Saturday, December 3, 2016

Wahl's Car Parts Business

A while back, I posted an article here concerning Wahl’s “extracurricular” activities, presenting evidence including this pencil that Wahl might have been having second thoughts about the writing instruments business towards the end of the 1920s, as its product lines aged and the company was deciding whether to update existing products or try something new (see  That article was inspired by this pencil, which came from Larry Liebman:

The article concluded with advertisements I had found for the “Wahl Spring Brake” shock absorbers, which had me wondering

Enter Howard Edelstein, who pulled me aside at the Ohio Show to look at some pencils he had.  Two of them caught my attention immediately:

Identical utility pencils advertising the “Wahl Spring Brake” and the “Wahl Two-Way Hydraulic Shock Absorber.”

“Holy Cow!” I said.  “You must have read my article!”

Howard just looked at me.  “No.  What article?”

Sigh.  Score one for a fantastic stroke of luck; at least he knew I like pencils . . .

Friday, December 2, 2016

Maybe Not All . . .

A few weeks ago, I’d shared a picture of a pile ‘o red hard rubber Eversharp utility pencils.

Even though these have red hard rubber barrels, normally a quality that commands a premium, these are common enough that I didn’t mind scavenging a clip to complete a rarer model (see

OK, most of them are common . . .

This one was also in that DC bunch along with all of its “common” cousins:

The short ones are exceedingly difficult to find.  Most interesting of all is what you’ll find in a side-by-side comparison of the full sized and midget versions:

That upper metal band is shorter, and the clip on the midget version is a significantly shorter one specially made for this model, complete with a shorter upper tang.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Back On Its Feet

John Harrison and I got to talking at the DC Show - hard to tell how we got on the subject, but he’s a LeBoeuf fan, and he mentioned he had a LeBoeuf barrel laying about in need of repair.  Over scotch and cigars, he presented it to me for an opinion:

It didn’t need repair . . . it needed the entire insides.  Long story short, it made sense for me to buy the barrel rather than supply replacement innards.  Back at home, I went through my parts and didn’t find anything that would work: even though the LeBoeuf and Cross Alwrite are built on the same chassis (both by Cross), I didn’t have anything that could finish this one.  However, as nice as the color was, I went through my intact examples to see if I could live with parting any of them out.  I had two that are nearly identical to each other:

The color variation probably isn’t enough to suggest these were intended to be two different colors – the plainer of the two only looks so because the other is SOOOO spectacular.  I figured the plainer one could at least share custody of its innards, so with a simple twist of the tip . . .

The entire mechanism just pulls out from the back, and presto . . .

John’s pencil is complete and enjoying a comfortable retirement alongside its ringtop counterpart.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Something I Never Knew Was There

When this Mabie Todd showed up in an online auction, if the seller hadn’t offered a detailed description of the imprint I wouldn’t have given it a second thought:

He indicated that the patent date on it was March 16, 1875 . . . not the usual date of October 3, 1854 you’ll find so often on Mabie Todds.

Unfortunately, when I bid on this one, I had forgotten that I had two examples along these lines from the collection of David Moak, author of Mabie in America.  I really, really REALLY need to get that collection photographed and cataloged.  Fortunately, though, this one is a little different: it’s a little shorter, and the trim is yellow gold, rather than the rose gold found on the other two examples:

One of the ones from the Moak collection  has a simple “Mabie Todd & Co. No. 4" imprint, but the other has the March 16, 1875 in addition:

But wait a minute . . . the “No. 4" part of an imprint would typically denote a nib size, and these look just like conventional magic pencils . . . time to look up that patent.

George W. Mabie applied for patent number 160,924 on February 19, 1875, less than a month before it was issued.  I don’t think it was just a slow day at the patent office – I think this is just that cool, and the drawings don’t really do it justice.  I breezed right past this one when I wrote my first patent book (it is included, by the way), because it just wasn’t practical to read the text of each patent – “pen and pencil case” was a sufficient description for my purposes at the time.   But now that this one had my full attention, what the drawings purport to show is made more clear:

The patent is for a reversible “detachable pen-holding sleeve” which fits over the front end of the pencil.  Come to think of it, the only thing unusual about these is that unusually thick nose. . .

Well isn’t that slick!  Shame on me.  I’ve had David Moak’s examples for what - four years now?  This feature is explained in his book, and I’ve never pulled one of these apart to see what’s inside.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Pencil That Maybe Never Was

Michael Little sent me images of this one some time ago and asked if I was interested:

This little hard rubber number has an interesting tip and a nice, thick lead.  The tip didn’t appear to move and neither did the lead, so for the time being I decided not to force it.

What really had me attracted to this one was the imprint:

“John Blair - NY / Pat. Feb. 9th 1892.”  The reference, unfortunately but kind of interestingly, has nothing to do with a pencil:

John Blair of Brooklyn, New York filed an application for a fountain pen on November 14, 1891, which was awarded as number 468,322 on February 9, 1892.  Blair was issued 14 patents between 1885 and 1909, all of which are listed (shameless plug time) in American Writing Instrument Patents 1799-1910.  A fifteenth Blair patent, for a sleeve filler fountain pen, was awarded in 1911 and is included in American Writing Instrument Patents Volume 2; 1911-1945.

And not one of these patents is for a mechanical pencil.

John Blair is one of those minor manufacturers who apparently enjoyed some success over a period of decades.  In this advertisement, published in 1913, Blair claimed to have founded his business in 1881:

Although Blair’s patent history makes it appear that he became interested in stylographic pens later in his career, with patents on the subject issued in 1903, there was a “Blair Ink Pencil Company” in New York which was advertising for salesmen in 1883:

Interestingly, for all of you Conklin guys out there (myself included), Blair offered a sacless fountain pen which he called – the “Nosak”:

However, it was Blair’s stylographic pen business that interested me more; the point section of my pencil had to be adapted from the stylographic line rather than from a fountain pen feed, I thought.  I did find an advertisement for Blair’s stylographic pens, with a picture, in the March, 1909 issue of Popular Mechanics:

But note that the pen is shown with a cap, and the point section is shaped differently from mine.

And so, with all this research in hand, I still didn’t feel like I knew enough about this one to write something up, and the draft of this article quietly slipped into the dead letter office, awaiting more information to pin down John Blair’s mysterious pencil.

That information came in an online auction recently for an empty box sleeve:

This box shows my pencil EXACTLY, and it is loaded with information:

The Blair ink pencil pictured here was a cross between a stylographic pen, a felt tip marker and a trench pen: the directions indicate that there was an ink “cartridge” which would be inserted into the barrel, which was filled with water to activate the ink.  To make the ink blacker, the directions suggest stabbing the tip of the cartridge with a hat pin.    Since the directions indicate that the tip unscrews, and it appears to be identical to my pencil, I decided to force the issue a bit more, and after a few tense moments, the end did come off:

Revealing that in addition to using ordinary ink, the Blair Ink Pencil could also be fitted (with or without the manufacturer’s blessing) with a piece of lead, which is held in place perfectly by the tip.  Further, the lead is actually marked:

It’s a piece of Johann Faber lead.  Whether Blair ever marketed his ink pencil also as a regular lead pencil hasn’t been established, and this may well have been the work of an improvising pen owner who didn’t have a Blair ink cartridge handy at the moment his or her ink pencil ran dry.

There’s one other valuable piece of information on this box worthy of our attention: Blair’s address at 163 Broadway.  The 1883 advertisement provides an address of 163 Chambers, while the ones from 1909 and later indicate the firm was located at 6 John Street.  The 163 Broadway address falls in between, as indicated by this advertisement from September, 1905:

In Trow’s Business Directory of 1899, Blair was listed with an address of 52 Nassau:

But by the time this interview Blair provided to Printer’s Ink was published on December 5, 1900, he was located at the Broadway address:

Monday, November 28, 2016

As Rex Grew

This nice little Webster pencil came out of that collection I picked up in DC last summer:

Above the clip is the simple imprint “Pat. Pen.”:

The tip is a two-stage affair, with an upper shell held in place by the screwed-in tip:

This is one of the family of mechanical pencils made by the Rex Manufacturing Company that I’ve written about often here, and I knew this one was going to be a keeper.  The mottling of the hard rubber on this barrel is really distinctive, but what got my attention even more was the fact that the barrel was faceted rather than round – something you hardly ever see.  Even if I had a round barreled example in this color at home, the CDO collector in me (that’s OCD, but with the letters in alphabetical order) compelled me to bring it home and put it next to it.

And when I did, I noticed something . . .

It’s not quite the same size, and if you look closely, none of the parts are compatible with a “normal” Rex pencil.  The tip is shorter, the barrel is thinner, the cap is also narrower and . . . well heck, even the clip has a slightly different shape.

That got me to thinking.  Webster was one of the earliest brand names associated with Rex pencils, and the “Pat. Pen.” imprint certainly calls to mind the possibility that this might be a transitional model.  That gave me the idea to compare it with another pencil in my collection, marked only with Rex’ patent date of February 19, 1924 on it (I wrote about that one here more than three years ago, at

Hmmm.  Small, medium and large – and the small is made from exactly the same rubber.  Perhaps as the Rex Manufacturing Company grew, so did the company’s pencils.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Judiciously Mixing and Matching

Joe Nemecek and I have had some success finding bolt-on clips to finish out his yellow and limeade Eversharp pencils.  Just before I gave them back to him at the Ohio Show, I shot this picture of his examples alongside my red and cream ones:

That left me with some spare parts lying around, and since I kind of liked Joe’s yellow one and I had an equipoised-mechanism one in that color which was now without a clip, I wondered if it were possible to “make” one.  I took apart what was left of the red hard rubber pencil from which I scavenged a clip recently (see

And there you have it – I’ve got one just like Joe’s awaiting a donor clip.  Well, almost like Joe’s . . . what you can’t see inside the barrel is that there’s a hexagonal fitting at the tip which engages the mechanism.  That means you can turn an Equipoised barrel into an earlier model, but you can’t go the other way (the Equipoised mechanism won’t fit in an older barrel).  I also “made” one with a black tip, since I’m certain that was included in the lineup as well:

I’m setting a dangerous precedent doing this, because there’s several colors in the Equipoised models I haven’t yet established were made in the earlier models.  As a purist, I object to making anything that Eversharp didn’t make itself, so I’m not encouraging the creation of fantasy pieces here.  That’s why I didn’t do the same thing with this one:

This jade example has a great “Use Eversharp Square Leads” imprint, so I kind of hate to see it sitting in my parts box (it came to me without a clip).  But I already have a jade Equipoised mechanism model, and the parts don’t fit together very well on this one . . .

Yet I hesitated.  That little angel on my shoulder was telling that devil on the other one that no matter how cool it would look, if I haven’t established that they were offered with the older mechanism, it wouldn’t be right.  But then this one turned up at the Ohio Show:

OK, they do exist . . . or there’s at least one other idiot out there taking these things apart and putting them back together.  No, I think they do exist.  Comparing the two more closely, I wondered if maybe my jade Equipoised one might have originally been made for the earlier line . . . since the parts fit together so poorly . . .

Just for fun, I tried swapping parts out, and guess what: they don’t fit.  Back to the parts bin the Equipoised model goes, as the angel pats me on the back.

I did make one other swap after the Ohio Show that even my shoulder angel agreed with.  Although I had an Equipoised-mechanism model in lapis, a clipless one turned up at the Ohio Show which had something extra:

A price sticker.  Yeah, I had to make the swap.

Besides, someday another clip will come along, and out of all the duplicate barrels in my parts bin, that lapis one will be first in line when the time comes.