Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Some thoughts on original boxes

In many fields of collecting, an item in its original box is worth far more than one without -- so much so, that it is not uncommon for the box to be worth several times what it originally contained (a similar situation applies with modern first editions and their dust jackets). This has not been the case with pens and pencils, however, and though better boxes have come up in price a bit in recent years, even the best come nowhere near the value of their contents.

The box shown above is a rare one, only the second example I've seen. The pen that came inside is also rare: one of the earliest retracting-nib safety pens made, produced for only a few years in the mid-1890s. Since the box came up at auction, I had to give some thought to how much I would be willing to bid, which in turn got me thinking about the valuation of pen boxes in general. Why don't pen collectors value boxes so highly? Is it because so many collectors think of pens more as items to be used, than as historical artifacts to be preserved and studied? Is it because there are so many boxes available?

Certainly in comparison to many other collected items, the supply of original boxes is high. Perhaps because they were small and easily repurposed, many survive. And since cheaper pens and pencils were often sold in the same boxes as more desirable models, collectors who care about boxes usually have little trouble finding them. This has kept prices down both directly and indirectly, as general availability has shaped collectors' attitude towards what boxes should be worth. Even in those instances where the original box for a desirable pen is much rarer than the pen itself, few collectors are willing to pay more than a small fraction of the pen's value for its box.
It's hard to buck the tide. I was able to buy the Horton box for well under my maximum, yet that maximum was still a fraction of my maximum bid for the last Horton pen that came my way. I knew I was being cheap; at the same time, I was pretty certain no other collectors would be any less so. And though the box is unquestionably rare, so is the pen. No premium for rarity when the loss rate for each is comparable, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Silicone sacs are here at last!

Silicone pen sacs are the future, and we now have them! Latex ink sacs have been around for over a hundred years, but have recently begun to show their age. Many newer ink formulations have proven rubber-unfriendly, turning conventional sacs to goo in a matter of months or even weeks. And as latex rubber ages, it can give off sulfur compounds that will permanently stain celluloids and other permeable plastics.

Silicone, by comparison, is remarkably resistant to chemical action, and highly resistant to taking a set (most materials, if squeezed long enough, won't spring back all the way after a while; silicone will). It's also very stable, so not only will it last a long, long time, it will not break down and release anything nasty as it ages.

Which brings up another issue: what about those other companies' silicone ink sacs? A good question, in that we have not yet been able to find any. Shocking, yes -- but when we started testing various sacs that were being advertised and sold as silicone, not a single one turned out to be as advertised. While some may have had some silicone content, their predominant ingredient was PVC -- otherwise known as vinyl. PVC can be a very durable sac material, but it is a potential time bomb in celluloid pens. As it ages, PVC exudes a plasticizer known to attack celluloid, leaving deep scars wherever contact is made. Unfortunately, in the past several years many collectors and repairmen have installed these "silicone" sacs in their most valuable and best-preserved celluloid pens, inadvertently replacing traditional latex sacs with something potentially much more damaging.
This disheartening discovery was what spurred us to get into the pen sac business, manufacturing top-quality ink sacs guaranteed 100% silicone. As we also discovered, making vinyl sacs is easy, but real silicone is another story. Genuine silicone sacs have to be injection molded. You can see the telltale mold lines running the length of our sacs (click on the picture above to enlarge). The absence of such lines is a strong indication that the sac is either dip or blow-molded, and not silicone -- no matter what the seller claims.

At the moment we have silicone sacs in only one size, #18, but we will be expanding the range of offerings considerably in the coming year. Sacs are now available for purchase through our catalog and on eBay. We will also soon be posting a video showing how to test a suspect sac to see if it really is 100% silicone.

PS Note that there is a big difference between silicone vulcanized at high temperature (as used in medical-grade tubing, for example, and our sacs), and RTV (Room Temperature Vulcanizing) silicones, familiar as sealants and molding media. Some RTV silicones release acids as they cure, which can be a prolonged process. This is not the case with high-temperature vulcanized silicones.

PPS The video on silicone sac testing and identification can now be seen here.

PPPS A chart laying out the pros and cons of various pen sac materials is here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Waterman and Aikin Lambert

It has long been known that Waterman at some point took over Aikin Lambert. When this took place, however, has long been an open question. Over ten years ago we noted that in Sheaffer's patent infringement suit against Barrett et al, Walter A. Sheaffer made a passing comment in his testimony of late May 1915 that Aikin Lambert was already in 1914 “a subsidiary company for the L.E. Waterman Company”. But when exactly did this takeover occur?

The American Stationer on July 14, 1906 describes what appears to be the turning point:
REORGANIZATION and reincorporation of the firm of Aikin, Lambert & Co., of New York, manufacturers of the Mercantile fountain pen, followed the sale of the interests of two members of the firm. The old charter of the firm under New Jersey laws expired and re-incorporation was affected under New York laws.

With the re-incorporation of the firm, two members of the old firm sold their interests, H. A. Lambert and John B. Shea. Mr. Lambert will continue with the firm until the first of next year, and is now on one of his trips through the West. John B. Shea, who was superintendent of the factory, has retired, and is no longer connected with the firm in any way.

John B. Shea sold his interest to W. I. Ferris of the L. E. Waterman Company, and Mr. Ferris now controls the stock which Mr. Shea has owned for years. When asked to say to whom the stock owned by Mr. Lambert was sold, a representative of Aikin, Lambert & Co. said that was a private matter, which had no interest for the public.

Numerous rumors have been afloat concerning the effect of the transfer of stock upon re-organization of the company. It has been said that interests controlling the L. E. Waterman Company had secured control of Aikin, Lambert & Co., but that is denied emphatically by both companies. It is said that Mr. Ferris bought the stock as an investment and that no other motive influenced him in the purchase. James C. Aikin is president and manager of the new company and will continue so indefinitely. No further changes are contemplated by any of the members, and the business is to be run in the future exactly as it has been in the past.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Bookseller, Newsdealer and Stationer: another directory

The American Stationer is surely the most informative of the trade journals for historians of late 19th and early 20th-century writing instruments. There are other contemporary journals available online as well, however, and while their contents often overlap, it is worth consulting them all for the cases in which they do not. The Bookseller, Newsdealer and Stationer is probably the most useful of these, especially for periods when no copies of The American Stationer are available. It was published every two weeks, in two volumes per year (Jan-Jun and Jul-Dec).

Links are to Google Books; for advice on using them, please see our directory for The American Stationer. Corrections and additions are welcomed and invited.

1898 vol. 9
1899 vol. 10
1899 vol. 11

1904 vol. 20

1905 vol. 22
1905 vol. 23

1906 vol. 25  Dec 1 issue only
1907 vol. 26
1907 vol. 27
1908 vol. 28

1909 vol. 30

1910 vol. 32
1911 vol. 34
1911 vol. 35
1912 vol. 36 (another, no.2, Jan 15, only)
1912 vol. 37
1913 vol. 38
1913 vol. 39
1914 vol. 40
1914 vol. 41
1915 vol. 42
1915 vol. 43
1916 vol. 44
1916 vol. 45
1917 vol. 46 (another)
1918 vol. 47
1918 vol. 48 (another
1919 vol. 49 (another, Jul 1-Aug 1 only) 
1919 vol. 50
1920 vol. 51
1920 vol. 52
1921 vol. 53 (another, Nov 1 only)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The American Stationer: a directory of online copies

For those researching the history of writing instruments, copies of The American Stationer (later, The American Stationer & Office Manager) are an invaluable resource. Many of the issues have been digitized and are available through Google Books, the Internet Archive, and HathiTrust, but there are some catches. One is that many volumes have yet to be scanned, while others are available only via Google's "snippet view". The other is that the majority of the volumes available through Google Books are accessible only from within the USA. Persistent researchers in other countries can have recourse, however, to a proxy server service, that makes it look as if one is browsing from a location within the USA. Tunnelbear is one such service that seems to get good reviews, and is free for up to 500MB of data per month.

George Kovalenko was the first to compile a public list of volumes available. It is posted at the Lion & Pen website, along with much of George's original research into these and other old periodicals [Not any more, thanks to the unfortunate demise of Lion & Pen - D.]. The list below started with my own directory of links, since finding the individual volumes within Google is (even for US residents) a bit of a nightmare. Most cannot be found by following links from other volumes; instead, one has to search for them individually, occasionally lucking out and finding a handful of links to other missing copies. The volumes available through the Internet Archive are much better catalogued, and I believe are also available worldwide without recourse to proxy servers.

Note that there was an error in volume numbering in 1919 (there is a second volume 84), and that in many cases more than one copy is available. The Internet Archive scans tend to be much higher resolution than the Google scans, and are also normally available for download in a much broader selection of formats. In general, the Google volumes can only be searched online. The pdf versions are great to have as references, but they are images only and cannot be searched -- a major drawback, imperfect as the OCR sometimes is on the scans. In a number of cases there are duplicate scans, usually of volumes both at the New York Public Library (NYPL) and the University of Illinois at Urbana (UI).

This is a work in progress. If you have any additions or corrections to contribute, they would be most welcome. The list follows below.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

William Wrigley Jr.'s golden Wahl

This handsome little ringtop Wahl just joined our collection. It's solid 14K gold and nicely hand engraved, and it's also an eyedropper -- a design Wahl dropped from their line shortly after taking it over from the Boston Fountain Pen Company.

Even more notable, however, is the name engraved on the barrel: "Wm.Wrigley Jr./Chicago". Although the pen has no documentation of provenance, it was sold largely at gold value and there is no reason to think that the inscription was added falsely in order to enhance the pen's value.

William Wrigley Jr. (1861-1932) was a prominent figure, the founder of the Wrigley chewing gum company, owner of the Chicago Cubs, and namesake of Chicago's Wrigley Field. Wrigley was also the benevolent developer of California's Catalina Island, which he owned outright.

It was only appropriate that Wrigley owned a Chicago-made pen, and it would be interesting to find out if there were any business connections between him and the Wahl company, of the sort that have already been documented, for example, between Wahl and Montgomery Ward. The sharp-eyed may notice that the pen currently bears a Mabie Todd nib. A later replacement, to be sure, but perhaps still for the original owner. The pen itself must date to the late 'teens, and most likely was worn in a vest pocket at the end of a watch fob.

Before and after

A month back we posted this picture to our Facebook page. It shows a Waterman pen recovered from the  recently-excavated wreckage of a WW2 Lancaster bomber, shot down in France on D-Day -- but one of many poignant relics of the lost crew (full story here).
The excavated pen is a relatively common Canadian-made Waterman model equipped with a rather uncommon clip: an top-mounted "military clip" (allowing the pen to be clipped inside a flap-top pocket, in conformity to military requirements), with the Waterman globe logo prominently displayed on top (and again, smaller, on the side).
Coincidentally, we were recently able to acquire an intact example of the same model, which is shown above. We now know the story of the excavated pen; what stories might this pen tell, if it could speak?