Saturday, June 20, 2020

Penguins in the Barnyard

A few years ago, John Hall and I visited our friend Jack Leone to “play with pens” for the day.  I had my camera with me, and we set everything up and took pictures for several hours.  Jack had another friend of his over, a great guy by the name of Don Jacoby, who brought with him a few pencils to pepper in thoughts, questions and random observations about pencils, the universe, and everything over the course of the day.

Yeah.  I’m a Douglas Adams fan too, in case you caught that.

I only had that one friendly encounter with Don, several years ago as the blog was just getting off the ground.  I didn’t know, as Jack recently told me, that Don had a talent for languages, or that he served as a military intelligence officer for the Army in Germany.  I didn’t know he was on the faculty of the Cincinnati German School.

In fact, I couldn’t remember his name, but when Jack described him as a guy who was “fun, enjoyed everyday life, and always was interested in ’turning over rocks to see what crawled out from under them,’” somehow it clicked and I connected the name with the memory.

Sadly, Don passed away recently, and Jack was called on by Don’s wife, Margaret, to help with disposing of his collection.  I really hate that word – “dispose,” like you’d throw something out.  “Disperse” – now that’s better.  Move things out with the four winds, into the hands of people who will appreciate them.  Bonus points awarded if in the process the recipient remembers where they came from!

Don had a good eye for things, and when it came to the pencils he accumulated, he was a man after my own heart – he accumulated things just because they interested him, not because they were necessarily worth much.  Just . . . well, just because.  I can actually remember him saying something like “I don’t need a reason. I just like them.”

Jack figured the best place for Don’s random little assortment of pencils was here, and he asked me if I’d take them into “Jon’s Home for Wayward Pencils.”  Why of course, I said . . . and I added that I was dead sure no matter what Don had, there would be a thing or two in there I’d want to write about.

Jack told me there were some things in there that “weren’t too bad,” like an Eagle desk pencil:

These aren’t high quality.  They were made to look like more expensive, jewelry-grade pencils like those made by Hicks and others, but if you look close, they are plated brass rather than sterling:

I have a few other Eagles along these lines, but I didn’t have a desk pencil.  I told Jack I’d always kind of wanted to find one of these and write about it, so there’s the article I’ll write for Don:

Jack’s reply will stick with me for a long time.  “Glad the Eagle pencil was the ‘penguin in the barnyard!’”  I have no idea what that means, but I absolutely love that random turn of phrase.  I told Jack he’d just written the title of the article.  

When the box of Don’s pencils arrived, it turned out there were plenty of penguins waddling about in there, a few of which also found comfortable retirement around the museum.  In the Eagle department, I was particularly attracted to this one:

The story I’ve heard is that pencils along these lines got Eagle into trouble with Walter Sheaffer, after Sheaffer took out design patents for the new, streamlined Balance in the late 1920s.  The unsubstantiated story, which I’m inclined to leave alone, is that when Eagle first introduced this series, they looked like this:

But after a stern warning from Sheaffer, Eagle clipped off the tops:

And until Don’s example arrived, I didn’t have one of these in green.  Note that the bottom three examples have more intentional-looking, snubbed tops.  Also, Eagle changed the clips from a plain printed Eagle clip to one with a stylish Eagle pictured with a tiny company name at the top:

This one also waddled in.  I remember Don had it with him that day at Jack's house, and that he wasn’t parting with it:

It’s an Eagle Magnum Pointer in red hard rubber, and there’s a reason I remembered that one so clearly:

That shot is from A Century of Autopoint, on page 86.  Eagle made a cameo appearance in the book because Charles Keeran, inventor of the original Autopoint, later went on to invent pencils for others, including what appears to be the Eagle Magnum Pointer (the patent, by the way, was the only one Keeran assigned to Eagle).   Note that on the right in this picture, the only red example I have been able to scrounge up is a slightly different model with chrome-plated trim (or “platinite,” as Eagle called it).  

There’s been a few times over the years when I had hoped to find a full-blooded Magnum Pointer like Don’s.  

Now that Don’s example has made its way to me all these years later, I’m glad I never did.  It’s almost like pencils, the universe and everything have saved a place for it.


Becki Apseloff said...

Thanks for such a nice blog post about my dad. I’m glad his pencils were dispersed to you :)

Jon Veley said...

He was a great guy, and I'm glad to hear that you were able to see this.