Monday, August 22, 2016

A Parker Zaner Bloser from the ZABCO Era

Zaner-Bloser is one of those names that exists only in extremes in the minds of collectors.  On the one hand, there’s the cheap wood or plastic pencils and dip pens that few take seriously – other than a certain collector living near Columbus, Ohio who views them with a certain degree of hometown pride . . . and who also happens to be writing this blog.

At the other end are the super-rare, super-desirable examples made for Zaner-Bloser by the Parker Pen Company, which command hundreds of dollars whenever they surface.  I’ve been able to scrape two of them together and into the fold:

The “true blue” (Parker called it “modernistic blue”) striped example is well documented, but the grey one, in something close to (but not identical to) the grey pearl plastic found on some contemporaneous Parker “Zephyrs,” is to my knowledge uncatalogued.  Both of these are nose-drive pencils, sporting Parker depression-style clips:

and on the back of the caps, a special imprint:

The True Blue example has an imprint which runs towards the clip; the grey one, however, is what some pencil guys call a “left handed imprint”: it runs from the clip end down, so when you hold the pencil in your left hand, the imprint isn’t upside down.  

A Parker/Zaner-Bloser pen and pencil set in lapis blue turned up at the Chicago Pen Show auction in May, and I valiantly gave chase.  Alas, I was vastly outgunned by pen collectors who saw the pencil, rather than the pen, as the “extra” they’d have to pay extra for.  After the bidding topped out at around $2,000.00, I knew I’d have to wait for another day to find the pencil in lapis.

Besides, I told myself, I’d already found a PZB that weekend . . .

This one appears to be earlier than any other example I’ve seen, with a patent 1916 Parker clip rather than the plain depression-style one:

The imprint, in addition, doesn’t match what’s found on Parker Zaner Bloser examples:

And, unlike all the other Zaner Blosers I’ve seen, this one isn’t a nose drive pencil - it’s rear drive, with a mechanism that only vaguely resembles anything Parker made:

The cap and barrel appear at first to be a mismatch, with a typical Parker jade used on the cap, and an interesting, swirly cream and green plastic on the lower barrel.

So let’s think about this new one for a few minutes.  Most of the people I showed it to in Chicago wondered whether this wasn’t a mismatch, but I am completely confident that this is a prototype Parker-made Zaner Bloser pencil.

1.  It came from Dan Zazove, Parker uber-expert and author of several books on the subject, who says it came directly from Parker.  A Zazove seal of approval alone is frequently enough to convince most skeptics, but I’ve got more.

2.  The Duofold imprint on the cap isn’t something you would ordinarily find.  Parker moved its imprints to the caps, but only on the examples made for Zaner Bloser, because the contours of the lower barrel apparently made it infeasible to try to stamp the lower barrels.

3.  This might look unfamiliar to students of Parker, but it is completely consistent with what you’d expect to find on an early Zaner Bloser.  Compare the new find with one I’ve written about here some time ago:

The big red pencil, which I wrote about here about four years ago (, is marked “ZABCO Cols. O./Pat. Appl. For”:

I’d concluded in that prior article that the “Pat. Applied For” stamped on the Zabco must apply to the Coke-bottle shape, which was the subject of a couple design patents.  Now I’m wondering, since it is a rear drive pencil just like the green example, whether it has the same slightly weird internal workings inside and a utility patent was applied for with respect to the works, but never issued.  I can’t get it apart to see what’s inside, so we’ll take that issue up another time.  The real reason I place these two alongside one another is to show you the similarities in their design:

Note how much more pronounced the curves are from later Parker Zaner-Blosers, and how the ends taper down much farther to a somewhat ill-fitting metal inner nose.  I haven’t seen these features anywhere else, which leads me to conclude that both are clearly Zaner Bloser products, and that this was likely Parker’s first collaborative effort with the company to produce the company’s line of writing instruments.

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