Sunday, March 18, 2018

Trick Pencils . . . For Tricks

Sometimes “trick” pencils, in addition to writing, help you calculate tricks, as in bridge hands.  As I was cleaning up around the museum a few months ago, I finally got around to photographing three examples I’ve had laying around for awhile:

The top one doesn’t have a clip, but it does have a hexagonal bushing under the cap which keeps it from rolling off of the table.  The name on the pencil is “Vanco”:

I’ve got a few Vanco pencils, but they are all Japanese-made duplex pencils, meaning that they contain two leads inside so that turning the cap one way advances one color lead, and turning it the other way withdraws that one and advances another color.  This one isn’t anything like that – in fact, if it weren’t for the name I’d think it was made by Ritepoint. 

In fact, there is no connection between this pencil and the Japanese company.  I found an advertisement for the Vanco Bridge Scoring Pencil in the June, 1936 edition of Popular Mechanics, providing an address of 210 South 16th Street, Philadelphia:

As for that middle example, I don’t have any idea who made it.  There were two of these that came my way in a collection, the second of which was missing a cap.  There might have been a clip under that cap which has gone missing:

The third one is a bit easier to figure out.  That clip and the rosette molded into the top of the cap are calling cards of the Welsh Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island:

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Few Tricks from Monroe

“Trick” pencils . . . that’s the name by which I like to refer to pencils which, in addition to writing, do something else.  It’s like this pencil collecting business is two different hobbies for me: on the one hand, sometimes I’m exploring the history and showing off the artistry of some serious artifactsone is serious, delving into the history and art of (what I consider to be) some pretty valuable collectibles.

And then on the other, I get just as much a kick out of a lighter pencil, that goofy Golf-Meter pencil from the other day, an Apex “Magic Multiplier” pencil.   I could probably save myself a ton of money if I just went down the trick pencil rabbit hole and stayed there. 

I won’t.  I’m to omniverious when it come to this stuff.

One of my favorite trick pencil makers is Monroe – no affiliation with the Eclipse “uberbrand” with classic deco stepped-end deco styline and stepped-up price stickers, but Monroe as in these:

The company made the most of this format, and these are just the most recent versions which have turned up recently.  The top one is one of the coolest I’ve seen, the “Monroe Slide Rule Pencil Pat. Pend.,” which changes the numbers in the window with a turn of the cap:

I haven’t found the patent for this one.  It’s possible one was never issued.  The next one is one I spent some time hunting down for a reasonable price: the “Monroe Cocktail Pencil.”  Turning the cap reveals the ingredients for several adult beverages:

From one extreme to the other, here’s the “Way of Life” pencil.  Turning the cap takes you from “Hell Bound” to “Heaven Bound.” 

Last for now is just one of the many variations of measuring pencils.  These came tailored for a variety of applications, from lumber estimating, carpeting, paint . . . this one is for wallpaper:

And then there’s even more . . . have a look at these two:

If you look at the trim bands, they match what you’ll see on a Monroe exactly.  And they have a different trick: the perpetual calendar complication at the top end:

The clip rotates with the calendar to the correct day of the month, lining up with the numbers to make it even more clear which numbered days correspond to that day of the week.  Like the Monroe Slide Rule Pencil, this is also marked “Pat. Pend.,” and also like the Monroe, I haven’t found the patent. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

As Kraker Neared the End of the Line

Yesterday’s article ( included photographs of Dixie, Monogram and Belmont branded flattop pencils, all of which were made by the Michael-George Company, and given the imprint on my Dixie, were made at least through 1929, when the company relocated to Libertyville.

A lot happened in the pen industry in 1929.  After decades of squared-off pens, Sheaffer’s new Balance line (introduced in 1928) became all the rage, leading pen manufacturers to taper the ends of their writing instruments to the greatest extent allowable by law.  Sheaffer held design patents on the new shape, which the company aggressively protected through threats and litigation, most notably the company’s lawsuit against the Worth Featherweight Pen Company - see and Daniel Kirchheimer’s excellent article on the subject, published in The Pennant but also maintained by the author separately at

Michael-George was no exception, but with the Depression closing in and the firm’s bankruptcy looming ahead in 1932, it was a very narrow window of time within which the company produced more streamlined pens and pencils.

Note the differentiation between “made” in the first paragraph of this article and “produced” in the third.  Dennis Bowden’s series of articles on Kraker and Michael-George, which ended on a cliffhanger just as the company was relocating to Libertyville in 1929, documented how the company had significant tooling and was clearly manufacturing its own product until that time.  However, was Michael-George able – during the onset of the Depression – to retool and make more streamlined-looking pens and pencils?  And to what extent would he dare to do so, going head-to-head once more against Walter Sheaffer in a patent dispute?

I think the answer is that he dared a little bit, but he couldn’t retool.  I do not believe pencils like this Pencraft were made by Michael George:

The celluloid isn’t much help in identifying who might have made it for them, since I’ve never seen this striking blue and white plastic on anything else:

However, the imprint provides a good clue:

The large imprints on the lower barrels have been abandoned in favor of a block-print imprint on the upper barrel, opposite the clip.  Another company’s imprints were very similar: the Moore Pen Company.  In fact, compare the top ends of the Pencraft and one marked Moore:

Same trim bands, both in size and in placement.  Same location of imprint.  And notice those same white swirls in the plastic, rendered in brown rather than blue.  Since Pencraft was Kraker’s flagship brand in the post-Sheaffer litigation years, is it safe to say that the Michael-George Company’s last product lines were made by Moore?


A few years back, I compared a Dixie which is similar to today’s Pencraft to a Belmont and an Eagle (see

I had concluded at the time that Eagle made my Dixie . . . perhaps placing too much emphasis on the similarity of the plastic and not noticing that the clips on the Belmont and the Dixie are identical to clips used on a Moore (I also placed great emphasis on an Eagle patent appearing on a box of Belmont leads).

The confusion is warranted, because Michael-George, Moore and Eagle keep turning up together, dancing in the same very small circles.  I’d noted in The Catalogue at page 25 that some Belmonts were clearly made by Moore, and others were clearly Eagle-made:

Maybe it isn’t so clear.  Earlier metal Pencraft pencils mimicked Eagle’s patented Simplex, and both of my Pencrafts are stamped “Patented” (see and   Moore’s pens and pencils were at one time very distinct - you’d never confuse one like the one I posted about here the other day for an Eagle -- but with later Moores such as these, you easily could.

Could it be that Moore, like Michael-George, had Eagle manufacture some of its products for a time?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Unfinished Business

Here’s another one that came home by way of Jerome Lobner:

In addition to being just freaking gorgeous, with those wine-colored veins, it’s got a great imprint for a brand I’ve been hunting for some time:

“Dixie / Non-Breakable / Libertyville, Ill. Pat.”  A few years ago I had a Dixie fountain pen with this enormous imprint, and I always thought it would be cool to have one of the pencils.   Note the reference to a patent on the imprint-- the pens have the same imprint, and there’s nothing really unusual about the way this pencils works, so I don’t know what that’s all about.

The Dixie was a brand produced by the Michael George Company, named (in reverse) for its namesake, George Michael Kraker - that’s the same Kraker that got himself sued by Walter Sheaffer over the patent for the lever-filler fountain pen.   Kraker’s companies had several of their own house brand names - Pencraft was his earliest, dating to 1918, followed quickly by Yankee and also Dixie.

Kraker also manufactured pens and pencils for The United Drug Company’s Rexall stores, such as Monogram and Belmont.  These house brands shared elements of the Dixie imprint, but manufacture of these would have started while Michael-George was still in Grand Haven, Michigan:

With Kraker’s involvement in the company, several of my friends have written so much about his movements that most of the research I was going to do for this article has already been done.

The best reference is a series of articles the late Dennis Bowden and Jineen Heiman wrote for The Pennant, part one of which was published in the spring 2010 issue and part two in the fall 2010 issue.  Bowden documented in great detail Kraker’s activities after Sheaffer’s legal victory over him in 1917: first in Chicago in 1918, where he organized the Pencraft Company in 1919, then in Minneapolis from 1921 to 1923, then (briefly) back to Chicago, where the Michael-George Company name is first found, then to Grand Haven, Michigan until around 1929.

But there’s one last chapter to the story, reflected in the last paragraph of Bowden’s second article: “Part III of this article will discuss George Kraker, the Michael-George Company and its pens in Libertyville, Ill. 1929-1932.”

That, unfortunately, would be Bowden’s last words on the subject: he passed away suddenly in December, 2010, leaving the Libertyville chapter of the Michael-George story undocumented.  Given Bowden’s research from the first two articles in this series, I can only assume he had a similarly detailed amount of information to share about the company’s Libertyville years.  Unfortunately, if that research was ever committed to writing, I don’t know what became of it.

So, I’ll try to pick up where Dennis left off.

Bowden’s article indicates that corporate paperwork planning Kraker’s move to Libertyville was finalized in September, 1928, but his cliffhanger suggests that he had not moved until 1929.  The earliest reference I found to the Michael-George Company being in Libertyville was a classified ad the company placed seeking a gold pen grinder, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune on April 17, 1929:

I found a post-mortem reference that the company’s factory was located on East Church Street in Libertyville.  The product lines offered were initially the same as those the company manufactured in Grand Haven, Michigan - all of the pencils I’ve pictured above match the ones Bowden shows in the second of his articles.

As for the Dixie, I know from my own experience it was offered as both a fountain pen and a pencil.  However, I found a reference from 1931 that it was also offered as a combo pen and pencil, “as modern as air travel,” which was given away as a prize according to this ad, from the November 17, 1931 edition of the Sikeston (Missouri) Standard:

Bowden suggests that Michael-George’s run ended in 1932, and that’s consistent with what I’ve been able to find.  On October 20, 1933, The Pittsburg Press included an advertisement by Gimbels offering “Bankrupt Stock Michael George Co.,” blowing out leftover Pencraft pens for 99 cents:

Three years later, a new tenant moved into the factory building formerly occupied by Michael-George:

I find no references to indicate that Michael-George survived bankruptcy in 1932, or that George Kraker continued in the pen business after its failure.  What I have found is evidence that in Michael-George’s last days, the company was no longer manufacturing its own products.

Note:  this story continues at

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Poking the Wounded Bear

I don’t know if it’s another weird Ohio saying or just generally good advice: never poke a wounded bear. A few weeks ago, I raised the ire of many a Parker fan by suggesting that the Parker Pen Company might have had something to do with crappy later offerings from the Conklin Pen Company, after the company had been relocated to Chicago in 1938 and likely after the shadowy syndicate that purchased Conklin had in turn resold it to Joseph Starr’s Starr Pen Company.

Unless it pains you too much to relive the experience, the article was posted at

It took some time for blood pressures to return to normal and for the angry mobs to return their pitchforks and torches to their normal household purposes.  It’s probably best at the peak of the frenzy that I didn’t follow up immediately with a second article, opening with “and another thing . . . “

These, like the “mother of toilet seat” pencil I discussed in my last article, are examples of the Conklin Minuteman – the same name was used on both of these very different looking pens and pencils.  As a proud Ohioan, I didn’t mind gathering together all of the colors they came in . . . even though Conklin had long since left Toledo and it does drive the OCD part of my brain a little nuts that the gray one is a little bit bigger than the others.

These are simply awful syringe-filling pens with similarly awful business ends, but during wartime shortages of new consumer goods, they were probably about as good as you could find at the time.

I was a beginning collector at the time, and I know in those early days I questioned whether these were made by Parker.  If I said it aloud, I’m sure I was loudly dismissed as unworthy to walk the aisles at pen shows or otherwise be seen in polite society.  Hopefully I figured out on my own that notwithstanding a similar washer clip and screw-on top to secure it, anyone could have made something similar in construction to a Duofold flattop after Parker’s ubiquitous 1916 patent on the washer clip expired.

Bear with me now.  Or bears with me, I should say . . .

Consider the Parkette Zephyr, another of the lower tier lines of Parker’s offerings.  According to Tony Fischier’s excellent site,, the Parkette Zephyr was being phased out in 1941 (see

The very year Joseph Starr acquired The Conklin Pen Company.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

If I didn’t tell you those were Parkette pencils, and if you didn’t know Parkette Zephyr pens were streamlined in shape rather than flattops, you’d swear these were matching sets of pens and pencils.  Don’t deny it.

One commentator on my last article suggested that the Starr Pen Company bought all of Parker’s remaining materials and parts, put them together and resold them- a timeline that fits nicely into Tony’s assertion that the Zephyr was discontinued at the same time Starr got into the business.

But by all accounts, Starr didn’t actually make anything.  The company simply resold jobbed pens and pencils, mixing and matching stuff any way they could so they could keep serving large helpings of pen crap onto a wartime market starved for anything that claimed to be a fountain pen.

Starr bought its pens from someone else who made the pens Starr sold.

No one has ever questioned whether Parker made the Parkette Zephyr.

And to those who say Parker would never make such crap, I say yes they did.

In fact, Parker made identical crap.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Pencil-Peddling Russian Count

Joe Nemecek bequeathed this one to me at the DC show for two reasons.  First, he thought the simple bone handle and cheaper nose drive mechanism were just a little sad  . . .

And second, he and I knew it had an Ohio connection:

C. – or maybe G –  Sackersdorff is imprinted into the bone handle.  We knew about the Ohio connection from my recently released book, American Writing Instrument Trademarks 1870-1953 (the book is available at

Gustav Sackersdorff, “a subject of the Czar of Russia, residing and doing business at Cleveland, Ohio,” applied to register trademark number 28,675 on May 28, 1896, for “the facsimile of my autograph signature ‘Sackersdorff.’”   In his application, he claimed to have used the mark since September 30, 1880.

The trademark was filed during that awkward time at the Patent and Trademark Office, during which drawings weren’t included in the registration cerficates – and for whatever reason, they weren’t preserved.   Fortunately, the images can still be found from the Official Gazette, so I painstakingly went back through and tracked them all down, reproducing them all in the first section of the book.  Here’s the image

The signature version of Sackersdorff’s trademark wasn’t carved into the humble bone pencil, for obvious reasons.  The filing of the trademark, however, adds a dimension of understanding to this pencil – and its Ohio connections – which would otherwise have been forgotten.

In 1876, Gustav appeared in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, selling Russian lead pencils - almost assuredly wood-cased pencils, in the lingo of the day - and the local paper was proud to “pronounce them good.”

In 1882, the Wilkes-Barre Sunday News extolled the virtues of Sackersdorff’s Russian pencils, indicating that they were about a third the price as others on the market at the time.  There’s a bit of inconsistency in the story though - the article claims the pencils are “pure plumbago,” which would be extremely soft, but states that the pencils could be stuck into wood without the point breaking.  Note that the address provided for Sackersdorff was 63 4th Avenue, New York:

In Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, they apparently didn’t see too many “real live” Russians, and Gustav’s appearance there, as reported in the July 21, 1882 Wyoming Democrat, seemed dubious as to whether he was the genuine article.  “If his word is as good as his pencils we know he told the truth,” the article conceded.

By 1895, Wanamakers was advertising the “Perfect Lead Pencil” for 35 cents per dozen:

In fact, twelve years later, John Wanamaker still “said so.”

Gustav was married to an opera singer who, according to this account, sang with the Metropolitan Opera House.  She died suddenly on January 5, 1908 at the Hotel Victoria in New York, and her death – reported on the front page of the Sun -- was ruled the result of apoplexy:

As noted in the article, Mrs. Sackersdorff’s faithful dog refused to leave her side and had to be forcibly removed.  Days later, the terrier was reported to be refusing food and drink, dying of grief at the loss of its owner:

By the time Gustav was widowed, his fortunes had apparently changed, and he claimed he “had no friends in this country.”  On August 24, 1908, the sixty-year-old Gustav – who was perhaps taking a cue from the house of Faber and going by the title “Count Augustus Sackersdorff” – checked into the Hotel Diana on West 35th Street.  Half an hour later, he called the clerk to say he wasn’t feeling well and asked for a physician.  Dr. Foote from the New York Hospital was summoned, but when he arrived shortly after, the Count was found dead.

Gustav’s death was also front page news, in the August 25, 1908 New York Tribune.  While Dr. Foote believed the cause of death to be heart disease, the police suspected “unnatural causes,” citing reports from a friend of the Count that he did not expect to live much longer:

“Unnatural” does not appear to have meant “suspicious,” though.  Another account of Gustav Sackersdorff’s passing, which appeared in the Benton Harbor (Michigan) News-Palladium the following day, shows Sackersdorff in an entirely different light: as a once-wealthy Russian Count, who once peddled pencils and was married to a famous opera singer, and who died penniless in a cheap New York hotel.

Monday, March 12, 2018

C. Pat?

This might seem like an unlikely one to have made the cut as I was deciding which out off Ed Fingerman’s Victorian collecdtion I could afford to buy:

I’ve got scads of pencils like this - nearly all are marked Mabie Todd, together with John Mabies October 3, 1854 patent date, a reference to patent number 11,762 (regardless of whether it is also equpped with the sliding dip pen nib:

This one, though, bears no reference to Mabie’s ubiquitous patent.  Instead, it says something else:

“C. Pat. 51" This one has me scratching my head.  True, a few of these are marked with Nelson Goodyear’s hard rubber patent of May 6, 1851 – but that would be “G. Pat.,” wouldn’t it?  And try has I might to get a G out of that imprint, it just isn’t there – it’s clearly a C.  There were just four patents issued in category 401 that year, according to American Writing Instrument Patents 1799-1910, none of them taken out by or assigned to anyone by the name of C.

Could it stand for “Canadian?”  Well, I’m pretty sure the 51 is a date, and the Dominion of Canada wasn’t formed until 1867 (and I checked - Canadian patent number 1 was issued in 1868). 

I have a theory.  I’m pretty sure the “Pat. 51" refers to a patent issued in 1851 – that brings me back to Nelson Goodyear’s patent for hard rubber.   Except it wasn’t called “hard rubber” in 1851

Goodyear referred to it as “India-Rubber” in the title, but in the first paragraph he calls it “Caoutchouc or India-Rubber”:

In fact, when Goodyear’s nephew Austin G. Day took out a patent for a slightly different formulation in 1858 (see “That Third Interesting Holland” at, that’s exactly what Day called it:

I think this imprint is shorthand for Nelson Goodyear’s 1851 patent for Caoutchouc.