Friday, January 29, 2016

The Best Article I've Written

Sheaffer Sharp Point pencils were initially introduced in mid-1917.   This picture shows the four incarnations:

The differences between these early incarnations are at the top end:

The earliest ones, like the one at the top, have a narrow clip mounting.   They also have an imprint done in the same spikey, Winchester-inspired lettering found on Eversharp pencils of the same vintage:

The pencil itself was the subject of a patent application filed by Walter Sheaffer on July 12, 1917, and awarded on November 5, 1918 as number 1,284,156:

The next change was a modification of the clip, giving it “ears” on the sides for greater stability.  I call these “bowler clips” because they resemble the hats.  The clip is shown in Walter Sheaffer’s design patent 59,035, applied for on April 10, 1919 and awarded on September 13, 1921:

Although the design patent also shows the flared bell cap, the clip obviously came first, – the bell cap was also the subject of a utility patent Sheaffer applied for a month later, on May 5, 1919; it was awarded as patent number 1,554,604 on September 22, 1925:

Finally, Sheaffer abandoned the bowler clip in favor of the familiar ball clip, which was used well into the 1920s.  Sheaffer applied for the patent for the clip on November 23, 1921, and it was issued as number 1,531,419 on March 31, 1925:

But here’s the catch:

Walter Sheaffer didn’t invent the Sheaffer Sharp Point.   And thanks to a find at the 2015 Philadelphia Pen Show, I can tell you who did.

Here’s that find, shown next to the earliest Sheaffer Sharp Point shown in the first picture:

And if the outward appearance isn’t enough to convince you, here are the two shown disassembled, side by side:

The non-Sheaffer example is not marked patented, nor patent pending, nor patent applied for . . . and I believe it was made by the man who really invented the Sheaffer Sharp Point.  The information imprinted on the pencil struck a deep chord with me, because I was familiar with the brand, but I never dreamed there was a connection between that brand and Sheaffer.

So I started researching.  And once I started pulling on that particular thread, an entire sweater began to unravel, and I found myself ankle deep in a story I’d never heard before.  I decided to take a break from the blog so I could delve into it a little bit more, posting a note here on March 26 that I’d be back soon (

By the time I was done, the article was more than 25 pages long and proves . . . beyond any reasonable doubt, I believe . . . that Walter Sheaffer was actively pursuing the Boston Fountain Pen Company, and his previously undocumented efforts to purchase the company forced Wahl’s hand, causing Wahl to spend the equivalent of more than a million in today’s dollars to purchase the company when it only wanted to spend half that much.

Wahl and Sheaffer scuffled over the Boston purchase at the last minute, and the evidence shows that a compromise was reached: Wahl was permitted to go forward with the purchase of Boston, provided that Wahl used Sheaffer’s lever filler design rather than the one Boston had patented and paid a license fee for every pen sold.

That’s just part one of the story, and it appeared in this issue of The Pennant:

The Pennant is the publication of the Pen Collectors of America, so if you are a member, you already have your copy.  If you aren’t a member yet, I’ve got extra copies – and I’ll gladly give you one if you join (you’ll also have access to the online version).  To join the PCA, visit

I’ve received several emails about the article already.  My favorite was from my curmudgeonly friend Roger Wooten, a longtime scholar of Boston and early Wahl (and the owner of the pens pictured in the article):   “It doesn’t suck,” he said.  That’s about as good as it gets!

Part two of the story will appear in the next issue, and it will present the evidence that there was a second part to the compromise between Wahl, Boston and Sheaffer . . . or at least between Boston and Sheaffer, since it didn’t appear Wahl realized what was happening: Sheaffer got an existing pencil design out of the deal.

Whose design was it?  You’ll need to read the next issue to see.

PS: If you’ve read part one of the story, part two will make much more sense.

The next issue is going into production right now.  Speaking of which, since I’m the editor I’m going to need to take a break for a few weeks while I pull things together.  When I come back, I’ll have plenty more pencils and stories for you!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sleeping at the Switch

Sometimes when I get wrapped up in writing articles here, I forget to check the online auctions for things that I’m actively looking for – things like an example made by John Hague, the early manufacturer who was a contemporary of Thomas Addison in New York.  The closest I had managed to come was a trade token for the maker.  Hague took out two patents: one, number 736, was issued on August 1, 1839, just a couple months after Thomas Addison received his:

Hague’s other patent was issued August 16, 1833, prior to the date the patent office began numbering patents – that one unfortunately, did not survive the 1836 fire at the patent office.

So it was that while I was busily writing articles in November, my friend Joe Nemecek was busily combing through the online auctions, and he found one.  Here it is, closed and open to show the unusual slider:

I photographed this one at the Philadelphia Show this year, and while the lighting was just terrible, I did manage to get some decent shots:

The nose of the pencil indicates that this is John Hague’s later design, since it bears the August 16, 1839 patent date:

Oh well, there’s three positives to this story: first, at least a friend of mine got it so I could take some pictures.  Second, I was able to get some pretty nice stories written.

But third and most importantly, now that Joe’s got one I won’t have to bid against him for the next one that comes along!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Coronetesque," Not "Skylinesque"

At the Philadelphia Show this year, I was culling through Rick Krantz’ junk box when I noticed this one:

Since I’d just written a series of articles about the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company, maybe I was a little more in tune to Fabers when I stumbled across this rear-drive pencil marked “E.Faber” on the clip.   I didn’t look at it too closely at the time - I just noticed the name and tossed it into the pile of things I wanted to take home with me.

But now that I’m looking at this more closely, I’ve noticed something.  That plastic, with those purple lines in the green marbled plastic, is pretty distinctive.  In fact, there’s only one other place I’ve ever seen it:

These are Eversharp Bantams from the 1930s.  With a dearth of catalog information during the time period, it’s difficult to say exactly when these were made – we know that some were made in 1933, because of the specially marked “Century of Progress” bands on some made as souvenirs for the Chicago Worlds’ Fair that year.  When they were phased out isn’t clear, but it would certainly have been before the Skyline was introduced in 1940.  The color is an exact match:

This has me circling back around to those “Skylinesque” Faber pencils, which have Eversharp’s repeating mechanisms inside (

And also has me thinking more about the ballpoint story (, in which I had noted that with everything I had learned about Eberhard Faber, I couldn’t figure out how the company would have gotten dragged into the ballpoint fiasco in 1945.

This pencil might provide the answer.  Maybe Eversharp and Eberhard Faber didn’t “team up” for the ballpoint project.  Maybe I should have referred to those Faber repeating pencils as “Coronetesque” instead of “Skylinesque,” since the Eversharp Coronet pencils of the mid- to late 1930s also used the same mechanism.  Maybe the association of Eversharp and Eberhard Faber in 1945 isn’t so random after all:

Maybe the two companies had been working together for ten years by the time the ballpoint idea came along.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Panda Pencil Company

On a Thursday afternoon in November, 2013, I received an email from a woman saying that her family’s business, the Panda Pencil Company, was closing after 70 years, and she wanted to know if I was interested in buying “some lead.”

Panda, she said, had manufactured pencil lead for most of the American mechanical pencil industry from the 1940s through the 1990s.  The equipment was sold for scrap years ago, she said, and now that the building had been sold, it was time to get everything else out before the keys were handed over.  Everything else included several million sticks of remaining lead.

We didn’t have long if we were to do something – the keys were being handed over the following Monday.   Her father simply hadn’t gotten around to doing anything about it yet, and with just a couple days before the new owners were to take possession of the building, she decided to take charge of the situation and see if she could find someone who might be interested in old mechanical pencils and the leads that make them work.

You can’t swing a dead cat on the Internet without hitting me.

Fortunately, Panda’s building was in Trenton, Ohio, near Cincinnati and just a couple hours’ drive from home, so that Saturday Janet and I made a road trip to see what was down there.  We were looking for 600 Pierson Road, Trenton, Ohio, and while finding Pierson Road was easy, we must have driven past the unmarked building three times before deciding by process of elimination that this must be the place:

Inside, we met Panda’s president, Richard Esposito, and the former plant manager, Bill Brown.  The building is much bigger inside than it looks, and it pained me to think of the wonderful, irreplaceable machinery that once occupied the space and turned out products that simply aren’t being made anymore.   Panda Pencil, Richard explained, manufactured lead using a traditional clay and graphite process, mixed in different proportions to make the different hardnesses of lead.

When skinnier leads became popular, this formulation doesn’t work – clay/graphite leads in thicknesses smaller than .9 millimeters (.036 inches) are generally too fragile.  As the Japanese began importing thinner polymer-based leads, Panda experimented with the process and found that the cost to retool for the polymer manufacturing process was simply too great.  After 1992, Panda quit producing mechanical pencil leads and manufactured wood pencils exclusively, mostly for the advertising market.

He then dropped a bombshell: Panda made the leads that were being sold by several companies, including Autopoint, Dur-O-Lite, Eberhard Faber and . . . Eversharp.  In the 1940s, Panda was quietly purchased by Dur-O-Lite and run as a subsidiary.  I say “quietly” because Dur-O-Lite wanted more than just ownership of its supplier – it wanted to continue the business of supplying its competitors.  And it did.

Richard was the man who told me about Milton Reynolds’ visit to Mrs. Faber in a New York hospital sometime in 1945.  Eberhard Faber was one of Panda’s biggest customers, and the timing of the Eberhard Faber story dovetails perfectly with Panda’s.  Of the big four customers Panda supplied, Eversharp was purchased by Parker in 1957, and while Panda supplied lead to Parker for a short time afterwards, in the end it couldn’t keep Parker’s business.  Autopoint went into serious decline and, after the company started producing UTL leads and went through several changes in ownership, the company started using imported polymer leads, so that business also went by the wayside (the company, however, remains very much alive -- although it still sells imported polymer leads under its brand name).  Eberhard Faber was sold to Faber-Castell in 1989.  Dur-O-Lite, Panda’s owner, ceased manufacturing in 1993.

Twenty years later, Panda finally called it quits, with millions of sticks of lead in remaining inventory on hand:

There wasn’t time to sort through it all, so I bought everything.  Heck, I thought to myself, I could store this stuff and maybe someday, I’ll open a little lead business on the side to supply hobbyists with the stuff they need to fuel their pencils – stuff that is getting harder and harder to find.  In the short time since, I’ve noticed that about half of the people who approach “the pencil guy” at shows are asking whether I have any lead – and most of the folks who are looking for pencils want to know if they buy one, whether they will have lead enough to continue using it.

So, what I initially thought might be fun to putter around doing in retirement has turned into something I’m puttering around with when I’m not doing my day job: I’ve started the “Legendary Lead Company.”

At the Ohio Show in November, I had seven varieties of lead on hand; for the Philadelphia Show, I expanded the selection to ten.  All but one of the varieties are .046 inch (1.1 millimeter) diameter leads, with the last being a larger .055 inch (1.4 millimeter) lead.  They are:

Piledriver (4H)
Hard Days’ Write (H)
Hubba Hubba (HB)
Existential (2B)
Sun Don’t Shine (4B)
Vix Stix (.055 inch)
Bluenose (Blue)
Damn Scarlet (Red)
Easy Bein’ Green (Green)
Lemon Lead (Yellow)

Leads are packaged by the dozen in plastic vials with screw caps.   All of the .046 inch varieties are $3 per tube, plus shipping; the .055 Vix Stix are $5 per tube.

Am I simply repackaging lead manufactured by someone else?  Yes -- but just like Autopoint, Dur-O-Lite, Eversharp and Eberhard Faber were doing.  Besides, there's a lot of things I like about this stuff:  it is without question made in the USA, and it is authentic lead for vintage pencils.  It was packaged and kept such that it is in great condition -- more than can be said for a tube of vintage lead you find at a flea market.  One other thing:  the lead in vintage containers may or may not be what was originally packaged in that tube.  This stuff is straight from the manufacturer, still in sealed shipping containers.  I believe this to be the largest and most reliable source of vintage lead in existence today.

I’m still going through a bewildering array of colors and sizes, and many, many more varieties will be available in coming months.  By the DC show, I’ll have a line of .036 inch (.9 millimeter) leads on hand, for example, and I’ve already found .120 inch lead for the Wahl “120" pencils.

Note:  the Legendary Lead Company has its own website, with more than 80 different varieties of lead in stock today.  The company's website is

Monday, January 25, 2016

Of Potatoes and Dried Milk

I’ve talked about these quite a bit lately – the bolt on clips and round upper ferrules were featured in an article I titled “Rarer than Rarer (than Rare)” ( because they are so hard to find:

These two are really special: the translucent red was a nice surprise in one of those pigs-in-a-poke lots I bought online, and the clear yellow was a nice complement to the swirled white and yellow one I had at home.  My friend Matt McColm turned the yellow one up for me at an antique store in Colorado.  He texted me a picture and asked if the price wasn’t a bit steep.  Obviously I didn’t think so, and not just because of the pencil.  Most of the time, when these come with an original box, there’s a nice Autopoint sash inside the lid:


This one clearly has the original box, but this one is a little different:

The box, pencil and presentation card inside are all marked with the “Douthitt Corporation” and the company’s namesake, F.H. Douthitt:

Originally, I planned this article for a snowy Saturday article, and this story was going to have a quick, happy ending to tell you that the Douthitt Corporation of Detroit Michigan is still in business today, celebrating it’s in its 96th year.  To wrap things up with a bow, I emailed the company to ask about F.H. Douthitt.

Five minutes later, I received a terse, one sentence reply: that’s the wrong Douthitt.  At first, the shortness of the reply struck me as rude, but after researching this a little more, I get it.

At least, when it comes to a distinctive name such as Douthitt, Google Books makes it easy to find who our F.H. Douthitt was.  According to a patent he applied for in 1927, his full name was Frank Howard Douthitt, and he was from Chicago, not Detroit – and Chicago is where Autopoint Products Company was located.   In 1921, Douthitt was vice president of The Potato Magazine Company, which published . . . you guessed it . . . The Potato Magazine:

An advertisement in the September, 1921 issue included an advertisement for the National Potato Machinery Company, and a testimonial letter addressed to Douthitt, suggesting that he was working more than one job in the potato industry.  The man loved his spuds:

The February, 1921 issue included a statement of ownership for the magazine, and identified his address as Room 615, City Hall Square Building, Chicago:

In 1922, Douthitt emerges as “head of” the Douthitt Engineering Company, “manufacturers of milk drying plants and equipment,” in the Butter, Egg and Cheese Journal:

Douthitt appears to have forever abandoned his beloved spuds, and he dedicated the remainder of his career to spreading the gospel of the advantages of powdered milk across the country.  In 1925, he turns up in Oregon as a “Los Angeles promoter of the dry milk industry”:

In 1930, Douthitt visits Lamesa, Texas, where he was supervising the construction of a $200,000.00 dried milk factory:

The 1930 census shows an F.H. Douthitt as a boarder in Pennsylvania, working as a salesman in the creamery industry – the guy was really getting around.  However, as the Great Depression wore on, demand for the construction of dried milk factories inevitably waned, and in 1932, The Douthitt Engineering Company filed for bankruptcy:

By 1937, a new company called the Douthitt Corporation emerges in news reports, with the publication of a very specialized history of dried milk:

I love this story for several reasons.  First, how random is it that I’m reading publications like “The Potato Magazine” and “Butter, Cheese & Egg Journal”?

Second, and germane to the topic of this blog, we now know that my yellow pencil was made after the bankruptcy of the Douthitt Engineering Company in 1932.

Finally, and most importantly, I understand the frustration of my friends in Detroit, who for the last eighty years have been receiving calls, mail and emails – including mine – looking for a man named Frank, the former potato man with a passion for dried milk, who appropriated their company name!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Captain Obvious

I recently ran an article concerning a few pen and pencil sets that came my way at the Ohio Show, and I left one of them out – this one came from a different source, and someone’s going to have to remind me who.  While it didn’t come with a box, it did come with an instruction sheet.  Go figure.

I’ve always liked the imprints on these, and this was the first time I’d run across a set priced reasonably enough to jump:

“The Collegian Pen Company / 333-339 Hudson Street / New York City.”

For those who wonder why I’m being Captain Obvious here, always typing in things which are easy to read in the pictures, such as the name and address of the Collegian Pen Company, there’s a reason for that.  If I don’t type in the text, the internet search engines won’t pick up details like “333-339 Hudson Street” and people who are searching for information about that address won’t catch this article.

People like Marc Shiman, who has been researching New York pen companies for some time for a book he’s working on.  Of course, Marc already knew all about 333-339 Hudson Street:  when I showed him these pictures he instantly recognized the address as one occupied by The New Diamond Point Pen Company.

Of course, I thought . . . that’s why the Collegian looks so much like the Diamond Point . . .

All together now . . . thanks again, Captain Obvious.   I did poke around a little bit for independent confirmation of Diamond Point’s address, and I did find it, in a 1932 directory:

And I found one other thing which may not be as obvious.  Here’s a part of an advertisement from Kennedy’s, a drug store in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, which ran in 1925:

Hmmm. . . granted, store advertisements often lumped unrelated pens together in an advertisements, and there’s other ads lumping Collegians in with LeBoeufs – and we know that isn’t right.  But this one is pretty tight, and suggests that there’s one manufacturer guaranteeing all three of these brands.  And flattop pens and pencil marked “Ambassador” as well as “Banker” do look a lot like Diamond Points, too . . . did Diamond Point make all three of these?

At least that isn’t so obvious.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Additional Utility

I was surprised when I sat down to write about this one that I’ve only posted two articles here about Carter’s pencils – the most recent being almost three and a half years ago.  The first, almost four years ago, was about an interesting Carter’s utility pencil in light blue (, shown here alongside today’s pencil du jour:

Note that the top is slightly different, and this one is an advertising pencil for Heald Machine Co.  - lowbrow for a Carter’s, but that’s what makes this one interesting.   Or, should I say, “distinctive”:

So distinctive, in fact, that it was also accompanied by the instruction sheet:

With, on the other side, some nice artwork concerning the company’s pens: