Monday, September 5, 2016

Before Salz Was Salz, Part I

Salz Brothers was founded right around the end of World War I and is associated, fairly or unfairly, with lower-quality pens and pencils imitative of higher quality brands.  The company’s early history, particularly when it comes to the pencil the company was turning out, has been murky, muddled in with a company called the “Pencil Products Corporation.”  I used to believe the Pencil Products Corporation was nothing more than a subsidiary formed to supply Salz with pencils.  Now, after researching the history, I don’t think that’s correct. I think the Pencil Products Corporation had its own independent, rich, full . . .  and Mercurial life.

The announcement of the Pencil Products Corporation’s incorporation on March 3, 1919 was printed in The New York Times:

The initial incorporators were Ignatz Salz, J. Salz (it’s not clear which one, Jacob or James) and Lucifer J. Most, who had recently developed a new mechanical pencil.  He was awarded two patents for his pencil: the first one issued was patented on a date more familiar to collectors:  December 23, 1919.  The date refers to patent number 1,325,570, for which Most applied on June 11, 1919:

The others patent Lucifer J. Most was awarded for this pencil was eventually issued as patent number 1,420,275, which was applied for earlier – on August 25, 1918 – but wasn’t issued until June 20, 1922:

The Pencil Products Corporation wasted no time getting Lucifer’s new pencil into production.  It was initially introduced as the “Sta-Sharp,” as announced in the January 22, 1920 edition of Geyer’s Stationer:

Note that this announcement indicates that the pencils were equipped with the “Shur Hold” clip – hold that thought for just a few minutes because that detail makes something else make sense later on.  Note also that Salz Brothers is identified as “the manufacturer.”   On January 31, 1922, Salz took out a half-page ad in The American Stationer, again claiming to be the manufacturer:

There’s a few examples of the Sta-Sharp pictured in The Catalogue, three of the four of which are marked “Salz Sta-Sharp” (we’ll get to that fourth one in a minute):

Note that example at the bottom?  If it looks like a Mabie Todd “Fyne Poynt” pencil, you aren’t imagining things – and by the time this story is over, you’ll have even more to mull over on that similarity.  I’ve only got one example marked “Pat. Applied For,” and it’s the one missing the bail;

The other two are marked with the December 23, 1919 patent date:

At some point, Ignatz Salz – ever the wordsmith – came up with the catchy name ‘Salrite, a play on his last name as well as being pronounced like “It’s all right.”  I believe this happened while the Sta-Sharp was still in production; here’s a pair of pencils found in boxes marked Salz Sta-Sharp:

As an aside, note the 1919 trademark on the boxes: this is nearly identical to the Penkala logo:

The patterns on each is very similar, and for a company with a reputation for lower quality, these are pretty nice:

One has a clip marked with the “SB” in a circle (the early Salz Brothers logo), but the cap isn’t marked Sta-Sharp: instead, it has a Pencil Products Corp. imprint:

No, the metal on the cap doesn’t match the rest of the pencil, but that’s not an indication of parts being swapped out.  The Pencil Products Corporation wasn’t very picky about matching metals, and this might be an indication that remainder parts were being used up.

The other pencil has a ‘Salrite clip and a Pencil Products Corporation cap:

However, whatever success the Sta-Sharp had, bolstered by the catchy new ‘Salrite name, would soon pale in comparison to another improvement: the ‘Salrite reworked as a hard rubber pencil.

(The story continues at

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