Monday, June 15, 2020

Three Missing Years

I’ve waited a long time to find one of these – luck turned my way at the 2019 Baltimore Show, when Don Haupt decided to part with it (along with the 1931 Chilton in yesterday’s article):


Yeah, I know there are those who turn up their noses at highlighted imprints, but this one looks so cool with the white lettering ... besides, someone else can deal with de-highlighting it after I croak, because it isn’t going anywhere before then:


“Crocker Ink Tite Boston Pat. Jan. 30 17.”  The name is ridiculous yet accurate – no way will this pencil ever leak ink.  Even more ridiculous is the patent reference, which has absolutely nothing to do with the pencil; Stormount Josselyn applied for patent number 1,214,310 on September 18, 1916, for Crocker’s distinctive fountain pen:


The Crocker has an unusual distinction here at the blog: out of more than 1,300 articles, the last article I posted about Crocker is one of only two articles here that I didn’t write.  After the google disaster wiped out images here at the blog, I didn’t restore them (for fear another glitch would have me doing it all over again) – but I made an exception for Joe Nemecek’s fine article.  It’s posted at https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2013/09/joe-couldnt-lose-on-this-one.html and details the story of the Crocker Pen Company and the ill-fated Kant-Luz-It Clip Company, which made the unusual clips found on Joe’s example of the Crocker pencil, as well as an accommodation (slip-on) clip version:


This is one of those times when a follow up article has percolated in my head for years.  When you read Joe’s article, in which the Crocker Pen Company was planning to move into Kant-Luz-It’s factory in 1926, that doesn’t make sense in light of the version of the story that has been handed down to us (and summarized in the Chilton article I posted on April 27):

“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.”

That nagging thought became much more pronounced after I researched that April 27 Chilton article, since I could not find a single reference to the Chilton Pen Company earlier than 1926.  Something is wrong with this picture: if Chilton was formed in 1923 there should be some evidence of it prior to 1926, and if Chilton succeeded Crocker, it couldn’t have been in 1923 because Crocker was still alive and ticking in 1926.

Was the date wrong, or are there three missing years?

Both.  Three years of the Crocker/Chilton story are seriously out of whack, and after a few days of heavy duty research I can tell you why: not one statement in that summary I provided is correct.

Let’s back up a little further and start in 1921, when the Crocker Pen Company and its namesake were both very much alive and well.  This advertisement from The Braden (Vermont) Union on January 14, 1921, includes the same logo found on my pencil and shows the January 30, 1917 patented pen in action:


On March 20, 1921, the Boston Globe reported that the company had moved into a new facility in Everett, Massachusetts.


The factory was touted as “the first factory to be built in New England for the exclusive production of fountain pens,” and the building was designed so that two additional floors could be built on top of the existing structure “which will, judging by the past rate of growth, be needed within a short time.”  

That never happened.  Crocker was declared bankrupt just one year after moving into the Everett factory, as announced in the Boston Globe on March 5, 1922:


A receiver was appointed for all of the company’s assets just a couple days later:


On May 11, 1922, the receiver auctioned off all of the Crocker Pen Company’s stock and equipment.


The Crocker Pen Company started by Seth Sears Crocker in 1902 ceased to exist when the auctioneer’s gavel banged in May, 1922.  All that remained of Crocker was liquidated and divided up amongst the company’s creditors.

An obvious possible reason for Crocker’s demise was the forgotten financial slump of 1921 which crippled American industry for much of the year, particularly in the area of luxury goods such as quality fountain pens.  In the case of the Crocker Pen Company, though, it was a bit more sinister than that.   The evidence points towards an inside job. 

Crocker’s treasurer, Edward S. Foster, held numerous executive and financial positions.  On January 10, 1922, Foster was promoted from Vice President to President of the Winchester National Bank.  He was removed from that position just a few weeks later, on February 2, 1922, but not before doing significant damage to the bank and to other companies with which he was involved. 

On January 16, Foster used his position to clear a check drawn on Crocker’s already overdrawn account, and bank examiners swiftly determined that he had been involved in a conspiracy, using his positions at several companies to fleece those companies of more than $100,000.00.  On June 3, 1922, the Boston Globe reported that Foster and his fellow conspirators had been indicted on twelve counts:


Foster would never see his day in court.  After his assets were seized and distributed to his creditors and he himself was also adjudicated bankrupt, he died before trial at the age of just 50 years old.  An article published on October 16 indicated that he died of a stroke (apoplexy), but given the circumstances in his personal life one must wonder whether his passing was entirely a natural occurrence:


As 1922 drew to a close, both Foster and the company for whose finances he was responsible were dead . . . or so it seemed.  On July 23, 1923, the Bridgeport Telegram reprinted a full page advertisement for the Zain Adwriting Contest:


The piece contains copy for advertisements which the judges of the contest “considered good,” including one for the Crocker Pen Company . . .


“Worthy and Dependable.”  Oh, the irony.  Zain Adwriting Contests were advertised all over the country by the Zain Advertising System, founded in 1912 by George Kalil Zain.  Entrants were invited to write copy advertising various products; winners would receive a cash prize, and presumably the companies that lent their names to the contest would have rights to the award-winning efforts. 

The Crocker Pen Company was a frequent guinea pig for Zain’s contests, appearing in advertisements in the Boston Globe in April, 1921 - just after relocating to its lavish new factory in Everett:



The July 1923 inclusion of Crocker Pen Company in one of the company’s advertisements was not, as it appeared, a post-mortem textbook example of salesmanship.  In September, Zain ran another announcement regarding his upcoming contest in the area, including a promise that everyone who entered would receive a coupon redeemable towards the purchase of a Crocker Fountain Pen.  The article further proceeds to extol the virtues of the Crocker – not in the past tense, but in the present – and with typical Zain exhuberance, claims that the Crocker “has been sold by first class dealers for over sixty years.”


(Note: sixty years earlier Seth Sears Crocker was fourteen years old.)

Another contest announcement which ran on September 10 adds one important detail.  The “main feature” of Crocker pens is how it fills – “By turning the top to the left a lever is released.  Press this lever once and the pen is filled.”


That isn’t a description of our “Ink Tite” pens patented on January 30, 1917; it does, however, perfectly describe a patent issued two weeks earlier, to Seth Sears Crocker on January 16, 1917.


The Josselyn patent issued on January 30 was assigned one half to Seth Chilton Crocker (Seth Sears’ son), but this patent was issued to Seth Chilton’s father – could it be that this Crocker design was kept outside the bankruptcy proceedings so that a new company could rise from its ashes when the dust had settled?  Perhaps . . . a “Crocker Pen Manufacturing Company” (note the slightly different name, denoting a different company) was advertising for salesmen in the Boston Globe in January, 1924:


And, we know from the Fitchburg (Massachusetts) Sentinel on October 1, 1924 that George Zain was the president of this new incarnation of Crocker:


In this article, Zain announced that Crocker had adopted the Kant-Luz-It clip for all of its production models. 


For the Christmas 1924 shopping season, Crocker pens featuring the familiar January 30, 1917 design were being advertised as “Zain-Crocker” pens, not with Kant-Luz-It clips, but with ball clips marked with the name “Zain”:


At that time, the City of Fitchburg was pitching to Crocker the idea of relocating to Fitchburg, where the Kant-Luz-It clips were being made.  This announcement encouraged everyone to do their part to entice Crocker by buying their pens – although the announcement looks to have more of George Zain’s typical exhuberance than official backing:


Note that while the announcement says the pens have Fitchburg-made Kant-Luz-It clips, the pen in this announcement sports the same plain ball clip with “Zain” imprinted on it.  Nevertheless, whatever enticements were offered by the good folk of Fitchburg eventually persuaded Crocker to relocate there when, as Joe Nemecek indicated in his article, tragedy struck and a large fire wiped out several buildings in the industrial district in January, 1926, including the Kant-Luz-It factory.


“Whether the fire will delay the move [of Crocker to Fitchburg] or not is unknown today,” the article suggests, and by all appearances, the loss of a place to go was the last straw for the company.  I find no references to the Crocker Pen Manufacturing Company after this date, but advertisements for the new Chilton Pen Company begin just a couple months later, almost as if on cue. 

The following year, Seth Sears Crocker passed away announcements were published across the country, including this one in Lebanon, Pennsylvania on August 15, 1927.


George Zain went back to running advertising contests, and in 1927 he was in Los Angeles, conducting another one.  The Los Angeles Times indicated that his wife thought his fountain pen “squeaks a little”:


Zain went on to Coral Gables, Florida where he started a new career as a real estate developer and created the Miracle Mile Shopping Center.  His eyesight failed him in the 1940s, and he died in 1966.

So to rewrite the summarized history, Seth Sears Crocker ran the Crocker Pen Company until 1922, when the company was bankrupted and liquidated, the likely result of embezzlement by the company’s treasurer.  By January, 1924 a new company, the Crocker Pen Manufacturing Company, was formed by advertising expert George Zain.  Zain-Crockers were still in production until January, 1926, when a fire disrupted plans to move the company into the Kant-Luz-It Clip Company’s facilities; after the fire, Zain apparently sold whatever was left of his company or simply quit the business.  Chilton advertisements emerge two months later, in March, 1926.  The founder of the Crocker Pen Company, Seth Sears Crocker, died a year later in 1927.

UPDATE: this article promoted lively and productive discussion when it was published.  Daniel Kirchheimer produced an invoice from the Crocker Pen Company dated October 25, 1918 which brings some more details of the Crocker story into sharp focus:


As of 1918, the officers listed on this letterhead were Seth Sears Crocker, President; Edmands P. Lingham, Vice-President; and Seth Chilton Crocker, Treasurer and General Manager.  I found it interesting that Stormont Josselyn, inventor of the Ink Tite pen (patent 1,214,310 illustrated early in this article) served as Secretary of the company; Josselyn was an active participant in Crocker’s daily affairs, not just the mere contributor of the patent.


Note also the description of products sold –   “1 Doz. Chilton Pens”:


One of the premises of this article was a lack of references to a Chilton Pen Company prior to 1926, and while that premise is true, it requires clarification: while there’s no evidence that a “Chilton Pen Company” existed prior to 1926, Daniel’s invoice proves that the Crocker Pen Company was using “Chilton” as a brand name on some Crocker pens much earlier than 1926.

Hirsch Davis also peppered in that there are even earlier “Chilton” pens made by the S.C. Crocker Pen Company in New York, sharing this image of an early eyedropper pen made by this previous incarnation of the company:


According to Hirsch, these eyedropper pens were advertised between 1906 and 1910, after which Seth Chilton Crocker apparently organized, joined or rejoined the Crocker Pen Company in Boston.

Hirsch says there are also blow-filler fountain pens stamped “Seth Sears Crocker Pen Company” which appear to have been made after Crocker Pen Company’s collapse in 1922, and just before the appearance of the Chilton Pen Company - in fact, he reports an example with parts that are interchangeable with an early Chilton.    Whether S.S. Crocker’s association with Zain was exclusive isn’t known as of this writing.

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