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.