Wednesday, September 21, 2016

And Finally . . . To Get to the Pencils

When I sat down to write a short history of William S. Hicks for yesterday’s post, my primary objective was to learn enough to help me figure out when these two were made, and what they mean.  In the end, it was a full week researching what was going on with young William in those early years, but now that I have, these make a little more sense:

That lower one copies the same case as those made by Albert Bagley and Mabie Todd in the early 1850s, but this one is marked W.S. Hicks:

If this one was made before Hicks became a partner in Larcombe, Hicks & Mitchell, that would date it to before 1852, when Hicks was likely in some sort of association with Edward Deacon until 1848, then possibly with Bard & Brother briefly before joining LH&M in 1852.  Hicks’ partnership with Larcombe ends at the end of 1857 (to become Hicks & Mitchell), then in April, 1859, Mitchell withdraws and Hicks is on his own at 20 Maiden Lane.  I suspect it was after 1859 that this pencil was made.

And what of the Mabie, Todd & Co. lookalikes?  I doubt that was any problem, given the close relationship between the two companies early on.  Bard & Brother was the building block eventually acquired by John Mabie and others to form several partnerships culminating in the familiar Mabie Todd name, and I’ve found other evidence of connections between the two companies, such as a December 24, 1867 patent date (assigned to Hicks) on a pencil also marked Mabie, Todd & Co. (See

As for the other pencil, it was a gift from Robert Foster (ebay seller capecodpga), thrown in along with something I bought from him (you’ll see that one a little later) with a note to the effect of “whaddaya make of this” – unfortunately, it isn’t working, so I can’t show it to you extended.  As for the mechanism, it’s a conventional magic pencil, so there’s nothing unusual there, either.  What’s interesting is the strange imprint on the nose:

The acorn, shown on the right, is a William S. Hicks trademark and one of the worst trademarks of all time: most often, it’s mistaken for the number 8 and it wasn’t until Andy Beliveau told me what it was and for whom it was that I caught on.  There’s one just like it on the example I have marked for the jewelry firm Black, Starr & Frost (see

Now Hicks wasn’t bashful about putting his name on things, so I’m wondering if the acorn trademark was used primarily on items manufactured by Hicks for sale by others.  The interesting thing, and the one that caused Robert (and me) to pause, was that very deliberate “X” on the other end of the sterling mark.  The most obvious possibility is A.T. “Cross,” which used that very play on words, but there’s a couple problems with that hypothesis.  First, whenever you see the “X marks the Cross” mark, it’s flanked by an A and a T (as shown here, from an article I wrote back in 2013 at

The other problem with this theory is that neither Hicks nor Cross was the sort to have someone else make a batch of pencils for them: both were proud manufacturers, not what I call “producers” selling other manufacturers’ wares.  I found no reference to Hicks in Barbara Lambert’s definitive history on Cross, Writing History: 150 Years of the A.T. Cross Company, nor any other connection between the two companies.

I do wonder though - if the acorn mark was used in connection with Hicks products sold to retailers for resale, maybe early on in the mark’s use the “X” designated resale, and later on using both an X and a nondescript acorn proved duplicative.

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