Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Visitor From a Fiery Other World

Sometimes I get hit squarely in my blind spot, and today’s pencil is one of those instances.  When this one showed up in an online auction, I bid hot and heavy because I’d never seen one in this color:

It doesn’t look much like it, but it’s a Conklin from the All-American series – the same series from which the Conklin-made Guild pencils were derived (see http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-last-two-nails.html).  The color is even more dramatic when the pencil is viewed from the side:

I knew I’d see Conklin specialist Alfonso Mur at the Chicago Pen Show, so I made a point to pack it in my show and tell folder, hoping to find out some information about this color, which I’d never seen before.

Pen collectors are well familiar with the color, which is known as “flame” and which is also one of the most desirable colors in Conklin circles, overshadowing even such desirable colors as the “halloween” and “zebra” colors I’ve written about here.  Pete Kirby let me shoot a picture of my pencil next to a Conklin All-American pen in flame – I didn’t have my photography stuff out at the time, so forgive the lousy cell phone picture:

Yet all this was news to me for one simple reason: I don’t collect pens.  Since the color is so rare, and no one else recalled seeing a pencil in flame, either, that explains why I never had cause to learn about this before.  What the heck – if I knew it all, this hobby would have bored me a long time ago!

So here’s the new family portrait of this class of Conklin All-Americans:

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Parker Zaner Bloser from the ZABCO Era

Zaner-Bloser is one of those names that exists only in extremes in the minds of collectors.  On the one hand, there’s the cheap wood or plastic pencils and dip pens that few take seriously – other than a certain collector living near Columbus, Ohio who views them with a certain degree of hometown pride . . . and who also happens to be writing this blog.

At the other end are the super-rare, super-desirable examples made for Zaner-Bloser by the Parker Pen Company, which command hundreds of dollars whenever they surface.  I’ve been able to scrape two of them together and into the fold:

The “true blue” (Parker called it “modernistic blue”) striped example is well documented, but the grey one, in something close to (but not identical to) the grey pearl plastic found on some contemporaneous Parker “Zephyrs,” is to my knowledge uncatalogued.  Both of these are nose-drive pencils, sporting Parker depression-style clips:

and on the back of the caps, a special imprint:

The True Blue example has an imprint which runs towards the clip; the grey one, however, is what some pencil guys call a “left handed imprint”: it runs from the clip end down, so when you hold the pencil in your left hand, the imprint isn’t upside down.  

A Parker/Zaner-Bloser pen and pencil set in lapis blue turned up at the Chicago Pen Show auction in May, and I valiantly gave chase.  Alas, I was vastly outgunned by pen collectors who saw the pencil, rather than the pen, as the “extra” they’d have to pay extra for.  After the bidding topped out at around $2,000.00, I knew I’d have to wait for another day to find the pencil in lapis.

Besides, I told myself, I’d already found a PZB that weekend . . .

This one appears to be earlier than any other example I’ve seen, with a patent 1916 Parker clip rather than the plain depression-style one:

The imprint, in addition, doesn’t match what’s found on Parker Zaner Bloser examples:

And, unlike all the other Zaner Blosers I’ve seen, this one isn’t a nose drive pencil - it’s rear drive, with a mechanism that only vaguely resembles anything Parker made:

The cap and barrel appear at first to be a mismatch, with a typical Parker jade used on the cap, and an interesting, swirly cream and green plastic on the lower barrel.

So let’s think about this new one for a few minutes.  Most of the people I showed it to in Chicago wondered whether this wasn’t a mismatch, but I am completely confident that this is a prototype Parker-made Zaner Bloser pencil.

1.  It came from Dan Zazove, Parker uber-expert and author of several books on the subject, who says it came directly from Parker.  A Zazove seal of approval alone is frequently enough to convince most skeptics, but I’ve got more.

2.  The Duofold imprint on the cap isn’t something you would ordinarily find.  Parker moved its imprints to the caps, but only on the examples made for Zaner Bloser, because the contours of the lower barrel apparently made it infeasible to try to stamp the lower barrels.

3.  This might look unfamiliar to students of Parker, but it is completely consistent with what you’d expect to find on an early Zaner Bloser.  Compare the new find with one I’ve written about here some time ago:

The big red pencil, which I wrote about here about four years ago (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2012/10/zabco.html), is marked “ZABCO Cols. O./Pat. Appl. For”:

I’d concluded in that prior article that the “Pat. Applied For” stamped on the Zabco must apply to the Coke-bottle shape, which was the subject of a couple design patents.  Now I’m wondering, since it is a rear drive pencil just like the green example, whether it has the same slightly weird internal workings inside and a utility patent was applied for with respect to the works, but never issued.  I can’t get it apart to see what’s inside, so we’ll take that issue up another time.  The real reason I place these two alongside one another is to show you the similarities in their design:

Note how much more pronounced the curves are from later Parker Zaner-Blosers, and how the ends taper down much farther to a somewhat ill-fitting metal inner nose.  I haven’t seen these features anywhere else, which leads me to conclude that both are clearly Zaner Bloser products, and that this was likely Parker’s first collaborative effort with the company to produce the company’s line of writing instruments.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sage Design

At the Triangle Show, Rob Bader had two of these in his box o’ surprises:

Both were equipped with what appeared to be a white lead, leading me to think this might have been for marking clothing alterations.  I took both of them and gave one to Joe.  In addition to the tight, rear-drive design, this one had a nice imprint I thought would be fun to track down:

“Peggy Sage.”  It didn’t take long to figure out what this one was all about.  Peggy Sage was and is a cosmetics company.  According to the company’s website, the firm was founded in 1925 in the US and was bought out by an English concern in 1950; since then, the brand name has been sold to various firms, being revived most recently in 2000 by “the Collomb family.”

The company’s website still offers pencils with a white “lead” like this, and the accompanying description explains what it was used for: “The lip shaper lip lead pencil is used to draw a transparent, mat line around the lips before applying lipstick to prevent it from smudging even if the lips are damaged.”

Ok, that’s a little gross, and I might have to retrofit this one with a stick of lead in the appropriate size and discard the partially used lip goo.  Even though this is a cosmetic applicator rather than a writing pencil, though, it still fits well into my collection.  Did you notice that celluloid?  The first thing I thought when I saw it was Eversharp, because it does have a cousin in the Bantam world:

An exact mirror image, if you look closely.  Burgundy with grey pearl streaks on the Peggy Sage, and grey pearl with burgundy streaks on the bantam.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Permanently Entertaining

I’ll admit that I’ve evolved from collecting American-made pencils only to collecting pencils that I like, regardless of where they were made.  This one, which surfaced in a recent online auction, screams not American:

The worn german silver plating screams continental, but I really liked the pattern on the barrel:

And I’m always a sucker for a great name like “Permanento.”  Note also the interesting pattern around the crown:

This one got even better when it arrived, because the seller, who apparently didn’t know anything about pencils, left a couple things out:

That blue square is a color indicator - this is a multicolor pencil.  And then there’s that great logo:

I was pretty sure the middle letters were “ie,” but I wasn’t sure whether the first letter is an o or a v and the last letter might be an r or a k.  After I posted a question about this on the Pentrace page over on Facebook, my friend Giovanni Abrate figured out that it is “vier,” the German word for four – of course.  

Aurora makes a “Permanento” pencil, but it isn’t a multicolor.  Google isn’t turning anything up for me, so I’m at a dead end.  I’d appreciate hearing any other information about it.

Friday, August 19, 2016

What's Going On Here?

I picked up all three of these pencils at the Triangle Pen Show in June, two from Brian McQueen and the third from Rick Krantz:

All three of these are Eversharps:

I call them “Square 4 derivatives” because they are descendants of Eversharps “Square 4" line, originally designed for use with leads that were 4 inches long and square, purportedly to keep them from twisting around in the barrel and also to keep sharper points as they wore down (see “Hip to be Square” at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2012/05/hip-to-be-square.html).   Square lead quickly proved to be a fiasco, as the corners tend to shave off inside pencil barrels and gum things up, but the 4 inch lead thing did catch on, so Eversharp streamlined the design a bit.

I’ve got a picture of a few Square 4 pencils on page 71 of The Catalogue, although I was off a bit on the date they were introduced (I indicated 1937 - the patent for the square lead was applied for in 1932).  I mentioned in the book that you can assemble quite a collection of these, since they came in such a wide variety of colors and patterns, and I’ve added quite a few since the book was written of these later models:

The plastics on these new additions, though, are really interesting.  The grey one is made from a plastic I’ve only ever seen used on Sheaffer WASP pencils (“WASP,” an acronym for W.A.Sheaffer Pen, was the company’s lower-tier line of writing instruments).  Some call it “Screaming Souls in Purgatory,” but I prefer “birdseye.”  Sheaffer was even more sedate, calling it simply “gray.”  Here’s a Wasp Clipper pencil in that same plastic:

The green examples are also made from a plastic I’ve only seen on WASPs before - Sheaffer called this one “green lahn”– here’s a WASP from that same series in that same color:

That WASP isn’t the best example of the plastic, since it’s a little less dramatic than what you normally see.  Here’s three WASP Clippers of a little later vintage, in silver, green and brown lahn:

The lahn plastic was patented – but not by Sheaffer.  Patent number 2,081,538 was applied for on June 26, 1934 by Fred J. Hoarle and was issued on May 25, 1937.  The patent was assigned to the Celluloid Corporation and not to Sheaffer, for a process of embedding little metallic strips into decorative celluloid.

Sheaffer didn’t always have a lock on the distinctive patterns found on its products, and we’ve seen other Sheaffer colors “leak” out to other manufacturers (most notably, the blue “clown” plastic which has shown up on Ford’s Jr., Realpoint and Rite-Rite pencils).  But this is the first time I’ve seen a leak from Sheaffer to Eversharp.

And, as I’m writing this, another online auction is about to close with another Eversharp in gray birdseye.  Where are all of these coming from at once?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Closest to the Source?

Note:  yesterday's post contains a short anatomy lesson regarding early Ever Sharp pencils, which helps explain why I'm so excited about this one.  The post can be found here.

At the Chicago Show this year, George Rimakis came to me with a part he’d turned up in someone’s junk box, and which he knew I’d find interesting:

The clip indicates this is a barrel from one of the early Heath-made Ever Sharp pencils, made between late 1913 and October, 1915, when the Wahl Adding Machine Company began making the pencils for Charles Keeran under contract.

Early Ever Sharps are a passion of mine, and regardless of whether I’ve got a duplicate at home, I always pick them up in the hopes that I might learn something more about these rare pencils.

This time I did.

My first order of business was to install a mechanism and a metal tip so that this would be a working example rather than just a part, and since I happened to have a first generation Eversharp on hand as a donor, I pulled the mechanism and installed it:

But when I set about installing the tip, something odd happened.  There was nothing into which I could screw the tip . . . in fact, there wasn’t anything in there at all:

I’ve never been so excited about a pencil that I couldn’t get to work.  It has to do with those very, VERY first Eversharps . . . the ones no one has been able to turn up yet.  This barrel has no metal funnel at the front end – prodding with a trusty paper clip confirmed there’s nothing in the front end of this barrel until you feel the lip of that straight, threaded insert.  There’s no way that funnel fell out by itself because it’s held in place by the threaded insert.

From yesterday's anatomy lesson.  The part indicated with a red arrow is not present, and there's no way for it to fall out with the threaded insert soldered in place behind it.
Now, I suppose it’s possible that someone took a perfectly good Heath-clip Ever Sharp worth a couple hundred bucks, melted the solder that held the threaded insert in place, extracted it, hacked off or otherwise removed the metal funnel, reinserted the threaded tube, soldered the insert in place, and then cast off the barrel into a junk box.  That would be the only way to get a front end out of one of these, and I think that’s unlikely.  Call it “junk box provenance.”

What I believe is far more likely is that the “fibrous” plugs in those very first Ever Sharps, which needed to be soft enough to both secure the lead yet also allow it to ease through, must have been made of some material which was prone to shrinking.  It wouldn’t have to shrink much to be narrower than the inside diameter of that threaded insert – and if it shrank, the plug could fall through the insert and out of the pencil without the insert being removed.

If that theory is correct, that might well explain why no examples of Keeran’s first Ever Sharps have yet been found.  If the plugs shrank, even if the plugs didn’t fall out, they would have constricted so tightly around the lead that the pencils would be inoperable.  There would have been little point to keeping a pencil that didn’t work.

I examined the barrel more closely to see if there was anything else about it that was different from the other Heath-made Ever Sharps in my collection, and there’s one other telling detail that supports my theory.  The imprint is stamped much higher than it is on the other examples I have; in fact, it trails off the very end of the barrel, as if it was an afterthought:

As David Nishimura established in an article he posted over at his blog (see “Who Designed the Eversharp Pencil” at http://vintagepensblog.blogspot.com/2013/12/who-designed-eversharp-pencil.html), the first Ever Sharps were made by Heath by retrofitting Heath’s clutch pencils:

Heath imprints were much smaller and closer to the tops of the barrel, with “G.W.H.” usually stamped on the mechanism inside, exposed only when the top is unscrewed.  A two-line “Ever Sharp / Patented” imprint stamped on a repurposed Heath clutch pencil that was already engraved, wouldn’t quite fit.

The search continues for an early Ever Sharp with an intact “fibrous” tip, to see what material was used and verify what I believe to be true – that as of the writing of this article, this is the earliest known example of Charles Keeran’s Ever Sharp pencil.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Short Anatomy Lesson in Early Ever Sharps

Before I show you something tomorrow, there’s a few things you need to know about how early Ever Sharps were constructed (yeah, I meant two words, before Wahl contracted the name to “Eversharp” in 1918).

The very, very first ones,  the ones Charles Keeran had in his sales bag when he set up a trial counter at Wanamaker’s department store just before Christmas,1913, had a “fibrous” plug at the tip end with a hole drilled in it, made of some as yet unknown material which was just flexible enough that it would grip a piece of lead but still allow it to pass through.

I wrote a few articles recently about those very first Eversharps,(see “What the Very First Eversharps Looked Like” at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2013/06/what-very-first-ever-sharps-looked-like.html).  Here’s patent number 1,130,741:

Keeran’s metal “rifled” tip came later – but not much later.  He filed his application for patent number 1,151,016 on October 28, 1914, and the drawings show that the metal tip was screwed into a metal tube which extended back to that threaded insert:

These early examples are too rare for me to take apart, but as I was going through some things at the museum the other day, I ran across a “Wahl Ever Sharp” pencil which, from the use of three words on the imprint, indicates it was made sometime in 1917 – using Keeran’s 1914 specifications (except for the clip, which was patented by John Wahl to replace the Heath patent clip Wahl wasn’t allowed to use and Keeran’s labor-intensive “trowel clip” of 1916).  Since the inside solder weld had failed, I was able to take it completely apart to better show you what’s going on in these:

At the top, here’s something a lot of people don’t know: that bushing is there so that you can pull off the cap to reveal an eraser, or unscrew the cap (which also unscrews the bushing) to access spare leads:

In later incarnations of the Eversharp, the threaded insert and the metal nose section were a one-piece affair, but on these early ones, the threaded insert is just a straight tube with threading on the inside to engage the mechanism:

The insert was held in place by a soft solder that would melt at low temperatures, and you can see the residue on this insert where it once was adhered to the inside of the barrel:

The nose section is essentially a funnel, through which lead falls down to the tip as the pencil is being loaded:

At the end of this funnel is a lead plug, the end of which is threaded to receive the rifled tip:

Since that funnel is the same diameter as the threaded insert which is soldered in place behind it, once it’s in there, there’s no way for it to come out unless the insert is desoldered and extracted. And that simple fact is what makes tomorrow’s story so interesting . . .

The link to the next part of this story is here.