Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Company With The Most

(Note:  the first installment in this series is at

The fascinating and tantalizing detail that came to light during the previous articles about the rise and fall of the Sta-Sharp and ‘Salrite pencils involved the exit of Lucifer J. Most from the Pencil Products Company.  Most’s departure appeared at first to have been heralded by the patent application he applied for on September 24, 1922, which was issued on September 1, 1925 as number 1,551,604 and was assigned not to Pencil Products Corporation, but to Mabie Todd & Co.:

Did you notice something about Lucifer’s new pencil?

Doesn’t that remind you of something else?

The opening article for this series of stories at Leadhead’s was about a goofy Sheaffer pencil, and the fact that as it turns out, all of the early Sheaffer Balance pencils were equipped with that internally goofy mechanism shown in patent number 1,900,669, featuring a prominent bushing at the forward end that makes these unusually difficult to disassemble.  There was something else I didn’t tell you at the time, because I wasn’t sure how this detail fit into the story:

That wasn’t the first Sheaffer patent along these lines.

William R. Cuthbert and William H. Lindemon applied for patent number 1,653,151 on March 24, 1922 – before Lucifer J. Most applied for his patent for Mabie Todd – and notwithstanding the similarities between the two designs, it was Most’s patent that was issued before the Cuthbert/Lindemon patent.

But Most wasn’t copying from Cuthbert and Lindemon.   It was the other way around:

On November 12, 1920, Lucifer J. Most and Walter A. Sheaffer himself filed an application for what would be issued as patent number 1,675,826 – but not until many years later, on July 3, 1928.  Note the plug (the patent description calls it a “block”) at the nose.

We know from other examples that Walter A. Sheaffer likely had nothing to do with inventing pencils (I still haven’t serialized my article from The Pennant, "Wahl, Sheaffer and the Race for Boston, Part II," in which I presented the evidence that Sheaffer was not the inventor of the original Sheaffer Sharp Point).  How did Most get on Sheaffer’s radar?  Simple - Most’s first patent was for a lever-filled fountain pen, filed on January 20, 1916; just after William A. Smith left Walter Sheaffer’s employ to begin selling pens for the Boston Fountain Pen Company.  Sheaffer, fresh out of court from having sued Kraker and awaiting the court’s decision, would have been keenly aware of what the then 21-year-old inventor was up to.

Stringing the clues together from the last few stories, the story that emerges is as follows:

1.  The Salz Brothers go into business with Lucifer J. Most in 1919, to manufacture Salz Sta-Sharp pencils, which Most invented in 1918 and perfected in 1919;

2.  Around the time the ‘Salrite name is adopted, in mid-1920 or so, Lucifer either leaves or is ejected from the Pencil Products Corporation.

3.  Pencil Products Corporation  retained Most’s patent rights, but doesn’t have the desire or ability to continue the manufacture of metal pencils; therefore, Salz hires the Chase Pencil Corporation to manufacture a hard rubber version.  Pencil Products Corporation continues in name only.

4.  Lucifer either freelances a patent to Sheaffer in late 1920 or is briefly hired by Sheaffer on his reputation for inventing the successful Salz Sta-Sharp.

5.  By 1922, Lucifer has found a new home at Mabie, Todd & Co., where he apparently spends the rest of his career.

6.  Pencil Products Corporation runs into legal trouble over the use of the ‘Salrite name in 1923 and disbands.  In 1924, Chase Pencil Corporation makes a brief but unsuccessful attempt to continue producing the Salrite, probably under a different name.   Salz Brothers incorporates pencil production into its regular line of lower-quality pens.

Additional glimpses into Lucifer’s life come indirectly from his mother’s memoir, Storm in My Heart: Memories from the Widow of Johann Most (a fascinating read, by the way – it’s available on Google books at   Helene Most, who usually went by Minken, was the last wife of Johann Most, a Jewish Russian Immigrant who was a socialist and anarchist activist as well as founder and editor of a radical newspaper, Freiheit.  Johann became active in the socialist movement in Germany, and was forced to relocate to New York in June, 1888.   When Johann decided to start a family with Helene in 1893, he became somewhat alienated from the movement – prominent activists thought he was going soft.

Although Johann was never convicted of any violent crime, he publicly advocated the use of dynamite to topple America’s capitalist system and was frequently arrested for inciting others to riot.  Johann died in 1906; Helene tried to keep the Freiheit going until more hard line elements of the socialist movement in America forced her out.

Into this environment Lucifer was born in 1895, the fourth and youngest of Helene’s children.  When the United States entered World War I, Lucifer enlisted.  His first patent application was filed in August, 1918, suggesting that his tour of duty was over before the war ended in November.  Since Helene’s memoir is primarily about her infamous husband Johann, it doesn’t provide much detail about Most’s life – in fact, after World War I her papers indicate only that he was a “salesman.”  He moved to Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey after World War II, living in a house on an island in the middle of Raccoon Island until he died on August 26, 1949.

Lucifer was survived by wife Nadia and two sons, Norman and John.  John’s son, Johnny M. Most, became well known as a sportscaster for the Boston Celtics until his death in 1993.

(Tomorrow's article, showing how Lucifer Most influenced Sheaffer's pencil designs, is at

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