Monday, October 31, 2016

Somebody Else's News

I’ve been holding off writing this article until your Pennant arrived (assuming, of course, that you are a member of the Pen Collectors of America), so that I could quote David Nishimura’s article rather than steal his thunder.   In David’s article, “Leroy W. Fairchild: The Little-Known History of a Well-Known Company,” he clarified something I never fully understood: the Fairchild-Johnson partnership.

I had always assumed that at some point along the line, Leroy W. Fairchild and Ephraim S. Johnson went into partnership together - and that’s not right.  According to David, one of Leroy W. Fairchild’s sons, Harry P. Fairchild, went into partnership with Ephraim S. Johnson, Jr., the son of Ephraim S. Johnson, in October, 1898, trading under the name Fairchild & Johnson.  The following year, Fairchild & Johnson purchased what was left of Leroy W. Fairchild.

Ephraim S. Johnson, Jr. wasn’t into the pen and pencil business as much as his father was, and David says that in 1905, he left the firm to pursue other interests and the name of the firm was changed to Fairchild & Co.

David says that what makes Fairchild & Johnson’s products stand out is “their embrace of naturalistic and asymmetrical Art Nouveau motifs,” and that is what I was going to write about.  Here are two examples I’ve had for awhile:

The top example is a relatively conventional snail pattern – perhaps a vestige of Leroy W. Fairchild, produced after Fairchild & Johnson bought the shop in 1898.  But this one has the Fairchild & Johnson hallmark - a shield with a diagonal line through it, with an F in the space above and a J below:

The cable twist pencil, though, is much more unusual, befitting of David’s description of the company’s unusual designs:

Then there were these two, which came from a collection of Victorians I purchased from Alan Hirsch at the DC show in August:

Note the nice, ergonomic peanut shaped cases unlike anything I’ve seen by any other manufacturer:

The lower example sports an imprint with a date, “Quoin Club 1905,” dating these to the last year of in the partnership’s run:

Both sport the same hallmark:

A piece in the March 21, 1903 edition of The St. Louis Republic, said the Quoin Club “is composed of the advertising managers of magazines and periodicals.”  By 1905, however, the membership in the club included, in the words of this 1906 advertisement, “an association of all the leading periodicals (which reach practically every intelligent English-speaking family in the United States).”

The guest list at the club’s 1906 banquet at the Waldorf Astoria included many of New York’s wealthy, famous and elite.   I did find a notice of the upcoming 1905 banquet, at the prestigious Aldine Club in New York:

This may well have been a party favor for the club’s annual banquet.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Hooray (and Drat)

A few weeks ago, I posted a plea for donor clips to transplant onto a few Eversharp Dollar Pencils which were missing their bolted-on clips, including this one:

Michelle Wills Hart answered my distress call, writing to tell me she had a black faceted Dollar Pencil with that same clip which was available.  When it arrived, I took a close look:

Yep.  It’s a different variant.  I’ll have to wait for the next one to come along for a donor, and in the meantime I transplanted a clip from another donor that turned up to complete my black clipless wonder.  That makes four variations of the black Eversharp dollar pencils with Equipoised mechanisms:

Round, faceted (one piece), faceted (with fused round nose) and faceted with a fused round nose and a yellow accent band.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Cheap in a Way I Never Heard Of

I’m always a sucker for a flattop pencil with a name not represented on the wall ‘o pencils:

This one is marked “Joffe” on the clip.  The name I’ve heard of, and I’ve got a distant recollection of someone telling me that the Joffe was an Eclipse subbrand - I think I heard it used in the same circles as names like Park Row, for example.

There’s not much to talk about with this one, as the name is almost the only thing worth talking about with these.  Almost.

I didn’t notice until I was editing the pictures that this one isn’t really a marbled plastic – it’s an all black plastic barrel painted to look like it’s marbled plastic.  I’m not entirely sure how masking off a plastic barrel and painting it would have saved on production costs, but that’s the only explanation.  It certainly wasn’t painted to look more expensive than a marbled barrel – only to look just as good.

Friday, October 28, 2016

And What of Mr. Maloney?

There is a problem with something I wrote in the article I posted here on Monday, “Dunn and Done.”  I concluded at the end of the article:

“3.  Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc. buys all of the assets of the discredited Dunn Pen Company.  In order to better capitalize on the market (and differentiate itself from its tarnished predecessor), the new company decides to offer a companion pencil with its pens.  The new company has no means to make one of its own and there is no evidence that it ever tried.

4.  Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc. contracts with the Wall-Stieh company to supply the new company with Selfeed pencils, made with plain caps and stamped with the Dunn name, sometime during 1924 or early 1925.”

This is mostly true.  After the article posted, though, David Nishimura posted a comment on Facebook: “There’s still the question of the assignment of the patents to Dunn, though.”

David’s page,, includes the following:

“Dunn also offered a line of metal injector pencils using the patents of inventor William T. Maloney. The design was advertised as "The Machine Gun of Propelling Pencils", emphasizing that it automatically loaded lead from its internal magazine. The Dunn pencil closely resembles contemporary pencils sold under the Selfeed name, but what connection there may be between the two brands remains to be determined. The Maloney patents are US 1742711 and US 1846604, registered also in Canada (258190), Great Britain (233261), and France (589669), with all three foreign registrations assigned to Dunn Pen and Pencil.”

I’ve known about the Maloney patents for years, but I didn’t know about the foreign registrations to Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc.  Here are the American versions of the two Maloney patents:

Both were applied for on August 5, 1925.  The first, number 1,742,711, wasn’t issued until January 7, 1930 – and was assigned 1/3 to Arthur Winter.   Winter is one of those shadowy characters in pencil history I haven’t yet fully explored: the last time he appeared here (, I noted that I’d found patent number 2,028,855 (a later Arthur Winter patent for a repeating pencil) both on an interesting Hicks repeating pencil:

As well as on a weird later pencil churned out by Conklin during the company’s waning days in Chicago:

Winter received three patents in the early 1920s, two for solid ink fountain pens (one of which, number 1,433,325,  was co-invented with Porter S. Morgan and assigned to “Samuel E. Darby, Jr., Trustee” and the other, number 1,443,515 was unassigned), and number 1,450,398 for a lever filled fountain pen, assigned to Frank H. La Pierre.

Both of the Maloney patents share a common feature not found on Selfeed pencils: a little internal ball bearing, part of what Maloney called a “floating ball clutch” or “lead locking balls,” which would be pressed against the lead and cause it to move it forward when the mechanism is advanced and then leave it in place as the mechanism retracts.

Did Maloney’s weird lead locking balls ever make it into production?  Maybe.  I wrestled apart a Selfeed and a Dunn, and the innards are decidedly different:

That’s the Dunn on the right, and what’s inside that goofy mechanism I don’t know.  What I do know is that without lead in it, I’d expect to hear some unlocked leadlockers rattling around inside, and I don’t.

So, to summarize:

I said that there’s no evidence Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc. came up with its own design for a pencil.  Given the foreign registrations of the Maloney patents and the differences internally between the Selfeed and the Dunn, I think that’s wrong.

I said that Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc. was in no position to manufacture its own new line of mechanical pencils after April, 1924, when it purchased the tarnished assets of the failed Dunn Pen Company.  I think that’s right.

I said Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc. likely acquired its pencils from Wall-Steih (later the Selfeed Pencil Company), makers of the new Selfeed pencils.  Given the external similarities but the internal differences, I think it’s more accurate to say that both were made by the same manufacturer, using the same external chassis but different internal parts; it’s just as likely that Wall-Steih and Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc. both had their pencils made by a third party.

The minute I make that last statement, a couple of the other clues in this story click into place.  All the Dunn pencils are marked “Pat. Pending,” indicating they were made in a very short run between August 5, 1925, when the patents were applied for, and October, 1926, when they were advertised on clearance in the Philadelphia Inquirer, right across the river from Esterbrook in Camden.  Esterbrook later introduces the PS, nearly identical externally to the Selfeed and the Dunn, and made under the Ingersoll patents on which the Selfeed was based.

I think as of this writing, everything points to Esterbrook manufacturing both the Dunn and the Selfeed.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

I Debunk Myself

It’s been five years now since I wrote The Catalogue of American Mechanical Pencils.  The Catalogue has proven to be almost completely accurate in the years since, but of course it isn’t a perfect book.  I’ve learned a lot of things in the five years since: as I’m fond of saying, if everyone waited to know absolutely everything there is to know about a subject before writing about it, nobody would ever write anything.

However, it’s time that I let you in on something that has troubled me for a couple of years now:  one of the pencils I pictured on the cover may not be at all what I thought it was:

That third one from the left appears on page 42 of The Catalogue.  “This piece, which I acquired from my friend Rick Fernandez in 2011, is the only example of a Dunn multi-color pencil I know to exist,” I reported, listing “extremely rare” instead of a price.  Here’s a better picture of the pencil than the one in the book:

NOTE: Nothing I am about to say in this article should be construed as a reflection on Rick.  In 2011, when he offered and I accepted the opportunity to purchase this pencil, we were both very happy and even with the benefit of hindsight, I have no regrets about buying it or what I paid for it.

The 2011 DC Show was a pivotal moment in my life.  Joe Nemecek and I were sitting at the hotel bar enjoying our umpteenth beer, when one or both of us said someone should write a book about mechanical pencils.  When I commented that I thought I had most of the work done already by developing the Mechanical Pencil Museum, Joe dared me to do it.  That’s dared . . . as in licking a metal pole in winter, triple-dog dare.  I had no choice.

So I came home from the DC show in August, spent a month compiling the information from the Museum into a book (adding hundreds more pictures and new information in the process), laying out the book, finding a printer, and having 500 copies made.  The book was ready and introduced at the 2011 Ohio Pen Show in November.

The Dunn multi-color pencil was one of the things I bought at that DC Show, so I photographed it for the book, and for the cover of the book, literally as I was unpacking it when I got home.  I’m still pretty proud of it, but with five years’ of retrospect and a lot more knowledge about the history of the Dunn Pen Company and Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc., there’s two things about the Dunn multi-color that bother me.  First is the imprint:

The word “Dunn” appears to be engraved, not stamped, on the top of the cap.  The location of the imprint, and the fact that it is engraved rather than stamped, suggests that in this case, “Dunn” might have been an owners’ name, or a company unrelated to the manufacturer which had a run of these made to order – not a reference to Dunn Pen Company or Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc.   Note also that the simple block script is not the same logo used by Dunn in both of its corporate incarnations:

But that’s the lesser of my two concerns.  More significant is what is imprinted next to the clip:

“D.R.P.” followed by another character that might be a G, or a lowercase stylized a.  In 2011, I didn’t know that “DRP” stands for ''deutsches reichspatent'' – patented in Germany.  Although the acronym here is neither the usual DRP or DRGM used to signify German production, I believe that’s what the first three letters mean.  The last letter – if a G – would signify Germany, and if a lower case a, might designate alpaca (or “German silver,” an alloy of 60% copper, 20& nickel and 20% zinc) as the metal content.    

Then there’s the chronology of Dunn’s development and demise.  I believe it is extremely unlikely the Dunn Pen Company, founded in 1921 and defunct by early 1924, had anything to do with this pencil, since (1) no pencil was ever advertised by the company and (2) multicolor pencils did exist in the early 1920s, but they were a rare exception – multicolor pencil hit their stride in the 1930s.

But what of Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc., successor to the Dunn Pen Company?  They did offer pencils, and the evidence laid out here over the last couple of days indicates those pencils were made for them (either by Wall-Steih and the Selfeed Pencil Company, or by Esterbrook) rather than by them.

Would Dunn and Pencil, Inc. have imported specially imprinted German multicolor pencils to offer as an additional product line?  Maybe, but I think the evidence suggests no.  Why would Dunn blow out pencils at clearance prices in late 1926, only to come back with a foreign-made trick pencil?

So what about the “Nu Dunn?”  The example of the Nu Dunn shown here appears to be from the late 1920s and possibly early 1930s, certainly more in line with the growing popularity of foreign-made multicolor pencils.  But . . . if that were the case, the engraving on the cap would be “Nu Dunn.”

In 2011, when Richard offered me this pencil, I was so excited that I eagerly bought it, included it in my book and even showed it on the cover.  If it were offered to me today, knowing what I know now, I would have said the following:

It isn’t American made.  I doubt the word “Dunn” engraved on the cap is a reference to the American pen manufacturer, whether it be the Dunn Pen Company, Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc. or whoever was responsible for reviving the name for the “Nu Dunn” branded pens and pencils.  I think either a man named Dunn or a company named Dunn unrelated to the writing instruments business had their name engraved on the cap of an interesting, but unidentified, German-made multicolor pencil.  

And if I had purchased it and included it in my book, I would not have listed it under “Dunn” without more evidence to support that attribution.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The End or the Beginning?

Regardless of how things turned out for Dunn, the repeating pencil it likely acquired from Wall-Stieh was innovative for the time.  One wonders – or at least pencil nerds like I wonder – how the Selfeed could have just disappeared when the surviving number of examples suggests that the brand achieved significant commercial success in its day.

It didn’t.  Disappear, that is.

Nearly five years ago, I wrote an article here concerning a boxed Esterbrook set complete with instructions (the article was at  The instructions listed two patent numbers:

Both patents were traced to Robert Ingersoll, formerly of the Robert Ingersoll & Bro., makers of the Ingersoll “Dollar Watches,” which failed in 1921.  The first patent, number 1,702,780, was applied for on July 7, 1925, and it took so long to wind through the patent office that it wasn’t issued until February 19, 1929, by which time Robert Ingersoll had died and his executors assigned the patent to Robert Ingersoll, Inc.:

The second, number 1,725,585, was filed on May 1, 1926, and was issued on August 20, 1929.

I observed the similarities between this second patent and the Selfeed and Dunn pencils:

But I wasn’t prepared to connect Ingersoll to the Selfeed and Dunn yet: the Esterbrook, I’d noted, looked nothing like the Ingersoll pencil pictured in the patent drawings, and I just didn’t know enough about the Selfeed or Dunn to line up the histories.

I do now.

Research into the Selfeed and Dunn lines establishes that Wall-Stieh began selling Selfeed pencils on April 15, 1924, just as the old Dunn Pen Company failed.  The revived Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc. offered pencils virtually identical to the Selfeed beginning in late 1924 or early 1925 – but the existence of the revived Dunn was so tenuous and so brief that the only explanation is that Wall-Stieh supplied Dunn, which was gone – maybe – by late 1926.

Both Dunn and Selfeed pencils are marked “Pat. Pend.” and “Pat. Appl’d For,” and none are marked “Patented,” indicating that they were made after the patents were applied for, but before they were issued.  That is consistent with the history of the Ingersoll patents.

Wall-Stieh set up the Selfeed Pencil Company to manufacture Selfeed pencils in December, 1925; the Selfeed Pencil Company relocates to 267-271 Mt. Pleasant Avenue, Newark, New Jersey after purchasing that location in August, 1927.

And then . . . this appears in the early 1930s:

These have the same plain cap as a Dunn pencil, a clip almost identical to the Selfeed and bear an imprint under the cap:

“Sterling Esterbrook / Made in USA.”  Esterbrook referred to this as model “PS” - it was in the company’s lineup of “Push” pencils, in Sterling (hence the PS).  The earliest reference found to this pencil being offered is in an Esterbrook catalog, alongside more familiar plastic cap-actuated Esterbrook pencils.  The catalog was reproduced in The Fountain Pens of  Esterbrook book by Paul Hoban, and he dates the catalog to 1938 or 1939; however, Esterbrook maven Brian Anderson dates the catalog to 1934.  By 1934, sterling pencils such as the PS had largely become passe, so it is likely that Esterbrook introduced the pencils earlier, continuing to offer them after the company made the design its own with plastic barrels.

The Esterbrook PS is nearly identical to the Selfeed:

The only significant difference is that the PS uses the version of Robert Ingersoll’s pencil with the clutch extended through the end of the barrel, while the Selfeed and Dunn pencils use the version in which the clutch is concealed within the barrel:

The Esterbrook PS may be the clincher for the notion that the Selfeed Pencil Company did not survive the Depression and was sold, including the rights to its still pending patent applications, to Esterbrook.

Maybe.  There’s a curious detail I’ve noticed in my research that suggests another possibility.  Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc. was in New York and Selfeed started in New York, relocating to Newark, New Jersey in 1927.  Esterbrook was located in Camden, New Jersey.

References to the Dunn Pen and Pencil and the Selfeed Pencil Company in the historical record are fleeting, but there’s a pattern: in October 1926, when Dunn Pen and Pencil advertised that Dunn pencils were being blown out (picturing a pencil with a clip that resembles a Selfeed or Esterbrook PS, not a Dunn), that advertisement didn’t appear in New York papers – it appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, right across the river from Camden, New Jersey:

In August, 1926, when the Selfeed Pencil Company advertised for sales representatives, the advertisement appeared also in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Does this suggest Esterbrook made both the Dunn and Selfeed pencils all along, picking up the patent rights and continuing to manufacture them on its own account after Dunn and Selfeed had both failed?  Maybe.  Gimbel’s, which advertised the Dunn blowout, would have been much closer to the source of an overrun of Dunn pencils if they were warehoused just across the river, and sales representatives of the Selfeed wouldn’t have needed to go very far to pick up their inventory if that were true, either.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Last Gasp For Dunn?

From yesterday’s story, we know the Dunn Pen Company failed in April, 1924, was revived shortly after by Dunn Pen & Pencil, Inc., which purchased the assets and goodwill (such as it was) of the former company, and which appears to have vanished by 1926, judging from the end of advertising or other mentions of the company after then.


At the DC show this year, I purchased a collection of pencils on Friday morning.  Larry Liebman and I spent most of the day combing through them - I didn’t even set up with the things I brought with me.  Larry said he had almost as much fun rummaging through this bunch as if he’d purchased the collection himself.  An Tran was wandering around snapping a few pictures at the show, and he caught Larry and I in action that day:

This collection was the sort of thing where all I could do during the negotiations was rifle through a few things on the surface, see if there was a reasonable number of things I’d want to add to my collection, and then hope that there was roughly that proportion of things that would tickle my fancy in the layers below.   This time, everything panned out and I was very happy with what stayed in my collection (as well as with the number of things I didn’t want that sold the next day).   Here was one of those things I saw on the surface that caused me to pull the trigger:

I’ve seen pencils like these marked with a variety of names: Keen Point, Weidlich, Ajax, Radium Point . . . who the source was for all these has yet to be discovered.  Most along these lines are plain except for the name of the customer for whom they were produced, printed on the cap.  (Take note: want one of these brands in a color you haven’t seen before?  Don’t pay a premium, because you can just swap caps.)  This one, however, has the name on the clip:

“Nu Dunn.”   A bit of searching around turned up a few online auctions for flattop pens sporting this same clip, a combo or two, but no pencils – and nothing to indicate when or by whom they were made.  I doubt these were turned out in 1925 or 1926, since celluloid pencils hadn’t generally trickled down to third tier production by that date, and I think I’ve even got one of these pencils sporting a 1930 imprint (which one escapes me at the moment).  As to the Keen Point branding, in an earlier article here I tracked down Charles Keeran’s trademark registration and dated that one to 1928 or later.

Did Dunn Pen and Pencil limp along for a few years later?  Possibly - just because a company ceases advertising doesn’t necessarily mean it ceased operations, and if its death was slow decline rather than a spectacular bankruptcy (as had been the case for its predecessor), its demise likely wouldn’t have been newsworthy enough to merit a mention in the press.

It’s also possible that some other producer scooped up the name, which was likely all that was left of the company by 1927, brushed it off and had it slapped on generic pencils wholly unrelated to the innovative pens that built the company’s reputation.  Nu . . but not Impruved.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dunn and Done

A while back, the subject of Dunn pens came up on Facebook, and I felt compelled to take a family portrait of the examples in my collection:

That bottom one was missing the cap, by the way.  These came in a nice range of patterns:

Each is marked on the cap with simply the words “Dunn / Pat. Pend.”:

Looking at these pencils got me to thinking again, about how much they resemble another early repeating pencil – the Selfeed:

Selfeeds – at least all of the ones I’ve seen – are marked “Selfeed / Pat. Appl. For,” and they have very similar caps, with just a bit of added embellishment:

In 2011, I had noted the similarities between the two brands in The Catalogue; but I had also attributed the Selfeed to the Kemper Thomas Company based on an instruction sheet for the Selfeed I had found.  I’ve since debunked the Kemper Thomas connection myself in an article I wrote a year later (see, in which I wrote how the Selfeed was the product of the Selfeed Pencil Company, Inc., which had been established on Decmeber 21, 1925 by the Wall-Stieh Company, a pen company which set up the subsidiary to market and sell the company’s pencils.  Daniel Kirchheimer had turned up an advertisement from May, 1925, in which Wall-Stieh’s “new” pencils were introduced.

I have finally tracked down the trademark registration for the Selfeed mark, which claims a date of first use of April 15, 1924:

The timing fits perfectly into the Dunn story.  The Dunn Pen was introduced in 1921, and while the company advertised heavily, there’s no mention of the company producing (that’s “producing,” not manufacturing) pencils through 1924, when the company failed.  Since Teddy Roosevelt’s son, Kermit Roosevelt, was on the company’s board of directors, his examination by the bankruptcy trustee was big news in early April, 1925:

John Gerdes, President of the newly formed Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc., was quick to do damage control, announcing that the newly reorganized Dunn Pen and Pencil had nothing to do with the failed Dunn Pen Company.

As a side note, this leads me to correct something in the Pen Collectors of America’s library: the Dunn brochure in its library is attributed with a date of 1920, but since the letter which accompanies it is from John Gerdes as President of Dunn Pen and Pencil, we know it could not be earlier than May, 1924.   The letterhead also lists other officers: James H. Scarr, Vice President, C.B. Bentz, Secretary and Walter S. Rockwell, Treasurer:

It is only after Dunn Pen and Pencil rises from the ashes of the Dunn Pen Company that there is any mention of pencils being offered.  There’s a page in the PCA Library’s brochure which shows them:

The new management faced a dilemma in reorganizing: the single greatest asset they acquired from the Dunn Pen Company was the brand name recognition of the company’s pen, but the financial misdealings of the predecessor firm left the name tarnished.  Whether the reputation of the name “Dunn” was irreparably damaged during the bankruptcy proceedings, or whether the new management was no more capable than the old, the new venture appears to have been as unsuccessful as the earlier one – by late 1925, Dunn pencils were being blown out at discounts, advertised not in the New York press, but in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Note that this advertisement ran in the October 16, 1925 issue of the Inquirer, and remember that the Selfeed Pencil Company was established by Wall-Stieh on December 21, 1925.  And there’s another detail in this advertisement which, even accounting for a bit of artistic license in the drawings, I consider important to this story.  Look closely at the clip:

That’s not the flat clip of a Dunn pencil, as seen on all of the surviving examples I’ve seen as well as in the Dunn catalog at the PCA Library.  That’s the ball clip you’ll see on every example of a Selfeed:

After 1925, it appears Dunn Pen and Pencil winds up and goes out of business; advertisements after that date are discounted and discontinued blowouts of the company’s pens.

When I string all of these clues together and overlay the history of the Dunn Pen Company, Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc. and Wall-Stieh together, the complete story floats to the surface:

1.  The Wall-Stieh Company, founded in the late teens, develops a new repeating pencil in early 1924, which it begins marketing as the “Selfeed” on April 15, 1924.

2.  The Dunn Pen Company, which only made fountain pens, fails in April, 1924.

3.  Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc. buys all of the assets of the discredited Dunn Pen Company.  In order to better capitalize on the market (and differentiate itself from its tarnished predecessor), the new company decides to offer a companion pencil with its pens.  The new company has no means to make one of its own and there is no evidence that it ever tried.

4.  Dunn Pen and Pencil, Inc. contracts with the Wall-Stieh company to supply the new company with Selfeed pencils, made with plain caps and stamped with the Dunn name, sometime during 1924 or early 1925.

5.  The added production demand causes Wall-Stieh to set up the Selfeed Pencil Company to manufacture pencils on its own account as well as to supply Dunn in December, 1925 – just as Dunn Pen and Pencil folds.