With as many pencils and pencil-makers as there were during the first half of the twentieth century, it doesn’t come as a surprise that similar ideas, names, and designs seemingly overlapped from time to time. I recently came across a few such items from the 1936 American Lead Pencil Company catalog.
A “reversible” eraser tip, reminiscent of the Eberhard Faber Clamp eraser:
It doesn’t have the small metal clip like the Eberhard Faber design but still, one might wonder if its Clampishness—or the execution of its Clampitry (Clampestry?)—can be traced back to Greenpoint, New York.
Among the seemingly endless variations of the Mongol pencil, the Mongol Black Streak is one of the least-frequently seen: a striking black lead pencil, tipped, and painted yellow except for a “streak” of black paint down one of its six sides. I’m not sure when it was first introduced by Eberhard Faber, but I don’t think it was offered for very long. Similarly, the American Pencil Company had the Blue Streak (note the oblique lettering common to both pencils):
Does the name Black Hawk pencil ring any bells? We’re told it not only writes very black, but it does so very fast and is “exceptionally smooth”. The pencil has a “distinctive black metallic finish”—a name and color reminiscent of the Blackwing’s “Black Steel” polish.
Individually, those descriptors could be used for just about any black lead pencil. But put them all together, name the pencil the Black Hawk, and one might be tempted to draw comparisons:
There must be countless examples of similarity in pencil designs, and who knows who-borrowed-from-whom and when; you could probably spend an entire career studying the similarities between models and designs, matching-up the dates, and chasing down volume upon volume of litigation paperwork (where do I sign up?). I wonder to what degree companies—even those solely cloistered in the North East—may have actively emulated competitors’ designs while perhaps knowingly (or unknowingly) risked crossing ethical and/or legal lines in the process. I wonder, too, how copyright law may have been used (or even abused) in an effort to suppress competition, and how often it was flouted by start-ups as they struggled to get a leg-up.
In the end though, I’d wager none of them found imitation flattering.
Streaks and Clampesquity notwithstanding, I’m willing to bet that the American Lead Pencil Company, with Jonas Salk-like aplomb, was the first pencil-maker to isolate and give a name to the scourge of all pencil users—scratchitus—and to provide a cure: