Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Great Way to End the Year

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.

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