Friday, September 30, 2016

Maroon My Butt!

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 4; copies are available print on demand through Amazon here, and I offer an ebook version in pdf format at the Legendary Lead Company here.

If you don't want the book but you enjoy this article, please consider supporting the Blog project here.

A few months ago an Osborne salesman’s case showed up in an online auction, packed with a few Osborne salesman’s samples – nothing too unusual, just interesting for archival purposes and I thought the folder might be a nice place to group together all my other Osborne samples.  There was also a Sheaffer pen included in the lot (but not shown in the pictures) which proved worthy of the price for the whole kit and kaboodle, but what caught my eye was an oversized Autopoint that appeared to be . . . purple:

After I won the auction online, I posted the seller’s picture in a discussion group and posed the question whether this was in fact purple and if so, whether it was unusual.  When one person commented that it might just appear so because of a color imbalance (noting the almost glow-in-the-dark red pencils at the right in this picture), I used my rudimentary skills in post-production photography to crank the reds all the way down, and . . .

Still purple.   When it arrived I snapped a quick cell phone picture and posted it in that same discussion group, to show that the color did appear to be purple – or maybe we should call it plum, with deference to the Parker 51's similarly elusive and difficult-to-spot hue.  After one commenter said he thought it was just “plain old maroon,” I had to disagree.  I set a maroon example next to it and shot this picture:

It clearly isn’t maroon, and since the nose and barrel are both made of the same material – bakelite – it can’t be material fading, either.  No, call it Ishmael but don’t call it maroon.

What is interesting about these Autopoints is how they are truly transitional pieces, with one foot in the past and one hinting at what is to come.  Pencils which came before had a metal tip to match the metal crown:

(And by the way, at the DC show I picked up one of these earlier models in what appears to be that same purplish color, shown here next to another maroon example:)

While the later ones had a plastic cap to match the bakelite nose:

Bob Bolin has studied Autopoints for years, and his website contains catalogs and a wealth of other information concerning the brand (Bolin is also responsible for publicizing Charles Keeran’s 1928 letter to Wahl’s directors detailing his version of the early history of Eversharp, for which historians will forever be in his debt).  About these transitional models, Bolin says it is the “most rare oversize pencil known to exist” in the Autopoint line.  In support of this statement, he refers to 1931 advertisements in Printers’ Ink which indicate that the bakelite tip replaced the metal one in March, 1931 (ad forwarded by Bob):

While the first advertisement showing the round plastic cap appeared in the September, 1931 edition (also forwarded to me by Bob):

While the date these improvements were introduced is fairly definite, both models remained in production for some time.  Bob also forwarded to me a brochure, which he dates to 1936, in which both the plastic capped version was offered, as model 48:

And the metal capped version is also offered, as model 46:

The available colors for both models according to this brochure were maroon, green, red, blue, yellow or black, according to this brochure.  Maybe there were other colors offered in other years, since several variants of the Model 48 have been shown here which don’t match any of those colors.  Maybe what now looks purple was once more “blue.”

One thing which is fairly certain is that once Autopoint introduced its triangle-faceted “diamond cut” caps, the company discontinued both earlier variations of the Model 46 and Model 48.  Autopoint regularly advertised in The Rotarian each month; issues through the September, 1937 issue show the round caps, while beginning with the October 1937 issue, advertisements show the new “diamond cut” cap.  Here’s the ad from the November 1937 issue:

Note that the round upper ferrule and bolt-on clip, residual reminders of the Model 46 and 48, remain present in this picture.  These features remain in Autopoint advertisements found in The Rotarian, which ran each month like clockwork until May, 1940.  In June, the Autopoint advertisement didn’t show a picture of a pencil, and advertisements for the company were conspicuously absent from the July and August issues, but in the September, 1940 issue, the newly designed Model 48G is introduced:

That pinpoints the end of the bolted clips (on this series, anyway . . . they remained in use on the company’s double-ended pencils for much longer) to sometime between May and September, 1940.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

My Plain Old Stainless Steel Skyline

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 4; copies are available print on demand through Amazon here, and I offer an ebook version in pdf format at the Legendary Lead Company here.

If you don't want the book but you enjoy this article, please consider supporting the Blog project here.

In the Eversharp Skyline series, the stainless steel-trimmed examples command higher prices than even the Command Performance solid gold ones.  It’s one of those rare instances in which the collector value of a non-precious variant eclipses the intrinsic value of its precious metal cousin:

I’ve posted about these once before, at  This example is a little bit cleaner, picked out of a lot of things that sold for a song solely because no one was paying attention online that particular afternoon.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: damn, that stainless steel is classy:

I don’t think I’ll ever say it’s the classiest of the Skylines anymore, though.  Along came the DC show, at which An Tran arrived with a boatload of new inventory, including these two:

At first I only purchased one, and believe it or not it was the one with the imprint:

“1941 Safety Award / L.E. Smith.”   Neither the identity of Mr. Smith nor his dedication to safety interested me as much as having a year associated with this configuration: 1941, early in the Skyline’s run.  Why did I want the one with this information?  Because my initial concern was that an ordinary gold filled clip assembly might have been substituted for a missing stainless one, and the gold filled button from a presentation series pencil in place of the plain black one:

But I got to thinking about that concern as the show went on, and I believe this is the real deal for two reasons: first, An didn’t just have two of these -- he had five, an unprecedented number of stainless Skylines to pop up at any one time.  Second, while it’s possible to take five perfectly good Skyline stainless pencils, remove the derby and replace them with a gold filled clip and derby, no . . . I’ve replaced those derbies before, and why anyone would do one – let alone five – is beyond me.  Repair manuals say all you need to do is crush the derby and replace it, but that’s a deceptively simple instruction (see “Radical Surgery on a Skyline” for the ordeal that is removing and replacing one of these at

That’s when I decided to go back and get a second one, without that imprint.  It was the last one An had of the five he brought.

So, now that I’ve concluded these are legitimate, I can say something I never thought I’d hear myself say:

I’ve got two really nice Skyline stainless pencils, and a plain old boring one.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Few Good Clips

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 4; copies are available print on demand through Amazon here, and I offer an ebook version in pdf format at the Legendary Lead Company here.

If you don't want the book but you enjoy this article, please consider supporting the Blog project here.

I talked briefly about these transitional pencils from Eversharp’s utilitarian line a while back (see “A Colorful Ending . . . Almost” at ):

The ones with the longer tops are fitted with Eversharp’s cutting edge Equipoised mechanism, and the tips are fused onto the barrels.  The earlier ones have the improved version of Charles Keeran’s original design, and the nose cones on those unscrew:

In that last article, the problem I was trying to solve was swapping out a black nose cone on one of those earlier examples, but there’s a problem unique to both of these which is the subject of today’s article: those clips, with those hexagonal bolts holding them to the barrel, are prone to coming off – and, contrary to what I originally thought, finding donor pencils with those clips is getting harder and harder.  The last example I scabbed a clip from went to making the faceted one of these black examples whole:

I just love these pencils – unlike their more colorful brethren, the barrels on these are one continuous piece of hard rubber, and both are inscribed with advertisements for Eversharp Red Top Leads:

And, with all of my pencils complete, I rested.

And then I went to DC.

The first order of business came from my friend Joe Nemecek, who gave me a clip replacement challenge:

Joe had a spare clip – it’s the missing bolt that’s a problem.  I’ve never seen one in that cool limeade kind of color before, and it would be really nice to see that one intact again.  The ordinary cream and black one was to be the donor for the bolt and, at some point, the yellow one has had its Eversharp clip replaced with an Autopoint one.

I played with them and, unfortunately, I’m coming to suspect that the Autopoint bolt has been glued into the barrel.  I’ll have to work on that some more . . .  but in the meantime, I was suspecting there might be another problem with that yellow one: I’ve never seen one of those transitional examples with anything other than a black nose.  I didn’t want to tell Joe that the nose cone might also have been a replacement.

I didn’t have to.  In a bag full of pencils someone else had to offer me were two of the Equipoised-mechanism examples, both of which unfortunately are also missing their clips:

Since on these examples the nose cones are permanently attached, we know that the yellow noses were used on the more-yellow-than-cream configurations.

In addition, see that yellow ring on the black example?

This means, between Joe and I, we have four of these that are sorely in need of donors from more common examples.  Anyone have a spare or four?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Gorham's Other Precious Metal

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 4; copies are available print on demand through Amazon here, and I offer an ebook version in pdf format at the Legendary Lead Company here.

If you don't want the book but you enjoy this article, please consider supporting the Blog project here.

Sometimes I’ll admit that I buy things online because I read the description, I think to myself “well, that can’t be right” and I think it will be a funny story seeing how things got a little mixed up in translation.  Such was the case with this one, which was described as a “Gorham Mabie Magazine”:

Gorham, with manufacturing facilities in Providence, Rhode Island and offices in New York, was known for its silver work.  When it comes to pencils, I featured a couple of Joe Nemecek’s early magic pencils here three years ago (see  In this picture, the pencil with the saddle on it and the mushroom-shaped one are Gorhams:

Then there’s this one, marked “B S & G,” made by Hicks for a later incorporation of the Gorham firm known as Black, Starr & Gorham which was featured here last year (see

But all of these were in sterling silver, for which the company was famous. I wasn’t aware of any affiliation between Mabie, Todd & Co. and Gorham, nor of non-sterling pencils made by or for the company, so this find was doubly intriguing.  When it arrived, it proved to be exactly what the seller represented it to be -- at the nose is the imprint I would expect to see on a pencil matching this shape in connection with the Mabie name:

“Mabie Magazine Pencil / Pat. June 7, 10.”   The date is a reference to patent number 960,588, issued to Egon L. Schmitz and assigned, not to Mabie, Todd & Co., but to Eberhard Faber Pencil Company:

The Schmitz patent is an interesting one in pencil history, since it was under Mabie Todd’s stewardship that the pencil reached its greatest popularity and widest distsribution (for an example not marked with the Mabie Magazine name, see   Just a couple years earlier, Schmitz was awarded a patent for what would become Eberhard Faber’s line of “Pony Clip” pencils (see, and the Mabie Magazine worked on the same principle – screwing down the nose squeezed a piece of lead to hold it in place – but the Magazine incarnation held extra leads within the barrel.  Unfortunately, after a century inside the barrel, the leads rarely fall neatly into position as originally designed, and most examples have a few in the hole but none in the chamber.

But we’re getting off track here.  The reason I bought this pencil was to write about what’s stamped on the other end:

“Gorham Co. Archtl. Bronze.”  Since this pencil doesn’t appear to have any bronze about it – wear to the high points looks like ordinary gold fill over brass – I tried a plain ol’ google search with the exact words that were on it.  All was instantly revealed:

In addition to being silversmiths, the craftsmen at the firm had an Architectural Bronze Departmenet of “bronzesmiths” which fabricated lamp posts, bronze plaques, statuary and other artistic components, none of which would fit so neatly in the pocket as this pencil.  The above is the company’s 1920 listing in Sweet’s Architectural Catalog, and I also found a 1905 catalog online:

Was there a relationship between Gorham and Mabie Todd?  In this case, I think the evidence falls far short of proving anything more than a one-time customer/supplier relationship.  My “Gorham Mabie Todd” appears to be an advertising pencil, specially imprinted for a division of Gorham which had nothing to do with making pencils.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Zebra Whisperer

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 4; copies are available print on demand through Amazon here, and I offer an ebook version in pdf format at the Legendary Lead Company here.

If you don't want the book but you enjoy this article, please consider supporting the Blog project here.

A couple weeks before the DC Supershow, my friend An Tran posted pictures of a few things that he’d picked up and planned to have in tow.  This one caught my eye:

Even though I had one, Conklin pencils like this lower-end All-American are something I like to pick up whenever they are reasonable, just for parts.  An warned me that this one was in pretty rough shape, and when I saw it I had to agree.  Both the nose and the cap were all banged up, and the pencil wasn’t in working order.  Even so, the barrel was good and it had a clip that can be replated, so I bought it just for the clip.

I’m so glad I did.  David Glass was also at the DC Show, and he was ready to part with his Conklin Zebra pencil.  I showed you a picture of David’s Zebra here a while back (see “Poking Around and Speculating” back in January, at  It didn’t take too much arm twisting to convince me to take a chance on whether I’d be able to transplant the clip:

Note that as discussed in the last article about the Zebra and Halloween pencils, these were made over a period of a few years, and the pencils are found with both the more streamlined clips seen on my Halloween pencil and on some of the pens, as well as the earlier style Mooney clips like you’ll find on An’s green All-American.  Since all indications are that either is correct, I decided to proceed with a transplant.

The beauty of having a heavily damaged example was that I felt free to tear into it to see what was going on inside.  A sharp tug on the cap pulled the whole top half of the mechanism out of the barrel, leaving the nose and all the other bits that were floating around inside the barrel to fall out the front end.  Here’s everything taken apart:

While I had everything apart, I decided to spend some time figuring out how the mechanism was put together – so that once I had the Zebra apart, I would have some practice.  I put the drive pin partially inside the spiral:

Then hooked the tab inside the slot of that lower drive tube:

Then threaded the spiral over the tab:

Then pushed the lower drive tube down and screwed that little bolt on the end, which keeps the rod from spiralling right out of the mechanism:

Then I pushed the upper drive tube back into place.  Those little dimples where the upper and lower halves meet suggest that the two halves weren’t meant to come apart like that, but assembled like this, the mechanism now works perfectly:

Enough practice.  Time to see if we can get that Zebra apart now.  Repeating the steps I used to take apart the All-American, I gave the bushing a slightly more gentle tug . . . this time, it was the top bushing that came off:

That bushing was all that retained the entire mechanism in place, so with that removed, everything neatly slid out the front end of the barrel intact:

Note the dimples and what looks like a spot weld holding the two halves of the drive tube together in the upper right of this picture.  Note also that, unlike the All American, the Zebra shows two tabs engaged by the spiral.

The Zebra is equipped with a two stage propel-repel-expel mechanism rather than a simple drive pin as found on the All American.  It could be that the two were differently equipped, with the Zebra having a little higher end feature . . . more likely is my All American is missing another piece.

Now to remove the clip from the All American.  I have an inner cap puller that is designed for fountain pen caps, but mine is just small enough to fit inside the barrel, where I turned the knob until it was snug:

The brass retainer that held the clip in place pulled free, and the clip slid out of the slot in the barrel:

I repeated the process with the Zebra, and I was able to remove that retainer the same way.  Note that there’s an indented groove where the tang of the clip nests:

Some clever soul filled the slot into which the clip fit with what appears to be white caulk:

A small knife and my trusty paperclip made short work of removing it, and in the process, the broken tang from the old clip was freed and fell out of the barrel:

I slipped the clip through the slot and, leaving the retaining ring clamped firmly in my cap puller, I lined up the slot with the tang inside:

I had to hold the rear end of the clip up with one hand to hold the tang flush with the barrel while I pushed the retaining bushing into place with the other (and took a picture with my third hand):

There you have it.  One freshly installed clip, ready for John Hall’s expert plating services:

The mechanism slides back in through the front end, the bushing pushes neatly back into place, and the cap goes on top of the bushing.  If the bushing is too loose, you might consider a small dab of super glue – small enough so you can remove it again if you need to, but enough so you can pull the cap off without taking the whole pencil apart again.  And there you have it:

A successful transplant.