Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Julius Schnell and the Master Pen

Julius Schnell is best known for his Penselpen combo of the late 1920s, but a couple of the Penselpen's patented features -- the slide-action filler and the feed -- are also found in a pen from the 'teens: the Master, by the Bankers Pen Company of New York City. The company catalog shown above is a recent acquisition, datable to 1916 by its listing of a Webster's dictionary of that date as the latest and fresh off the press.

It has long been known that Schnell manufactured parts for Bankers (see my 2001 article here), yet it was not clear if the Schnell-patented features of the Master were indicative of some closer relationship. The catalog page above leaves no doubt that Schnell sold the rights to his slide-filler outright, for a hefty $20,000. Indeed, Schnell does not appear as an officer or partner in the Bankers Pen Company in any of the sources I have consulted to date (Trow's Copartnership Directory, 1914, 1915, 1919; Directory of Directors, 1915; etc).

The patent date of June 29, 1915 appears in the imprint of the Master Special shown here; I have not seen a Master with a "PATENT PENDING" imprint, suggesting that Bankers only bought the patent (US 1144436) after it had been issued.

Another interesting statement on the same page is the claim that not a dollar had been spent on advertising by the company, "other than our circular matter" -- which helps explain why previous researchers found so little to work with. And on the facing page, where the Banker coin-filler is featured (a blog entry on an example with Schnell's 1904 patent feed is here), we find the claim that the coin-filler was "Invented by the founder of our Company and copied since, in style and appearance (but not in quality) by nearly every pen manufacturer in America", with credit given to it as being the source of the company's "remarkable growth and success." Unfortunately, the identity of the company's founder is not given, and has not been easy to track down. By all appearances, the coin-filler was never patented; according to Schnell's testimony in 1914-15, he was providing the hard rubber parts for coin-fillers to both Bankers and Salz from around 1911, and had made a prototype coin-filler for Crocker as early as 1905.

Bankers Pen may not have done any periodical advertising for its first several years, but I was able to find a few ads postdating this catalog. A Christmas ad ran in The American Contractor (vol. 37, Nov 4, 1916, p. 9, and again on Dec 2), and a few years later a big ad by the McClure Book Co. appeared in McClure's Magazine (vol. 52, May 1920, p. 74) which featured just the Master and Master Special, with the headline, "WE INVESTED $100,000 IN THE BANKERS' PEN CO.'S BUSINESS, IN ORDER TO SECURE THE MAIL ORDER RIGHTS OF THIS TRULY REMARKABLE PEN."

This would appear to be corroborated by a notice in The Bookseller, Newsdealer and Stationer (vol. 47, Dec 15, 1917, p. 870): "The Bankers Pen Company has changed its name to the Bankers Pen & Office Supply Company and the capital has been increased from $25,000 to $100,000", but confusingly there are also subsequent records of a capital reduction in January 1919, going back once again to $25,000 (Geyer's Stationer, Jan 9, 1919, p. 16; Annual Report of the Comptroller (NY), p. 469). Even more confusingly, there is a 1918 report of incorporation in Delaware: "The Bankers' Pen and Office Supply Company, of Dover, Del., have been incorporated with a capital of $250,000. They will manufacture pens and all kinds of office supplies" (American Stationer, vol. 84, Sep 14, 1918, p. 13). And then there is the notice from 1920 of a merger of "The McClure Book Co., and Bankers' Pen Co., Manhattan, with Paine's Mail Order House" (New York Times, Jan 9, 1920, p. 28, col. 2).

If the later history of Bankers Pen is muddled, its origins are equally unclear. Schnell may have been a bit off when he testified that he was supplying parts to Bankers from around 1911, as the company does not appear in the 1912 Trow's Copartnership and Corporation Directory (published each March), though it is listed in the 1914 edition. In the March 13, 1915 American Stationer (p. 11), Bankers is mentioned as "a recent incorporation", but this tells us little about how much earlier it may have been in business as an unincorporated partnership or sole proprietorship. If any readers have any further information to share, it would be welcome.

ADDENDUM: At the 2017 Chicago pen show, I was shown a Master Pen in its original box, the inside box top indicating manufacture by Salz Brothers. The discovery is discussed here.

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