Saturday, March 25, 2017

Connected . . . in an unexpected way

I’ve got an update for you regarding these aluminum spiral pencils:

When I first wrote about these nearly five years ago, it was about the top example in this picture, marked “J.E. Mergott Co.  Newark N.J.”:

That article ( explored whether this pencil was one of the “few metal specialties” made by Mergott, a company better known, both at the time as well as today, for making metal frames for ladies’ handbags.  But then along came other examples, marked with a patent date of May 21, 1912, either on the end of the stubby barrel or on the top of the cap:

Two of these I’ve written about, too (first at, then at – both are marked “Dixon” on the nose cone:

The patent date refers to design patent 42,533, issued to Frederick W. Tolfree and assigned to the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company:

Between the design patent and sizing up whether Dixon or Mergott were more likely to have made pencils, I concluded that Dixon was the likely culprit.

Now, though, I’m not so sure.

The other two pencils in this grouping are (what I thought were) advertising pieces, along the lines of Joe Nemecek’s example marked “H.W. Baker Hotel Linens” from that last article:

The longer one of my new examples is marked “Be wise / Aetna-ize,” a slogan used by the Aetna Life Insurance Company beginning around 1914:

The other is marked “Favor Ruhl & Co.”:

Both of these I’ve had for a couple years.  Since neither of them changed my opinions about who made the pencils, I didn’t think them important enough to write about - although that Aetna one narrowly missed the cut because the imprint is so cool.

But then along came this one in this week’s mail:

I bid on it in an online auction solely because I’ve never seen one in the box like this, marked “Lawson Lustro All Aluminum Spiral Pencil” and “Lawson Lustro Varnishes - Valentine & Company.”  The pencil is imprinted “Lawson Lustro Varnishes Valentine Quality”:

I initially assumed, like those last two,  that it was another Dixon-made advertising piece.  But when it arrived, I noticed one curious detail:

In addition to the four perfectly preserved, pre-sharpened leads in the chamber, note that there’s no patent date on the cap.  Since the only other one of these I’ve seen without a patent date was the original Mergott example, I decided to dig around a bit and see what I could find.

As a result, I’ve gone from thinking J.E. Mergott made these, to Dixon, and back to Mergott.

First, a bit about Valentine & Company and their line of “Lawson Lustro Varnishes.”  Samuel Tuck formed a “Paint and Color” firm in Boston in 1806, which was later acquired by Augustine Stimson.  Lawson Valentine founded Valentine and Company, also in Boston, in 1832, and within a few years the two firms merged:

In 1866, after Stinson retired, the name was changed back to Valentine & Company, and the company at some point moved to New York.   “Lawson Lustro” was Valentine & Company’s  house varnish which was advertised, with that distinctive logo, around the same time the spiral pencil’s design was patented: here’s an advertisement from December, 1911:

Valentine & Company also developed paints and varnishes for use on carriages and, later, carriages of the horseless kind.  Here’s an advertisement for the companies automotive varnishes, from the June 15, 1916 issue of The Horseless Age:

Where Valentine & Company really made its mark, however, was in the production of varnishes specially formulated for the marine industry.  In harsh marine conditions, varnishes needed to be especially impervious to water and also flexible enough not to crack and peel on the wooden parts of ships.  Nowhere was this more critical than on a boat’s spar – the wood pole securing the bottom of a sail – which would bend and flex dramatically with the wind.  Valentine & Company came up with a special and uniquely successful spar varnish between 1905 and 1906, and the company marketed the new product under a catchy tradename: Valspar.  Here’s an advertisement from the April, 1910 edition of Power Boating:

That’s right, folks – Valspar paints, ubiquitous in home improvement centers, are named after Valentine & Company’s line of spar varnishes.   In 1932, Valspar Corporation was formally incorporated, with Valentine & Company remaining as a lesser-known subsidiary for a time.

But that’s not all.

When I started researching whether there was a connection between Valentine & Company and the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company, I found one, but not where I expected.  Dixon appears side-by-side with Valentine & Co. in many of the same trade publications, such as The Horseless Age and Power Boating – but not for its pencil business:

Graphite, in addition to being the stuff that makes pencil leads write black, is a natural lubricant, which Dixon processed and sold as an engine lubricant for both automotive and marine applications.  In fact, Dixon and Valentine may have been even more closely related than just their affiliations as advertisers in automotive and marine circles:  Dixon also marketed a line of graphite paints, made with flakes of graphite (rather than lead or zinc):

Wait a minute.  Maybe I’ve got this all wrong.  What if these spiral pencils marked “Dixon” aren’t made by Dixon, but are advertising pencils, made by someone else on behalf of Dixon, to advertise the company’s lubricants or graphite paints?

I went back to do some checking on Frederick W. Tolfree, the man who took out the design patent for the spiral pencil and assigned it to Dixon.  I could only find one reference to him, in Dixon’s in-house magazine, Graphite, published between 1907 and 1910.  He appears on the masthead of the June, 1907 edition, as the “Superintendent of Brass and Rubber Works”:

But I could find no indication, in Graphite or anywhere else, that Dixon dabbled in machining aluminum.

I next checked on the other advertising pencils that have turned up.  Joe’s example with Baker’s Hotel Linens and my “Be Wise Aetna-ize” pencil are what they are . . . nothing interesting to report.  However, my example marked “Favor Ruhl & Co.” raises some interesting questions: Favor Ruhl & Co. was an artist’s supply house, located at 73 Barclay Street in New York.  The company also had a Chicago Branch, located at 425 South Wabash Company, and their 1910 catalog is available online at (See,d.eWE).

The catalog reveals that Favor Ruhl & Co. offered both house brand items as well as name brands from other companies.  Although there’s no aluminum spiral pencils in this one, there are L.&C. Hardtmuth leads, Venus pencils by American Lead Pencil Co., Faber erasers, and Eagle Pencil Company compasses.  My Favor Ruhl & Co. pencil has the 1912 patent date stamped on the end, so a later catalog might list them – but I thought it telling that there were no Dixon products listed in Favor Ruhl’s catalog.

Valentine & Company, however, provided the most insight.  In addition to aluminum spiral pencils, there are Valentine Varnish tokens . . .

. . . made of aluminum . . .

. . . and these interesting puzzles . . .

. . . also made of aluminum.  Even if we assume Dixon got into the business of making advertising pencils for other companies – including an artist’s supply house that would have offered quality Dixon pencils under the Dixon name – it’s extremely unlikely that the company delved into making other advertising trinkets out of aluminum.

On the other hand, it seems far more likely, if a company such as Valentine were purchasing aluminum advertising pencils from someone, that the company would have purchased other aluminum advertising novelties from that same source.

Hmm, I thought.  Maybe it’s time to take another look at J.E. Mergott, the company whose name was stamped on that first, unpatented spiral pencil which started this whole business.  We know the company best remembered for making metal handbag frames made “other metal specialties,” but is there evidence that the company made advertising trinkets, too?

There is:

The September 17, 1914 edition of Printer’s Ink reported that 33 new members were accepted into the National Association of Advertising Specialty Manufacturers, including . . . the J. E. Mergott Company.

Dixon, on the other hand, was interested primarily in graphite and its applications, including wood pencils.  Until these spiral pencils came along, I never entertained the notion that Dixon manufactured any mechanical pencils until the company’s acquisition of Rite-Rite in the 1940s.

In my first article on these pencils, I’d concluded these aluminum spiral pencils were probably made by Mergott.  In later installments, I’d changed my mind to believe they were made by the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company, based solely on the design patent assignment and the fact that two were found marked “Dixon.”

Now, I think the evidence pointing to Dixon as the manufacturer isn’t as strong as I previously thought.  When I string all the clues in this story together, it looks like there’s two likely scenarios: the first is that Mergott was the true designer and original manufacturer of these pencils, which the company made both on its own account and for other companies such as Valentine & Company; Dixon’s trade show ties with Valentine through the automotive and marine industries would naturally have led Dixon representatives to see these pencils and conclude, naturally, that if anyone running in Dixon’s circles were offering advertising pencils, it should be Dixon.  We’ve seen other instances where people took out design patents on things clearly made by others, most notably George T. Byers’ attempted appropriation of the Pearce snake clip in 1914 (see, and Dixon may have muscled its way into the scene, licensing someone else’s design back to them.

That’s the more colorful scenario, but I think that’s the less likely of the two.  A more plausible explanation is that Dixon’s Frederick Tolfree was in fact the designer of these pencils, which Dixon intended to offer both on its own account as a pencil maker as well as advertising for the company’s graphite paints and lubricants.  However, since making things such as this was a bit outside Dixon’s normal operations, the company had the pencils made by J.E. Mergott, which also made them under license for other advertisers as well as a small number on its own account, along with other go-withs, such as aluminum tokens and puzzles.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Carter's and DeWitt-LaFrance: An Important Missing Link

Recently I posted an article about an announcement I found in a 1925 issue of Office Appliances that Carter’s Ink Company had purchased DeWitt-LaFrance (, settling a longstanding argument concerning what became of DeWitt-LaFrance.

This find is equally convincing:

Dents and all, this little ringtop fills in a very important gap in the historical record.  We have the 1925 announcement in Office Appliances, and back in 2009 “Ordo ab Chao” posted this instruction sheet on Fountain Pen Network:

This indicates that the Superite pencil – DeWitt-LaFrance’s flagship line – was “Manufactured by The Carter’s Ink Co.”  Ordo indicated the instruction sheet accompanied a boxed pen and pencil set marked only “Superite.”  But did Carter’s actually own the brand?

This is the only example I have ever seen marked both “Carter’s” and “Superite.”

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The One The Pennant Rejected

Note: this article was written for The Pennant in early November, 2016 as a companion piece to Daniel Kirchheimer’s article, “Featherweight v. Heavyweight,” regarding the patent litigation between the W.A. Sheaffer Pen Co. and the Worth Featherweight Pen Company over Worth’s alleged infringement of Sheaffer’s design patent for the balance.  Daniel’s article is posted at

The article was rejected because the Pennant’s editorial board determined “there is not enough evidence to say that Conklin manufactured the Worth pencil mechanism.”  Since the article will never see the light of day otherwise, and I think it’s a good piece, I’ve decided to post it here.

Who Made the Worth Featherweights?

By Jonathan A. Veley

As Daniel Kirchheimer notes in his article “Featherweight v. Heavyweight,” when Walter Sheaffer’s undercover agent hunted down the Worth Featherweight Pen Company in 1930, he found “a tiny operation with a single-room office in New York City.” Just a year later, federal marshals were unable to locate the company in order to serve it with papers.

Worth’s lack of documented manufacturing facilities suggests that someone else was making the offending writing instruments for the company. In earlier patent litigation against his former business partner George Kraker, Sheaffer had sued not only Kraker but also the manufacturer of the parts that were alleged to have infringed on his rights—in fact, the supplier, C. E. Barrett & Co., was the lead defendant in the case. In the Worth litigation, however, the Worth Featherweight Pen Company stood alone. The question of who manufactured Worth’s Balance knockoffs remains unanswered...perhaps. I recently found a pencil that might provide a clue, if Worth acquired both pens and pencils from the same supplier.

The pencil is a flat-top with a profile that approximates a Sheaffer Titan oversized pencil, but in a cream and black-veined plastic not used in Sheaffer products. The similar shapes of the two pencils isn’t in itself evidence of an attempt to copy Sheaffer’s products: numerous manufacturers copied the looks of the flared cap seen on Sheaffer’s pencils, since the outward appearance of the cap was not protected by any design patent. (Walter Sheaffer was, however, awarded Utility Patent No. 1,554,604 for the construction of his bell-shaped cap on September 22, 1925, which supposedly made his caps less prone to denting.)

Figure 1:  A Sheaffer Titan pencil in jade compared with a pencil bearing a clip with the Worth Featherweight Pen Company’s logo.

Figure 2: Detail of the Worth clip.
While it might be impossible to determine who made a generic lever-filling fountain pen, mechanical pencil mechanisms varied significantly from manufacturer to manufacturer. This Worth pencil, I believe, can be traced back to its source.

On August 24, 2016, I posted an article, “That One Bugged Me,” at my Leadhead’s Pencil Blog concerning how to repair a damaged clip on a Conklin All-American pencil (  The Conklin All-American was the company’s lower-tier line of pens and pencils, although the quality of the pencils equaled that of Conklin’s flagship lines.

Figure 3: The Worth pencil compared with a Conklin All-American pencil. These Conklin All-Americans were in production around the same time as the Sheaffer v. Worth litigation.

Figure 4: The tips from the Worth and the Conklin All-American share a distinctive feature: they thread directly into the plastic at the nose of the barrel rather than onto the mechanism. These tips are interchangeable between the Worth and the Conklin.

Figure 5: The Sheaffer Titan showing the tip removed. One wouldn’t expect to find the same mechanism inside the Worth and the Sheaffer, but this shows how much variation there is between mechanisms used by different manufacturers.

Unfortunately, given the way the All-American pencils were assembled, the mechanism from the donor pencil featured in that article could not be removed without destroying the pencil, so a side-by-side comparison of the Conklin and Worth mechanisms outside of the pencils is not possible. However, comparing the Conklin to what little can be seen without removing the mechanism from the Worth leaves no doubt in my mind that Conklin manufactured at least this example of the Worth.

Figure 6: A mechanism extracted from a Conklin All-American alongside the Worth.

Figure 7: Detail of end of Conklin and Worth mechanisms.

Did Worth also acquire Balance-shaped pencils from Conklin, or were the company’s imitative practices limited only to pens? Did Worth acquire pens from the same source that supplied pencils such as this one? Did Worth acquire pens and pencils from more than one source during its brief run? These questions remain unanswered, but I believe the Worth pencil strongly suggests that Conklin was Worth’s supplier. That might explain Sheaffer’s omission of the manufacturer as a party defendant in the Sheaffer v. Worth litigation. Perhaps Sheaffer deliberately chose a defendant small enough to defeat handily rather than picking a fight with a major manufacturer that had been making pens with rounded caps and barrel ends since the turn of the last century, in the days when Walter Sheaffer was simply a Fort Madison jeweler and before fountain pens were even a glimmer in his eye.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Post Number 1,000: Ruxton Multi-Vider Redux

I’m having a hard time writing this.  It’s not because I don’t know which pencils I’m going to write about – that’s coming in a minute. It’s because the title of the article has gotten into my head.

When I started this blog, the idea was to use it as an update service for the people who bought my book, The Catalogue of American Mechanical Pencils, a book weighing in at 178 pages.  The blog is about 1,200 pages of manuscript, and I still think I could continue writing indefinitely.

Well, sort of.  The problem is, I don’t want to right now.  I’ve taken breaks from the blog here before – to write American Writing Instrument Patents 1799-1910, then to write American Writing Instrument Patents Volume 2: 1911-1945 . . . then to edit The Pennant.  I’ve finally learned it isn’t really a “break” if I’m just going off to work on something else for awhile.

So this time I’m going to take a break to ask myself what I want to do right now.  I’ve got a pile of projects I’ve been trying to get around to writing, some pencil-related, most not.  Maybe I’ll pick one of those up.  Then again, maybe I’ll sleep in a little later in the mornings for awhile.

I’m sure I won’t be able to resist coming back and posting once in awhile, but in the meantime, I  wanted to leave you -- for now -- with something special.  After I sized up a vast library of photographs I’ve taken over the last five years and scraps of research, looking for the perfect subject for the millennial post, one stood head and shoulders over all others:

This pile of stuff showed up, all in one lot, listed in an online auction titled “RUXTON MULTI-VIDER MECHANICAL PENCIL/SLIDERULE LOT PROTOTYPES,EPHEMERA,SAMPLES” in April, 2014.  No fewer than six of my friends emailed me in the first few hours after it was listed to tell me to look at it, and it was already on my radar.  Chase it to the end, I did.  Pay through the nose, I did.  Regret it, though, I did not.

The lettering inside the box lids is a little tough to read:

“Ruxton MULTI-VIDER Pencil / Multiplies - Divides / Pat. Apld. For.”  Ruxton Multi-Viders are a cult classic among pencil collectors, and finding one in any condition is usually a cause for celebration.  Two mint boxed examples?  That should draw a “holy cow” from even the most grizzled collector:

Ruxtons were combination slide rule/mechanical pencils operated by pulling the crown and the tip to slide the two halves of the barrel. Internally, these two examples are a little different:

I posted an article about the Ruxton here four years ago at   Not much has been written about the Ruxtons, and my rudimentary article four years ago is still one of the top search results on the subject.  We know they were patented in Great Britain on an application filed on January 21, 1929 and granted February 20, 1930 as number 325,327.

The named patentees in the England were A. Gahagan and Wall Street tycoon W. V. C. Ruxton (see my previous article for the story behind him); for whatever reason, the patent was apparently never issued in the United States.  The earliest advertisements I could find were from December, 1928.  Here’s one, as printed in Boys’ Life:

Advertisements continued through 1929, in Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, with the last magazine advertisements I could find dating to September, 1929:

The stock market crashed in October, 1929, and the absence of advertising after then has suggested that the Ruxton Multi-Vider was an early casualty of what would become the Great Depression.  There’s only one documented piece of literature concerning the pencil which might have been published after then – a Christmas brochure attributed to late 1929 and published at, a website dedicated to slide rules and calculating machines.

There was one of these brochures included in this lot of Ruxton materials.  Here it is, published in its entirety – including the cover page, which says the Ruxton is “the gift for 1929” and provides the source for the 1929 attribution.  Maybe 1929 – but it could also have been for 1928 (as in, the gift for the coming year, not the present one):

There was also a great tri-fold brochure in this lot; while it is undated, I’m sure it was printed prior to the crash of 1929, since one of the advertised uses for the pencil is for “calculating stock yields”:

This lot of Ruxton materials, though, contains the first evidence of life after ‘29 for the brand.   Have a look at this curious piece of letterhead:

Compared with the cover page of that ‘28 or ‘29 Christmas brochure:

The Ruxton Multi-Vider Corporation from the Greybar Building in New York  was succeeded by Leonard G. Yoder, proprietor of the Multi-Vider.  According to this, Yoder maintained an office in New York, at 252 Lafayette Street, but the “factory and office” of the company was located at 140 North Market Street, East Palestine, Ohio:

Here’s another clue: a printers block made for newspaper advertisements, which references the “Multi-Vider” and “Yoder Instruments” of East Palestine, Ohio:

I can’t find any instance of a published advertisement using this block.  Yoder Instruments made a wide variety of mathematical and scientific instruments, including Grove’s Moto-Math set, introduced in 1947, and surveyors’ sextants.  The sextants seem to have been produced in the greatest quantity, given the large number which have survived.  This advertisement for telescopes, printed in 1957, indicates that Yoder Instruments had been “Instrument Manufacturers Since 1930" – dead on if Leonard G. Yoder took over production of the Multi-Vider on his own account after 1929.

Yoder died in 1977, and his obituary indicates he was survived by two daughters, Katherine and Anna.

Anna lived in Rockville, Tennessee: I contacted the ebay seller of this lot after the auction closed to ask where it came from, and the seller – the owner of an antique mall near Rockville – said some people came in who were cleaning out a house in Rockville and sold her the whole box.  She couldn’t (or more likely wouldn’t, after she did so well on the lot I purchased from her) tell me who they were or whether there were other documents or items of historical value still in that house.

My next step was to track down Katherine, who still lives in East Palestine, close to 140 North Market Street.  She was very young in 1930, but she does remember that her father made slide rule pencils for some English chaps . . . she doesn’t remember who and she wasn’t aware of any surviving documents.  She was, however, able to confirm one important detail:  that her sister in Tennessee had whatever was left of her father’s pencil operations, and the box I acquired was from Leonard G. Yoder.

That’s provenance.  And that’s what makes the rest of the items that were in this lot particularly exciting:

I don’t believe that Leonard Yoder and Yoder Instruments started making the Multi-Vider in 1930.  Katherine remembers her father making pencils for some Englishmen: the Multi-Vider was patented not in the U.S., but in England – and all known examples were made in the United States.  In addition, had Yoder bought the company at the end of 1929, he would have acquired all of the tooling, parts and designs already being manufactured and there would have been no need to reinvent the wheel.  When Yoder Instruments advertisements indicate the company was established in 1930, I believe that means that Mr. Yoder, who had been manufacturing these pencils for the Ruxton Multi-Vider Corporation since 1928 or so, set up his own company to continue making them after Ruxton itself perished.

So what you are about to see are, beyond any question in my mind, are the original shop models and prototypes for the Ruxton Multi-Vider.

These three were wood and ebonite shop pieces testing different ways to make the barrel halves slide:

Note that the top example has what is left of a paper label glued to its surface, calibrated to test how the slide rule function would operate in practice:

Here are a few plain brass rods, used to test machined engraving:

One rod has incomplete engraving or stamping:

There were a couple of dies thrown in with the lot – note that the one on the right has what looks like exactly this same incomplete engraving:

Also included were two pieces of cardboard marked with Multi-Vider calibrations.  They might have been intended as gauges against which to check imprinted barrels for accuracy:

Here are three experimental, all-metal pencils, testing different means of telescoping actions:

The top example most closely resembles the production Ruxtons, and it is calibrated on the barrel . . . but without numbers:

The hexagonal one has four facets which telescope out over the end of the pencil:

Revealing that it is built around an ordinary barrel of a wooden pencil:

The dents on the nozzle of that third example, fitted with a large ball clip, were there when this arrived to me.  They were likely put there by Leonard himself, who must have been frustrated after it was assembled to find out how difficult it was to pull apart again.  With quite a bit of wrestling – using rubber bands to grip it rather than a pair of pliers – I was able to extend it a bit:

This next grouping of ebonite shop models is really interesting.  These illustrate how the slider function found on production Ruxtons is approaching its final form, as the unmarked top example indicates:

The clip should look familiar: it’s taken from an oversized Autopoint – identical clips were available on production Autopoints in 1927.  Instead of the hex bolt, however, these clips were secured with flathead screws:

Only the bottom example is calibrated with numbers, but look closely:   those numbers are hand-engraved, not machined:

Next are three fully functional, all-metal Multi-Vider prototypes; the top example is made of brass with a cap and tip that are tarnished like silver, while the other two appear to be all chrome-plated steel:

Also included in this lot were five production Ruxtons:

Three of these appear to be regular production models – black and the black/maroon combination being the most common.  The white example is in very rough condition, with plastic that has shrunk, warped, cracked and interfered with the sliding action – possibly a customer return, since it is engraved with a name.  What’s unusual about it is that it is marked not on the barrel, but with an imprint at the top, something I hadn’t seen before:

There’s one other example in this group with that feature – the one with a shorter cap I haven’t seen on a Ruxton:

Finally, I’ve got one last thing to show you that came with all this, which gives you a sense of what might have been.  Included was a ragged cardboard box with metal reinforced corners, marked “MV Samples” on one end:

Inside of which was a smaller box:

Filled with Ruxton barrels molded in different colors:

Can you imagine trying to read the numbers on a Ruxton made from this?