Saturday, April 20, 2024

A repair manual for early mechanical pencils

 Information on the repair of antique pencils is much more difficult to find than for fountain pens. The skill set required is different, and notably eclectic.

So it is with considerable gratitude that I am conveying the offer of a specialized repair manual by its author, Winfried Neu. He has asked that any interested collectors contact him directly for the pdf files at no charge, at novusneu (at)  Please put "Repair telescopic pencils" as the subject to keep your emails from being treated as spam. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Parker Wood Pen

The Parker Wood Pen is one of the most enigmatic of limited editions. Solid documentation is hard to come by, and most of what is known to collectors is hearsay. This is not surprising for a design that was reportedly squelched by Parker's top management before it was fully produced or marketed, as noted on Tony Fischier's page -- one of the few online references to discuss the Wood Pen at all. 

I recently acquired a small group of boxed Wood Pens and in one box came the letter shown below. Although undated, it must date between 1980, when Willi Sieberger became president of Parker's writing instruments division in Janesville, and 1982, when he resigned from Parker "for personal reasons".

This letter raises questions. If the Wood Pen really was launched by Parker Germany without authorization from Parker USA, how is it that Sieberger would be putting his name on a promotional letter such as this? Could it have been that Sieberger thought that his appointment gave him authority to produce such a pen, only to find out otherwise? The letter certainly suggests that even if the Wood Pen idea came out of Germany, it also met with the approval of the head of the writing equipment division in Janesville -- a German, but in charge of operations worldwide. It would seem the story must have a few more twists than Parker Germany simply going off on their own only to be reined in by Parker USA. I have been in touch with Tony Fischier about this question, and from what he understands the directive to kill the Wood Pen came from the very top: the Parker family, who felt the Wood Pen did not comport with their idea of a Parker. How this would be connected to Sieberger's sudden departure shortly thereafter is for now only a matter of speculation.

Another puzzle posed by the letter is the list of seven woods. Fischier's site lists and illustrates eight, and I know of at least two German sample sets of eight pens, all in one box. Confusingly enough, each of these sets has paperwork that identifies the woods used -- different paperwork, but each lists only seven woods! The presence of one additional wood (which would seem to be angelin or partridgewood) isn't that hard to explain, especially if very rare: likely as not it is a material that was tried out and then dropped. The difficulty is in reconciling the other seven. Cocus is to be identified with Jamaican ebony, which is fairly straightforward. "Grendailla" (sic) is a little tougher, since grenadilla is another name for the African blackwood that comes first in the list, but it seems what was meant was granadillo, whose bold striping is consistent with the pen shown second from the bottom in Fischier's photo. Quajak and guajak both refer to lignum vitae. The "rosewood from Peru" is not a true rosewood and is probably what Fischier's site calls redwood. That leaves the tough question of reconciling the violet wood (or purpleheart) in the letter with the cocobolo in the sample sets' paperwork and in Fischier's list. As I have yet to see a Wood Pen in purpleheart, which is quite distinctive, it seems most likely that this wood was dropped and cocobolo substituted. 

A more straightforward insight from the letter regards the observed mismatching of the woods used for pens and boxes. Nearly all Wood Pen boxes are of the same material, no matter the wood used for the pens inside. The letter specifies that all boxes were to be made of Pau Rosa wood -- a reddish tropical hardwood that has usually been misidentified as redwood by pen collectors. It is certainly possible that early on the intention was to match woods, but the extreme rarity of boxes in other woods suggests that the idea was abandoned by the time production started.

The letter is silent on what happened to the pens remaining after the project was cancelled. There is some evidence in the packaging of the pens, however, which is notably inconsistent. Most have been found without boxes and some without numbers; the cardboard outer enclosures are seldom seen and yet still vary in how they are marked. While it is possible that unsold pens were recalled and destroyed, the evidence suggests that at least some ended up being disposed of otherwise, likely to Parker employees or their friends.

And though the sample size is too small to be definitive, the Wood Pen packaging that I have been able to examine also points to the pens being released in 1981 rather than 1980. A couple of examples would be pen #426 whose sale and guarantee certificate is dated October 20, 1981, and pen #368 which came with a generic Parker instruction sheet with a copyright date of January 1981. If any readers have other Wood Pens with documentation of date of sale, please let us know about them in the comments.

ADDENDUM: I have been informed of another example of the letter shown at top, accompanying a Wood Pen sold on eBay which came with warranty cards dated August 1981. There also seem to be multiple examples of boxes with the plaque engraved "A. B. Cremer" and "000". My guess is that this is a made-up name (the initials "ABC" are a clue) used for salesman's samples.