Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Great Way to End the Year

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.

When the article you’ve been reading over the last few days was first published in The Pennant, one prominent collector pulled me aside to tell me he thought it was too speculative – a good story, but too speculative to be fact.  Guess you can never have too many endnotes.

I couldn’t believe the story either as I was researching it.  But that one clue – the “Redypoint” which was a dead ringer for a Sharp Point, yet made for one of DeWitt-LaFrance’s first customers – was the thread that unraveled a giant sweater.  Every clue I found fit the story which emerged: that Walter Sheaffer actively pursued the Boston Fountain Pen Company, influenced the terms of its sale to Wahl, and “stole” Boston’s superintendent, David J. LaFrance, who invented the mechanical pencil Sheaffer patented in his own name and introduced in mid-1917 as the Sharp Point, before LaFrance got into business with William DeWitt and formed DeWitt-LaFrance.

The day after Thanksgiving, I found something which, like all the other clues I have found along the way, fits perfectly.  In the article, I had concluded that Samuel Ward’s “Redypoint” brand:

preceded the “SAWACO” on Ward’s line of pencils (which Ward was already using on its line of papers and other products):

The theory was based on the fact that Brown and Bigelow had previously trademarked the name “Redipoint” and likely objected to the later use of such a similar name by Ward.  That’s a good guess, but it was still a guess: both the S. Ward “Redypoint” and “SAWACO” names appear on DeWitt-LaFrance pencils which are marked “Pat. Pend.” on both the clip and the barrel of the pencil, indicating only that both brands were made before mid-1920.

There was a lot riding on this guess.  If the Redypoint didn’t come before the SAWACO, the story doesn’t fit together – my Sharp Point lookalike “Redypoint” makes perfect sense if it came before the pencils DeWitt-LaFrance made for Samuel Ward.

It doesn’t make nearly as much sense if it was made contemporaneously with or after DeWitt-LaFrance suplied Redypoint pencils to the stationer.  

The pencil I found the day after Thanksgiving provides the hard evidence I needed that I was right.  I picked it up without knowing how important it was, partly because I didn’t know whether I had one in gold fill, and mostly because I always pick SAWACO pencils up when I find them.  I’ve got a soft spot for DeWitt-LaFrance.

But when I looked at the imprint up close, there’s more to it:

“SAWACO” has been superimposed over a Redypoint imprint.  In fact:

It’s been hand-engraved over the stamped imprint.  There’s no better evidence that the Redypoint pencils were made first, were replaced by the SAWACO pencils . . . and when they were, it was because the Redypoint-marked pencils could no longer be sold.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Wahl, Sheaffer and the Race for Boston - Part Five

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.

Note:  this is the fifth installment in a five-part series of articles originally published in The Pennant in the Winter 2015 and Spring 2016 issues.  The first installment was posted at

The DeWitt-LaFrance “Redypoint” Is the Key

If it is true that David J. LaFrance was the inventor of the Sheaffer Sharp Point, the proof would lie in a surviving example of a pencil which is identical to the Sharp Point, lacking any indication that a patent application was filed to protect it, and traceable back to LaFrance.  Until last year, no such pencil was known to exist.

That changed at the 2015 Philadelphia Pen Show, where I acquired a hoard of several hundred early metal pencils.  One of these, in my opinion, is the proof I have sought for many years.  It is stamped “Redypoint / S. Ward Mfg. Co. / Boston,” and the barrel does not indicate that there is any patent applied for, pending, or granted.  It is, with the exception of not having a clip, identical in every respect to a first generation Sheaffer Sharp Point.

Figure 18:  A first generation Sharp Point (with clip), shown next to the Redypoint found at the 2015 Philadelphia Pen Show.
Figure 19:  Imprint of the Redypoint pencil.
Figure 20:  Detail of barrel design of Sharp Point and Redypoint compared.
Figure 21:  Crowns of Sharp Point and Redypoint.
Figure 22:  Sharp Point and Redypoint shown disassembled.
David J. LaFrance’s involvement in the invention of the Sheaffer Sharp Point is, I believe, conclusive.  Samuel Ward, a regional Boston stationer, only marketed pencils under the Redypoint name for a very short period of time (due to the conflict with the filed trademark for the “Redipoint” name), beginning in August, 1918 and ending before August, 1920.  David J. LaFrance’s activities are unknown between January, 1917 and mid-1918, when he and William P. DeWitt established The DeWitt-LaFrance Company – and Samuel Ward is known to be one of DeWitt-LaFrance’s earliest customers.  In early 1919, Kugel moves production of the Sharp Point to 440 Canal Street in New York, and shortly thereafter DeWitt-LaFrance begins to manufacture Redypoint pencils for Samuel Ward using their new, patent-pending clip and pencil design.

The Fallout 

If we can conclude from the scant evidence remaining a century later that David J. LaFrance was the man who actually invented the Sheaffer Sharp Point, or that at a minimum he was instrumental in Sheaffer’s success in entering the mechanical pencil business, it is reasonable to believe Wahl arrived at the same conclusion at the time.  David J. LaFrance, the man who invented the lever-filled pen which enticed Wahl’s directors to purchase Boston in the first place, had now slipped through Wahl’s fingers and helped Walter Sheaffer create a pencil to compete with Wahl’s Eversharp.  Wahl nether forgave nor forgot. 

In 1921, C.A. Frary penned an article titled “What We Have Learned from Marketing Eversharp,” which appeared in the August 11, 1921 edition of Printers’ Ink. Frary’s comments on the state of the industry by that point were telling:

“[I]t seems to me almost axiomatic with a new product, a specialty, which if it is successful at all is sure to be copied and imitated very soon.  For a few years, for example, we were alone.  But recently we made a canvass of competition, and we discovered that we had between eighty and one hundred competitors.  Many of the competing pencils copy our designs very closely.  In our sales department we have assembled an exhibit of competing makes, and except by examining them minutely, it is next to impossible to tell some of them from our own.”[i]  

Wahl didn’t have much of a leg to stand on when it came to preventing others from producing pencils which were similar in appearance to the Eversharp.  Crown-shaped finials had topped metal writing instruments for more than half a century before the Eversharp was introduced, and as documented by David Nishimura, the Eversharp’s external appearance was borrowed from the George W. Heath Co., the firm which first manufactured Eversharps for Charles Keeran in 1913.  Heath simply modified existing the barrels and caps Heath was already manufacturing to accept Keeran’s new mechanisms.[ii]

However, that didn’t mean Wahl wouldn’t try to bully competitors – one in particular.  Out of “between eighty to a hundred competitors,” Wahl singled out only one for the test case:  DeWitt-LaFrance.   On May 6, 1922, the Cambridge Chronicle reported that the Wahl Company had filed a bill in equity against the company, alleging that DeWitt LaFrance was engaging in unfair competition with the marketing of its “Superite” pencils.  “The bill of complaint alleges that the lettering on the Superite pencil is imitative of that on the Eversharp,” the report states, “and that other distinctive features of the Wahl company product are also imitated.”[iii] 

Figure 23:  Out of “between eighty and one hundred competitors” offering pencils that bore some resemblance to the Eversharp, Wahl singled out just one for a lawsuit:  DeWitt-LaFrance.
The suit apparently did not get very far, but whether the costs of defending the litigation were too significant to bear or whether Dr. DeWitt and Mr. LaFrance lost their appetite for competing in this arena, they sold their company’s assets, including their patents, to Carter’s Ink Company in 1925.

As the Sharp Point Rises, Keeran Falls . . . And Rises

Historians generally view Charles Keeran as collateral damage in this story, as the inventor taken advantage of by Wahl’s directors in a classic tale of corporate greed.  Maybe that is true.  But consider in light of the foregoing whether Wahl had reason to doubt Keeran’s competency, his loyalty . . . or both.

In Keeran’s 1928 letter, he claims that the deal he negotiated on behalf of Eversharp was to purchase “the whole works” of the Boston Fountain Pen Company.  Wahl’s directors, who had been reluctant purchasers at best, were finally moved to spend more than a million dollars in today’s money for a pen company they didn’t want – until they thought Walter Sheaffer might get it and they would lose the successful pairing of Eversharp pencils with Boston lever-filled pens (see part one of this article in the previous issue of The Pennant).  The pairing of the two products was critical:  sales of Eversharp pencils had increased dramatically when The Smith-Newhall Company started selling Boston lever filled pens with them, and that was the success on which Wahl’s directors wished to capitalize.

If the Boston Fountain Pen Company was preparing to introduce a mechanical pencil of its own, would Wahl have wanted it as part of “the whole works?”  Absolutely.  Even if they didn’t plan to manufacture it, they never would have wanted Walter Sheaffer to do so!

Did Charles Keeran know that David J. LaFrance had invented one?  That is a fascinating question.  Even if Keeran did not, what happened after January, 1917 looked bad for him.  He admits neglecting his sales duties after the purchase of Boston in January, 1917, to go to New York to “straighten out” patent disputes . . . “etc. etc.” in his words.  Would Wahl’s directors reasonably question what “etc. etc.” meant?  After all, Walter Sheaffer filed a patent application for a new pencil, traceable to a former Boston Fountain Pen Company superintendent, which when introduced had the same spikey Winchester-inspired lettering as Keeran’s Eversharp. 

From Wahl’s perspective, it likely didn’t matter whether Keeran was incompetent, had failed to ;exercise due diligence to discover the LaFrance pencil, or whether he had actively collaborated with Sheaffer during his trips to New York.  Keeran reports in his 1928 letter[iv] that in August, 1917, at exactly the same time Sheaffer launched its national advertising campaign for the new Sharp Point, C.S. Roberts called Keeran into his office at Wahl and informed him “curtly” that he had been replaced as sales manager.  Keeran left the company soon after.

In Wahl’s eyes, Sheaffer now had Boston’s pencil, a pencil as good as Keeran’s Eversharp.  Sheaffer would also receive royalties from Wahl for the Sheaffer lever filler.  Keeran was believed by Wahl to have had a hand in allowing all this to happen and that, I believe, is why Charles Keeran was ousted from the company.

Charles Keeran did not allow the grass to grow under his feet after his ouster from Wahl, and he continued to invent mechanical pencils and a variety of other products for the rest of his life.   In July, 1918 he claimed in his trademark registration that he first used the name “Autopoint” on a new series of pencils, and in late 1920, the Autopoint Pencil Company was formed, for which he served on the initial board of directors.   Colonel William E. Smith, “for many years with L.E. Waterman Co. and more recently with Wahl Co.,”[v] left Wahl to join Keeran, also serving on Autopoint’s board.
In 1921, also in Chicago, the Realite Pencil Company was formed to produce pencils which operated in almost exactly the same way, but with the plunger rod threaded into a removable nose cone.  Unlike the first Autopoints, which operated by a thin plunger rod operated from the rear of the pencil, Realites operated by twisting a removable nose cone.  Keeran never claimed to have invented the Realite.

Keeran was also the general manager of Realite, but he apparently was neither an officer nor on the board.[vi]  As general manager, it was Keeran who hired none other than Arthur L. Kugel in February, 1922, who had left Sheaffer after facilitating the construction of Sheaffer’s pencil works.  If we believe Arthur Kugel, David LaFrance and Walter Sheaffer pulled a fast one over on Keeran and Wahl, a maneuver which cost Keeran his job, it seems odd that Keeran would hire one of the men who got him fired just a few years later.  Maybe Keeran, unlike his former employer, did forgive and forget – or maybe there is more to the story concerning whether Keeran knew what Kugel was up to.  As of this writing, no evidence has surfaced to support either possibility.

In 1923, Realite purchased Autopoint, and the surviving company was renamed “Autopoint Products Company.”  The new company’s first president was Charles R. Keeran.  The acquisition brought together under one roof, albeit predictably briefly, three of the most influential characters in this story:  Charles Keeran, the man who guided Eversharp and Wahl into the pen business; Arthur Kugel, the man who guided Sheaffer into the pencil business; and Col. Bill Smith, the man who drew Sheaffer and Wahl into head-to-head competition in the fight for the Boston Fountain Pen Company.

Figure 24:  From left, Arthur L. Kugel in 1922; Colonel William B. Smith, at left, walking the boardwalk with three friends in 1922; and Charles R. Keeran, circa 1916.

[i] Frary, C.A., “What We Have Learned from Marketing Eversharp,” Printers’ Ink, August 11, 1921, at page 6.
[ii] Nishimura, David, “Who designed the Eversharp pencil?”
[iii] Cambridge Chronicle, May 6, 1922, at page 6.
[iv]Charles Keeran’s 1928 letter, which provides the backbone of the story in the first part of this article regarding the sale of the Boston Fountain Pen Company, has been reproduced by Bob Bolin at
[v] Typewriter Topics, May, 1920, at page 56.
[vi] Autopoint + Realite – The Confluence of Two Pencil Companies, by James Stauffer.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Wahl, Sheaffer and the Race for Boston - Part Four

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.

Note:  this is the fourth of a five-part series. The first installment is posted at

LaFrance and the Good Dentist

Throughout David LaFrance’s years at the Boston Fountain Pen Company, LaFrance was involved in the Agassiz Council Number 45 of the Royal Arcanum, a local service organization.  On January 1, 1910, the Cambridge Sentinel reported that LaFrance served on the banquet committee for an event honoring the head of the club’s membership committee, and the entertainment was furnished by the Agassiz Instrumental Quartet, in which a prominent local dentist, Dr. William P. DeWitt, played the clarinet.  

Figure 7: The Cambridge Sentinel reported on a banquet of the local Agassiz Council on January 1, 1910, showing DeWitt and LaFrance in attendance.  Note also that the quartet was assisted by “M.J. Cypher” on the cornet:  could this be “M. G. Sypher,” the man later identified in Moore’s announcement as Boston’s superintendent?

The DeWitt family became very close to LaFrance:  in 1913, when LaFrance married, he and his bride went on an “automobile party to the White mountains” with Dr. Newton A. DeWitt (also a dentist in Cambridge), staying at DeWitt’s summer home for a week before returning to their new home at 5 Day Street, just a few doors down from DeWitt’s house at 19 Day.

In the latter half of 1918, The DeWitt-LaFrance Company was quietly organized in Cambridge, Massachusetts to manufacture writing instruments.   William P. DeWitt and David J. LaFrance filed a patent application for a new lever-filled fountain pen, with a spring-loaded single bar, on May 10, 1918 (the patent was issued on April 15, 1919 as number 1,300,849).  However, not even the local press reported anything about the new company until 1920, when the Cambridge Tribune noted on October 16, 1920, that the company had been organized approximately two years earlier and had been making its new pencils “for a few months.”  “About two years” fits nicely into a timeline which assumes that David J. LaFrance was in Sheaffer’s employ until Sheaffer’s patent was all but secured.  “A few months,” however, is an understatement – unless, as I believe, the article suggests that DeWitt-LaFrance was making its new pencils for only a few months, but was making some other pencils before then. 

DeWitt-LaFrance pencils are relatively easy to date, because the distinctive clips were patented separately from the pencils on which they were mounted.  Side clip models are stamped either "Patd." or "Pat Pend." on the clip, a reference to patent  1,350,412, which was applied for on September 13, 1918 and was granted on August 24, 1920.  In addition, the pencils barrels are separately marked with either “Pat.” or “Pat. Pend.”  DeWitt and LaFrance applied for two separate patents for the pencil mechanisms themselves on October 2, 1919, which were granted on July 25, 1922 as patent 1,423,603 and on November 22, 1922 as patent 1,434,684.

Figure 8:  Pencils manufactured by The DeWitt-LaFrance Company, including a few marked “Signet” and sold through Rexall Stores.  
Figure 9:  From top, “Pat. Pend.” on clip and barrel; “Patd.” on clip and “Pat. Pend.” on barrel; “Patd.” on clip and “Pat.” on barrel.
Therefore, DeWitt-LaFrance pencils with “Pat. Pend” on both the clip and the pencil were made between late 1919 and mid-1920; those reading “Pat. Pend.” on the pencil but “Patd.” on the clip were made between 1920 and 1922, and if both the barrel and the clip indicate they were patented, the pencil was made after 1922.  DeWitt-LaFrance manufactured identical pencils under a variety of trade names, both on the company’s own account (the best-known DeWitt-LaFrance trade name was “Superite”) as well as for other customers (most notably, the “Signet” line for the United Drug Company’s Rexall stores).  Understanding the patent history is critical to determining when DeWitt-LaFrance pencils were made, and critical also to our story. 

One of DeWitt-LaFrance’s first customers, we know from the DeWitt-LaFrance patent history, was the Samuel Ward Manufacturing Company, a Boston stationer.    Beginning at the turn of the last century, Ward traded stationery products under its house-brand name, SAWACO.   When Samuel Ward first offered mechanical pencils as one of its product lines, though, it did so under the name “Redypoint.”  The choice of the name was unfortunate, because Brown and Bigelow had already started marketing pencils under the name “Redipoint.”  It appears Ward was quickly forced to abandon the name, reverting to the use of its established SAWACO name on its house-brand pencils, as well. 
Figure 10:  Typical (but rare) DeWitt-LaFrance pencils marked “Redypoint” and “SAWACO.”
Figure 11:  Detail of imprints on Redypoint and SAWACO pencils.  All known examples of both varieties are marked “Pat. Pend.” on both the clips and the barrels.
A handful of DeWitt-LaFrance pencils marked “Redypoint” have turned up and, as expected, all are marked “Pat. Pend.” on both the pencil barrel as well as the clip.  From the DeWitt-LaFrance patent chronology, we know this means these pencils were made no earlier than October, 1919, when the patent applications for the pencil were filed.

However, in Samuel Ward’s trademark registration for the name “Redypoint” in connection with pencils, Ward first claimed to use the name on August 12, 1918: that is two months before Sheaffer’s patent application was granted, right around the same time DeWitt-LaFrance was established, and before DeWitt and LaFrance filed their patent applications for their distinctive clip and pencil.

Figure 12:  Redypoint trademark filed by The Samuel Ward Manufacturing Co.
Did DeWitt-LaFrance make a different pencil when the company opened its doors?  If so, did these pencils resemble the pencil patented by Walter Sheaffer?   The answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes.

Before that answer is presented, though, it is important to identify the characteristics of the earliest Sharp Point pencils, as they were originally introduced in July, 1917.  Surviving examples of the first Sharp Points are extremely rare, and it is only by comparing those earliest examples to a recent discovery that David J. LaFrance can be conclusively identified as the inventor of the pencil.

Development and Refinement of the Sharp Point

The earliest Sheaffer Sharp Points – the ones made before Kugel established a factory to make them at 440 Canal Street In New York – are easy to distinguish from later models in three respects:  first, they have a crown-style top reminiscent of the Eversharp.  Second, the font used for the imprints is the same Winchester-inspired, spiky lettering found on contemporary Ever Sharp pencils.  Third, the clips had a straight mounting where the clip was soldered to the barrel. 

Figure 13:  Top:  The earliest Sharp Points have a straight clip mounting and crown top.  Second from top:  the “bowler clip,” with side extensions added to the clip mounting for greater stability.  Third from top:  Sheaffer’s patented, flared bell top is added.  Bottom:  Sheaffer’s patented ball clip is added.  This example has a Sharp Point imprint on the barrel in addition to “Sheaffer’s” on the clip. 

Figure 14:  Detail of imprint on earliest Sheaffer Sharp Points.  Note the same font as used on contemporaneous Eversharps.

Soon after the pencils were introduced, “wings” were added to the lower portion of the mounting, so that the upper part of the clip resembles a bowler hat – collectors refer to these as “bowler clips.”  On April 10, 1919 (just as the 440 Canal Street factory was opening), Walter Sheaffer filed an application for a design patent for a pencil, showing the “bowler clip” as well as a flared, bell-shaped cap.  Although design patents only protect the outward appearance of an object, the wings were doubtless added for stability rather than aesthetics.  Sheaffer later applied for and received a utility patent for the distinctive flared, bell-shaped cap, under the pretense that it would be less prone to denting (a claim which any Sheaffer pencil collector will tell you is pure hogwash).  Finally, Sheaffer abandoned the “bowler clip” for the familiar ball clip the company used well into the 1920s.

Figure 15:  Sheaffer’s Design Patent number 59,039, application filed April 10, 1919, showing both the “bowler clip” and flared bell cap.  The existence of many examples of “bowler clip” pencils with crown tops indicates that the clip was modified well before the new cap was added.
Figure 16:  Sheaffer’s Utility Patent number 1,554,604 for the bell cap, filed in May, 1919.
Figure 17:  Sheaffer’s patent 1,531,419 for the company’s familiar ball clip.

In the final installment tomorrow, it all comes together . . .   part five is at

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wahl, Sheaffer and the Race for Boston - Part Three

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.

Note:  This is the third installment in a five-part series of articles, originally published in The Pennant, Winter 2015 and Spring, 2016 editions.  The first installment begins at

The Compromise, Part Two:  as to Mechanical Pencils

Within six months of the Boston sale, Walter Sheaffer, who had never before shown any interest in pencils, filed a patent application for a fully-developed mechanical pencil and launched a national advertising campaign to market his new “Sharp Point” pencils.

Early Sheaffer Sharp Point pencils, from the author’s collection.
Did Sheaffer initiate a mechanical pencil program from scratch in such a short time?  I conclude that he did not.  Given how quickly Sheaffer is alleged to have invented, filed a patent application for and geared up production of a pencil as well-developed as the Sharp Point, it is far more likely that Sheaffer acquired an existing mechanical pencil design from someone else, filed the patent application for that design in his own name and introduced the new pencil as his own.

With all eyes focused on the Boston Fountain Pen Company at the beginning of 1917, the logical “someone else” from whom Sheaffer might have acquired this design would have been Boston.  Is there evidence that Boston – or at least one of its key employees -- was in the process of developing a mechanical pencil at the time the company was sold?  Yes, there is, and the circumstances suggest that fact was not communicated to Wahl’s directors at the time of the Boston sale. 

That evidence also reveals who, in all probability, actually invented Sheaffer’s Sharp Point pencil.

The Ghost of Boston

The sale of the Boston Fountain Pen Company was announced in the January 11, 1917 edition of Geyer’s Stationer, which identified unnamed “Chicago interests” as the purchaser.  “Mr. [C.S.] Roberts said that the company’s business would be continued as usual,” the report states, “and that the new owners would continue to manufacture Boston Safety Fountain pens at the company’s factory in Everett, Mass.”[i]  This initial report does not identify those “Chicago interests” and indicated that “the details of the purchase were not yet ready for publication.” 

In February, 1917, Office Appliances contained two conflicting reports concerning the sale.  “The Eversharp Pencil Company [controlled by at least some of the Wahl Adding Machine Company’s directors] announce that they have purchased the entire interest of the Boston Safety fountain pen,”[ii] states the more polished of the two articles.   However, a brief announcement near the end of the issue indicates that “Keeran & Co. [controlled by Charles Keeran] have purchased the business and good will, and all the physical assets of the Boston Fountain Pen Company.”[iii]  By Keeran’s own admission, it was not his money that bought Boston, and advertisements in the following months confirmed that the Eversharp Pencil Company was the actual purchaser.  If Keeran himself was the source of a report that he rather than his employer was the purchaser, this might have provided an initial spark of tension that eventually resulted in Keeran’s dismissal later that year.  If so, however, that was not the last straw.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3.  Use of the words “Eversharp” and “Wahl” in this story can be confusing.  Prior to January, 1917, the Wahl Adding Machine Company manufactured “Ever Sharp” (two words) pencils for the Eversharp Pencil Company.  In mid-1916, some of the Wahl Adding Machine Company’s directors – it remains unclear whether it was all of them or some of them -- acquired a controlling interest in the Eversharp Pencil Company.  For a few months after the Eversharp Pencil Company purchased the Boston Fountain Pen Company, advertisements such as the one shown  from the March, 1917 issue of Office Appliances (Figure 1) advertised both the pencil business and the new Wahl Pen business as owned by the Eversharp Pencil Company.  By June, 1917, Office Appliances published another advertisement (Figure 2) indicating that ownership of The Eversharp Pencil Company had formally passed to the Wahl Adding Machine Company.  By September, 1918, advertisements such as the one shown from The Saturday Evening Post (Figure 3) indicate that the company was formally reorganized as The Wahl Company.  Wahl sold its adding machine business to The Remington Typewriter Company in 1920.

Even though C.S. Roberts announced that business would carry on as usual at the Boston Fountain Pen company, it did not – not with the same people, anyway.  After the initial announcement of the purchase in Geyer’s, the very next issue, on January 18, announced that George F. Brandt had joined the American Fountain Pen Company, as it was still known at the time – the company would later be renamed after the inventor of its flagship product, the Moore Non-Leakable Pen, to become the Moore Pen Company.[iv]  An announcement published in April, 1917 indicated that Moore had also hired M.G. Sypher, Boston’s superintendent of production, and John G. Liddell, “head mechanic” for Boston.[v]  Liddell went on to patent several innovations for Moore, including both of Moore’s early designs for mechanical pencils, patented in 1922 and 1925.  Neither of those designs, however, bears any resemblance to Sheaffer’s Sharp Point.

Eversharp was able to entice “Mr. Miller,” Boston’s “gold pen expert,” to remain in their employ.  As long as Eversharp had Boston’s patent rights, equipment and nibmeister, Eversharp probably did have sufficient resources to carry on production, although the departure of so many key figures might explain why Eversharp appeared slow to ramp up production in its own name.  Colonel William Smith, the central figure from the first part of this article, also remained in Eversharp’s employ for a time after the sale.   Smith attended the 1917 Chicago Stationer’s Dinner on January 13 representing Eversharp, where he reprised his previous year’s stunt, presenting each of the ladies in attendance with a writing implement.  This time, however, he presented Eversharp’s newly-developed ringtop pencils rather than a Boston Fountain Pen.[vi]  Smith also may have been instrumental in luring one of his former co-workers from L.E. Waterman over to Eversharp:  Church Todd.[vii]

One figure central to the events leading up to Boston’s purchase is conspicuously absent from announcements, both from Moore and Eversharp:  David J. LaFrance, longtime superintendent of company as well as the inventor of Boston’s lever-filled fountain pen design.

Figure 4:  Moore’s announcement, inexplicably published in the April, 1917 issue of the Detroit, Michigan Bulletin of Pharmacy.  If M.G. Sypher was Boston’s superintendent, what had become of David J. LaFrance?  

Rise of the Sheaffer Sharp Point

In May, 1917, Sheaffer’s New York offices were moved from 270 Broadway to “newer and larger quarters” at 203 Broadway.[viii]  The American Stationer stated that the move was “owing to an enormous increase in business,” and the article contained assurances to dealers that Sheaffer would not compete with them.  “This office is maintained for the convenience of dealers and not for the purpose of competing with them in any way,” the piece recites.  “Increased facilities for deliveries from stock, and for making repairs of all kinds will be at hand in the new quarters.”[ix]

The announcement, coincidentally or not, appears on a page of Boston stationers’ news.

On July 12, 1917, Walter A. Sheaffer filed a patent application for a new mechanical pencil.  The July, 1917 issue of Office Appliances included a full-page ad by the W.A. Sheaffer Pen Company, picturing this same pencil.  “Here is the first advertisement of our big fall advertising campaign which will appear in thirteen of the country’s leading magazines between August and January, reaching over 15,000,000 people,” the ad states.  “This sales-building advertising is going to make 1917 a banner year for dealers who carry a complete stock of Sheaffer Fountain Pens and the new SHARP POINT PENCIL.”[x]  True to his word, the Fort Madison, Iowa company made a big advertising splash for the new Sharp Point beginning in August, 1917.

Figure 5: Sheaffer’s announcement of the new “Sharp Point” pencil. 

One thing Sheaffer’s advertising didn’t publicize about the company’s new Sharp Point was that it wasn’t made in Fort Madison.  In 1919, another address for Sheaffer’s New York office works its way into Sheaffer advertising as well as news accounts:  440 Canal Street.  The earliest reference to this address is a trade announcement concerning Sheaffer’s authorization “to do business in New York State” in June, 1919, and it locates Arthur L. Kugel, Sheaffer’s New York representative, at the Canal Street address.[xi]   The announcement indicates that Sheaffer was already at 440 Canal, so the move occurred earlier.   No reason is provided for the move, which is odd given that the stationers’ press routinely reported on such things, including the moves of Sheaffer.  Was 440 Canal merely another site from which the company would make repairs and “deliveries of stock?” 

No.  It was a manufacturing facility, supervised by Arthur L. Kugel.[xii]  Passing references to the use of Canal Street by Sheaffer during the time do not indicate what was made there, but Kugel’s activities suggest that 440 Canal Street was outfitted to manufacture Sheaffer Sharp Point pencils.  As soon as Canal Street was up and running, in May, 1919, Arthur L. Kugel started splitting his time between New York and Fort Madison, helping Sheaffer set up a new pencil factory in Fort Madison.[xiii]

When Walter Sheaffer returned to New York in June, 1921, he came, among other reasons, to visit what was referred to simply as “the New York factory.”    He wasn’t just visiting: at that point, Sheaffer was there to coordinate the closure of the Canal Street location, as the company prepared to move its New York quarters yet again, to a non-manufacturing, upper-floor office in the Pennsylvania Building at the corner of 7th Avenue and 30th Street.  A month later, in July, 1921, Sheaffer announced that its new pencil factory at Fort Madison was operational.[xiv] 

Kugel resigned from Sheaffer in May, 1921, just two months before the July announcement.  By then, he had irrevocably become a pencil man: his next career move was to join the newly formed Realite Pencil Company.[xv]  The resignation was a friendly one, with Kugel remaining on Sheaffer’s board through September, 1921, suggesting that Kugel had simply worked himself out of a job.  He was replaced by Leslie Blumenthal, the former Kraker man who managed Sheaffer’s Kansas City operations.[xvi]

When I put all of these pieces together, I conclude Arthur L. Kugel set up the Canal Street factory in New York at least in part to make the new Sharp Points on a temporary basis in early 1919, while he assisted Sheaffer with the construction of a more permanent pencil manufacturing facility in Fort Madison.  When the new factory was completed, so was Kugel’s mission.  But there’s one problem with this timeline:  Sheaffer introduced the Sharp Point in mid-1917.   Where were they made?  And where was David J. LaFrance during this time?

For a year and a half after Boston’s acquisition by Eversharp, David J. LaFrance, inventor of Boston’s lever-filler pen, seems to disappear.  Although one news report stated that he had been the superintendent of the Boston Fountain Pen Company for 15 years,[xvii] Moore’s April 1917 announcement identifies M. G. Sypher as Boston’s former superintendent.  The facts that someone other than LaFrance was identified as Boston’s superintendent, and that neither Eversharp nor Moore announced that LaFrance had entered their employ, suggests that LaFrance might have left the Boston Fountain Pen Company before the sale to Eversharp was finalized. 

Another later report stated that LaFrance previously “had an experience of 21 years in the manufacture of fountain pens, including the Waterman, Moore and others,”[xviii] but this leaves open the question of whether LaFrance’s service at Waterman and Moore was before or after his time with Boston – as well as who the “others” were.  Was LaFrance working for Sheaffer, ramping up production of a new pencil he had invented, the rights to which Sheaffer acquired? 

I believe so – though whether or not David J. LaFrance knew it, only for so long as Walter Sheaffer needed him.

Walter Sheaffer was not a man to make the same mistake twice.  In 1913, his partner George Kraker and salesman Harvey Craig left his company while Sheaffer’s patent application for the double bar lever filler was still pending, leaving open to conjecture whether in fact he was the true inventor.  Any deal Sheaffer might have negotiated to bring David J. LaFrance and his pencil design into the fold would have ensured that LaFrance would remain under Sheaffer’s thumb until the issuance of his patent was all but secured.

On November 5, 1918, a date mechanical pencil collectors know by heart, Walter Sheaffer was issued patent 1,284,156 for the mechanical pencil that we know as the Sharp Point.  At almost exactly the same time, David J. LaFrance reemerges with an old friend and a new enterprise.

Figure 6:  Sheaffer’s patent number 1,284,156.

[i] Geyer’s Stationer, January 11, 1917, at page 22.
[ii] Office Appliances, February, 1917, at page 33.
[iii] Id. at 182.
[iv] Geyer’s Stationer, January 18, 1917, at page 36.
[v] The Bulletin of Pharmacy, Detroit, Michigan, April, 1917, at page 67.
[vi] Office Appliances, February, 1917, at page 41.
[vii] Office Appliances, February, 1917, at page 33.
[viii] Walden’s Stationer & Printer, April 25, 1917, at page 82.
[ix] The American Stationer, May 5, 1917, at page 6.
[x] Office Appliances, July, 1917, at page 109.
[xi] India Rubber World, June, 1919, at page 504.
[xii] Office Appliances, July, 1921, at page 20.
[xiii] The American Stationer, February 4, 1922, at page 32.
[xiv] Office Appliances, July, 1921 at page 170.
[xv] id.
[xvi] Geyer’s Stationer, August 18, 1921, at page 18.
[xvii] The Cambridge Tribune, October 16, 1920.
[xviii] The Cambridge Chronicle, January 1, 1921.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Wahl, Sheaffer and the Race for Boston - Part Two

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.

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Note:  this is the second installment in a five-part series.  Part one begins at

The Chicken Rancher’s Next Move

On New Years’ Day, 1916, less than two weeks after Colonel Smith was lounging alongside his poultry without a care in the world, The Bookseller, Newsdealer and Stationer announced that Smith was emerging from his short retirement to sell pens for The Boston Fountain Pen Company in fourteen states, with his headquarters in Chicago.[i]

Charles Keeran comments in his 1928 letter that the Chicago department store “Marshall Field & Co. also featured this [Boston Fountain] pen above all others,” so Smith’s sudden association with a distant company is not as random as it might initially appear; it is also possible, if in fact Smith expressed dissatisfaction with Sheaffer to Keeran at their dinner on September 17, that Keeran suggested that Smith look into selling Boston Fountain Pens as an alternative.   If Keeran had anything more to do with Smith’s association with Boston, he would have taken credit for doing so; he didn’t, so it is likely that the recently unemployed and resourceful Smith developed his relationship with The Boston Fountain Pen Company on his own.[ii] 

Figure 13. This advertisement in the September 20, 1916 issue of The Chicago Daily Tribune establishes that Marshall Field & Co. was carrying both Boston Fountain pens and Ever Sharp pencils . . . alongside Waterman Ideals.
No record has surfaced to date of where Smith’s Chicago offices were located, but he must have spent some time at Keeran’s offices in the Lytton Building:  just a week after the initial announcement that Smith was handling the “Boston Safety Pen Company,” The American Stationer announced that Smith added a pencil to his Boston pens:  Keeran’s Ever Sharp[iii]  The account states that Smith’s contract to sell Eversharp pencils was with “Keeran & Co.” in the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky.  Keeran & Co. was the separate company Keeran formed to distribute Ever Sharps manufactured by his “Eversharp Pencil Company.”  While Keeran indicates in his 1928 letter that at some point around this time – by mid-1916 -- Wahl’s officers had purchased a majority of the shares in the Eversharp Pencil Company, Keeran remained in control of his distribution company.

The state of Illinois is conspicuously absent from Colonel Smith’s Ever Sharp territory (whether this is because Keeran had lost control of that state by virtue of Wahl’s control of Eversharp, or because Keeran wanted to keep it for himself).  However, in four states, William Smith’s sole writing instrument lines were Boston Fountain Pens and Ever Sharp pencils.  Whether Smith offered the pair together in one box or not, it was Smith – and neither Wahl nor Sheaffer – who thought that a fountain pen and mechanical pencil would “fit in very nicely” together and made it happen. 

Smith, the former Waterman man, Sheaffer man and chicken rancher, was masterfully orchestrating his next marketing stunt.  With trade announcements in The American Stationer still hot off the press, he was poised to take the Midwest by storm.  In just a couple weeks’ time, all of the major players in the Midwestern stationer’s industry would be gathered together in one room, ripe for Smith to make a big impression and even bigger sales, at the black-tie event around which the industry’s year revolved, and in which Smith reveled: the 1916 Chicago Stationers’ Dinner.   

Black Ties and Red Faces:  The Unreceptive Corner at the Stationers’ Dinner

As mentioned earlier, William Smith was an annual fixture at the Chicago Stationer’s Dinner, held in January each year.  “It was an occasion that brought forth all that goes to make up good fellowship of the right kind,” The American Stationer reported in 1914.  “It was a moment when men, away from their business cares for a short time—gathered for their annual festivities—listened to words that had in them the ring of truth and the elements of weight.”[iv]  Smith had attended for many years; in 1914, he had missed it due to his falling out with Waterman; in 1915, he returned triumphantly on Walter Sheaffer’s arm.  The fourteenth annual banquet, to be held on January 15, 1916, would be different:  for the first time, “the ladies were invited.”[v]

Smith capitalized on the event:  after the introductions and a chorus of “America,” the menus were presented, and each of the ladies found on their plate a Boston Fountain Pen in sterling, engraved with their name and accompanied by Colonel Smith’s card.[vi] 

The Colonel’s publicity stunt was a significant breach of etiquette, on an evening during which the men were supposed to be “away from their business cares”:  while The American Stationer’s annual reports were very detailed year after year with respect to who was present and with whom they were associated at the time, there had never been an occasion such as this when an attendee used the event to promote their individual products – and there is no indication that Smith similarly promoted Waterman’s or Sheaffer’s pens in previous years. 

The “officer” and a gentleman Smith doubtless left the wives in attendance swooning, and the fact that Smith escaped rebuke for his stunt is a testament to his status in the Chicago stationer’s community.  Not everyone would have been Even though  – all perhaps, except for one.  “W.A. Sheaffer, of the W.A. Sheaffer Pen Company, came on from Fort Madison, Ia.,” the account reports, “and was busy doing his share of the entertaining during the evening.”  Fred Seymour from Waterman was also on hand, “kept very busy shaking hands during the course of the evening.”[vii]
The recently jilted Walter A. Sheaffer must have been blindsided by Colonel Smith’s “clever stunt,” and it is difficult to imagine how a Boston Fountain Pen inscribed with Mrs. Sheaffer’s name would have survived the evening.  It is, however, easy to imagine what Sheaffer’s “share of the entertaining” must have been as he watched his former Chicago manager steal the show that evening, perhaps commiserating with Fred Seymour, the Waterman executive who had just a couple years earlier been dispatched to Chicago to escort the wayward Colonel Smith back to Waterman’s Chicago office. 

Figure 14. Walter Sheaffer shakes hands – and likely his head – while Col. Bill Smith steals the show.
Smith might as well have thrown his drink in Walter Sheaffer’s face.  Sheaffer was still in the midst of a bad breakup with former business partner George Kraker, and for the second time, he was watching a close and important business associate abandon him and turn competitor.  In the case of Kraker, Sheaffer retaliated with protracted patent litigation over the rights to the lever-fill pen design both were using.  Smith, however, would be a different matter – all he was doing was selling someone else’s pens.  If Sheaffer wanted to shut Smith down, his next logical move would be to acquire Boston.

If the deeply personal conflict between Walter Sheaffer and William Smith were not enough for Sheaffer to think about attacking the Boston Fountain Pen Company, the events which unfolded in the first half of 1916 guaranteed that Sheaffer would do so.

The Race for Boston Is On

The gregarious Colonel Smith was a pied piper of pen salesman, and as his Boston Pen/Eversharp pencil business gathered steam, other prominent salesmen from Chicago stationers’ houses soon found themselves within his gravitational pull.  On January 26, 1916, The American Stationer reported the resignation of Eddie Dick, the fountain pen and “clasp pencil” department head of Stevens, Maloney & Co.  “It is whispered that Eddie will assist one of the well-known salesman in the fountain pen business in this territory,” the article reported.[viii]

Smith’s success also appeared to lured William H. Newhall away from Shea Smith & Co., although reports are somewhat conflicted as to whether Newhall’s relationships with either Shea Smith or Colonel Smith were exclusive.  In April, 1916, both Geyer’s Stationer and The American Stationer reported that Newhall and Smith had formed a new company, the Newhall-Smith Company.  Geyer’s reported that Newhall-Smith’s offices were on the seventh floor of the Harris Trust Building at the corner of Monroe and LaSalle; while the company had a “good-sized” display room for their samples (which were expanded to include Solidhead Tacks, Featherweight Eyeshades and Gordon Brown’s china markers, called the “Perfect Paper Pencils”), the company’s presence in the upper floors of an office building suggests that Newhall-Smith’s business model was supplying stationers rather than competing with them. [ix]   Eddie Dick, of course, turns up shortly thereafter “assisting” Newhall-Smith.[x]

As for Charles Keeran, Newhall-Smith’s success in promoting his pencils was equal parts blessing and curse.  The increased demand fueled by Newhall-Smith caused Keeran to pressure Wahl to increase production and build up inventory, but in the process Keeran overextended himself.  According to a 1921 account by C.A. Frary, “the owner of The Eversharp Pencil Company found himself at the end of his resources.  He could not pay his bills.  We, as a result of being his manufacturers, were the chief creditors.  Consequently, it seemed that the ‘easiest way to get the money due was to take over the nearly-defunct company.”[xi]   Some of Wahl’s directors had acquired a controlling interest in Eversharp, and Keeran’s offices were relocated to the Peoples Gas Building in Chicago. 

The Boston Fountain Pen Company was prospering from its relationship with Colonel Smith, in more ways than one.  Not only was Boston enjoying increased sales in the Midwest, but Boston had the best intelligence available as to what Walter Sheaffer’s plans would be.  Smith would certainly have understood that while only one man would be left standing as between Kraker and Sheaffer, the basic idea of a lever-filled fountain pen would not only survive, but would be fair game.  As Waterman was demonstrating with the introduction of its PSF line of lever fillers in 1915, anyone could produce a lever filler, as long as the pitfalls of those improvements peculiar to the Sheaffer, Kraker and Craig patents were avoided.[xii]

The extent to which Smith influenced the Boston Fountain Pen Company’s direction is unknown, but if Smith had some insight into Walter Sheaffer’s plans and if Smith left Sheaffer because he thought the lever filler was a smashing idea upon which he would be better off capitalizing with another company, then what happened next makes perfect sense:

The Boston Fountain Pen Company developed its own version of a lever-filler.

The patent application for Boston’s version was filed on May 1, 1916 by David J. LaFrance, who had been Boston’s superintendent since 1905.  LaFrance’s version neatly avoided all of the arguments in the Sheaffer litigation over how to attach a compression plate to the barrel of the pen in the most elegant way:  it wasn’t attached at all.  Rather, Boston’s compression plate hung by a spring from the lever itself, so that lifting the lever stretched the spring and deflated the sac; when the lever was released, it would snap shut and be held flush with the barrel by the tension of the spring.
Figure 15.  David J. LaFrance’s patent number 1,209,978 for a lever-filling fountain pen, applied for on May 1, 1916.  Note the date the patent was issued:  December 26, 1916.
Boston and Colonel Smith wasted no time rushing the new pen into production and to market.  On July 8, 1916, The American Stationer reported that Newhall and Smith had returned from a trip to Boston, and a week later reported that W.H. Newhall claimed that Eddie Dick owed him a new pair of pants due to Dick’s “zeal” in demonstrating how a Boston Safety is filled.  Meanwhile, Colonel Smith had embarked on a three-week long sales trip, long even by Smith’s standards, in which he would visit such far-reaching places as “St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha, Des Moines, St. Paul and Minneapolis.”[xiii]

Figure 16.  Boston lever-filling fountain pens, from the collection of Roger Wooten.    
Whether or not William Smith had anything to do with Boston’s development of a lever-filled fountain pen, the fact that Boston did so, and when they did so, worked out perfectly for Smith.  At the end of 1915, Smith was branch office manager for a company making pens that were selling like wildfire . . . but which may or may not survive, depending on the outcome of pending litigation.  By July of 1916, he’s free of Sheaffer, doing the same job selling fountain pens that worked like and looked like a Sheaffer, with none of Sheaffer’s baggage inside – and with a companion pencil, to boot. 

It was at that precise time, just as everything was taking off for Newhall-Smith and the Boston Fountain Pen Company, a little birdie told Charles Keeran the Boston Fountain Pen Company might be for sale.  Colonel Birdie, we’ll call him.

The Pieces of the Puzzle Come Together

Once the Boston Fountain Pen Company’s new pens emerged as a litigation-free alternative to Sheaffer’s enormously popular lever filler, Boston was in the same predicament in which Keeran had found his Eversharp Pencil Company the previous year – the company itself became a valuable commodity practically overnight.  Although Charles Keeran’s 1928 account of the events which followed does not contain many of the dates, working his timeline backwards it appears that the wrangling began in mid-1916.[xiv]

The chain reaction which resulted in the sale of the Boston Fountain Pen Company is speculative, but the preceding well-documented story suggests it likely began with overtures, threats or a combination of the two from Sheaffer.  All of the other characters were satisfied with the status quo:  Smith was happy selling the pens, not making them, and neither Keeran nor Wahl would have had any motivation to disrupt what was becoming a very profitable enterprise. 

Walter Sheaffer, on the other hand, had strong personal reasons for attacking the company, if not from the moment Smith resigned, then certainly the morning after that fateful Chicago Stationers’ Dinner in January.  Smith’s success distributing of Boston Fountain Pens and Ever Sharp pencils in early 1916 would have added a business motivation to any desire Sheaffer might have had to settle a personal score.  Add to these factors Boston’s introduction of a competing lever-filled fountain pen, and acquiring Boston would become a necessity if Sheaffer was to preserve his domination of the lever-filled pen market. 

Smith had always landed on his feet before, but he had reasons to be very concerned about a possible Sheaffer buyout of Boston.  He had burned bridges with both Waterman and Sheaffer, investing himself and likely his resources heavily in his new Smith-Newhall enterprise.  Smith would have known to a certainty that if a sale of Boston to Sheaffer went through, he would be back on his chicken ranch in ten minutes flat. 

William E. Newhall likewise had a lot riding on Smith’s fate.  News reports at the time are somewhat ambiguous as to whether Newhall had entered into the Newhall-Smith partnership in addition to or instead of his association with the established Shea Smith & Co., but the fact that Newhall-Smith was wholesaling pens, pencils and other products to other stationers suggests that Newhall’s ability to actively represent Shea Smith’s interests was severely compromised.  If all of Smith’s eggs were in one basket (pun intended), it wouldn’t be an enviable basket for Newhall to share if Walter Sheaffer came in to clean house – especially given Sheaffer’s history of suing even those who were only tangentially involved in an alleged infraction.

Since both Smith and Newhall had an interest in keeping their existing product lines intact, it isn’t surprising that one or both of them would try to find a friendlier buyer for Boston.  Wahl, whose directors now controlled Keeran’s Eversharp Pencil Company, would have been the obvious choice.  If Wahl directors owned both The Boston Fountain Pen Company as well as the Eversharp Pencil Company, Smith and Newhall would be assured they would keep Boston Fountain Pens paired with Keeran’s Ever Sharp pencils. 

Keeran reports that C.S. Roberts, Wahl’s vice president and the man he attempted to persuade to buying Boston, was hesitant -- with good reason.  The Eversharp Pencil Company’s relationship with Newhall-Smith was not an exclusive one, and Ever Sharp pencils were selling briskly with or without the Boston Safety Pens, particularly on the west coast.  In addition, Boston’s newfound success was a double-edged sword:  while Wahl’s executives found it relatively easy and cheap to acquire Keeran’s startup company, the Boston Fountain Pen Company was an established business, and their slick new lever filler would doubtless make Boston on the one hand profitable yet on the other, more expensive to acquire.

Besides, Roberts might legitimately have thought, although Sheaffer might want to buy Boston, whether to settle a score or for whatever other reason, in July, 1916, he might have assumed Sheaffer wasn’t in any position to do so.  The Courts had yet to determine the outcome in Sheaffer’s patent litigation, and if Sheaffer lost, there likely would be no Sheaffer Pen Company and business would continue as usual.  Wait and see, Roberts might legitimately have thought.

Roberts, Keeran, Smith and Newhall didn’t have to wait long.  On August 23, 1916, the United States Patent Office determined the “priority” of Sheaffer and Craig’s respective patents, determining that it was Sheaffer, and not Craig, who invented Sheaffer’s “double bar” lever filler.  This was not the end of the Sheaffer-Kraker-Craig litigation, which was running on two parallel tracks:  the case in which Walter Sheaffer had been testifying throughout 1915 was the infringement litigation, filed as the parties continued to scuffle in the Patent Office over whose invention came first.  The patent office decision in the interference case didn’t end the infringement litigation, but it did preordain one of the outcomes:  since each of the parties was suing the other for infringement, the Patent Office decision meant that Sheaffer could not have infringed on Craig, but Craig must have infringed on Sheaffer.  All that was left for the court to do in the Sheaffer litigation was decide the remedy for what was now found to be the wrong. 

Figure 17.  The patent dispute between Sheaffer and Craig was not finally decided until 1918, but the Patent Office decision announced in August, 1916 made Sheaffer’s ultimate victory inevitable.
The patent office decision in the Sheaffer case added urgency to the pleas of Smith, Newhall and Keeran for a friendlier buyer, now that Sheaffer would clearly survive and would have the capital to pursue Boston with greater ferocity.  According to Keeran’s letter, this is when C.S. Roberts finally agreed to send Keeran to Boston “to look into the matter.”

The decision likely would have softened Charles Brandt to the idea of selling, too.  Even though Boston’s patent appeared to stand on very solid footing, Sheaffer’s success in patent litigation stood in stark contrast to Boston’s bad luck, beginning when Brandt founded the company in 1905 and Brandt’s petition for a trademark for “Boston Fountain Pen Company” was denied solely because the mark spelled out the word “Company” but his petition was signed with the word Company abbreviated as “Co.”[xv]  Just two years before Sheaffer’s 1916 victory, The Boston Fountain Pen Co. lost an infringement action it filed over pens made by the Sanford & Bennett Co.; to add insult to injury, the story in The American Stationer reporting the outcome of the litigation on April 18, 1914 appeared on the same pages as a sizeable advertisement for Sanford & Bennett’s allegedly infringing pens.[xvi]  Any threat of litigation from Sheaffer, no matter how hollow, would have been cause for concern to Brandt.

According to Keeran, he traveled to Boston one afternoon in September, 1916, met Charles Brandt for the first time at 4:00 p.m., and “in one hour bought the whole works for $50,000.00.”  Working backwards from Keeran’s timeline, when his second sixty-day option period expired on January 10, 1917, this meeting would have occurred around September 12, 1916.[xvii]

No other documents have been found to substantiate Keeran’s account, and it seems highly unlikely that Keeran met Brandt for the first time and negotiated the purchase of his entire established business in an hour.  When Keeran arrived in Boston in early September 1916, he would have needed some introduction if he was to have any credibility.  He had one.  On September 16, 1916, The American Stationer reported that “W.H. Newhall, of the Newhall-Smith Company, made a trip to Boston last week on business.”[xviii]

The price Keeran says he negotiated, $50,000.00, is the equivalent of more than $1.1 million in 2015.  Keeran didn’t have that sort of cash, and since he was no longer in control of his Eversharp Pencil Company, he couldn’t speak for the company, either:  all he could do was negotiate an option for sixty days at whatever price Brandt would accept and take it back to the decision makers back in Chicago.  Wahl’s management did not give his deal the warm reception Keeran anticipated, and as the sixty-day option was running out, Wahl “was not yet ready” to exercise the option.  With the option set to expire around November 10, 1916, Keeran reports that he traveled to New York (and not Boston), where Charles Brandt met him and, “after a long conference in his attorney’s office,” Keeran was able to persuade him to extend the option for another sixty days.

Neither Keeran nor any other source indicates who Charles Brandt’s attorney in New York was, but a good guess is an 1891 graduate of Columbia, who had offices at 99 Nassau Street and 319 West 87th Streets: Charles Brandt, Jr.[xix]  The elder Brandt’s reluctance to extend Keeran’s option may have been nothing more than his desire for a professional opinion or a family meeting with Charles Brandt, his son George (who managed the works), and Charles Jr., the attorney; after all, his initial option to sell “the whole works” was negotiated in the span of an hour, when Keeran and Newhall had shown up unannounced.  However, Brandt’s hesitation may also have been because Brandt sensed he may be able to get a better deal – and the evidence suggests that pressure from Sheaffer had likely been building since Keeran first paid Mr. Brandt a visit.

The Kugel Maneuver

In mid-September, at almost exactly the same time Keeran reports that he negotiated the initial option to purchase the Boston Fountain Pen Company, Sheaffer’s New York office manager, B.T. Coulson, abruptly resigns.  The American Stationer and Office Appliances both attributed Coulson’s resignation to nothing more than “ill health and a much-needed rest” and indicated that “[h]e will still retain his interest in the company as well as his official connections.”[xx]  

It is likely true that Coulson’s health was deteriorating:  pneumonia eventually claimed his life in February, 1920.[xxi]  However, the report in Geyer’s Stationer indicates there may have been more to the story, announcing that while Coulson would retain his official title of Vice President, he “in fact severed his active association with the company.”[xxii]  Was Coulson quietly relieved of duty because he failed to consummate some sort of a deal with the Boston Fountain Pen Company?  The evidence suggests that he was.

Concurrently with the announcements of Coulson’s retirement was the announcement that upon Coulson’s departure from New York on October 1, he would be replaced by “an old fountain pen man,” The Parker Pen Company’s former Chicago office manager, Arthur L. Kugel (misspelled as “Kudel” in the Geyer’s account).[xxiii]   Kugel, who was being brought into New York from Chicago to replace an office manager forced to resign ostensibly due to his health, would obviously attend first to the most pressing matters affecting Sheaffer’s New York office.  

Thanks to the The American Stationer, we know what that most pressing matter was.  According to a news report published in the October 7, 1916 edition, Kugel spent his first week as Sheaffer’s New York representative . . . in Boston.[xxiv]

A Different Sort of Nor’easter

It took some talking in November, 1916, but Keeran says he was able to persuade Brandt to extend his option for an additional sixty days, ending on January 10, 1917.   Keeran is silent, however, on what happened in between the time he negotiated this extension and December 26, 1916, when he and C.S.  Roberts boarded a train for Boston to exercise the option.  The deal was apparently all but done in the minds of Newhall and Smith, who disbanded their company:  the last reference to Newhall-Smith is in connection with Newhall’s trip to Boston in September, 1916, and a month later, The American Stationer reported that Smith attended the convention of the National Association of Stationers and Manufacturers in Atlanta – no longer on behalf of the company which bore his name, but representing The Eversharp Pencil Company.[xxv]  As for Newhall, he returned to his former position at Shea Smith & Co., and a 1922 biographical sketch in Office Appliances makes no reference to his former involvement with Smith.  If Newhall burned any bridges when he left Shea Smith, all was quickly forgiven and forgotten.[xxvi]  

It is possible that Wahl’s directors dispatched C.S. Roberts and Keeran to Boston on the day after Christmas to exercise the option for accounting reasons, hoping to close out the transaction and spend the cash before the end of the fiscal year.  However, there is a more attractive theory for the sudden urgency: on December 26, 1916, the Boston Fountain Pen Company became significantly more valuable. 

On that very day, the United States Patent Office awarded David J. LaFrance his patent for Boston’s version of a lever-filled fountain pen.

Walter Sheaffer and his boots on the ground, Arthur Kugel, would have known the same thing.   If someone else had patent rights to make a pen which, for all practical purposes, looked just like the ones Sheaffer was making, would the public necessarily care what was inside, so long as it worked?   In Sheaffer’s fight with Kraker, there could be only one winner:  with that struggle all but won in late 1916, Sheaffer was now facing another, more difficult challenge.   He had to find a way to maintain his near monopoly on lever-filling pens, this time against a competitor whose design didn’t violate his patent rights.

At that crucial moment, Sheaffer caught a break when C.S. Roberts pulled a stunt which nearly killed the deal for Wahl.  According to Keeran, Roberts believed that Keeran had agreed to overpay for Boston, so Roberts did not bring the agreed-upon $50,000.00; instead, he only brought a check for $25,000.00, hoping to talk Brandt down by half when they arrived.  That’s half a million, in today’s dollars.

Roberts’ timing could not have been worse, because Brandt was not in a bargaining mood.  According to Keeran, “the owner not only wouldn’t take twenty-five, but he wouldn’t take fifty thousand.”  And why should he?  Brandt’s stock had increased dramatically in value when the patent was awarded (the modern equivalent would be a tick up in value for a pharmaceutical company on the day a patent is awarded to it), and Sheaffer was probably nipping at Brandt’s heels, with either a competing offer, legal threats, or a combination of the two.   

Keeran says that after he and Roberts consulted with an attorney, they were advised that if they wanted to force the sale, they needed to tender the full agreed price; Roberts, who by this time realized his miscalculation, hastily contacted Chicago and had the remainder of the money wired.  Keeran and Roberts then went back to Brandt, who refused a certified check for $50,000.00.  Remember, that would be more than a million dollars today.

So, according to Keeran, he and Roberts settled into a nearby hotel for two weeks to play rummy, while “the lawyers” worked things out. During this time, Keeran says, “Mr. Brandt offered me $20,000.00 if I’d let him off.”  In 2015 dollars, that’s nearly half a million!  There is only one explanation for this:  Walter Sheaffer was offering Brandt a lot more money, probably in excess of $70,000.00.  

Brandt and his lawyers finally relented, and when the transaction closed, Keeran reports, “[Roberts] was really enthused for the first time.”  Roberts, the same man who so reluctantly brought a check for $25,000.00 to Boston on December 26 was “enthused” two weeks later to spend twice that amount?  Of course he was.  Sheaffer was prepared to pay much more, and Roberts was now convinced he had gotten a deal.

No direct evidence has yet surfaced establishing what was negotiated during those two weeks of rummy games.  However, as any lawyer who has been in the trenches for any length of time will tell you, there is rarely a clear, black or white, win or lose.  Charles Brandt did not simply see the light, thumb his nose at Walter Sheaffer, agree that selling his company pursuant to his agreement with Charles Keeran was the right thing to do, convince Sheaffer to go quietly into the night, close the deal and have everyone live happily ever after.  What everyone involved got in January, 1917 was something less than what they wanted.  Among attorneys, there’s a well-known saying:  the perfect settlement is one with which no one is happy.

The surviving physical evidence clearly points to what the terms of that settlement were.

The Compromise, Part One: as to Fountain Pens

For many years, collectors have noted that the earliest Wahl pens have Sheaffer levers rather than Boston’s lever system.  A century later, one of the theories for this apparent anomality is that the Boston lever wasn’t as effective as the Sheaffer “double bar,” but that opinion is based on the performance of Boston’s levers a century later than when they were made.  At the time they were made, Boston’s springed compression bars may well have had significantly greater “spring,” and may have been every bit Sheaffer’s equal in effectiveness.

Figure 18.  Identical pens, one stamped with a Boston Safety Fountain Pen imprint, the other with a Wahl Tempoint imprint.  From the collection of Roger Wooten

However, all of the evidence of the gathering storm which surrounded Boston’s purchase suggests that one of the terms of Walter Sheaffer’s surrender of the Boston Fountain Pen Company to Wahl was to saddle Boston with an obligation to use Sheaffer’s levers on all of its lever filled pens before the company was sold, subject to this obligation, to Wahl. 

Figure 19.  The levers of both pens shown in Figure 18, when lifted, each have a patent date of November 24, 1914 stamped on the side – a reference to Walter Sheaffer’s patent number 1,118,240.  From the collection of Roger Wooten.
Cliff Harrington, in the spring, 2001 issue of The Pennant, revealed the details of a 1918 Wahl catalog he discovered, which had been annotated by C.W. Thornton, Wahl’s cost accountant, with detailed production costs for the pens.  Among these costs, Thornton indicated, was a five cent per lever license fee.  “It was not clear whether this was paid to Sheaffer or to some other rights holder,” Harrington stated,[xxvii] but when all the events described in this article are put together, there can be no doubt now.
Figure 20.  Walter Sheaffer’s patent date was also stamped on some early Wahl pens with the familiar Wahl lever.  From the collection of Roger Wooten.

[i] The Bookseller, Newsdealer and Stationer, January 1, 1916, at page 30.
[ii] While Keeran states that he had seen and admired Boston Safety Pens being sold at Wanamaker’s New York in 1913, it is noteworthy that Keeran – who was extolling his contributions to Wahl – did not take credit for giving Smith the idea to sell the Boston Fountain Pen.
[iii] The American Stationer, January 8, 1916, at page 32.
[iv] The American Stationer, January 17, 1914, at page 3.
[v] Geyer’s Stationer, January 20, 1916, at page 10.
[vi] The American Stationer, January 22, 1916, at page 41.
[vii] Id.
[viii] The American Stationer, January 26, 1916, at page 26.
[ix] Geyer’s Stationer, April 20, 1916, at page 11.
[x] The American Stationer, April 22, 1916, at page 36.
[xi] Frary, C.A., “What We Have Learned from Marketing Eversharp,” Printers’ Ink, August 11, 1921, at page 3.  Frary indicates that the buyout occurred by virtue of an exchange of stock after the end of the holiday season in 1916, but the acquisition must have occurred earlier in 1916; an increase in production in anticipation of Newhall-Smith’s sales is the only likely cause.
[xii] Barnes’ 1903 patent for a lever filler of a different design assured that Sheaffer would never acquire a monopoly on the basic concept of a pen with a rubber sac deflated with the use of a lever.
[xiii] The American Stationer, July 15, 1916, at page 32.
[xiv]Keeran reports that his renewal of his option to purchase the company, for another 60 days, ended on “about” January 10, 1917; therefore, his original option would have expired around November 10, 1916 and he would have negotiated his deal with Charles Brandt around September 10, 1916; prior to that, he says he tried to persuade Wahl “for months” after hearing from Bill Smith that the company was available.
[xv] Ex Parte Boston Fountain Pen Co., Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, June 27, 1905, at page 2531.
[xvi] The American Stationer, April 18, 1914, at page 34. 
[xviii] The American Stationer, September 16, 1916, at page 8.
[xix] The Catalogue of Officers and Graduates of Columbia University (1916), at page 616.
[xx] The American Stationer, September 16, 1916, at page 25 and Office Appliances, October, 1916 at page 164.
[xxi] Office Appliances, April, 1920, at page 61.
[xxii] Geyer’s Stationer, September 14, 1916, at page 12.
[xxiii] Geyer’s Stationer, id.
[xxiv] The American Stationer, October 7, 1916, at page 18.
[xxv] The American Stationer, October 21, 1916, at page 112.
[xxvi] Office Appliances, September, 1922, at page 24.
[xxvii] Harrington, Clifford M., “Early Wahl Production Costs.”  The Pennant, Spring, 2001, at page 29.