Friday, June 18, 2021

Tying in Tamis

We know more about Edward Todd and William S. Hicks during their decline than I ever thought we would know just a few years ago.   You would think after the article I posted on June 4 (https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2021/06/the-end-of-ws-hicks-revealed-at-last.html), it would be easy to explain how Louis Tamis wound up with all of Edward Todd’s equipment.  Maybe Hicks was making Edward Todd’s stuff, Larter & Sons bought Hicks, then Larter and Sons sold to Louis Tamis & Son, perhaps when Larter discontinued the Hicks name between 1943 and 1947.

Nope.  There’s a problem.  Two, actually.  We don’t know exactly what Larter & Sons bought, and we don’t know exactly what Louis Tamis & Son bought, either.

Let’s back up and start with what we know.  

1. Larter & Sons acquired William Hicks’ Sons between 1925, when the Hicks boys were still running the show, and 1929-1931, when Halsey Monroe Larter’s patents were being used inside Hicks-marked pencils (and other of Larter’s patents were assigned to Hicks).  If that seems to thin to accept as definitive, we know it must have happened by the time the Larters were named as Hicks’ partners in the 1933-1934 New York directory.

2.  The business of Edward Todd & Co. “Was discontinued in 1932,” according to Edward Todd, Jr.’s obituary five years later.  That’s equally thin evidence for a definitive date, but reliable for the fact that Edward Todd, Jr. was out of the business for a time before he died.   The firm is still listed in the 1933-1934 city directory, with Edward Todd, Jr. at the helm; maybe the information was collected during 1932 and Edward Todd Jr. closed up or sold out at the end of 1932 – but maybe not.

3.  In the 1933-1934 directory, Louis Tamis is still affiliated as a partner in Schanfein & Tamis, in which he had been involved since 1910 or so – as a jeweler, with no known involvement in the writing instruments industry.  

4.  Larter & Sons changed Hicks’ address to 10 Austin Street, Newark, New Jersey in 1937. That’s the house next door to Larter & Sons’ four-story factory, which Larter had occupied to manufacture its products since 1909. 

4.  Edward Todd, Jr. died in December, 1937.

5.  Sometime between publication of the 1933-34 and 1940 directories, Louis Tamis leaves Schanfein & Tamis and forms Louis Tamis & Son.

6.  The last mention of Hicks is in the 1943 Newark directory; when the next published edition came out in 1947, Hick is gone. 

Something else we know, but we don’t know when it happened, is that someone made identical pencils marked with Hicks and Edward Todd hallmarks, pursuant to William M. Hicks’ 1918 patent.  See Volume 6, page 40 for a pair of identical perpetual calendar pencils (the article is still online at  https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2020/04/that-thing-i-hate-to-do.html).

Now, let’s supplement this story with what Larry Liebman and David Nishimura learned when they visited the Louis Tamis & Son factory a couple years ago.  The Tamis archives include pencils and documents which do not fit neatly into our timeline, the earliest of which is this advertisement, which Larry indicates was pencil-dated 1937 (the same year Hicks’ offices were relocated to Newark):


The clips on the side clip model shown are Hicks-style, and the advertisement states these pencils were “manufactured” by Tamis – although the watch movement was not, and the pencil mechanism likewise might not have been.  The “newly patented” language is consistent with the patent references:  Jack Tamis’ design patent number 101,073 for the pencil/knife/watch combination was applied for on June 30, 1936 and was issued September 1, 1936: 


Note that the model 232 ringtop and 233 side clip watch pencils are both “patent applied for.”  Jack Tamis was working on more than just the outward appearance of writing instruments – the patent covering these pencils was a utility patent for the mechanism.  Tamis applied for patent number 2,107,879 on December 12, 1936, and it was issued on February 8, 1938.  It was designed so that the top pulled out of its rectangular housing a bit, then twisted like an ordinary screw drive pencil:


Right as my recent article on the end of William S. Hicks was publishing, Eric Magnuson pointed out an example of one of Tamis’ watch pencils in an online auction.  It sold for exactly the exorbitant price I predicted, and although I hate paying gold value, I couldn’t resist:


The advertisement for this pencil proves two things: first, by 1936 Louis Tamis & Son was in the writing instruments business.  Second, the firm was developing mechanical expertise (suggesting also some manufacturing capability) to make much more than just the outer shells. 

Tamis’ archives also includes a notebook containing details of the firm’s product offerings, and David Nishimura snapped a few pictures with his phone and agreed to share them here.  One page is titled “L. Tamis & Son Report July 31, 1938" and another page states “L. Tamis & Son Report April 30, 1939.”  



The products shown appear to be Edward Todd pencils.  Note the alternating vertical/horizontal ribbed pattern typical of Edward Todd, and models 391-55 and 391-17 appear identical to those Edward Todd pencils I recently showed on May 31 (see https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2021/05/narrowing-gap.html):



There is also an illustration of one of Edward Todd’s square, extending ruler pencils, sporting the more conical nose I’ve observed on pencils marked Cartier and Pen-N-Pencil, and consistent with Edward Todd Jr’s 1925 design patent (see Volume 6, page 10):


The notebook also includes handwritten price sheets for fountain pens and combination pen/pencils (referred to as “Duplexes”), which itemize four product lines: “plain,” “E.T.,” “B.C.-17" and “S-55.”



“B.C” and “S” are a mystery, but “Plain” suggests without any branding, and “E.T.” must mean that Tamis was offering writing instruments branded Edward Todd in 1938 and 1939.  This is consistent with Larry Liebman’s oral history, which states that Louis Tamis & Son acquired whatever remained of Edward Todd, whenever Edward Todd, Jr. gave up making writing instruments.

Larry and David observed that Louis Tamis & Son also has pen and pencil-making equipment, which was acquired (according to the company) from Edward Todd – however, all of the remaining equipment on hand pertains to manufacturing the barrels, not the mechanisms inside.

If we knew who was making the insides of the pencils Edward Todd and Hicks were selling, before Todd sold to Tamis and Hicks sold to Larter & Sons, the complete story behind all of these firms would be much easier to put together.  

I have always thought Hicks had taken over the manufacturing for Edward Todd, based on identical Todd and Hicks pencils made under Hicks’ patent. I thought Edward Todd’s listing in the 1933-1934 directory, showing that the firm occupied rooms on the eighth floor of a 6th Avenue address, further supported that – not so fast, says David Nishimura, who points to the fact that many jewelry firms (including Tamis) have actual manufacturing going on upstairs, rather than at street level.

Jack Tamis’ utility patent for the watch pencil also suggest that along with the name, Tamis & Son also acquired wherewithal – at least to invent mechanisms, but perhaps also to make them.

On the other hand, Larter’s decision to move Hicks to the house next door to Larter & Sons’ manufacturing facility suggest Hicks was was making mechanisms as well as the shells that surrounded them, because there wouldn’t be any reason to park Hicks’ offices next door to Larter’s factory if Hicks existed in name only. As long as Larter’s offices were at 15 Maiden Lane and separated from Larter’s manufacturing, it would make more sense to keep Todd’s offices at the same location. 

We just don’t have any evidence yet to tell us whether either Todd or Hicks was making pencils for the other, whether each was making its own using shared equipment and technology, or whether both firms were sourcing the insides of their writing instruments from some unknown third-party supplier.

It’s still a dead end, but it isn’t as dead as it used to be.  The truth has a habit of floating to the surface as additional pieces of the story come together, and we know more than we did just a few weeks ago.

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