Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Hutcheon Brothers Sidebar

(Note: this article originally ran in Spring 2015 issue of The Pennant, Journal of the Pen Collectors of America.  Since I’ve got a couple articles coming up that assume you’ve read this, it made sense to republish it here.)

The Answer that Begs a Dozen Questions:

What a newly rediscovered Snapfil catalog tells us about the General Manufacturing Company’s pre-Kaligraf pencils

The General Manufacturing Company’s line of “Snapfil” pens, with their unusual backwards-lever filling systems are very desirable to fountain pen collectors.  Companion pencils, marketed by the company under the trade name “Kaligraf,” rank among the most highly sought-after grail finds among mechanical pencil aficionados.

An advertisement for the Kaligraf, as posted at, showing the inner workings of the pencil. 

Collectors tend to refer to the Kaligraf as a “lever fill” pencil, but it is more properly thought of as a repeater pencil; to operate, the lever is pulled up and the “kickstand” is lowered into the barrel.  As the lever is pushed flush with the barrel, the kickstand engages the teeth on an internal pushrod and scoots the lead forward a bit.

Two examples of the Kaligraf, from the author’s collection.  Side clip models are exceedingly difficult to find; shown are a full-sized ringtop and a clipless model.

The lever pulled up, showing the hinged “kickstand” underneath.  Pushing the lever towards the barrel engages the internal pushrod.  
The patent for the Kaligraf, number 1,342,416, was applied for by Martin O. Borbeck in July, 1919 and was issued on June 8, 1920 – the same day Borbeck received a patent for an improved version of the Snapfil pen filling system.  Kaligrafs show up so rarely that we don’t have a vast number of examples to compare, but to my knowledge all of the surviving examples bear the 1920 patent date, suggesting that production of the Kaligraf pencils did not begin until mid-1920 or later.

Detail of imprint.  I am unaware of any examples marked “Patent Pend. or “Patent Applied For.”

Borbeck’s patent number 1,342,416.

When George Rimakis approached me at the DC Supershow last August and told me he had a Snapfil catalog he would allow the PCA to scan and include in our reference library, I eagerly opened his catalog to the back page, where most pen companies list their selection of pencils, to see what more I might learn about the Kaligraf.  Instead, George’s catalog illustrates only metal pencils available in either sterling silver or gold fill.

Elsewhere in George’s catalog there is reference to the “patented” Snapfil pen filling system, so I’m inclined to believe that his catalog dates to between 1918, when the first Snapfil pen patent was issued, and the first year or two of the twenties, when the new Kaligraf would have supplanted the metal pencils shown.  I have to consider the possibility that there was some artistic license taken in the drawings, but no amount of fudging can hide the fact that these pencils were probably not all supplied by any one manufacturer, and The General Manufacturing Company likely made none of them.

The first pencil on the left bears some resemblance to an early Sheaffer Sharp-Point pencil, which would tie in nicely with Daniel Kirchheimer’s preceding article on the origins of the Balance.  However, it’s unclear whether the illustrated pencil is shown with the top pulled out a bit or whether what is shown is a clutch pencil (with the top unscrewed to admit the lead).  In addition, the chasing doesn’t match a Sheaffer, but it does match what’s shown on the magic pencil at the far right – and Sheaffer never produced a magic pencil.

The second and fourth pencils, models 102, 103, 104 and 105, are shown with two ribs at the top and the shape and positioning of the clip, resemble pencils marked Ever-Rite; again, here is a possible Sheaffer connection: I recently posted a blog article illustrating the similarities between the internal workings of the Ever-Rite and the Sheaffer (for more information, see

From left:  the illustrated “No. 100”; an early Sheaffer Sharp-Point (note single rib at top); the illustrated “No. 102/104”; an Ever-Rite.  The resemblance is strong but inconclusive.

However, it is the third and fifth pencils in this illustration (No. 101, 106 and 107) that provide the clearest insight as to who might have supplied at least some of General Manufacturing’s pencils.  No, it’s not Mabie Todd (which marketed pencils under the name “Fyne Poynt”), but it’s close:  Hutcheon Brothers.

Hutcheon pencils from the author’s collection.  Note that among these pencils are full-sized pencils with the same distinctive clip shown in the Snapfil catalog, as well as utility pencils such as the ringtop illustrated.  The two “pregnant” pencils at bottom are examples of Hutcheon’s distinctive “Hutch Clutch” pencils.

Detail of the distinctive clip on Hutcheon pencils, identical to the Snapfil No. 101.
Hutcheon Brothers had its roots in Albert G. Hutcheon’s departure “with some regrets” from Mabie, Todd & Co. in 1913, when he purchased O’Neill & Co. and continued the firm’s business of making pencils, among other things.  By 1917, the firm was renamed Hutcheon Brothers and was advertising pencils just like the number 106/107 shown in the Snapfil catalog.

Hutcheon may even have provided the title for this page:  “Fine Point Pencils.”   Although the title could be referring in the generic sense to pencils with fine points, the Hutcheon connection suggests a more specific connotation derived from Alfred’s prior association with Mabie Todd:  Hutcheon marketed pencils under both the names “Finerpointe” and “Finepointer.”

Distinctive design features and the nearly identical names are too much to write off as coincidence.  However, as of this writing, the author is unaware of any pencils other than the Kaligraf marked General Manufacturing, Houston, Jiffy or Snapfil.  This catalog provides more questions than answers:  were unmarked versions of other manufacturer’s products supplied to The General Manufacturing Company? Did General Manufacturing openly supply Hutcheons, Sheaffers and pencils made by other manufacturers to accompany its pens before Martin Borbeck’s Kaligraf went into production?  Or are there General Manufacturing-marked examples out there which will turn up and provide additional clues?

Time and a sharp eye will tell: in the meantime, this catalog provides a fascinating glimpse into the connections between pencil manufacturers and producers in the late teens and early twenties.

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