Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Brothers Woodward

At the Chicago Pen Show this year, a friend asked an odd question of a pencil collector: would I be interested in a large collection of Victorian dip pens?   I told him I didn’t know enough about them to formulate an intelligent offer, but he said he was selling the bunch for a friend and he asked if I would just look through them while he browsed around the show.

What the heck, I thought.  I was in a room full of people that could offer me a bit of guidance, and maybe I’ll learn something.

I did.

One of the brains I picked was that of David Nishimura – who lent me his advice and also some comfort.  When my friend swung by again, I made the offer David suggested, negotiations were swift and the next time David came by, I offered him the pick of the litter in case there was something in the bunch he couldn’t live without.

You can usually spot David at shows by the turquoise piece of headgear he wears, with built-in magnifiers, and you know when he’s serious because he swings it into place and you’re looking at the top of his head for a while.  Down the lens swiveled as he started pulling things out of bags one by one, meticulously examining every detail.  At one point he handed one of the few pencils in the group to me.  “You’ll want to keep this,” he said without looking up:


I’d noticed this one in the lot, but I didn’t think much of a “Woodwards & Hale” since I still try to limit myself to American pencils.


“It’s British, isn’t it?”  I asked.

“No,” the top of David’s head said without missing a beat as he continued to browse through the next items in that bag.  “It’s American.  And it’s early.”

It is and it is, of course.  In fact, now that I’ve researched it, I’ve found that it’s probably the earliest piece in my collection.  I’d never seen one, but David obviously has: he sent me a picture of his other examples by the maker to share with you.  Some of these are marked “Woodwards & Hale,” like mine, and others marked simply “Woodward’s Patent”:


What little history there is concerning Woodwards & Hale might have been lost were it not for the fact that one of the Woodwards, Thomas Jr., had a son who became moderately famous.  John Woodward earned his reputation during the Civil War as a Colonel at Gettysburg, later rising to the rank of General and becoming Inspector General for the State of New York.  In 1897, Elijah R. Kennedy wrote John B. Woodward: A Biographical Memoir -- “for private distribution,” suggesting that the work was more of a vanity project commissioned by the family than the result of Woodward’s rock star status.  While the work is largely a compilation of John Woodward’s letters, it does contain, on pages 5 and 6, passing mention of the Inspector General’s family history.

According to this account, Thomas Woodward, Sr., John’s grandfather, was an established metalworker in England who become increasingly dissatisfied with life (and particularly taxation) in England.  After he emigrated to the United States, he wrote home to the mother country: “Worried, my old neighbors, as you are, by tax-gatherers of all descriptions, from the County Collector, who rides in his coach and four, down to the petty Window Peeper, the little miserable spy who is contstantly on the lookout for you, as if you were thieves; surrounded as you are by this vermin, big and little, you will with difficulty form an idea of the state of America in this respect.  It is a state of such blessings, when compared with the state of things in England, that I despair of being able to make you fully understand what it is.”

Thomas Sr. sent his son Thomas Jr. (John’s father) to the United States in 1818 to see whether life in the former colonies would be more appealing, and in 1819 the entire Woodward family, including all three of his sons, Thomas Jr., Charles and George, arrived in New York.  According to Kennedy’s account, Thomas Jr. became a silversmith “directly after they were settled here,” and formed a partnership with his brothers and “a Mr. Hale” soon afterwards.  

Although the dates provided by Kennedy are not specific, a letter to The London Guardian published on December 6, 1823 refers to “George and Thomas Woodward (two worthy Englishmen currently residing in New York)” who the writer encountered on October 27, 1819 – corroborating the Woodwards’ arrival in the former colonies sometime during that year.

Samson Mordan did not receive his patent for the first mechanical pencil until 1822 in England, so if Woodwards & Hale had anything to do with writing instruments early in their partnership, they would have crafted silver holders for cedar pencils.   The earliest reference I have found to the partnership making mechanical pencils was this advertisement, which appeared in The Long-Island Star on January 2, 1833; in the lower right hand corner, note that the advertisement appears to have been composed on June 6, 1832:


Woodwards & Hale was dissolved by agreement in January, 1839, and published notices of the dissolution, and the continuation of the business by Thomas, Charles and George as Woodward & Brothers at the same location, 146 Jay Street, appeared in the New York Evening Post:


The account contained in Kennedy’s book says that the dissolution was the result of Hale’s retirement, which appears to be corroborated by a notice in The Long-Island Star on June 8, 1840, directing creditors of a deceased William H. Hale to present their claims to his Executor, Peter G. Taylor:


After Hale’s retirement, Thomas Woodward applied for and was granted two of the earliest patents for mechanical pencils, number 1,625, issued on June 10, 1840:


and number 1,823 issued on October 14, for a “Security Ever-Pointed Pencil Case” which included a doohickey supposedly making the parts less likely to become unscrewed from the pencil and lost:


The firm also diversified its operations.  According to Kennedy, its most profitable products in addition to Ever-pointed pencils were a “Diamond Pointed Gold Pen” (that’s nearly eighty years before the Diamond Point we know today) as well as a “Shielded Safety Pin.”  I did find several advertisements running in 1848 for the firm’s gold pens:


Brooklyn city directories are not as readily available as those for the city of New York, but both the 1843-1844 and 1848-1849 directories list Woodward & Brothers at the 146 Jay Street address:



Kennedy says that the Woodwards were in business “for nearly forty years,” but the evidence I’ve found doesn’t support that.  In 1852, Thomas Woodward was elected to the board of directors for the Brooklyn Institute; while the 1853-1854 Brooklyn City Directory still lists Woodward and Brothers and Thomas as a pencilcase manufacturer, there’s no mention of Charles, and George is listed as a “machinist.”


On March 27, 1854, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle contained an auction notice for the property at 144 and 146 Jay Street, “well known as the gold pen and pencil manufactory of Woodward Brothers”:


By 1855, Trow’s New York City Directory included the hinterlands of Brooklyn.  John Cann and David Dunn took out a prominent advertisement in the directory that year for their new silversmith shop located at 144/146 Jay Street – but writing instruments were not among their wares:


George and Thomas appear in the 1855 directory, but no longer in the business of making pencils: they are listed as importers under the name of Woodward & Brother (singular) located at 10 Ferry:


Although I never found a death notice for Charles, I believe he passed away sometime in the early 1850s: on March 12, 1867, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the death of Maria Woodward in Brooklyn, who was described as “widow of Charles Woodward, late of Birmingham, England,” and there’s a Mary A. Woodward listed as a “widow” in the 1855 directory.  George died on June 6, 1875 at the age of 84; notice of his passing was published in the Daily Eagle on June 8.

As for Thomas, who the evidence indicates was the Woodward in Woodward & Brothers, the Daily Eagle reported on January 15, 1873 that he had passed away on January 14 at the age of eighty.  A couple weeks later, on February 3, the Brooklyn Institute published a tribute to their former board member and friend:


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 (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2012/07/one-of-few-metal-specialties.html) 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 http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-twist-is-in-plot-not-just-pencil.html, then at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2012/08/dixon-redux.html) – 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 archive.org (See https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiKqMjXxPHSAhWI3SYKHSyjDZ4QFggaMAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Farchive.org%2Fdetails%2FCatalogOfFavorRuhlCoChicagoBranch&usg=AFQjCNGAdxUYF_UuYWiXfVjREkFyKwSPMg&sig2=LZ4twtViojdrLLiVQCZ5oQ&bvm=bv.150729734,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 http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-snake-that-wasnt-wrapped-around.html), 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 (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2016/12/my-christmas-gift-to-you.html), 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 https://danielkirchheimercom.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/featherweight-vs-heavyweight.pdf.

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 (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2016/08/that-one-bugged-me.html).  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.