Monday, June 22, 2020

Esterbrook and the Lost Leadhead's Posts

I am ecstatic one of these finally came my way:


It’s an Esterbrook, and for lack of a better, more correct designation, we’ll call it a “dollar pencil” – one of the earlier models with a clip sporting those two cutouts. 


I’ve got Paul Hoban’s book, Fountain Pens of Esterbrook, which was written in 1992 on an old-school typewriter.  It’s one of my favorites, harkening back to the days when everyone was writing books off the cuff.  Hoban’s work was unique, though, in that he was very careful to say when he was speculating – and in the absence of much information available at the time, he made that disclaimer a lot.  In the long run, that means (1) Hoban is reliable when he states something as fact and (2) unlike many other books of the day, time has been kind to what he wrote.

One of the things Hoban notes as fact is that by the time Esterbrook’s dollar pencils were introduced in the latter part of the 1930s, Esterbrook had mastered injection molding and incorporated it into its production methods as a means to cut costs - a brilliant strategy at a time when such measures meant survival while many others were failing.

These marbled celluloid Esterbrooks, though, were not injection molded and were made using traditional and more costly means.  Yet Hoban includes a complete copy of an Esterbrook catalog in his book, which he dates to late 1938 or 1939 - a set is pictured in the catalog, but it is identified only as a set.  No “de Luxe,” no “sooper dooper,” no nothing to set it apart from the regular line.  I know there’s a lot of guys out there who have spent more time researching Esterbrook than I have, and I’ll give credit where it is due to someone who can supply me a name for these accompanied by chapter and verse.  For now, I’ll just call them gorgeous, and I’ve been waiting to take this shot for a long time . . . waiting, in fact, for the day I’d finally cross paths with that lovely teal blue one:


Originally I planned to run this article on a lazy Sunday, since I have so little to contribute by way of original research.  But then I remembered that I have a few other Esterbrook subseries that I completed during my absence here at the blog, so there’s a bit more substance to add.  For example, I finally ran across a blue Pushmaster pencil to fill out this set:


I’ve been waiting for a brown one to come along, but as long as that may take to turn up, I’ll have to whoop and hollar about finding one another time.  

Then there’s these “doctor’s” and “nurse’s” pencils:


The little one I’ve had for awhile; the others all came from the estate of the late Jack Price, and Eric Magnuson tipped me off that this was going to be in the auction.  There are a couple other variations on this theme – I know that because Doc Liebman (or as I call him, “Larry”) and I went in on a larger grouping of these, one of which had a price band on it - Larry took that one:


And then there’s those pastels . . . those pastels . . . 

Dammit, I know I’ve shot those and I thought I posted all about them . . . 

I haven’t yet.  When I first started things back up again here in March, it was one of the first ones I wanted to circle back around to, and I just couldn’t lay my hands on those pictures.

Kudos to Joe Nemecek, who was prodding me for copies of the pages from John Loring’s old website (now long since defunct).  I knew I had pieced it together using the Wayback feature on archive.org, and like my wayward Esterbrook pictures I had no idea where I had put them.

As a last resort, I grabbed my backup storage drive and started browsing around.  Nothing, but I found a backup I had done of my entire hard drive a year or so ago.  There was a folder titled “Leadhead 6" – odd, I thought, since at the time I was sure I had concluded the blog series at five volumes.  And in that folder . . . 


The white one is the same as in the doctor’s pencils shown earlier, and I already had the middle shade of pink when all the others came my way at the 2018 Chicago show.  I also took photos to show that two of them have color-matched top “jewels”:


And three of the others had original price stickers identifying them as model TTH, for thin lead (.9mm or .036"), and listed at $2.50:


All of which I’m greatly relieved to show you . . . finally . . .as the finishing stroke to this article.  

But wait, as Billy Mays would say – there’s more.  My wayward Estie pictures weren’t the only thing in that file folder.  That Chicago Show was the one where I debuted the “Ghost Book,” now known as The Leadhead’s Pencil Blog (Volume 1).   

That book was a huge gamble – I was still stinging from the enormous cost of printing patent and trademark books that hadn’t sold very well, so I was nervous about the amount of time and money involved in printing a book containing articles people had already read – until Google wiped out all the images, of course.

I didn’t care.  I had to do it.  So I swallowed hard, printed fifty copies and divided up the printing and production cost by fifty – mine included.  If I sold out, I figured the experience would cost me a helluva lot of time and ninety five bucks.

The Chicago Show was an encouraging sign, with thirty or so copies going home with what would become Knights of the Order of the Leadheads.  Eh, it’s only money, I thought . . . a couple grand down and a great experience had in the process.  I retreated to my basement and started shooting pictures of my Chicago finds.

Then a funny thing happened.  Word got out, and the rest of them sold out within three weeks.  And many of those that bought them were demanding to know when the next volume would be available. 

I decided since  I was only down ninety five bucks, it was time to go double or nothing.  I set the blog aside for awhile, formatted a second volume of articles for print, and came back to blogging in November.

I forgot while all this was going on that I had fully researched and written eight articles in the weeks leading up to that Chicago Show, which would have started posting on May 8, 2018.  They were still a little rough, but it was all there . . . waiting for Joe to goad me into rummaging through an old backup looking for something else.

A couple of these articles ended up getting rewritten – from scratch because I couldn’t find them – and all of them are things I was positive I had written about (and did) and positive were posted at the blog (I didn’t).

So, for the next few days, I’ll be presenting the “Lost Leadhead’s” . . . 

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