Sunday, April 5, 2020

A Subtle Turn Towards the Deco

I posted this story on Facebook a while ago, but it makes sense to post what I know about this one here, too:  Facebook is like “drinking from a firehose,” as my friend Jim Day says.  Information just floods at you and past you – two weeks later might as well be a decade if you’re trying to go back and find something.

Our story begins at the Baltimore Show, when Daniel Thayer presented me with a few pencils available for purchase.  The ringtop in this picture was one of them:


These are later production Eversharps in the company’s “oxidized Grecian border” pattern.  The barrels are silver filled over brass, with the engraving done after the plating to reveal the brass underneath.  As the exposed brass oxidizes, the engraved portions get darker; I didn’t feel too bad shining up the ringtop, since the silver filling was in pretty bad shape, too.

I only bought this one because I wasn’t sure whether I had this pattern in a ringtop, and I didn’t – score one.  I wasn’t too concerned about the fact that the ring was missing from the top, because I’ve got a sizeable boneyard of spare parts, and I was sure I had a replacement laying around somewhere.

I was wrong.

As I looked more closely at the cap, I noticed something I have never noticed before:


A “normal” Eversharp looks like the one on my full-sized example, at right, with that floral Victorian sort of look.  This ringtop has a crisp, deco cap band.  And there’s more:


The top of the caps on both the full sized and ringtop versions of oxidized Grecian border pencils have a distinct black ring on them, another feature which doesn’t normally appear on Eversharp caps. 

I probably spend more time around metal Eversharps than most people do . . . scratch that, more than most pen and pencil people do . . . scratch that, more than most pencil people do.  But I never recalled seeing this variation on an Eversharp cap before.  So I went back for a thorough examination of the rest of my collection, and all of my parts bins, looking to see whether this is something truly unusual or whether it is just something I never noticed before now.  After a couple hours, I had found only one other example:


This also appeared on a ringtop pencil, although it was on an ordinary silver plate pencil with a plain barrel.  Caps are easily interchangeable, so it’s entirely possible that it might have been switched over from another oxidized Grecian border pencil, but this one does match the barrel of the pencil well, and it is also later production (you can tell from the imprint, with the word “Wahl” in superscript with no “Co.” underneath it).  But– note there is no black ring around the top of the cap.

My next step was to see whether this variation was documented anywhere in Wahl’s catalogs, and – I’ll be damned – it was.  The Wahl 1928 catalog is often viewed as a high watermark in the metal pen/pencil era for Wahl, because in it you’ll find the greatest variety of products.  There it was:


Three variations of the oxidized Grecian border pattern in 1928: full sized, ringtop, and short model with military clip.  See it?


The full-sized and ringtop versions in the catalog clearly show this special deco cap; the military clip version, however, shows the normal floral scrollwork.  Does that mean my full-sized example has the wrong cap?  I don’t think so; remember, even though it has traditional scrollwork, it also has that black ring which only seems to appear on this pattern.

For right now, all I can say is that this cap is documented only on oxidized Grecian border pencils in silver filled configuration; if gold filled examples in this pattern are out there, I would be keen to hear about them!

There’s something else I noticed in the course of examining hundreds of Eversharp caps in detail that’s worth documenting here.   While scrollwork on Eversharp caps varies wildly in its detail, most share the same basic pattern of leaves surrounding little “eyes” (like you’ve seen above).  There’s another distinctly different pattern and, bearing in mind that caps are easy to switch from one pencil to another, I’ve noted these also seem to turn up on late-production (1928 or so and later) pencils:


Instead of leaves swirling around eyes, these look more like interlocking wedding bands:


These seem to appear more often than the deco caps, and in both silver filled, sterling and gold filled configurations (I found around a dozen).  It took a lot of time with a loupe to detect these subtle differences - if you are stuck in quarantine, feel free to grab a loupe and tell me what you find in your collection!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

One Itch Down

As long as I have a picture, I don’t need to have the pencil, I always tell myself.

Sometimes, I’m lying.  In The Catalogue, one of the few pictures in the book I didn’t take showed this pencil:


Well, not this pencil exactly.  It’s just taken me ten years to find my own example, and it turned up at the Ohio Show last November.  The imprint tells the story:


“Arthur A. Waterman Co. / Modern Pen Co. Successor / Not Connected With / The L.E. Waterman Co.”   The picture of one of these on page 161 of The Catalogue was from a kindly online seller who allowed me to use his – I was excited to finally handle and be able to photograph one in person.

Arthur A. Waterman’s history is a convoluted one, told here at the blog back in 2013 (the full article is no longer online, but it is in the print version of The Leadhead’s Pencil Blog Volume 2, at page 156).  The Modern Pen Company was formed by agreement with Arthur A. Waterman in 1905, as a sales agent to sell A.A. Waterman pens.  Litigation with the L.E. Waterman Company culminated with a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1914, affirming an appeals court decision requiring A.A. Waterman to use the “not connected with” disclaimer on its products.

In 1921, the Modern Pen Company dropped the Waterman name altogether, renamed itself Chicago Safety Pen Company, and its pencils were thereafter named the EVRDA (that’s a goofy acronym for “Everyday”). 

That puts today’s pencil between 1914 and 1921, and it’s going to be on the later side of that range; in 1914, the Ever Sharp pencil was only just beginning its upward trajectory, and pencils such as these copied the Eversharp look after it became widely available after 1917.

Did the Modern Pen Company make this pencil?  Absolutely not - they were made for it by a third party supplier, stamped with the ungainly Modern name and disclaimer.  There’s a tell here that points towards who made these: that rib on the barrel, just above the imprint.  It appears on the Bonnwear, the Ever-Rite and others along those lines:


These pencils led me into one of the deepest quagmires I’ve explored here.  The series began with “Wear it Well” in October, 2014 (Volume 3, page 33), then blossomed into an exploration of the Ever-Rite and the similarities of these pencils to the Sheaffer Sharp Point (Volume 3, page 71) . . . which, in turn, led to Wahl, Sheaffer and the Race for Boston (that one is still online here, at https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2016/12/wahl-sheaffer-and-race-for-boston-part.html).  Pencils like these make my head hurt trying to find and explain all the connections between 1920s manufacturers.

And today’s A.A. Waterman presents yet another wrinkle: although from the outside this pencil looks just like those Bonnwear and Ever-Rite pencils, with those eraser tubes that pull out of the barrel, when I pulled the cap this A.A. Waterman, it’s just an ordinary cap over an eraser.  No Sheaffer-like mechanism.

So that’s one itch scratched.  Another still has me climbing the walls.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Brian Beat Me to the Punch

Several of the pictures I’m about to show you are a few years old.  A few others are from 2016, right after the Ohio Show and a fiasco over trying to find parts to fix a Parker Vacumatic pencil for Greg Proctor.  In the end, I never did anything with them.  Why?  My good friend and Vacumatic maven Brian McQueen posted a more thorough examination of the innards of Vac pencils, and it seemed redundant.

Now, some four years later, I figure I might as well throw my two cents’ in.

Parker Vacumatics are interesting because they straddle two of the three great epochs of Parker pencil development.  Those three are:

First Epoch: “Ignore them, they’ll go away.”  Parker, along with Waterman, disdained pencils – although Parker was a little less aggressive towards them. (One Waterman publication said that writing with a pencil only ruins one’s handwriting!)  Even with the introduction of the Eversharp in 1913 followed by Sheaffer’s introduction of the Sharp-Point in 1917, and the skyrocketing fortunes of both firms due in large part to offering companion pencils to match their pens, Parker went to its happy place and blissfully made nothing but what it was used to making.

Second Epoch: “Oh crap, we’d better get serious about this.”  In late 1921, Parker announced plans to introduce an original pencil of its own, but only after it was beginning to lose market share to pen companies that were offering pencils.  The “Non-Clog” pencil (later renamed the “Lucky Lock,” for the way the cap locked onto the barrel) came out in 1922, and Parker was playing catchup in pencil engineering trying to come up with something that was as reliable as what experienced pencil companies were making.  Most of the company’s ideas during this era were bad ones, but they are interesting to collectors today.

Third Epoch: “Screw it, as long as it looks like the pens on the outside, who cares?”  Beginning in the 1930s, Parker began outsourcing production of pencil mechanisms to Cross.  It’s no coincidence that the reliability of Parker pencils improved significantly around that time, but as far as variety goes . . . well, it’s darn near the same thing inside most Parkers from the mid-1930s on, dressed up on the outside with different-looking bits of plastic and metal.

Note:  no, Liquid Lead pencils don’t count as a deviation from the third epoch . . . those were just ballpoint pens that were supposed to use graphite paste instead of ink.

Here’s what the insides of Parker Vacumatics look like after the “Screw it” era began:


You’ll only see the spiral inside that chrome tube if something has gone wrong inside, as was the case with this one  – normally, these are pretty robust mechanisms, so you won’t get that chrome outer shell off to peek inside.

Before Parker went with these, the beginning of the Vacumatic era, from 1933 until about 1935, was the zenith of Parker’s attempts to come up with something that worked better than what other companies had been doing for a decade or two.  The high water mark, I believe, was those weird Autopoint-like prototypes I wrote about here back in 2014 (now in print, at The Leadhead’s Pencil Blog Volume 3, page 8):


Outside of esoteric shop pieces like these, though, there’s plenty of variety in Vac mechanisms before the company gave up and let someone else make them.  From what I recall, it was 2016 at the Ohio Show when  my challenge was to find a replacement mechanism for a pencil like this for Greg Proctor:


With the cap removed, you’ll see something typical on earlier Vacumatic pencils - a two stage top, where the topmost portion is the part that rotates to advance the lead, and the lower part acts to provide additional friction to hold the cap in place:


From what I recall, I saw Greg on Thursday, and he was hoping I’d be able to repair this early Vacumatic – I can tell it’s early because the nose is longer.  Since I commute back and forth Thursday and sometimes Fridays to the Ohio Show, I agreed to take it home because I knew I had one laying around that might be a suitable donor. 

Note: Vacs are generally plentiful enough that it’s usually easier to swap a mechanism out of a donor than it is to repair them.

Today was not Greg’s day though . . . the pencil I was thinking of turned out to be something quite different on the inside, although it looked almost identical on the outside:


By the way, Greg's did have three bands - there's a groove on the lower barrel for the third band which has gone missing.  Greg’s pencil is a rear-drive pencil, meaning that turning the cap at the rear of the pencil advances the lead.  The one I was thinking of using as a donor looks exactly the same on the outside, but it has a simple nose drive mechanism.  The screw-in top section’s only function is to hold the top half of the barrel on.


Huh.

So I started going through my other earlier Vacumatics, hoping I could find something that works, and from this small sampling I was noticing a trend:


The top halves all work the same, but you’ll notice that most of the time, the nose is much shorter like you’ll see in bottom example.  That reflects the fact that the insides are not interchangeable – the barrel opening was too narrow inside.


And there’s something else: most of the time there’s three bands, all on the top section, but every so often you’ll find one of the three bands on the lower section (these pictures are really old):



I didn’t have the right mechanism to spare for Greg, but he did get something else out of the deal.  I’d mentioned here that I had inadvertently outbid a friend for a Vacumatic Senior pencil I’d won in an online auction (https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2016/11/one-out-of-three.html) – I didn’t mention who it was for some reason, but Greg was happy to add it to the series he was working on.  I also mentioned that he had let me photograph his other two examples as part of the deal, but since that image was still in my unpublished pictures folder, I don’t think I ever got around to showing it here:


Those slightly wider middle bands are what identifies these as Vacumatic Seniors.  Then, of course, there’s Eric Magnuson, who spared no expense acquiring this one:


From the days before Parker fully figured out how to get those lines straight, this senior-banded Vacumatic has an old Duofold-style top and washer clip, and the earlier Duofold-style imprint:


It took me forever to find these last few pictures.  When I was editing The Pennant, my friend Tsachi Mitsenmacher brought a few things to the 2016 Chicago Show for me to photograph, and I remembered taking some shots of his Ripley Vacumatics.  Alas, my days at The Pennant were shorter than my photo archive, and none of the pictures ever made it into print.

I looked everywhere on my laptop and my backup drive . . . nothing.  And then I remembered – I replaced my laptop a couple years ago.  Down into the catacombs I went, to turn the crank on the side of old faithful to see what might still be on her, and there it was: “Pennant - Pipeline,” a folder containing nearly 7 gigabytes of material I shot but never had the opportunity to use.  There they were:


Ripley Vacumatics have been the topic of a few articles here over the years, most recently in “The Class of 1939,” exploring among other things those 1939-dated Ripleys that surface from time to time (see https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-class-of-1939.html?m=0).  Rare they are in red; numbered on maybe one hand are the known examples in grey pearl:


The pen is a nice compliment to this pencil, but it's not a Ripley.  Those narrower stripes, according to Brian McQueen, indicate it's a silvery blue Vacuum Filler pen:


Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Footnote That Was In the Mail

Call it “Leadhead’s Luck” . . . these little coincidences that seem to pop up as I’m writing things here.  Time and time again, just as I'm getting ready to post about something, something else I haven’t thought about jumps out at me and provides another missing piece of the puzzle I was working on.  It almost looks like I’m doing it on purpose, but I’m not.

At the time the ruler pencils series was publishing here, I was waiting for what I thought was an unrelated pencil from an online auction I had won on a lark.  I wasn’t looking for anything specific at the time, just idly looking at auctions for mechanical pencils sorted by those “ending soonest” –


The auction pictures were terrible and showed the pencil head-on, so I didn’t even know the barrel was square.  There’s no ruler on the side and there’s no telescoping sections if you tug on the nose, but it certainly calls to mind the ruler pencils from those articles.  Here it is, alongside the Cartier from part two of the series:


The reason I decided to throw in a small, last-minute bid on this one was because the seller had identified it as a Georg Jensen – a brand I haven’t thought about for a long, long time.  My one and only other article about Jensen ran here back in 2015 (the full article is still live and is at https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2015/02/later-than-you-think.html).  Pencils marked “Georg Jensen Inc. USA,” my research found, indicates production between 1941-2 and 1950, although the company had offices in New York from the 1920s.  World War II had made importing silver from Europe impossible for the Danish firm, so Jensen added “USA” to the imprints.

And this little pencil is so marked, with what looks like remnants of red enamel in the lettering:


As I was unpacking this one on arrival, I found it wrapped in a little felt baggie that I almost threw out – sellers frequently ship pencils in all sorts of little bags for a bit of added protection, and I normally don’t see a need to keep unmarked packaging since so much more arrives here than departs.  Fortunately, just as I was about to pitch it I happened to glance down – and I noticed an added bonus that wasn’t shown in the pictures or mentioned in the description for the listing:


A nice, original Georg Jensen felt carrying bag with the company’s New York address of 667 Fifth Avenue, New York!

So, you may be asking yourself, neat as all this is, how does this tie in with “Leadhead’s Luck?”  First, I had no idea when I bought this one that it was square (the pictures were really THAT bad) . . . and I was just talking the other day about Edward Todd Junior’s design patent number 68,281 for such a design (https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2020/03/everybody-and-their-brother-part-two.html):


Notice that Todd’s patent isn’t for a ruler pencil necessarily – it’s for a square one.  If Todd’s design patent had any teeth (and as I mentioned in that last article, that’s debatable), it’s a pretty good indication that my Georg Jensen pencil, sans ruler and small in stature, was nevertheless an Edward Todd product.

Or a progeny of Edward Todd, I should say – recall that Jensen didn’t start using this imprint until 1941 or 1942 . . . if Louis Tamis & Son acquired all of Edward Todd’s machinery and equipment after the firm closed in 1932, then perhaps LT&Son made my Georg Jensen.

Which means . . .


The middle two pencils in this picture are the Georg Jensen pencils I showed in my 2015 article.  Look at those clips . . . the upper one has that long, straight ball clip just like the top pencil in this picture, which is the Pen-N-Pencil Co. ruler pencil I just wrote about last Friday.  I characterized that clip as “Hutcheon-like” and I thought – but didn’t say out loud – that these were made by someone other than Edward Todd.  Now I’m thinking Pen-N-Pencil might have upped their game a bit for their ruler pencil production, sourcing it from either Edward Todd or LT & Son.

Meanwhile, the other Jensen in this picture, the broker pencil third from top, has a clip which is a dead ringer for the one on the bottom -- which is that “Victorian” from Monday’s article (see https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2020/03/victorvictorian.html).  Score another point in the column for the Victorian being another brand manufactured by Louis Tamis!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Joke Was On Me

I had thought about coming up with a cute prank article for today, but nothing really seems funny.  I’ll just share a small prank I inadvertently played on myself.

At the Baltimore show this year, my good friend Tom Heath had a cigar box full of stuff on his table, but it wasn’t the kind of stuff you buy “by the pound,” as Rob Bader says.  It was some really good stuff.  One of the things in there really enamored me:


The first thing to notice about this magic pencil is how big it is - a hair over three inches closed, and about five inches when opened.  But then there’s the shape and design of it, with two plain sides, two with high relief detailing and a graceful, almost Coke-bottle profile. 

Neither of which was as important to me as this:


There’s a manufacturers’ hallmark on the extender you won’t find very often, of an F within a skeleton key.  I had already done some research and concluded this was a Leroy W. Fairchild hallmark, and I was thinking if I ever sat down to start writing blog entries again, it would be nice to find a complete, intact example.  The only other example I had been able to turn up was missing the pencil mechanism, which I’d photographed five years ago:



But when I sat down to write this one up, I could not lay my hands on my notes.  I couldn’t find the pictures in my archive of pictures that hadn’t made it to the blog yet.  And . . . worst of all . . . I couldn’t find where I knew this mark was for L.W. Fairchild.

I checked American Writing Instrument Trademarks 1870-1953, and the mark wasn’t listed either in the Federal trademarks or in the excerpts I reproduced from Trade-Marks of the Jewelry and Kindred Trades, a Jewelers’ Circular publication that reported many unfiled trademarks used on writing instruments.  Then I remembered: it wasn’t contained in the pens and pencils section of Trade-Marks of the Jewelry and Kindred Trades, but in the listings for general sterling silver marks.  Retracing my steps, I found it:


So, my research all in order again, I went to post this article.  Just for a nice finishing touch, I checked the Fairchild section here at the blog, because I knew I had recently summarized the Fairchild history as written up by David Nishimura for The Pennant, and I thought it made sense to include that, too. I clicked on the tab for Fairchild at the blog, there it was:

The reason I couldn’t find all that research I had just redone was because I’d already posted an article about it.

So today, you got a couple of neat pictures of a really nice pencil, together with a story I’ve already told you.  Joke was on me.

I was determined to give you a little more, so here’s a couple new details.  The above image from Trade-marks of the Jewelry and Kindred Trades was taken from the 1922 edition, long after the original Fairchild firm was gone.  I worked my way backwards and checked the 1915 and 1904 editions, and they show exactly the same thing for this mark, complete with the “out of business” notation – not surprising since Fairchild-Johnson (a partnership between Leroy’s son Harry Johnson and Ephraim S. Johnson’s son) had succeeded him by 1904. 

As for the first edition of Trade-Marks of the Jewelry and Kindred Trades, published in 1896 . . . I have never seen a physical or complete electronic copy.  When I was writing the book, the only copy I was able to locate was cataloged in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  I emailed them,  and they were kind enough to copy and email to me the relevant pages for inclusion in the book. 

I wonder if anyone out there in the peanut gallery will be visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum anytime soon . . .

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Big Tease

A few days ago, I had to ask the question online . . . what does this read in Japanese?


Hey -- you have to give this rural Ohioan some props for knowing it was Japanese, in a part of the world where if it isn’t written in ‘Merican, it must just be from “over there somewhere.”  I wish I could say I’m more cosmopolitan than the average Midwesterner, but the truth is that I cheated.  I already knew where it was from:


When this Kanoe school set came up for auction, it was one of those things I used to say didn’t fit into my collection at all, but foreign pencils tend to nibble around the borders of the museum when one thing leads to another. 

In this case, it’s been a number of years coming, beginning with a Brown & Bigelow-marked pencil in an unusual trapezoidal shape (originally posted back in March, 2013 - the article is in The Leadhead’s Pencil Blog Volume 2, page 106).  Both the internal and external elements of this Brown & Bigelow were later appropriated by both German and Japanese manufacturers, most prevalently on the “Peace” pencils made in postwar Japan.  In this next photo, from here at the Blog back in 2017, the Brown and Bigelow is at the top, immediately under which is a familiar “Peace” pencil:


Poor Joe Nemecek – he’s probably gone through three computer monitors by this point, because he says he throws a brick at the screen every time I bring these up.  Given their odd shape, it’s easy in online auctions to mistake them for other (and admittedly better) things, even though in that last article in 2017 I unveiled one along these lines marked Sarastro, the company which also made overlays for Mont Blanc (the full article is still online at https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2017/08/and-now-for-some-overdue-respect.html).

Hang in there Joe – and all of you who are similarly inclined – that’s as far as I delve into that subject . . . for now (dum dum dummmmmmm.....).   My point in bringing these up again is that the “Peace” pencils were made by ... drum roll ... Kanoe.  I’ve mentioned that connection a couple times here at the blog, and at one point I nabbed a crappy online seller’s picture of a boxed example that I just . . . can’t . . . find right now to drive that particular point home.

That’s how this Kanoe set wormed its way into my collection.

Both pencils are marked “Kanoe Peace” on the clip, and they are freakishly slim given the 2.0mm leads for which they were designed.  Also in the box were two containers of leads, one with red leads and other one with black ones, with a nifty rectangle of sandpaper built into the lid so you have something to sharpen up your leads with.


There’s also an odd little pair of tweezers.  I dunno . . . maybe that’s got something to do with this, maybe that’s just some random little thing that fit conveniently in an unrelated box at some point over the last seventy years or so.  I’ve never tweezed a pencil personally, but if I ever feel the need, at least now I’m ready.

Let’s look a little closer at those lead containers.  At one end, not surprisingly, they are stamped “Kanoe”:


And at the other . . .


well, that’s the reason I had to ask the online community for a bit of help.  A quick post, and within an hour Lee Han had the answer for me . . . it reads, “Patent Pending.”

The title of this article wasn’t about having to dangle that bit of Japanese out there asking for a translation to get people to tune in today.  It’s got me wondering why just these words were stamped on the lead containers in Japanese when this Kanoe set was manufactured in post-War Japan expressly for the American market.  People stamp “Patent Pending” on their products as a warning, to put others on notice that the manufacturer is in the process of seeking patent protection.  Would-be copiers beware:  regardless of whether you copy this before or after the patent is ultimately issued, an infringer is an infringer and this legend says the patent holder will hold you accountable.

So why stamp such a warning in Japanese?  In 1950s America, few people other than those of Japanese descent would be able to read it (heck, this Ohioan in 2020 had no clue what it said).

The only explanation I can conceive is that this warning wasn’t for American companies, but for other Japanese companies.  That’s kind of interesting to me that Japanese firms were more worried about each other than they were about the Americans to whom these products were being supplied.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Victor/Victoria(n)

I finally got to meet Steve Lehman at the Baltimore Show this year.  Well, that’s not entirely correct – I had met Steve at several shows to chat pencils and we are Facebook friends, but since he doesn’t have his picture on his Facebook profile, I didn’t associate his face with the name until the Baltimore Show this year.   Steve had his one in his pocket to show me, and whether he intended to part with it or not, he was at my table to pick up his copy of my new book, A Century of Autopoint.


Yeah, sometimes I spend books rather than selling them.

This one looks a lot more modern than the sort of stuff that usually interests me, but it’s a missing piece to a puzzle I’ve been working on for years.  The accommodation clip on this sleek, modern looking broker’s pencil is marked “Victorian”:


Sort of an odd, traditional and frilly name on a modern skyscraper of a pencil . . . and the composition – that two-tone mix of chrome-plated steel and nickel silver at the nose.  One might think at first this has been hacked together from parts, especially coupled with an accommodation clip that might have been swapped over from something else.  I don’t think so, however:


The Victorian name also appears on the nose, a very traditional place to find a maker’s mark on a broker’s pencil, even though “nickel plate” isn’t a very traditional material at all for this sort of thing.

“Victorian” is a maker that I’ve had a hard time finding decent examples to add to the museum.  On the whole, they tend to be made from thinner materials, so they dent more easily.  The plating is also thinner, so they tend to look a little cruddier.  I did find this example, a stubby (four inches or so) broker pencils – I think Paul Erano had it:


Note the long, straight ball clip with two rivets, classic design elements you’ll see on other pencils in the Hutcheon/Todd/Hicks family.  And this one also has a very traditional imprint:


. . . accompanied by a cute little crown for a hallmark:


What I’ve always wondered is if there is some connection between the Victorian and the gold filled example in this next shot:


The sterling silver example bears LT & Sons’ hallmark:


The imprint on the gold filled one reads U.S.A. “Victor”:


Both share the turned up ball clips, which LT & Sons inherited from Edward Todd and Hicks.


So does the Victorian trace its lineage honestly back to the Edward Todd/Hicks progenitors of this family?  Was it originally named the “Victor” then later modified to “Victorian” to give it a bit more traditional feel?  Even later, was it given the appearance of something modern with an outer shell made from newer (and cheaper) materials and a sleeker (and cheaper) accommodation clip?

It’s like something new, impersonating something old, impersonating something new.  Huh.  If you haven’t seen the movie “Victor/Victoria,” look it up – the title of this article wrote itself.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

One Meene Greene Keene

Charles A. Keene is a fascinating character . . . one of the last articles I ran before I quit writing here the last time was his biography.  The article ran in October, 2018 at https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2018/10/charles-keene.html.

The earlier metal Keene-marked pencils are a cult thing, known only to a few hardcore pencil guys since there were no matching pens.  Later examples, accompanied by large matching fountain pens, are somewhat better known and were obviously made by Eclipse, as you can see from the use of Eclipse’s 1923 patent clips.


Yeah, that pen with a price tag is killer -- the “Big Bill.”  I haven’t thought about it in years, and it figured into an article I posted here that has long since been the victim of Google’s image-cleansing purge.  For those who have the print or ebook version of The Leadhead’s Pencil Blog there’s more about that one in Volume 2, on page 50.

I’ve heard of all-black barrel Keene pencils, in addition to the red and mottled (kinda) hard rubber versions.  But outside of black, red and both, I never knew of anything else.  It always seemed odd to me that the flamboyant Keene, hiring a manufacturer that used a lot of brightly colored plastics, didn’t custom order some pens and pencils with a bit more flair to them.

Until a chance find online turned this one up:


I’m loving that green swirled color.   Eclipse clips are a pain in the behind to try to repair, adjust or replace, so I have no doubt that this Keene clip is what was originally installed.   If there are other interesting Eclipse pencils out there with Keene clips, I’d like to know about them.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Well Worth a Hop Across the Pond

Way back in 2013, I pined for a pencil I thought I would never be able to afford:


It was made by the George W. Heath Co., using the same snake pattern the company also used to fashion overlays for Parker’s fabled snake pens in the 1910s.  It was shown to me for photographing, but the seller wasn’t ready to part with it -- short of paying him the equivalent of what it would take to buy a good used car, of course.

(The article was posted on August 21, 2013; these days, it only exists in book form, in Volume 2 of The Leadhead’s Pencil Blog, pages 223-224.)

In late 2018, I received a long-distance call from England – the famed KB Collection, perhaps the finest collection ever assembled of figural Victorian pencils, was going up for auction at Wooley & Wallis Auctions in Salisbury, England, and the call was to ask if I wanted a catalog and to invite me to attend.

Sure, I said.  In the back of my mind, I thought that would be a nice book for my shelf and probably nothing more.  Joe Nemecek is the real figural collector between the two of us (he had also received an invite), and I didn’t see how it would make sense to travel across the Atlantic to look at things that probably wouldn’t interest me.

The catalog arrived, and suddenly I saw that it would make sense.  There it was, Lot 232 . . . another example of a Heath snake pencil.  It wasn’t described very well in the catalog, as merely an “unmarked American pencil.”

If ever I had a chance to own one of these, this would be it.  The pencil wasn’t identified as a Heath, and as opposed to venerated British brands, the dismissive description of it as just a meager offering from a former colony and the correspondingly low auction estimate meant there was a possibility I might actually be able to get it.

But only if I was there.  You have to be extremely careful spending large amounts of money on Victorians, since it's impossible to evaluate the condition of one of these from a picture. A thorough inspection of everything you plan to bid upon is an absolute must.

I talked to Janet, who usually says she doesn’t want to go on a vacation if there’s pencils involved.  Five days, I said.  One to get there, two for preview day and auction day (with evenings free to do as we want), a full day to enjoy the town of Salisbury, and one to get home.  If I didn’t get the pencil, at least I’d get to see the greatest collection of these pencils before it was dispersed to the four winds and we’d get a nice trip out of the deal.

Our journey was probably our best vacation ever, not even taking the auction into account.  We toured Salisbury Cathedral, saw the Magna Carta, made ourselves at home several times at The Haunches of Venison (a pub founded in 1385).  We spent some great time with Jim Marshall and his wife, including a lovely dinner.  We came, we toured, we shopped and we had a great time.

And on top of that, there was the auction experience of a lifetime.  Woolley & Wallis set me up at a table with a nice cup of tea for the preview, allowing me to view and handle pencil after pencil for about three hours.  I was even able to repair a couple pencils which had become damaged by careless buyers during the preview, which endeared me greatly to the staff.

Auction day was fascinating.  There were only about ten people present in the house, with the auctioneer placing advance bids and accepting online ones during the course of the auction.

When lot number 232 came up, my heart was beating in my throat.  No, it wouldn’t make or break our mini-vacation, but I had a budget.  My competition was bidding online, so I had the advantage – the snake was perfect and I knew it, but from afar, with just one picture and a catalog description to go on, anyone else wouldn’t know what they were risking.

I won, for what I considered an insanely reasonable price -- so reasonable that I decided to save the rest of my budget and try to get the Tiffany Metropolitan Life pencil that was later in the auction . . . alas, I was vastly outgunned on that one, so other than a couple end of auction odds and ends, the Heath was my real score for the day.

And I was absolutely elated.

News spread of my acquisition when I returned to the States, and I received a surprising message from my friend Pearce Jarvis: he had the matching dip pen, if I was interested.

He told me the price, and I gulped a little bit.  It was a lot of money for something I don’t collect.  However, by the time we got together at the DC Show, I had come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t pass the opportunity.  They had to be together, I said to myself, and besides – the total for both was less than my budget for just the pencil.

So here they are, as they rest comfortably in the Heath section of the museum:


The Heath mark - an H within brackets, appears prominently on both pieces:


The pencil, just like the Parker snake pens, has a snake with green eyes – I don’t know whether they are glass or emeralds.  For whatever reason, on the dip pen Heath dispensed with the inset eyes:


I’ve never traveled so far, and been so happy, for the purchase of a pencil!