Thursday, February 4, 2016

Flexible-nib fountain pens on the cheap

Here's an alternative for those seeking fountain pens with nibs that will go from extra-fine to extra-broad -- modifying a new pen to accept a new dip pen nib:

Detailed discussion and photos here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Pal pencils

Of all the many Eversharp-inspired metal mechanical pencils of the 'teens and twenties, the "Pal" must be one of the most common. The group shown above came out of a New Jersey stationery shop hoard several years ago, but it's taken until now to put them up for sale -- which prompted a bit of digging into their history.

As it turned out, not much digging was required, for the story of the Pal's introduction is recounted at some length in the advertising trade magazine, Printers' Ink ("Pal Pencil Gets National Distribution in Sixty Days", vol. 115 (Jun 2, 1921), pp. 17-20). The Hoge Manufacturing Co. of New York had recently added mechanical pencils to their line of metal products (see Jonathan Veley's Mechanical Pencil Museum entry here) when they decided to expand their market in dramatic fashion. Taking aim at the lower end of the Eversharp's price range, they priced their "Pal" at an even dollar ($1.50 in Canada), launching a nationwide advertising campaign that sought to sell a million pencils the first year. According to the article the Pal went on sale in early spring of 1921, with the first national advertisements to the general public appearing on March 26. A thousand phonograph records were sent out to key prospects to promote the new pencil, but who knows if any survive. The article describes them as 10-inch disks with an orange label, with "A Message from a Pal" in black, along with the name and address of The Hoge Manufacturing Co., Inc. The earliest advertisements to the trade that I have found appear in February (Office Appliances, vol. 33 (Feb 1921) p. 73).

Early advertisements, such as the two-page spread from the Saturday Evening Post shown above (Apr 23, 1921, pp. 76-77), indicate that the Pal was initially offered in only two models, a long version with a clip and a short version with a ring, both silver-plated (the convenience of stocking just two versions was emphasized in trade ads, e.g. Office Appliances, vol. 33 (Apr 1921) p. 100). Another feature of the early Pal pencils was a conventional incuse imprint, corresponding with what can be seen in the pencils in the photo at the top.

By September ads in trade magazines were touting the availability of Pal pencils in sterling silver and gold filled as well (American Stationer, vol. 89 (Sep 10, 1921), p. 15), but it appears Hoge's attempt to move upmarket was less than successful. By the next summer a new Pal line selling for only ten to fifteen cents was being introduced (Modern Stationer, vol. 5 (Jun 25, 1922), p. 53):

Subsequent announcements tell us more about the new Pals. Construction was lightened, the clip altered, and the "Pal" logo was now struck in relief. The blurb above (Office Appliances, vol. 35 (Aug 1922), p. 31) lists long clip and short ringtop models in "plain nickel, chased nickel, plain goldine, and chased goldine" -- eight variations in all. 

Neither in the ad above (op. cit, p. 153) nor in the ad below (Office Appliances, vol. 35 (Sep 1922), p. 182) is there any further mention of the original one-dollar silver-plated Pals, let alone sterling or gold filled Pals. There is a notice in The Bookseller and Stationer in December 1922, however, which suggests that the one-dollar pencil remained available, though this may have been more a matter of previous production exceeding demand than evidence of continuing production (vol. 7, (Dec 15, 1922), p. 25). The same notice also announces a new Pal Jr. aimed at children, with a painted finish in black, red, blue, and green and priced at 50 cents.

How late did the Pal remain in production? At this point it is hard to say, since the trade journals we rely upon have only been digitized up until 1921-22. There is a mention of Hoge as the maker of Pal pencils in the American Stationer of April 1928 (p. 36, snippet view only), so it seems safe to say production continued through the better part of the 1920s.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hispanexco: Diamond Points for export

I stumbled across this advertisement recently in The Mexican Mining Journal, vol. 6 (April 1908), p. 31. The distinctive clip immediately identifies the pen as a Diamond Point, as one can see from the ad below which ran in American Exporter, vol. 61 (Jun 1908), p. 140.

The Hispano-American Export Company even kept the same model numbers, but they added a generous markup: $2 for a basic No. 50 eyedropper, including registered mail "to any post office in the world", for a model that could be bought from the manufacturer for $7.50 per dozen (I haven't been able to determine exactly how much the shipping would have been, but at the time registration cost only ten cents, and a domestic letter only two).

I've never actually run across any pens marked "Hispanexco" or "Hispano-American Export Co.", nor can I find any discussion online. But I've not done any buying in the Americas outside of the USA and Canada, so I'm hoping my pen friends south of the border will chime in if they've seen any. Some of the Hispanexco pens were fancier, too, as we see from this ad in a Spanish-language magazine published in Buffalo, New York (América, vol. 1 (July 1908), p. A13).

Diamond Point does seem to have been pushing export sales. Looking back through old copies of American Exporter, there aren't many fountain pen companies paying for ads, and most advertised for a just a year or two. Diamond Point wasn't advertising in 1907, but made a tentative start in 1908 (Modern/A. A. Waterman, Smith, and Wirt were the other penmakers advertising that year, all taking out much more ad space). In 1909 Diamond Point became a regular advertiser, joining A. A. Waterman and Crocker.

And if we look all the way back to 1897, a large contingent from South and Central America came to the Northeast to visit the big industrial exhibition that opened that summer in Providence, Rhode Island. Diamond Point placed a large bilingual advertisement, shown above, right below the long and detailed writeup of their visit in the Jewelers' Circular (vol. 34 (June 23, 1897), p. 27).

Friday, December 18, 2015

Fine silver overlay construction

The differences between early fine silver (.999) overlays and later overlays in sterling silver (.925) go well beyond metal content. Sterling silver overlays were made from sheet stock, rolled into tubes. Fine silver overlays were made by electrodeposition, and instead of being pushed onto a hard rubber pen, they were generally plated in place. On the barrel, a recess was cut so that when the silver was deposited, the surface of the silver would be level with that of the adjacent hard rubber. Cuts were made into the surface of the hard rubber where the silver was to go; once the silver was plated into and over these cuts, the overlay would be locked in place -- which is why you never see a fine silver overlay that has rotated or shifted, whereas this is common with sterling silver overlays, even where they have been crimped in place.

This construction is clearly visible in these photos of a Waterman barrel which formerly carried a fine silver filigree overlay.

Fine silver was also used for some of Waterman's early non-filigree overlays, such as this acid-etched half-overlay shown below. The same method of construction was used, and the photo clearly shows how the surface of the silver is level with that of the hard rubber. In this case the metal is not marked as being fine silver, but it is apparent that is what it must be.

There are other construction details that can also indicate electrodeposited fine silver, even when the metal is marked "STERLING", as is often the case. This is especially common in brands other than Waterman, perhaps due to sterling being by far more recognized by the general public, then and now.

The blobby splash of silver on the rim of the cap of this Waterman is a giveaway. Surface lumps simply don't occur on sterling silver flat sheet stock (or tube stock, though this was not the norm until much later). Another giveaway on filigree pens is scoring of the hard rubber at the perimeter of the cutouts, where the workman cut a little too deeply through the soft silver. This is generally not found on overlays made from sterling sheet stock, where the cutting must have been done with the overlay mounted on a mandrel. This clearly wasn't an option when fine silver was plated directly onto the hard rubber cap.

Scoring of this sort isn't always found on fine silver filigrees, however, especially on pens where the silver layer is very thin. As noted in a 1909 article (The Metal Industry, vol. 7, no. 7 (July 1909), pp. 241-242), selective deposition was another method used, as was removal of material by either reverse plating or dissolving with acid. Although I seem to have misplaced the photo, I own a Waterman "Chased" 222 with a "STERLING" mark in relief, which could only have been done by one of these three techniques, strongly suggesting that the entire overlay is actually electrodeposited fine silver. And while the 1909 article only discusses deposition directly onto caps and barrels, there is an illustration of what appears to be a Waterman Puritan/Patch -- confirming that complex relief work was being done by deposition and not just flat surfaces.

How might this have been done? I would posit that instead of plating directly onto hard rubber, a layer of pitch would have been applied, and the relief design impressed into the pitch. The impressions would be retouched by hand as necessary, then the pitch given a conductive coating and plated. The design would be somewhat softened, in essence being molded from the back, but could be sharpened by judicious use of hand chasing. The alternative would be to plate inside a multipart female mold, which would also require some hand finishing to clean away seam lines.

Much surely remains to be discovered about the making of overlays. As a final snippet, I will add the following, which appears in the previous issue of the same journal (The Metal Industry, vol. 7, no. 6 (June 1909), p. 234):
Geo. T. Byers, 69 John street, New York, manufacturer of gold and silver chased work, has recently put in a plant for silver deposit work on fountain pens, etc.
ADDENDUM: The image below illustrates how the cuts made into the hard rubber before plating could leave visible traces on the electrodeposited silver surface. These "nicks" are commonly found on thinner overlays, and are usually assumed to be the result of wear and usage rather than artifacts of original manufacturing methods.

Which came first: the blue, or the diamond?

1941 Parker 51 filler with diamond imprint

Hindsight bias is a powerful thing.
For pen people, the Blue Diamond guarantee mark is indelibly associated with Parker. So when I recently catalogued some pens and pencils made by Parker for resale by Sears under their Diamond Medal and Webster house brands, I didn't think twice before writing that their imprints incorporated the Parker diamond logo. And then, the realization suddenly hit me: these Sears imprints were from the mid-1930s, a few years before Parker first put the Blue Diamond on its own pens. Whose logo was that diamond anyway?

I have not had much luck with my trademark search efforts so far, but the diamond in these imprints was already part of Sears' Diamond Medal logo back in the 1920s.

Originally posted by ToasterPastry at Fountain Pen Network
Without the medal, however, the diamond by itself would not have been an easy trademark to defend. Diamond Point had been using a diamond-shaped logo (with lettering inside) going back to the hard rubber eyedropper era. So when Parker began using the Blue Diamond as its lifetime guarantee mark in 1939, Sears might not have been able to do much about it -- the question remaining open, however, regarding Sears' opinion of the "borrowing".

In a recent article Jon Veley makes a compelling case that Sheaffer's White Dot was copied from Dunhill's White Spot -- an instance of trademark appropriation that was entirely legal, since Dunhill's mark had been registered for "tobacco products" and not for writing instruments. The background to Parker's Blue Diamond mark differs, in that both the Blue Diamond and its precursors were registered for the same class of items, color being added to set the marks sufficiently apart. Nonetheless, it now appears that both of these two famous pen trademarks were not purely original creations.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Edward Todd enameled pen puzzle

This Edward Todd came to me recently, bringing to three the number of similar enameled ringtops sitting around the shop (one was profiled here last year). Unlike the other two, which are both lever-fillers, this one is an eyedropper-filler. Like the others, it is fully marked on the end of the barrel. But while the others came with their apparently-original Edward Todd nibs, this one had a Wahl Tempoint nib instead. My first impulse  was to dig out a suitable Edward Todd nib to swap in, but then it struck me that the section profile wasn't right, either, as it was identical to that found on early Wahls and their Boston precursors. Ditto for the feed.

But wait: this pen is an eyedropper, so if this were a Wahl or Boston section, the section's threads would have to match. Yet after digging into my store of Wahl and Boston eyedroppers, I found that the threads don't match. Their dimensions are correct, but while the Wahl and Boston threads are all single-start, the Edward Todd's threads are triple!

From top to bottom: Edward Todd lever-filler, Edward Todd eyedropper, Wahl eyedropper

Why anyone would use triple-start threads for an eyedropper's section joint is beyond me. It makes opening and closing the pen marginally faster, but at the cost of increasing the risk of the section coming unscrewed unintentionally. In any case, there can be little doubt that the section now in my newly-acquired pen is the original. The threads are one indication; the other is the Edward Todd lever-filler shown at the top of the picture above, whose section (press-fit) has a similarly Wahl-like exterior profile -- though the feed is simple and unfinned. So I'm not going to do any switching of sections, feeds, or nibs, though I am now wondering if Edward Todd was purchasing hard rubber components from Wahl or Boston. If so, that still doesn't explain the presence of the Tempoint nib, since Edward Todd consistently used own-marked nibs throughout the company's history. Just a coincidence, a Wahl nib put into a Wahl-made Edward Todd section? If any readers have any other data points, please let me know. I have several other non-enameled Edward Todds somewhere around the house, and when I locate them I'll check to see if any have similar sections or feeds.

NOTE: While Mabie Todd sections can have a similar profile -- a cylinder, a conical taper, and another conical taper -- the cylindrical part is markedly wider than on the Wahl and Boston sections, and the transition between the cylinder and the adjoining taper is generally more rounded.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The opposite of flex

While some sought flexibility, others required rigidity -- and nibs didn't get much more rigid than this. The "Beaver" has a steel nib, shaped so as to provide channels to conduct and hold ink by capillary action. From what I have been able to find, it was introduced in the early 1920s, and was made in England.

The nib writes quite smoothly. "Indestructible" isn't much of an exaggeration -- this tip might as well have been advertised as "armor piercing".

Monday, November 2, 2015

Measuring nib flexibility, continued

It has taken some time to follow up on my proposed method of measuring nib flex as a function of writing pressure. The sample above was done on Clairefontaine paper, using a classic vintage extra-fine flexible dip pen nib, the Spencerian No. 1 Double-Elastic. Once the weighting of the pivot arm was set, using a digital scale, the nib was inked and set down on the paper, which was withdrawn to make the sample line.  In this preliminary trial, four weights were used: 15, 50, 150, and 200 grams. Line widths were 0.2, 0.5, 1.4, and 1.85 mm. Since this is a nib prized by calligraphers for its flexibility, it offers us a handy benchmark. We will be posting further test results shortly.

UPDATE: Below are improved test sheets for three different nibs: the Spencerian No. 1 (again); an extremely flexible Ladd & Miller #4 gold nib; and a flexible Fairchild #6, also gold. The ink was blue washable Quink, and the paper was our usual testing standard, Rhodia with a 5 mm grid. Weights used were 10, 25, 50, 100, and 150 grams. In our previous test we pushed the Spencerian No. 1 up to 200 grams, which it can safely handle, but 150 grams was pretty much the safe limit for our two gold nibs. Less flexible gold nibs could easily handle more pressure, of course, and would be tested accordingly.


Note that the Fairchild is very similar to the Spencerian within this range of pressure, with similar snapback as well (not something we are attempting to measure here, however). The Ladd & Miller nib has a larger tip, but it opens up with markedly less pressure than the other two nibs, both of which would be classified as full flex.

UPDATE: Some more nibs now added, updated chart below. Note that the Esterbrook 9788 Renew-Point was an unusual specimen, significantly more flexible than the norm.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sheaffer demonstrator packing unit

Lately I've been working on new techniques for disassembling Sheaffer plunger-fillers with Triumph nibs. Getting those nib units out without damaging anything can be very tricky. While testing different approaches on various pens, I came across the inner barrel shown above. It's not uncommon to see the reuse of scrap material in hidden components, but the scrap is usually not transparent, as here. As is, it gives a good view of how a Sheaffer packing unit was constructed, with stacked layers of rubber sheet and grease-soaked felt.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

"Polypoint" three-color magic pencil

Three-color mechanical pencils are not uncommon. Nearly all use some form of slider to extend and retract the three nozzles. Much less common are those which make use of other mechanisms: twist-action and drop-action come to mind, with a tripling of the standard single-nozzle version's complexity. Taking it to the next level is this three-color magic pencil, where pulling the barrel back extends one of three nozzles, depending on how the forepart is rotated.

As with other high-quality three-color pencils, this example is sterling silver with hard enameled color indicators in red, blue, and black. While most are English-made, this one appears to be of American manufacture. Construction is solid, with considerable heft and fine attention to detail, but the nozzles are one-piece and not marked with the lead size -- marking that was the norm in Britain.

The only marks are found on the inner shaft: "PAT. APPL'D FOR" and "STERLING", followed by an unreadably small maker's mark that at first glance might be taken for Hicks's acorn.

After a quick look through our writing instrument patent reference library (and with special thanks to the compilations of Jonathan Veley), however, it became clear that the minuscule maker's mark must be that of Edward Todd, for the pencil's distinctive mechanism is none other than the one described in John C. Haring's US patent 940,247 for a "Polypoint Pencil", assigned to Edward Todd. The application was filed August 17, 1908, patent was issued November 16, 1909, allowing us to date this example within that span.