Thursday, April 30, 2020

Putting that "First Year" Designation to the Test

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 6, now on sale at The Legendary Lead Company.  I have just a few hard copies left of the first printing, available here, and an ebook version in pdf format is available for download here.

If you don't want the book but you enjoy this article, please consider supporting the Blog project here.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about Waterman Patricians:

The Patrician was introduced in 1929 with great fanfare . . . and just before the stock market crash signaled the onset of the Great Depression.  Most of the articles I’ve written here have been about the weird “closeout Patrician” models from the late 1930s, which used up parts and mixed and matched different elements.

Today, I’m going to examine the other end of the Patrician timeline and some assumptions I made when I wrote The Catalogue.  The Patrician appears on page 163 of the book, along with a discussion of so-called “first year” Patrician pencils – those which lack a center band:

“Pencils without bands are referred to as "first year" models, and there is some evidence to support this. First, the moss agate color was not introduced until 1932, and no bandless examples are known to exist. Additionally, note that the bandless examples all have a clip that is slightly wider: the patent application for the original clip was filed by Gabriel Larsen on October 22, 1929 (and received patent number 1,808,779 on June 9, 1931); Larsen applied for a patent for an improved clip on May 8, 1930, receiving patent number 1,923,269 on August 22, 1933.”

To make this a little easier, here’s Larsen’s patent 1,808,779:

And here’s number 1,923,269:

What is consistent in my straw poll is that bandless examples usually seem to have the gawkier 1929 design, while those with bands have the more polished 1930 design.  But there’s a lot of “ifs” built into any statement that a bandless Patrician pencil is a “first year” pencil.  If Waterman turned the calendar to 1930, and if at that time Larsen’s clip was ready to enter production, and if the company was willing to dispose of leftover 1929 clips rather than using them up . . . then we might have something concrete to go on.

Personally, I’ve never believed that the “first year”/bandless connection was particularly solid; the moniker, however, is a handy (not to mention lucrative) nickname.

There’s another problem: bandless Patricians which are obviously not made during the first year of production are out there, and they are out there a lot.  Onyx, the color at far left in the first picture above, wasn’t introduced until 1930, but bandless onyx pencils are (by Patrician standards) a common sight.  And moss agate, that green and bronze color, may not come in a banded form on the regular production line, but I did find and write about a closeout model in that configuration (

Last week, another Patrician turned up in an online auction which provided a unique opportunity to test my theory, and the price was extremely reasonable:

It was cheap because it bears an advertising imprint - normally, I’d agree that would be problematic on something like a Patrician, but this one suggested that it might provide a bit of historical context:

“Crane & Company / Printers, Binders, Stationers / Topeka, Kansas / 64 Years Young.”  This looks promising: an executive wouldn’t imprint something like “64 years young” on a pencil – especially an expensive, top-of-the-line flagship model like the Patrician – unless he was dead sure when his own company was founded.   So, when the pencil arrived, I started poking around to see if I could find out when Crane & Company in Topeka, Kansas was founded.

It didn’t take long.  The 1889 edition of Caspar’s Directory of the American Book, News and Stationary Trade and Kindred Branches lists Crane & Co.:

The listing is a bit difficult to read.  The George W. Crane Publishing Company, “the only complete Law Book Store West of Chicago and St. Louis,” had been succeeded by Crane & Co., and the company was established in 1868.

I add 64 to 1868 and get 1932 – three years after that first year of 1929, and my pencil is bandless.

Yes, it’s possible that leftover and obsolete products were used for advertisers like this.  Yes, it’s possible that the reason bandless and banded pencils are about equal in number is because demand sharply declined after the onset of the Depression.  Yes, it’s possible that after tooling up to make Larsen’s first clips, the company didn’t have much appetite to switch gears when he came up with a better version just a few months later.

But I believe at least this example of a “first year” bandless Patrician was sold three years after that first year.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

When the Point Was Sure

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 6, now on sale at The Legendary Lead Company.  I have just a few hard copies left of the first printing, available here, and an ebook version in pdf format is available for download here.

If you don't want the book but you enjoy this article, please consider supporting the Blog project here.

When this one appeared in an online auction, I was sure there was a mistake in the listing.

“Sure-Point,” the title of the auction read.  Sometimes it seems like the guys that thought up names for these things had a pair of dice with words on them - “Ever” . . . “Perfect” . . . “Point” . . . “Sharp” . . . about every combination of pencil-like words possible was used, but this was one I hadn’t heard of.  Bidding on faith, I brought this home to find that it is, in fact, a “Sure-Point” . . .

And that had me scratching my head a bit.  Notice the lettering, in that squared-off, football scoreboard style?  Looks exactly like something else I’ve seen:

When Sheaffer first introduced the company’s new mechanical pencils in 1917, they were marketed as the “Sharp-Point” pencil (the entire saga of how Sheaffer got into the pencil business is told in “Wahl, Sheaffer and the Race for Boston,” which begins at  Sheaffer’s earliest known Sharp-Points shared the same spikey, Winchester-inspired lettering seen on Eversharp pencils at the time, but Sheaffer soon changed the imprint to this squared-off font.  Note that with the exception of that first word, the entire imprint is identical, with “Pat Apl’d. For” on the second line.

But the two pencils look so . . . different . . .

I can’t get the cap off of the Sure-Point to see what’s going on inside, and I don’t want to force the only example I’ve found – but the caps don’t want to budge on my early Sharp-Point ringtop pencils, either.  So I spent some time combing through hundreds of metal pencils at the museum, looking for any other pencils that had a top like this:

It kind of looks like a Henber . . . kind of looks like those weird Acme pencils that don’t have the Perfect Point tops . . . but then again, it kind of looks like what Sheaffer did later, adopting a bell-shaped cap that would endure until the Balance era.

But there’s one other design element on that Sure-Point that provides a clue.   Did you see that both ends of the machining on the barrel terminate in a double band?

I went through my entire collection looking for anything else that was machined this way, and there were only three which have that feature.  Here are two of them:

Yep, you guessed it - these are the “Redypoint” pencil and that early Sheaffer Sharp-Point from “Wahl, Sheaffer and the Race for Boston” – the two pencils which confirmed, with all the other evidence presented in that article, that David J. LaFrance (of DeWitt-LaFrance and Superite fame) was the inventor of the Sheaffer Sharp-Point:

And those grooves were deliberately added independently of the rest of the design – note that on the Sharp-Point, the chasing actually overlaps those bands at the nose end:

I feel that same headache coming on that started during the months I was researching and writing "Wahl, Sheaffer and the Race for Boston."  In the article, I got as far as proving that whoever made that early Redypoint for the Samuel Ward Manufacturing Company also made the first Sheaffer Sharp Points, but I never found the evidence to prove whether it was the Boston Fountain Pen Company before Wahl purchased it, or David J. LaFrance on his own, or LaFrance working a fledgling pencil program for Sheaffer.

A couple Tylenol didn’t help.  I mentioned that the Redypoint and Sharp-Point were two of the three pencils I found in my collection which shared the Sure-Point’s double ribs.  Here’s the third:

Sure looks like a Sharp-Point, doesn’t it?  And it doesn’t just look like one, it works like one, too:

And there are those same double bands at either end:

The manufacturer’s imprint – or “producer’s imprint,” maybe, tells a different story entirely:

“GF / Youngstown, Ohio.”   These pencils were produced by the General Fireproofing Company, and I mulled about the similarities these pencils have to early Sheaffer Sharp-Point pencils here at the blog back in 2013 (The Leadhead’s Pencil Blog Volume 2, page 153).  Here’s the summary I provided of the company’s history:

“According to The History of Youngstown and The Mahoning Valley by Joseph Green Butler (1921), the company was established in Youngstown in January, 1902 to manufacture building products, particularly fireproof insulation and steel reinforcement for concrete. The financial panic of 1907 (an event on the scale of our recent “great recession”) slowed the building industry and threatened the survival of the fledgling company, so GF’s management diversified into office furniture and products.”

In the December, 1921 edition of Office Appliances, the magazine published a directory of manufacturers, listing General Fireproofing under Stationery Cabinets and Tables . . . but not under pens and pencils.

In fact, I have never found any documentation for GF’s production of pencils, and knowing how these fit chronologically into the Sheaffer story might explain a lot.  The company was active in stationery circles in January 1917, running an advertisement for sales representatives in Typewriter Topics that month:

There’s no mention of GF’s Youngstown manufacturing facilities – only the London and New York offices, the latter of which was at 399 Broadway.  Maybe it is just a coincidence, but GF’s New York office was only a block away from one of the other characters in our story:

Sheaffer’s New York office was at 270 Broadway until the company moved a bit farther up in April, 1921 . . . to 203 Broadway.

And maybe it’s another coincidence that in November, 1916, General Fireproofing invited the public to a demonstration of Modern Bookkeeping at their Boston office, located at 125 Federal Street:

That fact isn’t so random in the context of "Wahl, Sheaffer and the Race for Boston."  The Redypoint, as the article indicates, was made for prominent Boston stationer Samuel Ward Manufacturing Company . . . and Samuel Ward was located practically around the corner from 125 Federal Street, at 8 State Street.

At this point, I’m seeing a tremendous amount of smoke, but no fire yet.  Must be the fireproofing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Chilton Vacumatic

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 6, now on sale at The Legendary Lead Company.  I have just a few hard copies left of the first printing, available here, and an ebook version in pdf format is available for download here.

If you don't want the book but you enjoy this article, please consider supporting the Blog project here.

There I was, minding my own business, researching yesterday’s article and just trying to learn when the different caps on Chilton pencils were made for my sleepy little pencil blog.  As I pawed through countless advertisements, a news piece popped up.

And my eyes popped out.

Arthur O. Dahlberg isn’t well known in pencil circles, but among pen historians, he is canonized as the inventor of the Parker Vacumatic, one of the most popular fountain pens in the hobby.

I wasn’t researching anything related to the Parker Vacumatic, or at least I didn't think I was; this article floated to the surface because of the following paragraphs:

“Fountain Pen Inventor

“In 1929, [Dahlberg] went east for the first time to take a post with the Chilton Pen company of New York City.  While working for this company, in an engineering capacity, he ‘intermittently invented pens, and improvements for them,’ he recounts.

“Among his inventions is the vacuum-filler pen which is now so popular throughout the country.  The patent was first sold to the Chilton company, but when that firm went broke in the crash of 1929, Dr. Dahlberg succeeded in getting his patent back, and only recently sold it to the Parker Pen Company.”

Huh, I thought.  I never knew that the Vacumatic was very nearly the Chilton Vacumatic.  But as I’ve mentioned a few times here over the years, pen guys and pencil guys tend to live under different rocks, and it’s always worth peeking under the other guy’s rock just to make sure what is news to you isn’t well known over there.  Call it seeing how the other half knows.

I posted the above article in a couple groups online and heard promptly from all the people I would expect to say pshaw . . . be gone, ye mere pencil folk.  Instead, the unanimous response was . . .


What was known was that Dahlberg shopped his vacuum-filling pen idea around to various pen companies before Parker finally bit - but nobody suspected any connection with Chilton, and certainly nobody had any idea Dahlberg was actually in Chilton’s full-time employ at the time.

Yet here is Dahlberg’s own account, written just five years after he claims he was hired by Chilton – sending all of us back to the drawing board to see if this account could be verified.  Trevis Young pulled out his copy of the revered book on the subject, Parker Vacumatic by Geoffrey Parker, David Shepherd and Dan Zazove, and he reports there is no mention of a Chilton connection, even though several pages in the book are dedicated to Dahlberg.

Then Brian McQueen found something he hadn’t noticed before in Dahlberg’s agreement with Parker, which appears to confirm the 1934 news piece.  He sent me this screenshot:

In section 6, Dahlberg is warranting his title to his patent application for what would become the Vacumatic “. . . said Dahlberg representing that his only previous transaction affecting rights under or titles to any of said present inventions consists of a certain ‘license agreement’ dated August 22, 1929, between him and The Chilton Pen Company, and the ‘cancellation and general release’ dated September 20, 1930 cancelling the same . . ..”

So the 1934 account is essentially correct:  Dahlberg didn’t technically “sell” his patents, he sold Chilton the rights to use them.  Dahlberg “got them back” by convincing Chilton to release those rights so that he could sell them to someone else - and it was Parker which ultimately turned his invention, with several improvements, into the Vacumatic.

This account fits perfectly into what we know about Chilton’s history, as well.  From yesterday’s article, we know there was a noticeable lull in official company advertising after June, 1929; Chilton’s license was signed on August 22, 1929, just before – or while – the company moved to Long Island City.  The license was canceled on September 20, 1930, and Chilton ads for new colors and bulbous tops began in October, 1930.  Chilton either decided to go in a different direction or couldn't afford to refine Dahlberg's design and produce it.

Dahlberg would continue to take out other pen patents, with his last issued in 1947.  However, in retrospect he is better remembered for his accomplishments outside the field of writing instruments.  He was born in Escanaba, Michigan in 1898, and his education after high school was interrupted by was interrupted by World War I: after the United States entered the conflict, military personnel were dispatched to the school to provide military training to the student body, organizing a Students’ Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) of more than three thousand students - Dahlberg was assigned to naval training.  Here he is, pictured in the 1919 “Michiganensian: A War Record” in uniform:

He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1920, then got his graduate degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin in 1924.  That’s when he started tinkering with pens as a hobby, which resulted in his employment by Chilton and his later connection with Parker.

Dahlberg attracted national attention as an economist after the publication of one of his nine books, Jobs Machines and Capitalism (1932).  He became a policy advisor to the Hoover administration, then later worked for the NRA – that’s the other NRA, the Roosevelt administration’s “National Recovery Administration” dedicated to pulling the country out of the Great Depression.

It was during his work for Roosevelt that Dahlberg gained his greatest notoriety for a radical proposal to stimulate spending.  Dahlberg wanted to stop people from hoarding cash with essentially a ‘use it or lose it’ policy: he proposed printing currency in different colors each month, devaluing (taxing) the previous month’s paper money by one percent every month so that a dollar printed in one color would be worth less every month you held onto it.

The proposal drew ire and ridicule in the press in 1933-1934 and was never adopted:

But no publicity is bad publicity, and Dahlberg’s legacy was certainly assured.  He remained a noted economist for the remainder of his life, picking up additional degrees in economics from Harvard and The London School of Economics, founding the U.S. Economics Corporation in 1944, and creating the Visual Economics Library at Columbia University in 1951.  When the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly brought the United States to the brink of nuclear war, Dahlberg was back in the national headlines again with his vocal position that a war with Cuba would not stimulate the economy:

Arthur Dahlberg passed away on September 30, 1989.  Obituaries were published across the country; most published an abbreviated version of the one that ran in The New York Times, identifying Dahlberg as “economist and inventor of the Parker fountain pen”:

But note that this contains another claim: “he created the internal mechanism for the Parker fountain pen and the design of its arrow clip.”

Unlike the 1934 article, which was a contemporaneous account perfectly filling in a gap in what we knew about Dahlberg, the arrow clip claim was printed fifty years after the fact and appears at first to be inconsistent with what we know.  The Parker arrow clip was protected by a design patent filed on October 13, 1932 by Joseph B. Platt and Ivan D. Tefft, granted on December 27, 1932 as Design Patent 88,821:

Still, it seems like such an odd, random claim to make - especially in someone’s obituary, a place reserved for the most important accomplishments in a person’s life.  Dahlberg’s epitaph was (1) economist, (2) inventor of the Vacumatic, and (3) inventor of Parker’s arrow clip, so you would think all three of those things would be right.

Let’s look a bit more closely into that claim.  No, Dahlberg wasn’t the one who filed a design patent for the Parker arrow clip; however, if you look at Dahlberg’s patent history (I run them all down in American Writing Instrument Patents Vol. 2: 1911-1945), all of the patents he took out were utility patents.  If Dahlberg ever took out design patents, I’d be the first to agree that one of his three claims to fame might need to be scratched from his tombstone; however, since he was a mechanical engineer, it is plausible that he was only interested in protecting what went inside a pen – if he had an idea for the arrow clip, he might not have patented it and Parker picked up that ball after he darkened their door.

Next, have a closer look at that design patent and who signed it: Ivan Tefft’s name is signed twice, once as coinventor and once as attorney for Parker.

Why is that?  Was Tefft truly the coinventor, or was his name substituted on the patent application in someone else's place?  If Parker liked a clip Dahlberg had come up with at Chilton but Dahlberg hadn’t secured a patent for it yet, it is plausible Parker would substitute Tefft’s name in Dahlberg’s place on the patent application, to be discreet:  otherwise, Chilton might argue the clip was a work for hire to which Chilton might lay claim.

And then there’s one other detail, which may be just a coincidence . . . if you believe in coincidences, and after doing this research for all these years, I don’t believe in that sort of thing.  Recall that before Parker settled on the name “Vacumatic,” Parker called Dahlberg’s pen by another name: the “Golden Arrow.”

The Chilton Pen Company’s last gasp, just before the Thirties drew to a close, was the introduction of one last model . . . the “Golden Quill.”  I don’t have one of the pencils, but David Nishimura has a picture of one of the pens on his website, - and here’s the clip:

Huh.  If you’re thinking this looks like the feathers on a Parker arrow clip turned upside down, and in particular like the “split arrow” Parker clips (introduced in 1938, just a year before the Golden Quill was introduced), but you don’t think there’s any connection between the names of the pens and design elements on their clips, then you’re dismissing these similarities as coincidences . . . because you believe in that sort of thing.

Answers to all these questions may be very close to within our reach.  Dahlberg’s papers, including his correspondence during the 1920s and 1930s, is inventoried at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.  I’ve already emailed a request for information, and as soon as this virus thing eases a bit, they promise to scan documents from their files for me.

UPDATE: After this article ran, Hirsch Davis, an avid Chilton collector, asked: “Jon, were you joking when you mentioned a “Chilton Vacumatic”? It appears that at least one actually exists.”

The patent Dahlberg had licensed to Chilton, which he later assigned to Parker and which would later be refined to become the Vacumatic, was number 1,904,358:

Note that the blind cap on the end of Dahlberg’s pen was permanently attached to the end of the filling unit?

Reports Hirsch: “ I had originally thought that it might be an experimental prototype of the Seth Crocker pump filler. However, the filler is spring loaded. While I haven’t attempted to take the filler out, it appears much closer to a vacumatic mechanism.”

In the article, I had suggested it was possible that Chilton, in its weakened state after the stock market crash, might have released its rights to Dahlberg’s patent because it couldn’t afford to refine and produce his design. Now we know Chilton apparently did – even if only once.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Chilton Article I Meant to Write

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 6, now on sale at The Legendary Lead Company.  I have just a few hard copies left of the first printing, available here, and an ebook version in pdf format is available for download here.

If you don't want the book but you enjoy this article, please consider supporting the Blog project here.

As I scoped around online, this poor neglected soul showed promise for the price:

There aren’t a lot of pencils that had both a ringtop and a clip, and this one wasn’t supposed to.  That clip is steel when the rest of the trim is gold filled, and on close examination you can see it’s faceted to fit the contour of a faceted barrel, not a round one like this:

I rolled the dice on this one hoping that I would be able to get the clip off cleanly, since the imprint on the cap showed promise if the barrel is undamaged: Chilton.

I thought it might be the perfect opportunity to do a “how to” video to post online, how to get a cantankerous stuck clip off of a hard rubber barrel.  Tell you what though... after filming for 15 minutes it was getting embarrassing, since none of the tricks I’d normally use worked.  I finally turned off the camera and resorted to the things experts specifically tell us not to do with hard rubber.  I’m not even going to tell you what worked, because I don’t want to hear a rousing chorus of “you aren’t doing it right.”

The results, though, are indistinguishable from what I would expect had I done things “according to Hoyle.”

What I knew of Chilton’s chronology is in The Leadhead’s Pencil Blog Volume 3, page 84.  Seth Sears Crocker ran the Crocker Pen Company until his death in 1920; sometime between then and 1923, his son Seth Chilton Crocker orchestrated the formation of the Chilton Pen Company in 1923.  DeWitt-LaFrance was reputedly one of Chilton’s investors.  The company was located in Boston until some time between 1929 and 1931, when the company relocated to Long Island City, New York.

Earlier Chiltons made in Boston had a flared cap, like the bottom example in this picture.  The other three show the later bulged caps signifying Long Island production.  The straight caps . . . I didn’t know how they fit in.  I’ve only found one other example, and it has a simple z-clip, suggesting these might have been lower-priced or student models rather than another piece in the chronological puzzle:

So the article I meant to write today was going to be about those caps, and when Chilton made them, since my last writeup on Chilton wasn’t very detailed.  Both Crocker and Chilton were prolific advertisers in newspapers, with nearly 1,500 hits when I did my newspaper search.  Ads show the company located at 70 Franklin Street, Boston beginning in March 1926 and continuing through 1927, and the company would do anything for publicity.

I mean. . . anything.

On April 26, 1927, the Pittsburgh Daily Post reprinted Chilton Pen Company’s proud announcement that it had received an autographed picture of Benito Mussolini as a thank you for the special pen the company made as a gift for the Italian dictator - with a gold band marked simply “M” and an extra heavy and extra large gold nib, since “he thrusts, jabs, cuts and slashes” when he writes.

Note that this pen shares the same clip as my jade example with a straight top; advertisements through the end of 1927 appear to show this configuration, although none of the pictures were clear enough to give me that eureka moment:

After December, 1927, there’s a noticeable lull in official company advertising, and what I found during the first three quarters of 1928 were generic store advertisements, sometimes using stock advertising.  When company ads return in October, 1928, Chiltons are shown sporting a new clip and the company has a new Boston address – 287 Columbus Avenue:

Heavy national advertising continues through June, 1929, followed by another lull.  When advertising resumes again in October 1929, the home of “Chilton Capacity Pens” is in Long Island City, New York:

I never really believed that there was a clean break from the flared caps to the bulbous ones the moment Chilton left Boston, although it is convenient shorthand to refer to “Boston” and “Long Island” Chiltons.  The advertisements appear to confirm that suspicion: this version of the advertisement shows a “Boston” cap pencil alongside the pen, at the Long Island address:

This might have continued well into Chilton’s new residency: this advertisement in the Philadelphia Inquirer from April, 1930 shows the company at 110 Third Street, Long Island City – and shows a regular flattop pen:

Bulbous caps appear to have been introduced in the third quarter of 1930, after Chilton had been in Long Island for a year.  This advertisement has typically lousy images, making it difficult to see the slight flare in the cap of the pens, but the text indicates the introduction of new colors, including black and gold, blue and gold, and “harlequin” - colors not found on “Boston cap” pencils.

After 1930, official company advertising largely comes to a halt.  Jewelers and liquidators sell out stock at discounts, and it isn’t until Chilton runs advertisements for it’s new “Lox Top” caps in 1933 – without artwork to show whether this is a different feature or just a bit of gimmickry – that we hear directly from the company in the press.  In mid-1934, advertisements include better-than average artwork illustrating the device:

The bulbous tops went the way of the dodo in 1935 with the introduction of the Wingflow, a middle joint pencil in a straight, streamlined shape.  By that time, Chilton wasn’t advertising at all, and the only mention I found of its introduction was in a generic stationer’s ad, without any artwork:

So, for purposes of today’s story . . . yes, it looks like my straight top Chiltons are the earliest models from 1926, replaced by 1927's flared “Boston” caps.  Boston caps, notwithstanding their nickname, appear to have remained in production long after the company relocated to Long Island City, New York, as late as mid-1930, when the bulbous “Long Island” caps were introduced to complement new colors being introduced.  Bulbous tops were discontinued when the Wingflow was introduced in 1935.

But I learned something else in the course of researching Chilton’s story – a long forgotten detail that changes the way we think about the Parker Vacumatic.  That story tomorrow. . .