Thursday, January 21, 2016

Flash in a Pan

Note: this is the third article in a three-part series.  The link to the first part of this series is at

There were three players in the Shur-Rite story: the Fabert Instrument Company, to whom Julius Swanberg’s patents were assigned; the Sandfelder Corporation, which was the producer of the pencils; and of course, the Shur-Rite Pencil Company.    The earliest reference I could find to any of these entities is in June, 1921, which doesn’t make much sense: Shur-Rites marked “patent applied for” or with the application date of November 10, 1919 are as common as those marked with the actual patent date of June 14, 1921, so we know these pencils were made before then.

Another thing that doesn’t make sense is that this first reference suggests that the company was already established:

In June, 1921, the same month in which S.N. Sandfelder was back in his office, the earliest advertisement I could find for the Shur-Rite was published in The Allen Monthly:

The American Stationer reported on the introduction of the “new” Shur-Rite Junior on July 2, 1921, which also doesn’t make sense: Junior models are also found marked patent applied for:

A notice in the September 28, 1921 issue of The Jewelers’ Circular provides us with a couple more names associated with the Shur-Rite Pencil Company: George A. Armstrong, Milton Sandfelder, Harry Berblinger, Sidney L. Bauman and J. Frank Kissick:

All indications from this notice are that business was going gangbusters for the new company - on October 19, 1921, Shur-Rite had a full-page advertisement in The Jewelers’ Circular:

That same month, Armstrong, Berblinger and Kissick set off to divide and conquer across the country:

Shur-Rite’s advertising really kicked into high gear in 1922, with advertisements in Good Hardware, Allen Monthly and, most notably, in several advertisements in The Saturday Evening Post:

Also in 1922, the Bostwick-Braun Company of Toledo included in its catalog the full line of Shur-Rite pencils, showing just how extensive the company’s offerings became in such a short time:

Then, just as things were taking off, the wheels came off the proverbial bus.  By the end of 1922, surplus Shur-Rites are showing up in discount advertisements.  The Order of Railroad Telegraphers acquired a large surplus order, had them fitted with ORT logos, and advertised them for sale to members in The Railroad Telegrapher throughout 1922:

On January 3, 1923, The Jewelers’ Circular referred to Kissick and Berblinger as “former representatives of the Sandfelder Corp.”

The epitaph for Shur-Rite appears to have been its legal victory of Salz Brothers.  When Salz attempted to register “Salrite” as a trademark, Shur-Rite successfully objected – one of the few times Salz (which had a reputation for copying others) was called out for deliberately trying to profit from someone else’s good name:

And then . . . without a trace . . . the company vanishes.

Almost.  Feeling a little ripped off yet that I haven’t explained those Shur-Rite lead tubes with “Franklin Automatic Pencil” lead labels glued over them?

I think I have found the answer.  A prominent Boston Stationer, Thorp & Martin, had only recently moved to Franklin Street in Boston when this article about the firm was published in late 1920:

“By this move to Franklin Street, the Thorp & Martin came into what might be termed a “stationers’ row” of Boston, with [Samuel] Ward’s nearly opposite and the Fairbanks Company at the head of the thoroughfare,” this writeup concludes.   Later reports proudly refer to the company as “Thorp & Martin of Franklin Street,” as if the location made them a real contender in the stationers’ world – such as this one from June, 1921, announcing among other things, that the company “had secured control of the entire sale in New England of the Shur-Rite pencil”:

The following month, Walden’s Stationer reported that the company was the “exclusive distributors” of the Shur-Rite.  I believe this was intended to mean in New England only, as advertisements with addresses including other sales offices were published later:

Could Thorp & Martin have glued “Franklin Automatic Pencil” labels over leftover stock of  Shur-Rite leads after the Shur-Rite Pencil Co. disappeared?  Did Thorp & Martin decide to develop their own house brand of pencils, which they chose to name the “Franklin” in honor of their new, prestigious location on Boston’s “stationers’ row?”  I believe they did, and if the evidence presented so far doesn’t convince you, here’s another detail that might help.  It comes from the notice published concerning the death of Thorp & Martin’s president, Richard D. Knight, from the April 15, 1922 edition of The American Stationer:

Mr. Knight, who lived in Providence, Rhode Island, was president of a printing firm, Livermore & Knight, of Providence, in addition to serving as president of Thorp & Martin.  Livermore & Knight’s operations were located at 42 Pine Street, in Providence’s “jewelry district,” a two-minute drive from 14 Imperial Place, Providence:

In 1922, though, it wasn’t called “Imperial Place.”  The street was renamed when city leaders decided that “Blount Street” wasn’t an appropriate name for a street on which a prominent knife manufacturer was located (I guess it sounded too much like “blunt”).  14 Blount Street in Providence was the location of another manufacturer, the one which made the “Franklin” – the Rex Manufacturing Company.  

1 comment:

Michael Daigle said...

Wow- Interesting stuff. Thank you , Finally got to read this today. O.K. back to work w/ me :-)