Friday, July 3, 2020

A Tour of the Redipoint Wing

This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 6, now on sale at The Legendary Lead Company:



A few years ago I put together and presented the twisted story of the “Redipoint” brand (see “The Real Story of Redipoint” at Volume 4, page 335).  I wrote that piece during an all-day seminar I was required to attend as part of my continuing education as a title insurance agent.

Yeah.  Every two years the Department of Insurance requires ten hours of continuing education on a subject that doesn’t have ten hours of material in the entire subject, even after I’ve been doing it for twenty-eight years. 

The instructor, a newly minted, three-year attorney with abysmal speaking skills, apparently hadn’t learned that ten hours of material yet.  I tried to listen, really I did, but I was gradually slipping into a coma with an incredulous look on my face, roused every so often to ask a question that would nudge him into retracting the dumb statement he had just made.  

I’m required to go, I’m not required to listen, and they weren’t paying me to teach the teacher.  After the first break I settled into the back row and opened up my laptop to write a nice historical piece for the blog, using the hotel’s wifi to grab and edit the images I needed.  It was multi-tasking at its finest; the article came out nice, and the Crown deemed me worthy to earn a living as a title agent for another two years.

That’s why “The Real Story of Redipoint” is all clippings and history, without any pretty pictures of the pencils bearing the name.  I've been meaning to shoot some pictures of the entire Redipoint wing of the museum since then, but I’ve never gotten around to doing it – probably because I haven’t had a catalyst arrive to trigger that sort of reaction.

Something . . . like this little booklet, titled “Jot it Down”:


The seller was really paying attention and placed it in the mechanical pencils category.  I never would have seen it otherwise, but when I did I instantly recognized those white and orange circles on a dark background as design elements used during a brief and very interesting chapter in the brand’s history.

The thumbnail version of the story, told in more detail in my previous article, was that the calendar company Brown and Bigelow started making pencils around 1918, but got serious about the pencil business in 1921.  In 1922, William Ingersoll, formerly of the Ingersoll Watch Company which failed in 1921, established the Ingersoll Redipoint Company in New York and took over national sales of the brand under the Ingersoll Redipoint name.

American Writing Instrument Trademarks 1870-1953 contains registration certificates which fit nicely into the story: on April 5, 1922, William H. Ingersoll applied for trademark registration of a handwritten version of his last name, which he claimed to use on pencils since March 24, 1922:


A second application followed on January 11, 1923, for another mark the Ingersoll Redipoint Company, Inc. claimed to use beginning on April 1, 1922.  Herbert H. Bigelow, the president of Brown & Bigelow, appeared to have some continuing involvement after Ingersoll took over production and sales of the Redipoint brand: note that he signed this trademark application as treasurer of Ingersoll Redipoint Company, Inc.


During the time Ingersoll Redipoint was producing pens and pencils, the company’s focus was making quality writing instruments rather than advertising specialties.  However, some tax implications regarding the restructuring must have been overlooked: Herbert Bigelow was convicted of tax evasion in late 1924 and served a prison sentence, which was reduced in light of his good behavior to just a few months - he was released in early 1925.

On February 1, 1926, whether to unwind the transaction or whether William Ingersoll no longer wished to be associated with Bigelow, the Ingersoll Redipoint Company merged back into Brown & Bigelow and returned to St. Paul, Minnesota.  The company continued to offer writing instruments as luxury accessories for a time, but gradually settled back into making pencils and the occasional pen as advertising specialties.

That places items marked with the Ingersoll Redipoint name in that narrow, glorious window of time between 1922 and very early 1926, when the company was working hard to establish itself in the luxury writing instruments market in New York.

My new “Jot it Down” booklet falls within this window.  Inside the front cover is a 1923 calendar, and the first page clarified the title to “Jot It Down with an Ingersoll Pencil,” written in William Ingersoll’s handwritten (Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.) signature:


The book is mostly an address book with a few blank pages, none of which were ever used.  However, it also serves as a handy little almanac with some useful information, including an illustration of how using a Redipoint generates so much less waste than using an ordinary pencil:


Postage rates and the populations of all major U.S. cities:


A Roaring ‘20s chart to calculate stock income, and a handy guide to help you figure out such things as how many quarts there are in a gallon:


Even surveyor’s measuring lengths – now that would have been handy to have in my title insurance seminar, because it’s so much easier to read old legal descriptions in deeds when you know how many inches there are in a link, how many links in a rod and how many rods in a chain:


Should you be poisoned and retain the presence of mind to pull out your notebook, you can consult a list of antidotes:


The page dedicated to business law slips in a subtle hint: “Signatures made with a lead pencil are good in law.” 


On the page opposite where you can keep track of when all your insurance policies expire, the “Ingersoll Simplicity” of only three working parts is illustrated:


The last page provides a rundown and price list of Ingersoll Redipoint’s various models, opposite a 1924 catalog inside the back cover:


This neat little piece of ephemera fit nicely amongst other Redipoint things that found themselves within my “gravitational pull”:  


I say that because with the exception of that glass case, I didn’t find any of these things – they were pulled to me through people who found them and brought them my way.  The glass case came to me in the “Philadelphia hoard” which turned up at the Philly show back in 2015.  It came along with thousands of pencils, and while it wasn’t stocked, these days it’s where I keep my earliest and weirdest Redipoints from before the Ingersoll days, including early repeating pencils, examples of “The Bug,” and my figural examples – that screw figural, if I recall, came to me from Howard Levy:


“Redipoint / For Better Service,” the etched glass top reads, in a font that was found on post-Ingersoll days, dating this to the late 1920s.  Although these pencils aren’t strictly accurate for the case in which they reside, they are the examples of which I am most proud and most enjoy being able to see on display.

Speaking of displays, that store tray was also a nice find:


This tray is from that same Ingersoll Redipoint era as the notebook, from 1922-1926, and the pencils I keep there are from that era, too.  These are the aluminum “Featherweight” and “Checker” pencils referred to in the notebook, for fifty and seventy-five cents respectively.  The “Checker” pencils are the ones equipped for fat “checking” leads - the same .075" leads Autopoint and Eversharp used.

The stand-up wood display of Redipoint pencils came to me through a random email from someone who had one and found me through this blog.  I don’t remember if any of the pencils came with it, but these days I keep Redipoint “Knockabout” silver-plated utility pencils in it, both Ingersoll-era and later Brown and Bigelow examples.  These were listed in the notebook as retailing for 75 cents, but I doubt the smaller ones were priced the same as the larger examples:


With a cameo appearance of the photographer and the wall o’ pencils in the background in the reflection, of course.

I found a great place to keep all of my “Dollar” (rolled silver) and higher-end “Gift” pencils in sterling and gold fill:


This leather salesman’s case is much later, from the 1940s or so, after Brown and Bigelow had reaquired the brand and settled into a business model of producing advertising pencils.  “Redipoint - The Pencil with a Business Building Plan Behind It” is embossed on the front:


This case had a lot of room inside, but I’ve nearly filled it with variations of materials and patterns.  I’d call this “phase two” of getting these organized; much as was the case with my Sheaffers, for years I’ve been diverting pencils along these lines to a box, and I only recently organized them into one place.  Phase 3 of this large project will be grouping and photographing these by imprint (there’s some Ingersoll, some post-Ingersoll in here) and sorting out the model numbers using the price tags:


I have one other nice bit of ephemera which I keep in another area, with all my lead displays.  I pushed the envelope a bit when I set up this display, breaching the agreed-upon boundaries of the collection – while pencils must be confined to one room, the lawyer in me reasoned that store counter lead displays weren’t technically “pencils.”


From what I recall, Martin Ferguson brought this for me to the Raleigh show a few years back.  It was one of those purchases in which he wasn’t taking this bulky thing home with him and I didn’t either, but whatever price we agreed to I’m happy to have it now, since it fits in so well with the Ingersoll-era theme.  It looks like at some point in its long history, a catalog page was taped to the front of it, since you can see the polka-dot theme peeking out from around the edges of it.  I haven’t felt the need to disturb it, although curiosity may well prove too much to prevent me from seeing what’s behind it.

I had aspirations of restocking it with period-correct lead containers, but finding them has been challenging and it didn’t make sense to put them in a display where I couldn’t see them.  The ones I have found have come to live in a cabinet from Jack Price’s old shop in Columbus:


The rest of my Redipoints are grouped into another printer’s cabinet.  The top drawer has the flashier ones:


On the left are mostly Redipoint “Aristocrat” pencils, one of my favorites – big, beautiful and sharing the same trouble-free mechanism of only three working parts.  In the lower row you’ll notice that Redipoint lighter pencil that took me so long to reacquire (see Volume 5, page 181), and that one with the goofy top is the pencil from one of the earliest articles here, “The Tallest Building in Iowa” (Volume 1, page 10).  The left side is all later Brown & Bigelow advertising pencils, also in organization phase 2 at this point.

Finally, there’s a drawer full of other B&B advertisers.  I’d call this organization phase 1 ½.  


The Redipoint, like Autopoints and other pencil-specific “cult” brands, shares the same complex and fascinating history, with so many different variations spread out over four different zones in the museum that it would warrant a book all its own.

Someday, after I’ve finished another long list of projects that have been percolating.  They’ll be here when the time comes.

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