Tuesday, December 8, 2015

BREAKING NEWS: What the Very First Ever Sharps Looked Like SOLVED!

A few weeks ago, an Englishwoman named Karen Price ordered the electronic version of my pencil book, The Catalogue of American Mechanical Pencils.  As we chatted via email, she indicated she was studying for a Master's Degree in the History of Design, and she was writing an essay about her grandmother's Eversharp.

Then, after she’d digested my book for a few days, she dropped a bombshell.  Oh, by the way, she said . . . she found a 1913 advertisement for Eversharp, “in case it is of interest to you.”

This advertisement was published in System: The Magazine of Business in December, 1913 – the month Charles Keeran first test-marketed his new Eversharp pencils at Wanamaker’s in New York, and eight months earlier than what I thought was the earliest advertisement, published in the Bloomington Pantagraph in July, 1914.

How this advertisement has eluded American researchers for so long is a mystery – the magazine was digitized by Google from a copy at the University of Michigan, yet try as I might, I can’t replicate the words in this article and get a hit.  I’m thinking whatever makes the English search engines work better than American ones is good enough for me to fly to England and camp out with a good wi-fi connection for a few days!

About a year and a half ago, I wrote an article about what the very first Eversharp pencils looked like (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2013/06/what-very-first-ever-sharps-looked-like.html).  In my years of collecting, I’ve turned up ten examples of the Heath clip Ever Sharp (two words) pencils, but all of these have Keeran’s rifled tip, which he patented in 1914:

As I noted in my earlier article, though, Charles Keeran’s original patent drawings show a wooden plug in the place of that tip:

This 1913 advertisement answers, once and for all, what those very first Eversharps Keeran marketed at Wanamakers in 1913 looked like.  At the nose, it looked almost like it was missing the tip - Keeran’s wooden plug apparently was cut flush with the end of the barrel for the sake of appearances:

And the rendering of the other end of the pencil answers, once and for all, who was making Eversharps from the very beginning:

That clearly shows Heath’s patent pending clip.  The first Eversharps were made by Heath.

You’ll notice I didn’t say “Ever Sharp” (two words) this time?

Keeran originally went with the one word version, then later – after he named his company “Eversharp Pencil Company,” changed it to two words, likely in the face of objections by the makers of another pencil called the “Eversharp” (see “Eversharp (the other one)” in the categories at right).


Michael Quitt said...

What a great find!!...and a great article...!!!

Jon Veley said...

Thanks, Mike - I wish I could take credit for finding it, but I will take credit for publicizing it!

Vance said...

Your inability to find the ad through Google Books in the US might, conceivably, have something to do with the fact that the U of Michigan was one of the libraries that created the HathiTrust, which Google treated in some ways differently from the other institutions that it used in its comprehensive scanning project. At the same time, Michigan also created its own orphan works project, and as noted in the Second Circuit's decision in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust:

"The University evidently became concerned that its screening
process was not adequately distinguishing between orphan works
(which were to be included in the OWP) and in‐print works (which
were not). As a result, before the OWP was brought online, but after
the complaint was filed in this case, the University indefinitely
suspended the project. No copyrighted work has been distributed or
displayed through the project and it remains suspended as of this

Possibly, the ad got tangled up in this somehow, but not sufficiently so that it was unavailable (from Google) outside the US?

Jon Veley said...

Good analysis, Vance. I wasn't aware of the UM/Hathitrust connection.

David Nishimura said...

Good background info there, Vance.
As I commented to Jon elsewhere, it could be that the ad was found by someone outside the USA precisely because of the restrictions imposed upon Google users abroad, who are therefore more likely to do their searching of historical texts through the Internet Archive and Hathitrust. Retracing my steps, I confirmed that this ad cannot be found through the expected Google keyword searches, but pops right up when the same keywords are used on the Hathitrust site.

David Nishimura said...

I wonder how many of the original Eversharps might have been upgraded later with the "rifled tip", after the lead became too loose over time as the original tip wore. The number of pencils sold before the introduction of the "rifled tip" would have been relatively small, and indeed tiny in comparison to the number of pencils manufactured in the years following, so this sort of warranty upgrade would likely have been done quietly and without publicity.

I'm going to take another look at the tips of my Heath-made Eversharps when I get a chance. Looking at my reference photos, there's one pencil in particular where the proportions around the tip are thicker, and the tip itself looks as if it might have been added or replaced.

Jon Veley said...

Good thoughts, David. Recall that retrofitting would have required both knocking out the wooden plug and replacing the threaded inner barrel, because the tip threads onto the end of the inner barrel, not onto the outer barrel or "skin." A retrofit and a leftover skin fitted with the new inner barrel and tip would appear identical.