Friday, January 22, 2016

A Few More Hollands Along the Way

A few months ago I was visiting with my friend Jack Leone, and he let me photograph his John Holland pencils:

These are all made by the Rex Manufacturing Company in the late 1920s (I’ve written several articles about these oversized pencils with four patent dates on them – the “four horsemen” patents, I call them.  See for a rundown on the patent history).

John Holland was unique among Rex’s customers in two respects.  First, you’ll note that a few of Jack’s pencils have colored “beanies” mounted on the tops:

From what I can tell, these were purely decorative.  Note the different patent dates on the caps of these examples.  Holland was also different in its choice of colors: white and robins’ egg blue are found, to my knowledge, only on Rex pencils marked John Holland.

They also used an interesting pinkish, salmony color on their ringtops - these are also Jack’s:

These are on the early end of the “four horsemen” era, marked patent applied for but exhibiting characteristics of Charles Patton’s design patented on August 4, 1925.

Writing about the Franklin this week – another brand in the Rex Manufacturing Company, and an early member of the fraternity, to boot – reminded me to circle back around to subject of John Holland, because I’ve picked up a couple of things which add to this story:

The robins’ egg blue one turned up at the Michigan Show in October, and the moment I saw that color, I knew what it was:

John Holland.  Note how similar it is to the Franklin, with the same ring top and that distinctive rib on the nose cone:

And then there’s that all-metal pencil, behind which is a funny story.  I was at the Springfield Extravaganza last summer - it’s a huge production, half antique show and half flea market, that takes Janet and I two days to properly tour.  I saw this one in a glass case among a bunch of costume jewelry and because you can’t tell much about pencils like these without examining them up close, and when I did I knew I’d need to have it:

It’s an even earlier, all-metal Rex-made John Holland.  It also had an interesting and very deliberate “X” on the barrel, the reasons for which I haven’t a clue:

There was a problem, though: although there was no price tag, and this was the only pencil this guy had amongst all that junk, when I asked him how much he wanted for it he said, without hesitation, forty-five bucks.

Now if I were at a pen show, and a knowledgeable pencil collector had a price tag of $45 on this one, because he and I both knew this might be the earliest Rex-made John Holland pencil yet to surface, I wouldn’t have batted an eye about paying it.

But at a flea market where I’m used to paying a couple bucks, maybe ten at most?  From a guy who doesn’t know beans about what this is, other than that it’s something someone might think is valuable enough to help him fill up his gas tank for the ride home?  The nerve of some people!

So at first, I didn’t buy it.  I stewed about the injustice of it all.  I though about that pencil for the rest of the day . . . and I stewed about it overnight . . .

And the next morning, I picked my way through hundreds of dealer tables back to that guy.  It was still forty five dollars.  There wasn’t an ounce of give in this guy.

I paid it.

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