Tuesday, November 6, 2018

What Might Have Been

Now, to get to those things I promised to show you a couple days ago, which George Rimakis was showing me at the DC Show:

George says these came from Sheaffer’s research and development department (ignore the fact that one of these cases is a Parker case, which has a few vintage ballpoints that show, if anything, what Sheaffer was thinking of emulating).  However, the items inside the other two cases, marked Sheaffer’s on the outside, are beyond interesting . . . they are unprecedented:

As George states, and I completely agree, finding actual Sheaffer prototypes is an impossibility.  Shop-marked pieces with numbers are one thing – actual models showing what Sheaffer was thinking, complete with the dates they were created were not known to exist.

There is a mixture of pencils and ballpoint pens in these folders, and I have shown them exactly as they came to me.  I have since moved the pencils to one folder and the ballpoints to the other, and since this is a pencil blog (and Volume 5 is nearly full), it’s the pencils that I’ll show you in detail, starting with the earliest:

This model, for a rear-drive pencil with a one piece barrel, was made on February 9, 1954.  Note that the threaded mechanism has been dispensed with completely – the barrel itself is internally threaded, and it works perfectly:

This wasn’t Sheaffer’s only experiment with switching the Sheaffer utility pencil platform from a middle joint to a top joint pencil with a one-piece barrel:

The top example isn’t marked, but given the similarities between it and the examples marked “Model #2" and “Model #3" I think it was number one.  The piece at bottom, made of the same plastic and with the same clip, was marked August 8, 1955 - and I think it’s fair to say August, 1955 is when these were made.  All operate smoothly, but since the barrels are not transparent I have no idea whether the internally threaded barrel is present on these.

Did Sheaffer ever offer a cap-actuated repeating pencil?  No, not in production, but the company was definitely thinking about it:

All are fitted with very efficient repeating mechanisms.  The center example is modified from a ballpoint pen, and it’s such a good idea (by 1955 standards) that I wonder why that wasn’t put into regular production.  It bears a date of December 7, 1955:

For a different take on the repeating pencil, this one is dressed up a little bit more:

It bears a production date of January 27, 1956, and it works differently from the other ones: pushing the cap down advances an entire twist mechanism through the nose:

I’m not sure what Sheaffer was up to with these next ones, dated March of 1956.  They are standard twist mechanism pencils.  The only difference I see from an ordinary pearlie mechanism is the top end “bumper” for the eraser (the screw moves up and down so when the cap is pushed down onto it, the eraser is pushed out a bit):

That bottom Tuckaway is included in this shot, even though it bears a 1960 production date, just because it doesn’t fit in with anything else.  Whatever Sheaffer was trying with it didn’t work, since the material is cracked and the mechanism doesn’t budge.

I’ve saved the best for last.  This next one is the single most weird and most wonderful pencil I think I’ve ever written about . . . my cool-o-meter broke when George first showed it to me:

It bears a production date of April 11, 1960, which is consistent with the clip.  Note that the tip is off-centered, inline with the top of the barrel:

How it works is what has me over the moon.  It’s a tractor drive pencil, to either coin a term or best describe something I can’t otherwise explain:

That white ladder-style piece of plastic in there runs in a continuous track from the top end to down near the nose - removing the top shows where it loops around:

Inside the cap are three prongs: two side ones keep the top in proper position, while the middle one advances a tiny hook, which engages the rungs of the tractor tread and pushes it forward a bit:

There wouldn’t be any way to repair something like this if even one of those little rungs failed, and the reason I believe this never saw the light of day outside of Sheaffer’s research and development department was concern about finding a material that would remain flexible enough to continue its oval trek, yet sturdy enough not to break.

Yet here I sit, playing (although very gingerly) with this little wonder nearly sixty years later . . . and it still works!


Martha said...


Michael Little said...

Amazing Find

Historian said...

I am completely astonished. This is Time Machine sort of thing. Thanks for sharing your adventure into the past.

applguy said...

I’m sad to read you might be thinking of ending the Leadhead’s Pencil Blog, but as I’ve said before- I hope that the ‘undocumented-variants’ that cross your path will still be faithfully written about, researched here and presented in future editions of books or on the Facebook Group. Thanks for sharing your latest interesting find!