Wednesday, December 16, 2015


It’s hard now not to add the word “duh” to the following sentence: “This pencil, marked Spencerian, was made by Conklin.”

That’s the picture from page 150 of The Catalogue, written at a time when I thought “Spencerian” was a reference to the handwriting method in the generic sense, rather than to the Spencerian Pen Company, although I did note there was a “Spencerian Pen Company” in New York.  Mea culpa . . . all I can say is that if people waited until they knew everything to write a book, nobody would ever write a book.

Four years later, I’ve read Alfonso Mur’s book, The Conklin Legacy, and I’ve taken a few minutes to pose my Spencerian next to two of the Conklin Symetrik pencils pictured on page 34 of The Catalogue:

Double duh, huh? Notice that the celluloid on the Conklins is a solid piece of plastic which has been drilled, while the Spencerian shows those barbershop-pole seams that are a dead giveaway that the celluloid has been wrapped around a mandrel.  As for the clip, it matches pens from The Spencerian Pen Company’s 250 series, with “Accountants’ Extra Fine Points” according to the brochure published by Alfonso in his book.

But what about Spencerian’s 500 series, the I-N-K-S-E-E model?  Was there a matching “L-E-A-D-S-E-E” pencil for it?  If there is, I haven’t run across one yet.  But I have seen that clip before:

The upper two examples are marked “L.T. Waterbury,” and I posted an article a few months ago with everything I could find on the company . . . suggesting, at the end, that I suspected the L.T. Waterbury Co. was another of Joseph Starr’s shell operations (

Now it’s your turn to say “duh.”  The Starr Pen Company acquired what was left of Conklin in 1941 as the company began its downward spiral into oblivion.  With the same clip turning up on Spencerians and Waterburys, Since Waterbury pens were advertised in 1938 and defunct by 1941, when Starr acquired Conklin, I’m just going to put this out there right now as a hypothesis:

L.T. Waterbury’s pens and pencils, as bad as they were, were made by Conklin.  We can’t blame this one on Joseph Starr.

And there’s another little bit of bad news for those who think the Conklin Pen Company walked on water until that nasty Joe Starr ruined things.  Did you notice the name on the third pencil?

Pencils, pens and combos marked “Packard” are among the ugliest and worst quality writing instruments ever made.  On page 110 of The Catalogue, I said only “$3-5" because if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

But this one example has that same Spencerian-styled clip, although the detail on it isn’t quite as pronounced as it is on the Waterburys.  That raises the question: when were the Packard pens and pencils made?

Well folks, the Packard Pen Company of St. Paul, Minnesota was advertising a sackless, vacuum-filled fountain pen in 1936, when the Packard was already "famous," at the same time Conklin was making a very similar pen for The Spencerian Pen Company.

So I’m going to put something else out there, because this is where all the evidence is pointing.  The Starr Pen Company was founded in 1935, the same year Conklin apparently started making Spencerian pens.  Collectors’ lore is that Conklin was sold to a Chicago syndicate in 1938, after which quality began to slip a little, then sold again to Starr Pen Company in 1941, which immediately tarnished the once-proud company’s reputation by discontinuing the last quality products Conklin Toledo made and starting the production of . . . for lack of a better word . . . crap.

The evidence strongly suggests that Conklin didn’t start making crap in 1941 when Starr acquired it – Conklin continued making the same crap it had been making since 1935 for a number of different companies, including at least L.T. Waterbury and Packard.

And once those first two dominoes fall, there’s dozens of other third-tier, gawd-awful names lined up right behind these two.   I think we will find in the years to come that while Conklin fought valiantly to survive the Great Depression making quality writing instruments, it was quietly doing whatever it could to stave off its inevitable demise.  I believe Conklin may have manufactured many if not most of the simply awful third-tier brands in the years leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War.  If that’s true, it would make sense that the company did so very quietly, since having such lousy products associated with Conklin would damage the company’s reputation.

Oooh.  That pains me as much to say as it pains you to hear.


David Nishimura said...

I'm not convinced.
I think you are putting too much weight on one single common feature, the forked clip top. The forked-top Conklin-made clips have a markedly different design from those clips found on Packards etc. The Conklin clips have ball ends, and are well-formed from fairly thin and springy material, whereas the Packard family clips are heavier in both construction and styling.

Another consideration is the sheer quantity of the surviving Packard family pens and pencils. If Conklin made them, this work would have dwarfed their output of quality pens and pencils, own-brand and subbrands combined. And with that much work, the company likely would not have gone under. A little-known bit of evidence is the report by Pilot's agents, who made a tour of American penmakers in the later 1930s posing as visiting Japanese students for industrial espionage. They were shocked that such a famous name had been reduced to something akin to a garage workshop operation -- not consistent with a company slamming out zillions of writing instruments, even crappy ones.

Jon Veley said...

I would like to compare a Spencerian forked clip to these firsthand - I haven't run across a pencil, so all I have to go on is the picture.

I note that Design patent 93,444 was issued for the feather clip and assigned to Spencerian. Even without a design patent, putting the same distinctively shaped clip could support an FTC finding of unfair competition based on a "likelihood of confusion" -- a fact of which Conklin was well aware after the FTC slammed the Skidmores for copying the look of its Crescent fillers and Enduras (see

Comparing the 1936 Packard ad with the 1935 Spencerian add for the I-N-K-S-E-E, there's a lot of similarities, and finding that Spencerianesque clip on a Packard is too much to be a coincidence. Yes, it's possible that there was a copycat out there who was making pens that looked just like Conklin-made Spencerians; I think it's just as possible that Conklin made these, too.

On the later '30s visit from the Japanese students, I'd like to see exactly when and where that was made. This article is about Conklin activities pre-1938, when the Conklin syndicate purchased Conklin, and the Japanese story seems consistent with Alfonso's description of the company's state in 1939.