For an object as quotidian as the pencil, documenting who-thought-of-what-when is a difficult task. But between those who have an idea first and those who patent an idea first, history tends to favor the latter.
Hymen Lipman was granted a patent for the “Combination of Lead Pencil and Eraser” (US19783). As I mentioned in the previous post, the eraser was inserted into a cavity in the barrel of the pencil rather than attaching or connecting it. Lipman stated as much in the text of the patent:
“I do not claim the use of a lead-pencil with a piece of india-rubber, or other erasing material, attached at one end for the purpose of erasing marks; but what I do claim as my invention, and desire to secure by letters-patent, is the combination of the lead and india-rubber, or other erasing substance, in the holder of a drawing-pencil, the whole being constructed and arranged substantially in the manner and for the purposes set forth.”
Lipman sells his patent to Joseph Reckendorfer (who, among other things, will go on to co-found the Eagle Pencil Company), for the kingly sum of $100,000 (Petroski, 177). According to an online inflation calculator, that’s about $2.3 million today.
Seeking to refine Lipman’s design, Reckendorfer is granted a patent for “Improvement in Pencils” (US36854), which was reissued in 1870 (USRE3863). Though the barrel of the pencil tapers, the eraser is still something that is inserted rather than attached:
Johann Eberhard Faber is granted a patent for “Pencil Eraser and Stamp” (US38892). To attach the eraser, he states that “…the pencil may have a tenon…” upon which the rubber may be cemented or glued. He is careful, though, in describing the extent of his invention:
“I do not claim, broadly, the application of rubber heads to lead-pencils; but, having thus described my invention, I claim as new and desire to secure by Letters Patent as an improved article of manufacture; A lead-pencil provided with an angulated rubber seal-head, as herein shown and described, which serves as a seal, a preventer against rolling, and as an eraser, all as set forth.”
John Blair, an artist from Philadelphia, is granted a patent for “Improvement in Rubber Erasers for Lead-Pencils” (US66938), which was reissued in 1875 (USRE6510). This design looks a lot like the eraser caps we still see today:
In Blair’s own words:
“What is claimed as new, and desired to be secured by Letters Patent, is, the combination, with a pencil or other similar article, of a solid elastic erasive head, provided with a socket longitudinally in the same, to receive and grasp one end of the pencil or other similar article, or a tenon extending from it, substantially in the manner and for the purpose shown and described.”
Joseph Reckendorfer is granted a patent for “Improvement in Method of Attaching Rubber to Pencils” (US85961). The design is reminiscent of that found in Faber’s 1863 patent, but the “improvement” seems to lie in the manner in which the rubber attaches to the pencil:
“What I claim as my invention, and desire to secure by Letters Patent, is uniting the rubber eraser with the pencil or other holder to which it is applied, by means of a rigid central stem, whether screw-threaded or plain, embedded in and permanently united with the rubber, and extending into a socket formed for its reception in the holder, substantially as and for the purposes set forth.”
With the popularity of eraser-tipped pencils on the rise in America, a new company was incorporated in New York: The Rubber Tip Pencil Company. The company’s officers? President—Eberhard Faber; Treasurer—Joseph Reckendorfer.
Blair’s 1867 patent is assigned to the Rubber Tip Pencil Company.
The next post will address some of the lawsuits that were filed, illustrating how many of the protections the patents sought to assert were themselves erased.