, 1833:

Some charlatan was selling “hawking about the city leads as made by me,” Cohen states, which was made from glue and “common black lead dust.”  When exposed to moisture, the fake stuff would swell to twice its normal size and dissolve, essentially gluing the innards of your Everpoint pencils.  Lewis Cohen’s leads, on the other hand, were made of “solid Cumberland lead,” his stocks of which were probably replenished during his trip back to England.

Who was this charlatan?  The notice says “leads as made by me,” suggesting that they were being sold under the Cohen name.  Could my stash of Moses Cohen leads be the fakes Lewis complained of?  I don’t think so: my Moses Cohen leads pass the water test with flying colors.  Did Lewis Cohen’s trusty assistant John Pendleton run out of Everpoint lead during Cohen’s absence and improvise?  Maybe.  It’s also possible some other random, spurious huckster saw an opportunity.

By 1836, Lewis Cohen had moved to 122 Williams Street, where his “Stationer’s Warehouse” sold a variety of goods, including (at the very end of the announcement) “Everpoint Leads.”

The earliest New York Directory I could find on line was Longworth’s 1835 directory, which lists Lewis Cohen as a stationer, located at 122 William Street.  Moses Cohen is also listed as a “quillmanufacturer” on Second Avenue:

Were the Cohens related?  Two guys named “Cohen” in New York City . . . maybe, maybe distantly, maybe so distantly that you’d say no.  Did Lewis turn over production of his leads to Moses at some point?  Perhaps.  Another stationer in New York, William Wise, Jr., began advertising the sale of “Cohen’s fine pencil leads” at 79 Fulton Street in 1843, and he doesn’t say which Cohen:

What’s interesting about this is that even though this announcement ran from time to time for three years without a change of address, I can’t find any corroboration in the city directories that he was there. The 1842-1843 directory doesn’t list him; in fact, in that edition, Moses Cohen isn’t listed, either.   The 1845-46 directory lists a William G. Wise, but at 114 Front Street.

I think Wise was selling Moses’ leads.  In the 1846-7 directory, Lewis Cohen is still listed as a stationer selling “Everpoint Leads” on Williams Street, and Moses is still in “quills” at 27 First Avenue:

However, the 1847-1848 directory adds another address to Moses Cohen’s quill business: 79 Fulton Street, the same address at which William Wise Jr. was offering “Cohen’s fine pencil leads”:

Was there a relationship between L.I. Cohen, the stationer who manufactured Everpoint leads at 122 William Street, and Moses Cohen, the quillmaker who also marketed Everpoint leads at 79 Fulton Street?

It’s a small world, but not that small.  Yes, I think there was a relationship between them.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Something Just a Little Off

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 4; copies are available print on demand through Amazon here, and I offer an ebook version in pdf format at the Legendary Lead Company here.

If you don't want the book but you enjoy this article, please consider supporting the Blog project here.

I picked up these two separately, the more recent example at the Scott Antique Show in Columbus last month:

Both are early Dur-O-Lite utility pencils; one has a decorative cap covering the eraser, while the other has a plain exposed eraser.  Both have that great early Dur-O-Lite imprint:

Something about these two spoke to me . . . they just looked a little bit different from what I remembered, although I couldn’t put my finger on it.  For the couple bucks each cost me, I thought I’d bring them home and compare them to the examples I had.  I remembered having a black one, and a red one, and a blue one to boot:

Side by side, the differences became more obvious.  All the utility pencils I’ve found along these lines had straight eraser ferrules and not a decorative cap, which is a little unusual.  But the really interesting part is the clips:

The examples I had found previously all had a clip that looks almost inset into the barrel – Wahl Eversharp pencils had a very similar feature, patented by John Wahl himself, among others, as number 1,279,186 on September 17, 1918:

If these were made around 1931, that would have been right around the time the patents would have expired.

But the clips on these more recent finds are equally distinctive – a square bolt holds the clip to the barrel, while a tab at the top bends into a slot in the barrel to keep it from spinning around like the second hand on a watch.  The only other place I’ve seen a clip like this . . . is also on an Eversharp:

That’s one of the Eversharp “bumblebee” dollar pencils, also from about 1931.  The only difference is the use of a hexagonal clip rather than a square one.

Were the newly established Dur-O-Lite (founded in 1925 in an investors’ schism over allowing Bakelite to acquire a controlling interest in Autopoint) and Eversharp (the company that chased out Charles Keeran, who went on to become involved with Autopoint) cross-licensing?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Sum of the Parts

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 4; copies are available print on demand through Amazon here, and I offer an ebook version in pdf format at the Legendary Lead Company here.

If you don't want the book but you enjoy this article, please consider supporting the Blog project here.

A few months back, my friend Dan Linn listed this one in an online auction:

At the time, I was sorely in need of a clip to finish another oversized Autopoint, so I bid on this just for the clip.  It wasn’t until it arrived that I noticed what’s pretty obvious in this picture: the trim is nickel plated – what Autopoint referred to as “Silvonite” –  rather than green gold filled.

Come to think of it, I had never seen one in this configuration, and when I looked this up in the 1927 Autopoint catalog, my suspicions were confirmed:

“Regular Autopoints,” models 11 through 16, were offered in solid colored bakelite barrels and with either Silvonite, gold filled or 14k Green Gold Filled trim.  “DeLuxe Autopoints,” models 17 thorugh 19, came in the translucent barrels such as this “jade,” and were cataloged only in 14k Green Gold -filled trim.

Not that it particularly matters.  A weird variant which can be assembled from readily available parts is never worth more than the sum of those parts.  I kinda liked the look of the pencil I got from Dan, so I pulled a couple duplicate black Autopoints with Silvonite trim, and a couple translucent barrels I had lying around, and after a few minutes:

Uncatalogued?  Yes.  Rare?  No more so than the parts with which I put them together.  Nice?  I think so.