Friday, January 15, 2016

The "P" Word

I don’t like to use the word prototype often, and when I do, I preface it with the words “maybe” or “probably.”  It is just too difficult, without good provenance leading directly back to a company’s R&D department, to say for certain that a particular pencil was a piece put together by a company just to see if something would work.

And it’s too easy to slap that word on anything that appears a little bit out of the ordinary, right next to a whopper of a price tag.

When it comes to fountain pens, there’s always a concern that anything appearing to be a working model might have been assembled long after the fact, whether with good intentions (say, a repairman trying to make something work) or . . . well, we’ll just call them economic intentions.  We pencil collectors have an advantage in our relatively low-stakes game – people still don’t just take the time to fake a prototype pencil.

What do I look for in something before I will grudgingly call it a prototype?  For starters, it should be comprised wholly of parts that are consistent with the manufacturer to whom I would attribute it - you wouldn’t see a mix of Parker and Sheaffer parts on something, because that would indicate someone was messing around.  In my mind, a prototype wasn’t meant to be sold, so it might be a little rough around the edges; it was built just to see if something would work and how it would feel.  As a friend of mine once put it, the more it looks like it was made by a third grader, the more I like it.

Kind of like this one:

It takes a second to wrap your head around everything that’s going on with this one, but yes, this is in my opinion an Eversharp Coronet prototype.  Does it have provenance?  None that can be traced, but in the chaos of Eversharp’s demise and ultimate sale to Parker in 1957, there’s no surviving Eversharp archive to consult.  We’re stuck with an intrinsic examination of this one, and while it may lack provenance, let’s look at what it does have, starting with that tip:

A cutaway demonstrator tip.  I’ve never seen a cutaway demonstrator Coronet before, not that they aren’t probably out there, but such a rare feature on this pencil speaks strongly to me that this wasn’t just cobbled together by some hack.  Sure, if you’re curmudgeonly about it, you could say that with careful machining and a lot of patience, you could take an ordinary Coronet tip and mill out windows like this – but you can’t go down that road without invalidating every cutaway demonstrator writing instrument.

Next, let’s take a closer look at the top section:

The lower portion of the barrel is smooth, while the upper portion has an unusual pattern you don’t normally see.  Note also that the clip, a typical Coronet clip, in this case appears to be made of the same base material as the cap, with the same plating material laid over it.  And what’s that little hole next to the clip?  The answer is at the top of the barrel:

No, I won’t make any comment on the button . . . they are frequently found swapped out, and I wouldn’t bother to guess with what button this one was originally fitted.  No, the interesting part is what’s just below that button – the imprint on the upper barrel: “Wahl Pen / White Gold Filled Made in USA.”

That’s right - that little hole is a vent hole for a cap from a Wahl “Miniature Pen” - here they are as shown on page 38 of the 1924 catalog, from the PCA Library (

There’s our pen, in our checkerboard pattern, but in yellow gold fill; there aren’t any white gold filled ones shown in the catalog.  The PCA’s library does include full catalogs from 1921, 1922, 1924, 1925 and 1928; miniature pens first appear in 1924 and are not in the 1928 catalog.

The lower portion of the barrel appears to have been taken from an ordinary metal Eversharp pencil, with a name very tastefully engraved:

“S.J. Willis.”  Jack said he thought a S.J. Willis might have worked in Eversharp’s research and development department – I haven’t been able to confirm that independently, but if I ever do, that will be the clincher that this is the real deal.

Inside, there’s a few other last surprises:

The lower end of this mechanism has an unusual pair of bushings, one plastic and one brass.   If the mechanism was first adopted on the Doric line of repeating pencils, as I believe, this could indicate that Eversharp was looking for ways to adapt the same mechanism to the metal pencil line:

And the walls of the mechanism are not smooth . . .

I’m not sure what that’s all about.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Looks like a shop model to test out several different finishes or a gag gift award (that was used for many years).