Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Crossbars

When I took over the editorship of The Pennant in the summer of 2014, I decided to try a few new things with the magazine.  On the cover of issues before I started, a picture of a pen was used to cross the “A” in Pennant, but it had been either some cartoony stylized picture of a pen, or a real picture of some random pen that had nothing to do with anything else in the magazine.

My initial idea was to use the crossbar as a “teaser” for the next issue.  Here was that first cover:

On page 3, I explained.  “Crossbar: your new editor promises not to “pencilfy” your Pennant too much . . . but this unique item, relevant to the theme of this issue, will appear in our winter edition,” I wrote.  

Unfortunately, it didn’t.  Scandals over the way my predecessor had been relieved of his duties became a tempest in our little teapot.  Some members, who harbored an almost pathological distaste of mechanical pencils, voiced objections that the editor of The Pen Collectors of America’s magazine wasn’t even a real pen collector.  Frankly, I was more trouble than I was worth to the organization; had anyone else been willing to invest the amount of time it takes to put the magazine together, that first issue likely would have been my only one.

Nobody was.  Still, I thought it might be wise not to put any pencil stuff on the covers of my second and third issues (I used a Houston Pen for the crossbar on my second cover, as a teaser for the third issue; my third issue featured a custom dip pen made by Carl Seidl).  For the third issue, I included an article on Kaligraf and Hutcheon pencils, since the subject tied in so nicely with other articles in that issue, and . . . no cries of foul from the pencil-haters.

On the cover of each of my last four issues, I used a piece from my collection for the crossbar.  Here they are, in order of appearance:

For each of the last four, I included a short writeup at the end of my “From the editor” page.  From the top, after that first issue, The Parker Vacumatic pencil with the custom band and an emerald in the clip - not much to say about it other than it’s a killer Parker.  The Redypoint was the piece which unraveled the story from “Wahl, Sheaffer and the Race for Boston.”  The Dunhill smoker’s pencil led me to research the origins of Sheaffer’s white dot for the Summer 2016 issue, and for the last issue under my contract the Edward Todd golf club figural pencil seemed an apt symbol of my impending retirement.

I never had the opportunity to circle back around to explain what that top pencil is and what I thought it meant when I teased about it in my first issue a couple years ago:

I acquired the pencil from Tom Heath just a couple months before I took the job as editor.  It’s an Aikin Lambert, identified by the hallmark next to the clip:

The pencil operates as a leadholder; a twist of the cap releases the lead, which can be moved by gravity or the push of a finger.  The pencil has a version of William Ferris’ 1905 patented riveted clip, which appears on Waterman pens and pencils.  That isn’t surprising, since Aikin Lambert was absorbed by Waterman in the 1910s:

The reason I chose this pencil for my first cover was because Daniel Kirchheimer and George Rimakis had written a significant piece, “Blotting Out The Truth,” which appeared in three installments, the second of which in my first issue.  Their series traced the origins of the L.E. Waterman Company, and I was at the time researching the origins of Waterman’s mysterious “tree trunk” pens, the manufacturer of which remains somewhat of a mystery.

The more I think about it, maybe it isn’t such a mystery after all.  Let’s compare the Aikin Lambert “tree trunk” pencil to the custom Eversharp made from the same molds as the Waterman Tree Trunk pens:

Note that, while the patterns are completely different, the Eversharp clip has been affixed to the outside of the custom cap using the same riveting found on Aikin Lambert and Waterman pencils . . . a manner which remained patented by Waterman at the time both were made:

Maybe this whole Waterman tree trunk mystery isn’t as complicated as we are all making it.  David Nishimura has suggested that the markings on the base of Rick Krantz’ tree trunk pen suggest factory production of the pens, not custom overlays.  It would make sense, if Waterman wanted a custom overlay and its subsidiary Aikin Lambert had the tooling and expertise to make them, that Waterman would keep the whole thing in house rather than farm the work out to some random jeweler – especially if its subsidiary Aikin Lambert had already made a tree trunk pencil.

Occam’s razor slices the mystery down to that simple explanation.  Unless/until evidence to the contrary is discovered.

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