Wednesday, October 31, 2018

This One Pops . . . Literally

On rare occasions, I’m pretty smart.  This wasn’t one of them.

This story begins at the Chicago show last May, when David Nishimura’s eyes were bigger than his carry on bag.  Since he knew I drive a truck that encompasses two time zones to shows, he asked if I wouldn’t mind hauling a few things home with me and bring them to him at the next show he’d be in a car.  One was a large cardboard box with a lamp in it, and the other was a mysterious equally large wooden box, heavy and clunky with a large metal doohickey in it that, even after I peeked a bit to see what it was, I have no idea what it is.  I do hope someday he writes about it.

As a thank you for being his mule, he bequeathed an interesting pencil to me:


On the opposite side, this one is imprinted “Pheasant Auto Pencil.”


In addition to a weird name I had not seen before, this one possesses a bizarre, Viking battleax-like clip, topped with what looks like a mismatched cap which twists to operate a screw drive mechanism:


The clip has curious numbers 1 and 2 on either side of that lower retainer:


All of my searching was for naught, with only a hint of a suggestion this one might be British . . . at least, the only mentions I’ve been able to find of a Pheasant Auto Pencil were pictures in auction listings over in the UK.  David didn’t say where he got this one, but since he’s more well-traveled than I am it may very well have found its way across the pond and into his hands.

And that, until just the other day, is where this article was going to end . . . an unsatisfying, back-of-the-milk-carton “have you seen me?” sort of post, little more than a desperate attempt to flush out more information by throwing out all I know and see if it rings a bell with anyone.

Then I went to put it away . . . this one was going on the wall o’ pencils just because that clip is far too cool to hide in the drawer of a printer’s cabinet.  I grasped the clip and was putting it in alphabetical order, in between my Picks and a “Phoenix,” when something popped.

My heart stopped in that way we’ve all felt when we think we’ve broken something we probably won’t be able to replace anytime soon.  For a moment I couldn’t bear to look, and when I did, the cap was noticably higher than it was.  Cringing a bit, I twisted the cap and it seemed all right . . . so I pushed it and it neatly clicked back into the same position.

Living up to my self-deprecating and self-imposed nickname of “Leadhead,” I again held the clip and went to put it in place, more gingerly this time, and it popped again.  The light began to dawn on me.  You don’t suppose . . .

The pencil didn’t have a lead in it, so I fished out a piece and tried it.  Standard .046" leads weren’t big enough, but fortunately my Legendary Lead Company stocks some really weird sizes – one of which, .050 inches in diameter, I’ve never used because I’ve never found a pencil it fits.  Until now.  And with the perfect size of lead, I learned that the pencil advances smoothly into writing position, but when the clip is lifted ever so slightly . . .


The top pops up to retract the lead so you can’t doodle inadvertently in your shirt pocket.

OK, this is still a cry for help, if anyone has any information regarding who made this or can point me towards any advertisements or other information, I’m all ears.  But for now, at least I got to show you both a pencil I know nothing about and just about the neatest feature I’ve ever seen on any pencil!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Ever Emblemed

From what I recall, David Nishimura approached me with these several years ago at the DC show:


The outstanding feature on both is the fraternal emblems where you’d normally find the ball of the clip; the one on the left is a Masonic symbol, while on the right is the emblem of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks:


The imprint on each is “Embleco,” and the clips are marked Pat. Pend.:



Although no federal trademark was registered, according to American Writing Instrument Trademarks 1870-1953, the book does contain excerpts from the Jewelers’ Circulars Trade-marks of the Jewelry and Kindred Trades from 1922, in which is found a listing for the Emblem Pencil Company of Providence, Rhode Island:


And, with absolutely nothing else to say, this one fell by the wayside, awaiting the day when I might have something more intelligent to say.  I thought that day came a couple years later, when I spotted this one online and hoped there might be a bit more I could glean from it:


It has a nice Elks emblem:


But I worried a bit about the cap – it’s a little different color, suggesting it might be a replacement.  This one had a different imprint, too, but there just wasn’t enough left of it to make out what it reads:


Finally, in the last few months, one came my way that added a bit to the story:


It doesn’t have a fraternal emblem, but that’s obviously what that flat spot on the clip is for.  Note the cap, which matches the sterling ones at the beginning of this article and appears to support my suspicion that the cap on that last one came from something else.  Unlike the other, this one has a nice, clear imprint:


Ever-Ready, Does this have anything to do with the Ever-Ready of Edison and American News Company fame (see Volume 2, page 67-70)?  I don’t know, but there’s one other thing to consider:


Barrel chasing is like a fingerprint – different manufacturers tended to use very distinctive patterns.  That’s the Ever-Ready alongside a DeWitt-LaFrance made “Signet.”   The two are nearly identical, with the exception that the pattern runs the other way.

And now, for an unrelated footnote concerning the Ever-Ready, I’ve always suspected these later Ever-Ready pencils were made by Eclipse:


The colors certainly look like they might be Eclipse . . . but there isn’t anything else that clearly ties these to Eclipse, and the Ever-Ready brand was handed off like a football so many times that absent something more conclusive, I’ve been loathe to speculate.

In the last couple weeks, an online bid brought home a side clip model, shown here alongside an Eclipse:


This side clip model answers two things, actually.  First, here’s confirmation that these were made by Eclipse: the clip is the Eclipse clip patented in 1923:


Note also the “E R” on the clip.   I’ve seen clips like these before, with no accompanying barrel imprint to help explain them.  I think Howard Edelstein had one on his table at the Ohio Show a few years ago (I also think I bought it, but I can’t lay my hands on it right now).  My best guess at the time was that it was some sort of British Commemorative piece, but I knew that wasn't right: if it stood for Elizabeth II Regina, it looks too early to celebrate a coronation in 1953.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Sheaffer Sharp Points

I received a pleasant surprise at the Raleigh Pen Show in June: Pat Mohan was ready to let go of his collection of Sheaffer Sharp Points, made in the late teens:


Between the examples from Pat and the ones I already had on hand, I think it is a simple statement of fact that this is the largest assemblage of Sheaffer Sharp Points in existence.  Therefore, I thought it would be useful, even though I have thoroughly explored the development of these pencils (see Volume 4, page 300), to present photos of them side-by-side.

The earliest examples are the ones with straight clip mountings and spikey, Winchester-inspired lettering like what you see on early Eversharps:


Note that there are three different cap styles here: the plain crown, the crown with nubs around the middle band, and the flared caps normally associated with later Sheaffer pencils.  When I picked up the gold filled one from Brian McQueen, I thought it might be possible that a later cap might have been substituted; now that two have surfaced, and the one from Pat is just amazing, with that engraving, I’m prepared to accept that the flared cap was in production earlier than I originally thought.

Next are Sharp Points with “bowler clips” and crown tops – all but two have tops with scroll work that closely resemble Eversharp pencils of the era; the bottom two have the caps with nubs around them:


Next are those with bowler clips and flared caps – since this is the configuration shown in Sheaffer’s design patent, it perhaps makes sense that these would be the most numerous:


Last are those which have a Sheaffer’s ball clip and flared cap.


Since the imprints are the only way these differ from the far more numerous, typical Sheaffer’s Lifetime pencils, I’m not sure whether these are as rare as they appear to be – maybe they are, and maybe I just haven’t read the imprints on as many Sheaffer’s metal pencils as I should.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Rex By Any Other Name

This pencil was one in a lot of ten or so from the auction in Raleigh last June:


At the top it bears an imprint for Artcraft:


It matches something I missed out on online a while back – this time it wasn’t that I forgot to bid or overlooked it; I was flat-out outbid despite my best efforts:



I should have bid more.  Now that I’ve found an identical one marked Artcraft, I can place what the Victor is.  Here’s my other Artcraft:


Focus on the ends, and ignore that engraving all over the metal bits of the ringtop – those are the same pencil, and they were both made one of my favorites, the Rex Manufacturing Company, made under Lawrence T. McNary’s 1924 patent. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Miller's Guaranteed Pencils

The Miller appears on page 99 of The Catalogue:


Each is imprinted with “Miller’s Guaranteed Pencil” on the upper barrel, and in the absence of any distinctive features, I wasn’t able to say much more than “here they are.”

I still haven’t been able to figure out much about the producers of the Miller; however, an example that turned up online recently offers some intriguing possibilities concerning who might have made it – and something else . . .



That floral clip is reminiscent of writing instruments assembled by C.E. Barrett (note: not National Pen Products, which was a wholly owned subsidiary of Montgomery Ward in which Barrett was involved).  The twin bands, one on either side of the middle joint, together with that distinctive celluloid, immediately called to mind something else in my collection:


That’s a John Holland pencil, one I showed off here a while back with several other Holland sets (see Volume 3, page 209).  The gold trim makes it look darker, but up close you can see the color is the same, and you can see something else . . .


Long dashes on either side of the shorter line.   Little details like that are like fingerprints - taken together, I conclude that this Miller and this John Holland were made by the same manfacturer.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Charles A. Keene

I wasn’t planning on writing about Charles A. Keene, but one online score has me revisiting the subject.   Marked “Charles A. Keene / 180 Broadway,” this one twists in the middle to advance a very Victorian-looking mechanism:


Keene is best known for the large flattop pens and pencils made by Eclipse (the pen was called the “Big Bill” – see Volume 2, page 50).  I’ve also run across thin-barreled metal pencils in sheaths (Volume 4, page 213).  Here’s all of them together:


Something bothered me about this latest find, because it looked so much older than the others.  This led me to check around to see what I could find about Keene: sources I’ve read only refer to him dismissively as a “New York jeweler,” but there was much more to the man and his business.

Other jewelers hated him.

Keene was born in 1866.  According to his own advertisements, he claimed to have founded his jewelers business in 1881, but that date must have been when he first went into apprenticeship; this advertisement, which appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on November 27, 1898, states that he had gone into business 14 years earlier – in 1884 – “after serving for years under the leading masters of my profession”:


Keene started his career, not in New York, but in Boston, with what appears to have been a tempestuous family relationship.  On December 17, 1887, the Boston Globe reported that a 21-year-old Keene had been arrested and jailed for “an assault upon his wife’s mother”:


What became of the matter was not reported, so far as I can tell, nor do I know whether the young man’s marriage withstood the incident.   If the charges weren’t dropped, young Charles did not serve a significant sentence:  “KEENE, the Jeweller” began advertising in the Globe in early 1889, at 1301 Washington Street, Boston.  This advertisement is from January 27, 1889:


1301 Washington Street was the former address of Keith & Company, a jewelry firm.  It is possible this is where Keene apprenticed (advertisement from the July 22, 1882 edition of the Globe):


“Keene Optical Company” also advertised its services at 1301 Washington Street, Boston.  This is from the Globe on October 29, 1889:


Keene suffered a violent robbery on January 8, 1890, when theives barred the door, smashed out the front windows and ran off with all the stock they could carry.  The robbery made national news – this account appeared in the Buffalo Evening News on January 8, 1890:


The robbery may not have been random, because Keene wasn’t making any friends within the trade.  On November 1, 1891, the Boston Globe reported that other Boston jewellers were complaining bitterly that Keene was selling watches below wholesale cost:


Keene had a flair for the dramatic, and undeterred by any grumblings from his competitors, he became a prolific advertiser of cut-rate jewelry.  In the Globe on December 18, 1892, he announced “Keene’s Big Undertaking,” his liquidation of a Boston jobber’s stock:


Around 1898, Keene established shop in New York, at 140 Fulton.  He shows up in the 1898 Trow’s directory at that location:


The move might have overextended him: on Christmas Day, 1898, he announced he was “compelled” to sell off a large stock of watches at “Keene’s Watch Store.”


During this time, he continued to maintain locations in both New York and Boston, as this advertisement in the October 14, 1900 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle indicates:


On April 11, 1902, Keene’s Watch Store ran a large advertisement in The New York Times for a clearance sale, “‘Clearing up clean’ prior to ‘Removal’ to our handsome new store, 180 Broadway.”


There was a secret to Keene’s success, and it wasn’t just buying in quantity.  At the time, the United States aggressively protected domestic manufacturers through tariffs – taxes on imported goods.  While these tariffs allowed manufacturers to charge higher prices at home, frequently companies would “dump” excess product in foreign markets to make it less economical for foreign companies to make competing products, even for consumption on their own turf.

Charles A. Keene figured out that he could travel abroad, buy goods that were dumped there by American companies, and reimport them back into the United States.  Even after he paid the tariffs due, he was able to sell the reimported goods for far less than the wholesale prices U.S. companies charged dealers for goods that were made and sold here.

Keene's success made him a lot of enemies - particularly in the “Watch Trust,” a group of manufacturers dedicated to maintaining prices through ensuring that American watches would not be sold for less than a price they considered reasonable.  On April 4, 1907, Keene, as President of the Independent Watch Dealers’ Association, met with the Assistant U.S. Attorney General to discuss the Department of Justice’s investigation into the Watch Trust’s activities, as reported in the May 4, 1907 edition of The Fitchburg (Massachusetts) Sentinel:


In 1911, the Waltham Watch Company had enough with Keene and sued him on a theory that due to Waltham’s patents, the watch company could prohibit Keene from selling its patented watches for less than Waltham sold the same products to its dealers.  The filing of the lawsuit was reported in The New York Times on April 8, 1911:


Keene won the case, but it wasn’t until 1914 before the United States Supreme Court denied Waltham’s appeals.  At almost exactly the same time, curious notices start appearing in Keene’s advertising: some unscrupulous jeweler set up shop next door to Keene and was apparently trying to undermine Keene’s business.  This notice was in the December 30, 1914 issue of the New York Evening World:


The only advertisements I can find for writing instrument offered by Keene were around this time, as well.  On April 16, 1914, the New York Evening World ran this advertisement for gold filled pencils:


A few months later, beginning in October, 1914, Keene advertised clutch pencils.  This advertisement, in the December 16, 1914 edition of the Evening World, states that Keene would offer ten thousand gold filled and sterling clutch pencils:


He also offered pens, much earlier than the Keene pens made by Eclipse.  The following advertisement for “Keene’s Self Filler Safety Fountain Pens” appeared in The Kingston (New York) Daily Freeman on August 25, 1916:


In 1922, Keene faced criminal charges for passing off a belt buckle as sterling, when the attachment was made of baser metal.  He was convicted, but the judge suspended his sentence after finding that Keene did not intend to deceive; Keene explained that the attachment could not be made of softer sterling because it would not be strong enough.  This was reported in the Evening World on June 23, 1922.


The company remained in business until 1932, when an auctioneer was retained to sell Keene’s remaining stock upon his retirement, as advertised in the New York Daily News on March 16, 1932:


Charles A. Keene died on July 26, 1947, back in the Boston area where his career started.