Friday, June 30, 2017

A Mysterious Victorian - G.R. & Co.

As I finished organizing the museum, putting like things together for the first time in years, there were a few square pegs left and nothing but round holes as far as the eye could see.  Here’s a few things that just don’t make sense . . . yet.

This first one has a very typical Fairchild-style center joint twist mechanism:

The quality is just so-so, and usually these are unmarked.  This example, however, has an imprint, and it’s one I haven’t seen:

“G.R.& Co.”  Since the mechanism is so plain vanilla, any association between pencil patentees with last names starting with G or R would be pure speculation.  I checked to see if there were any pencil companies going by “G.R. & Co.”, and I did get a hit.  Although my pencil appears to be American, there was a George Rowney & Co. operating out of London, England in the nineteenth century:

Although the late 1800s looks to be about right for my pencil, George Rowney & Co. was in business much earlier.  Here’s an advertisement the company placed in the Aethenum in 1837:

There’s a couple problems with the Rowney theory.  First, all the references I found to the company were in England, while this pencil clearly appears to be American – there’s no indication the company had an American office, and my piece doesn’t bear any English hallmarks or export markings..  Second, all of Rowney’s advertisements were for wood pencils, not “propelling” pencils (in the King’s English).

We’ll see.  Sometimes I throw things like this out there, and it’s years later before someone stumbles upon it with the missing piece of the puzzle.  Here’s to hoping . . .

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Wildest of the Wild

I’ve written about some of the really strange materials with which Parker experimented in the early 1930s, mostly on the Streamline Duofold platform.  This one was featured here in 2013 (

And then there was this one, from 2014 (

At the Chicago Show this year, Eric Magnuson turned up one that takes the prize.  He visited me for a show-and-tell session recently, and we shot some good pictures of it:

It bears a Parker Duofold imprint just like mine, and shares the same imperfections in the plastic that explain why these either never made it into production or were quickly discontinued:

It was nice to have the opportunity to photograph our two examples side by side:

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

This One Is Important: Withers' Patent

David Nishimura has turned up an example of one of the earliest American mechanical pencils - earlier even than a Lownds.  Henry Withers received a patent for his pen and pencil combination on March 19, 1834 - the fourth patent issued in the United States for a pencil.

David has also run down some of the history concerning the Withers patent pencil.  For those who are interested in early American writing instruments, his article is a must-read.

The link to David’s article:  He’s allowed me to repost a few of his pictures here:

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Sleeper

When things wind down on Sundays at the shows, there comes a point at which John Hall and I look around the room, and the atmosphere has changed from pen show to social hour.  At that point, we’d rather have our stuff all packed up in the car so we can take our time going around the room and saying goodbye to all our friends.  It takes a while, since we know just about everyone in the room.

On our last run around the room at Raleigh this year, John got to chatting with someone and I happened to look down at the table next door.  Force of habit, really . . .  I wasn’t expecting to see anything I hadn’t already seen after three days in the same room together.

And yet, there was something there that I’d seen, but hadn’t really noticed: . . and I”d venture to say no one else had, either, because this one should have been snapped up:

This one sports a disproportionately large clip marked “Pat. Sept. 26 05":

The reference is to patent number 800,141 issued to William I. Ferris, on an application he filed on April 7, 1905:

The patent was assigned to the L.E. Waterman Company, and the clip is best known as a Waterman clip.  However, when you see one without that ball on the end, that’s a dead giveaway that on the back side of the barrel, you’re likely to find . . . .

“ALCo,” for Aikin Lambert Company.  Aikin Lambert, which was originally a supplier of gold nibs to Waterman, gradually grew closer and closer to its best customer until it was finally absorbed by Waterman in 1907 (David Nishimura posted an excellent article on the transition of Waterman control over at his blog a few years ago – see

This is one of Aikin Lambert’s line of leadholders – a turn of the crown simply releases the lead, which must then be pushed in or dropped out to the desired length.  I’ve got several, including some with plain gold-filled barrels like this one, but what struck me about this example was how disproportionately large that Ferris clip is.  Well actually . . .

The clip is the same size as what you’d find on any of these.  It’s the rest of the pencil that’s so much smaller than I’m used to seeing!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A One-Hit Wonder

Every year there’s an auction at the Raleigh Pen Show (also known as the Triangle Pen Show), and this year’s affair featured a few lots of pencils that I found interesting during the preview.  One lot featured a dozen or so early metal pencils from the first couple decades of the last century, and Joe Nemecek said he was going to bid on that bunch because there was a Hutcheon in there he was interested in.

I sat back and let Joe have at it – but as the bidding heated up, he dropped out at what I considered still a low price for what was in that bunch.  So I jumped in . . . not for the Hutcheon so much, but for this one:

Since I’m a member of Newark Lodge Number 391 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE), whenever I find a nice early piece of memorabilia from one of my furry animal clubs I’m a happy camper.  I couldn’t really tell what that pink paper rolled around the barrel was, but I was hoping it was an instruction sheet for the pencil. . .

When I flattened it out, though, it turned out to be a blank Elks membership card, complete with instructions regarding the proper use of “Royal Glue,” snapping rubber bands and slipping brass collars down to the center

I think I’m missing something here.  These just look like random words to me.  However, with the card slipped off the barrel of the pencil, it made it easier to notice something a little odd about the end of that pencil:

That extra long tip twists to advance and retract the lead, which made me wonder what happens if you unscrew the crown . . . and now for something completely different:

Now that’s really unusual.  It’s essentially a leadholder with a little screw drive mechanism replacing what would ordinarily be a stick of lead.  That had me looking more closely at the barrel to see if there were any more clues, and there was one, imprinted above the Elks emblem:

“Pat. Dec. 31, 12.”   That was a date I wasn’t familiar with, but it didn’t take long to find a pencil patent issued on that date in American Writing Instrument Patents Vol. 2: 1911-1945 (brief commercial announcement . . . copies are still available at

George V. Orban and Bogumil Silberstein of New York, New York applied for patent number 1,049,137 on January 24, 1912, but when I looked at the Orban/Silberstein patent, there’s something wrong here . . .

The drawings and the description show a plunger backed by a spring which scoots the lead forward when the entire mechanism is pushed inward ... and my pencil has a screw drive mechanism.  This isn’t my pencil.

But I do have one other patent listed in my book and filed on December 31, 1912 . . . and it isn’t for a pencil:

Alonzo Bunt Scott of Fairmont, West Virginia applied for a patent for his “card-case attachment for pencils” on April 9, 1912, and it was issued December 31, 1912 as patent number 1,049,275.

And then the lights came on.   Remember those curious instructions?  Look what’s at the end:

Whaddaya know.  That also explains that loose metal ring at the top of the mechanism, which I thought was broken.  It’s actually a retaining ring (the "brass collar" referred to in the instructions) so that when your card is rolled up, it holds it tightly wound so that the barrel slips easily slips over it.  I wound it tightly, but as I’m fresh out of “Royal Glue,” I didn’t attach it:

The patent drawings don’t show that retaining ring - instead, it shows a “card clamping ring” detailed at figure 4.  Note also that the barrel is secured to the inner workings by threading at the top end, rather than by a threaded bushing closer to the nose.  These differences were explained when I turned to the “patents by inventor” section of my book, where I’ve listed a second patent issued to Alonzo for an improved version of his pencil as number 1,297,017, applied for on October 18, 1918 and issued March 11, 1919:

Scott’s “Patent Card-Case Pencil” must have enjoyed some measure of commercial success.  I’ve found three advertisements for his invention.  The earliest, attributed to 1918, was posted in a silver forum ( by “dognose.”  I haven’t been able to find the original:

In August, 1922, Scott advertised his pencil in Golfers Magazine as a scoring attachment; I’m not sure how this would work; at least with my example, the pencil is attached to the card, so when the card is extracted, you’d need a second pencil to write on it . . .

In late 1922, they were also advertised in The Jewelers’ Circular:

Note that in all these advertisements, the pencil doesn’t appear to come out with the attachment - that must especially be true with the golf scoring card attachment.  For that reason, I tend to think my example is a transitional model, made sometime between the 1912 and 1919 patents.

Alonzo Bunt Scott was an interesting character.  In addition to his jewelry business, optometry practice (including service on West Virginia’s Board of Optometry) and pencil patents, he received patents for an attachment for suspenders (number 1,245,043) in 1917, for a “golf putting device” (number 1,546,260) in 1925, and two for golf putting boxes (numbers 1,473,051 and 1,614.399) in 1923 and 1927.  By 1936, Rotarian magazine announced that members interested in gardening should contact Alonzo as an authority on prize dahlias.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

World's Ugliest Conklin

My friend Jerome Lobner had this one in an online auction:

Jerome is frequently listing really odd things.  He says there was a museum somewhere out in Kansas that had a significant pencil display he’s been liquidating, and over the years many of the more unusual pieces I’ve picked up from him have found therir way here.  If this one weren’t marked Conklin, I’d never believe it was one, either:

I’ve written about this line before . . . I lump it in with the All-American series, which covers a wide range of variants in Conklin’s budget line.  Last summer I did a clip transplant on one of these (see “The One that Bugged Me” on August 24, 2016 at and one turned up in Conklin’s ultra rare “flame” color (

This one is fundamentally different, though – and not just because that color combination is just . . . just . . . I don’t know what to say about that.  No, this one’s different because examples from the All-American series I’ve found up until now have been rear drive pencils with a one piece barrel.  Here’s the shot of one disassembled during the clip transplant article, and note that extracting the mechanism necessitated the destruction of the barrel:

This one, however, is a middle joint, nose drive pencil:

The construction is indicative of later and lower quality Conklins made after the company was purchased and relocated to Chicago.  The lower barrel is odd, too.  That isn’t a black and white plastic barrel – it’s a black barrel with white squares screen printed on it:

Literally.  It looks like someone put a screen over it and rolled paint on.

I’ll admit that the odd mismatch of colors had me wondering whether this was something Conlin actually did or whether someone else might have had some fun making something so ugly you’ve got to love it.  I come down on the side of a late Toledo or early Chicago made Conklin.  First, I consider the source – the seller has sold me a bunch of undisputably legitimate pieces, and this is credited as coming from that same source.  Although the color of the upper barrel isn’t one you’d expect to find in a Conklin, the imprint is a clincher and besides – in this series, the only color common to other Conklins was the lime green borrowed from the Endura line.

Next, consider what it would take to modify an All-American into something like this – there would be more to it than sawing a barrel in half and threading one end to accept a different lower barrel.  Remember that I had to destroy the barrel to get a mechanism out of one of these, because the clips were stapled in after the mechanisms were pressed into the barrel.  Even if I had cut the barrel in half, there wouldn’t be any way to extract the mechanism from the front end, either.  I don’t see any way to modify an assembled All-American and turn it into something like this.

Was there a matching lower barrel that has been replaced somewhere along the line with this ugly thing?  Maybe, but from what I don’t know - the diameter of this one is a little wider than most of the later middle-joint pencils you’ll see, and that screen-printed design is something I haven’t encountered before.

If this was a desperation piece hacked together from parts on hand while Conklin was in its death throes, either in Toledo in the hands of its old owners or in Chicago after 1938 at the hands of the syndicate, there likely wouldn’t be a catalog or other documentaiton that something like this rolled off an assembly line.  Maybe that’s a good thing, since an official announcement that Conklin thought something like this was a good idea might have further hastened the company’s demise.

On the other hand, given the depths to which Conklin sank before finally succumbing, maybe it would have been best for the company to be put out of its misery.  Nothing better illustrates the deterioration of the company better than a shot of this one alongside its older siblings made in happier times:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Both Shoes

There are times when I see something and I know right off the bat what the title of the article is going to be.  The title of this one was going to be “The Other Shoe,” because I was so sure I had written about it before:

The pencil is made by the Eagle Pencil Company, and this one has one of those great names I love to see on an early Eagle: this one is the “Eagle Rocket”:

So as I sat down to start this article, title already firmly planted in my head, the first thing I did was open up the blog and scroll down to the Eagle Rocket.  Eagle Prestige, Eagle Ritaway . . . Eagle Russett . . . wait, where did I put that article?  I went back to the general Eagle category, in which non-model specific Eagle articles are filed . . . nothing there, either.

Huh.  Where did I put that article?  I went back through the picture archive for the blog, and it wasn’t there, either, so as a last resort, I opened a vast file folder on my laptop titled “pencil pictures,” a nearly bottomless pit of images into which I dip a digital bucket from time to time, drawing inspiration and material for the articles I write here.  Fortunately, since last winter I invested a week or so to go through and renamed all the images by brand, it isn’t as much the wilderness it used to be. Within a few minutes I’d found the pictures I took – and never used – of the Eagle Rocket.  They were pretty bad, taken in the days before friends had introduced me to the wonders of aperture priority and spot metering, so I had to reshoot them.  

I digress.  The point is that I abandoned the article and my unfinished research.  How in the world could I not post about something as cool as the “Rocket,” made in the days of Jules Verne or Orson Wells?  It has to do with that odd-looking accommodation clip:

“Pat. Nov. 9th 1920,” the imprint reads:

Turning to that outstanding resource on the subject (shameless plug), American Writing Instrument Patents Vol. 2 1911-1945, within two shakes I found a patent on that date by Eagle’s prolific inventor-in-residence, Claes Boman, number 1,358,511, and . . .

That isn’t it.  Not even close.


Fortunately, according to that most excellent resource, I know there were two patents issued for clips on November 9, 1920.  The other one, number 1,358,338, is a dead ringer for this one . . .

Ok, maybe half a dead ringer.  The drawings show a two-piece clip featuring an outer cover, from which the ball of the clip is pressed, wrapped around an accommodation clip with that same goofy shape and a hole in it:

The patent was applied for by William M. Saunders of Waterbury, Connecticut on January 15, 1920, and it was assigned to his company, the Hoge Manufacturing Company, makers of the ubiquitous “Pal” pencils as well as an interesting pencil called the “Modern” (not to be confused with A.A. Waterman’s “Modern Pen Company” – see

That’s when I remembered why and how the uber-cool Eagle Rocket slipped quietly into the dead letter office.  I thought it was a bit lame to write about half an accommodation clip, and I figured maybe someday the other shoe would drop.

Yesterday the mailman arrived, and there it was . .  thump.

I bid on this lot for the pen case that came with it.  The auction listing indicated that it was for a collection of pencils “with case,” but since the case wasn’t shown in the first picture, I guess nobody noticed.  I got everything for $15.50 . . . with free shipping.  I didn’t even care about the pencils.

Still, there were a couple interesting things in there.  The one that really caught my attention was that grey and red one with the weird silver cap – now that I have it in hand, I know it’s just a dumb ol’ Cavalier with something stuck in place of the right cap that happens to fit really well.  That gold one I’ll probably write about, so I’m going to keep it under wraps for the time being.  In the top row, there’s a Parker Challenger with a broken lower barrel badly superglued back together, and a crappy Essex.

And then there was that last one . . . I recognized it as probably being a Biltwell with the clip broken off and replaced with some random accommodation clip, which is exactly what it proved to be . . .

But what a clip!

It took a lot of wrestling to get that clip off the Biltwell, but fortunately the half a clip on the Rocket slipped off easily:

And the Rocket “rocketed” from uber-cool to . . . whatever you want to call something a few steps above that:

I have no evidence that the Hoge clip is correct on the Eagle Rocket, but I find it an extraordinary coincidence that Saunder’s patent was issued the same day as a clip patented by Eagle, and the first of only two I’ve seen turned up on an Eagle . . . when Eagle had a 1915 patented accommodation clip that might have been used just was well.

Who knows . . . maybe someday, something will turn up proving that Hoge supplied Eagle with clips and this pairing is the real deal.

That will be the third shoe.