Monday, March 19, 2018

On The Level

The first thing I bought at the DC Show last August might seem a little odd . . . but then again, I’ve got something of a fetish for “trick” pencils that do something else in addition to writing:


It’s another Monroe, and I thought it was unusual first because I didn’t know Monroe made a level pencil, and second because you don’t usually see Monroes in anything other than black.  This one is marked “The Musical Sales Company”:


Level pencils came into vogue just before America got dragged into the Second World War.  Ralph N. Skrainka of University City, Missourit filed an application for a utility patent for a level attachment, for either a pen or a pencil, on March 27, 1940, and it was issued as number 2,251,640 on August 5, 1941:


Meanwhile, Morris Gurtov of New York took out a design patent for a pencil with a ruler on one side and a level built into the other, filed January 25, 1941 and issued as Design Patent 126,555 on April 15, 1941:


Here’s a couple other level pencils from my collection:


These were usually advertising pencils, with “Always on the level” surrounding the bubble to hint at the honesty and trustworthiness of the proprietor:


The pencils themselves are identical, but there’s two distinctly different clips::


One is the “Pencilevel,” and the other reads “On the Level” on the clip – along with a breadcrumb: “Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.”  That suggests a trademark was registered for the phrase.  Did I find and include a trademark for “On The Level” in American Writing Instrument Trademarks 1870-1953?  Why yes . . . yes I did . . .


Abraham Schlosser, of New York, filed an application for trademark number 373,010 on June 23, 1939 for the phrase “On The Level” in connection specifically with mechanical pencils – a year before Skrainka applied for a utility patent and two years before Gurtov applied for his design patent.   What’s more, Schlosser claimed to have used the mark since 1936!

I don’t know what else “On the Level” could have meant other than for pencils with built-in levels such as these, so that raises some questions how a utility patent applied for four years later might have been issued, or whether it was ultimately invalidated. 

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