December 10, 2015

Conklin and the Starr Pen Co.

, all because of the Waterman’s Treasure Chest box.

[Posted on L&P on Jan 10, 11, 2009.]


        “Here are some details about the Conklin Pen Co. that surfaced when Antonios Zavaliangos did a search for “Penman” in a commercial legal service hosted at the Drexel University Library.  He sent me a 31-page court reporter’s summary of an appeal of the outcome of an earlier trial for nonpayment of taxes against the Starr Pen Co.  As a continuation of the summary of the litigation cited in my blog post concerning “T
he Waterman’s Treasure Chest Box, and the Penman Co.”, here’s an interesting connection between the Starr Pen Co. and Conklin Pen Co. around the time of the latter’s demise.
        “First, here’s the company history from my Penmakers book, which is still forthcoming.

Starr Pen Co. was a fountain pen, mechanical pencil, and combo wholesaler located at 500 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, Ill.  It was organized in 1935 by brothers Joseph Starr, Samuel Starr, Jack Starr, and William Starr, along their parents, who both passed away by 1942.  William was sales mgr., but left the partnership in 1943.  Martin P. King was a salesman with the company in 1940-41, but left to join the Penman Co.  The Starr Pen Co. purchased the assets of the Conklin Pen Co. in November 1941, including the good will, trade name, trademarks, patents, tools, and nib dies, which they used to continue making Conklin pens under the Conklin and Starr names.  Conklin Pen Co. was a division of Starr Pen Co.  They also sold a fountain pen and mechanical pencil combo called the “Winchester” in October 1943.  Various gold nib and penmaking companies located in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Virginia supplied parts and manufactured completed pens for Starr.  These companies made the fountain pen parts and nibs, and assembled the completed pens for Starr.  The company was dissolved sometime after 1946 with a court case over fraudulent “side-payments” and “royalties”, and non-payment of taxes by Joseph Starr.  The Conklin Pen Co. seems to have continued on after 1946, because the “Conklin” trademark that was first issued in 1920 was renewed in 1948.
        “That’s how Conklin, that once proud company, came to its sad end.
        “The summary of the appeal states that the business of the Starr Pen Co. was the sale at wholesale of fountain pens, sets of fountain pens and mechanical pencils, and combos.  It did not manufacture any of the merchandise that it sold.  In November 1941, Starr Pen Co. purchased the assets of the Conklin Pen Company.  The summary goes on to make a curious statement, that “Conklin had been engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling fountain pens with gold pen points (which are also called ‘nibs’)”.  The court was still unfamiliar with the word “nib” as late as the 1940s, but the court reporter corrected him.
        “In 1942, Starr Pen Co. sold inexpensive fountain pens with steel nibs.  The summary goes on to say, “In 1942, approximately 88 per cent of fountain pens manufactured in the United States were fitted with steel nibs, and about 12 per cent were fitted with gold nibs”.
        “It also says, “Early in 1942, the War Production Board issued an order limiting the manufacture of fountain pens and prohibiting the use of steel in the manufacture of pen points.  As a result of this order, a shortage of fountain pens developed in the United States.  The shortage existed in 1942, and it became acute in 1943”.  For this reason, Starr Pen Co. had to make arrangements with various gold pen companies to manufacture for Starr gold nibs stamped with the name Conklin Pen Co.  These gold nibs were to be manufactured at the rate of 5,000 large nibs each week, and 5,000 smaller gold nibs containing a lesser percentage of gold, both stamped with the name Conklin Pen Co.  All the gold nibs contracted for by Starr Pen Co. were delivered to other pen companies and fitted by the latter into the two types of fountain pens they had agreed to manufacture for Starr.  From December 1942 and continuing until April 1943, Starr Pen Co. received completed fountain pens at the rate of 10,000 each week.  That’s about 220,000 pens.  These pens were then sold to the Penman Co., also known as K. L. & M., who then sold them to the retailers.
        “The 1943 income tax return of the partnership K. L. & M., reported the following.

Gross receipts from business $1,674,852.96
Cost of merchandise sold ....... 1,320,016.18
Gross profit ............................. $354,836.78
        “That’s how much money there was to be made in cheap fountain pens by just one wholesaler in the era just before cheap ballpoints.”

        Rob Astyk wrote, “Thank you for this post. It clarifies a great deal about Conklin’s last years.  I think that it is also appropriate to note that there isn’t any connection between the Starr Pen Co. of Chicago and the earlier Star Pen Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio.  I wonder whether the reference to Virginia links Starr to the Arnold Pen Co. of Petersburg, Virginia.  It’s not likely, though possible since there are very few Virginia companies to choose from.”

        And I wrote, “You’re right, Rob, there are only five or six Virginia companies to choose from, but sadly the Virginia and three of the four New York companies were unnamed in the summary.  The New Jersey, Ohio, and one of the New York companies were given, Paramount Pen Co., Keller Gold Pen Co., and Radian Pen Point Co., respectively.  There are, however, only 2,974 pages of unexpurgated testimony to search through, not an insurmountable task.

        And all of this because of that fake Waterman’s Treasure Chest box.

  George Kovalenko.