Sunday, May 28, 2017

An Unbelievable Stroke of Luck

This isn’t really a third installment in the Woodwards & Hale/Woodward & Brothers story, but it is kind of a neat footnote that grew out of it.

There’s been a few times over the years when I’ve wished, before I published an article on an obscure brand, that I had searched the online auctions to see if there were other examples of the brand out there that I might want to add to my collection.  While there aren’t thousands of people reading this blog every day, there are enough out there who become intrigued by one of my articles and snap up all the other currently available examples.  On more than one occasion, readers have turned up examples even nicer than the one I’d written about, and they write me excitedly to show me what they found.

So, as the first installment on Woodwards & Hale article was set to publish, I ran a search for “Woodward pencil” at one of the auction sites, and I got a hit: this trio of Victorian writing instruments scraps was available for a song.

The pencil at the top is marked “Woodwards”:

I really liked the distinctive finial at the top end:

But there’s just one little problem.  Actually, it’s not a little problem ... for most people, it’s a deal-killer:

It’s missing the nozzle.  Victorian pencils typically have a nozzle which unscrews for easier cleaning, and they frequently go missing.  Unfortunately, for pencils made before standardized mass production made parts readily interchangeable, a missing nozzle is usually a one-way ticket into the parts bin, since they come in a seemingly infinite variety of sizes and threadings.  It’s nearly impossible to find a suitable replacement.  I’ve joked on occasion that if you have two of these pencils, they take three different nozzles.

Still, since I didn’t know whether these were a common sight or if I’d never see another, I decided to bite on the lot.  Who knows, I thought – maybe I’ll get lucky.

Before I put away my new Woodward & Brothers and consigned the other two items to my junk box, I took a closer look at them to be sure nothing was worth saving.  That short pencil, with a spike on the other end, is not a masochist’s pencil (although a masochist might enjoy stabbing himself or herself while doing the Sunday crossword).  It’s one of the reversible ends of an Eagle No. 569 compass/divider:

Not bad, I thought.  I’m an omnivore for all things Eagle, and maybe I’ll find an interesting variant of an Eagle Compass someday, one that’s missing a leg.  Into the Eagle compass drawer went that one.

That third piece, though, didn’t look to be much good for anything.  It must have belonged to a different sort of omnivore – one who chewed on whatever was in hand as the lunch hour approached:

Fortunately, the piece wasn’t marked, so I didn’t shed too many tears about the sorry state of this example.  These are kind of neat – dozens of early makers turned things like this out.  The barrel telescopes out to make it a bit longer, and the end contains a reversible pencil:

Hey, and it still has the tip attached – maybe that will come in handy sometime, I thought.

Wait a tick . . . 

That tip fits the Woodwards pencil . . . perfectly:

Joe Nemecek and I talked about this after I was excited to let him know I’d hit the Victorian pencil tip lottery.  He wonders if this is really a match, with that little notch between the nozzle and the pencil.

Joe might be right . . . but finding a tip of the correct size, material and threading is a one in a .... well, maybe not one in a million, but one in a hundred chance – if you can find a hundred to try.  Finding a tip that works in the same lot of random stuff in an online auction?   OK, maybe now we’re pushing one in a million.

Besides, with that tip in place, it looks damned nice now next to my Woodwards & Hale.

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