Friday, September 22, 2017

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet

“They didn’t only make one,” I’m always telling myself when I see something I’d like to have, but it isn’t available.  In this case, it was four years before another one of these came along at the DC show this year:


The clip is marked “Superpencil”:


Joe Nemecek has one of these, which he brought to the Raleigh Show for me to photograph in 2013.  There were a couple reasons I haven’t written about it before now: during my short introduction to Joe’s example, I wasn’t able to figure out how it worked.  Also, I wasn’t really happy with the way the pictures turned out, with a simpler camera and poor lighting.  I did play around with the first image in photoshop and it looks a little better than the raw image:


Note that from these pictures, Joe’s pencil looks a little longer than mine, but I think there’s a simple explanation for that.  When I got my first example, it looked like this:


That ttop piece of metal had slipped down around the celluloid center section, and it took quite a bit of wrestling to get it back up where it belongs.  I could have positioned it higher up on the celluloid so it would be as long as Joe’s, but there’s a simple reason why I didn’t:

It wouldn’t work if I did, and that may be the reason I couldn’t figure Joe’s pencil out.

When the Superpencil is disassembled, here’s what you get:


At the front end you have a simple leadholder: screwing the nose on tightens the clamps around a stick of lead, and unscrewing it a bit releases it. At the back, the top pulls off to reveal a metal cylinder with a slot and a little nub on the end:


That nub engages perfectly into the end of the spare lead compartments inside the barrel, lining up that slot perfectly with the adjacent compartment:


If I’d glued the top section in place any higher than I did, that nub wouldn’t engage with the spare lead compartments to line things up inside.  When I see Joe in Ohio, we’ll have to compare our examples to see if the back section on his is longer, indicating there were two sizes made and I just wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to use it.  If it’s the same length as mine, we’ll have to adjust his so that it works.

In operation, this thing is a real work of art.  I used .065-inch leads, which worked perfectly.  To load the spare leads, I loosened the tip, held the tip facing up and dropped in a lead, which passed through that center hole and back into that slotted metal piece at the back of the pencil.  Rotating the pencil around, the lead would fal to the outside of the slot in that back piece, so that when I point the tip down again, the lead falls into the spare lead compartment.  Pull the back out a bit and rotate the top until that nub engages in the next hole, and you can repeat the process filling the other slots.  To advance the next lead, the process is reversed: rotate the top to line up with a compartment containing a lead, point the tip up so the lead falls into the back section, rotate the barrel so the lead falls to the bottom of that slot, then point the tip down and the lead falls down through that center hole and into position at the tip.

It’s cool as all get out and I’ve never seen anything else like it, but there isn’t much information out there to tell me who might have made this thing or when.  The obvious reference that comes to mind is a play on Superman, which was introduced by Detective Comics (later DC Comics) in June, 1938 - the character, according to Wikipedia, was created five years earlier in 1933, by a couple of high school students named Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster in Cleveland, Ohio.

The most promising lead I found was a reference in the Library of Congress’ Catalog of Copyright Entries, which contains a listing for a copyright granted to the American Lead Pencil Company of Hoboken, New Jersey for the phrase “It’s a Super-pencil” on March 26, 1935:


But there’s a hyphen in ALP’s “Super-pencil” not found on these clips . . . and according to what the little bit of research I’ve done, prior to Superman’s appearance in Action Comics #1 in 1938 he resided in a desk drawer at Detective Comics – there was no popular comic book character’s name to emulate.

There’s a snippet view online of a reference to “superpencil” used in a generic sense to refer to “a pencil to correspond to the oversize pen,” which I found in a 1926 edition of The Magazine of Business, establishing that adding the prefix “super” to a word without adding a hyphen to denote superlative qualities – in that case, of size – was within the nomenclature long before it was associated with the Man of Steel.  I would think the Superpencils Joe and I have date to the late 1920s, maybe early 1930s.

More news as I’m able to learn it . . .

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