Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Mascot to Yard-O-Led Perfecta

I am very pleased to be able to publish the following guest article by blog reader George Clements from England. So, over to George.

From Edward Baker 'The Mascot' to Yard-O-Led 'Perfecta': Evolution of a Classic Mechanical Pencil

Our blog host, Dave, has already written elsewhere on this site a description of his 1960 Edward Baker 'The Mascot' pencil, with some excellent photographs and a little history about the Edward Baker company, including how it came to be taken over by the Yard-O-Led company in the mid-1950s. I do not intend to duplicate what he has already covered, but aim, through a selection of photographs of pencils from my collection, to show how the essential design has survived and developed over a period of almost a hundred years so that it is still with us today as, what I consider to be, one of the classic mechanical pencils. I cannot claim that what follows is comprehensive, or painstakingly researched, but I hope that it will provide some useful information for fellow collectors, and others may be able to follow up with examples from their collections, or add further factual information.

Edward Baker silversmiths were making high quality products in the 19th century, and I have a beautifully engraved combined slide pencil and nib holder from that period, but that falls outside the scope of the present topic. A letter-heading from Yard-O-Led dated 1959 states that the company incorporated Edward Baker and Son which was founded in 1837, and Dave's article on his 1960 'Mascot' mentions the type of 'fancy goods' or luxury items that the company produced and exhibited at major fairs. The earliest example of 'The Mascot' that I have dates from 1926, but I do not know exactly when the model first appeared. Like all the early pencils described, it has a propel only mechanism: that is to say, the lead must be pushed back manually after retracting the propelling pin if the user wishes to get the lead back inside the body of the pencil. The overall length of the pencil is roughly 123mm, and the main body diameter is approximately 7.9mm.
edward baker mascot mechanical pencil

This pencil has no pocket clip, and it is apparent that, for many years, Baker's offered the pencil either with or without a clip. The next example shown dates from 1928, and has a soldered-on pocket clip. In other respects, it is identical to the 1926 one. I do regard pocket clips as something of a mixed blessing, especially when they are permanently fixed, as they are very prone to breakage and distortion and can be extremely difficult, or impossible, to mend.

At this point, it might be useful to mention some features that are common to all the 'Mascot' pencils I currently own. First, they all use 1.18 mm leads (unlike some other models made by the company). Secondly, they were all hallmarked at the Birmingham Assay Office. Thirdly, they all have a chamber at the blunt end for spare lead storage, which is accessed by a screw-on end.
Moving on to 1933, the next pencil is 9ct gold and is much shorter, at only 94.7mm., but the diameter remains the same. Once again, this pencil has no pocket clip. It is in lovely condition although, sadly, from my point of view, it has a personalised engraving. I know that this is a contentious issue, and some collectors regard such engraving as just part of the object's history, but my preference is for examples that are free of inscriptions or, at least, have only promotional trade markings.
mascot mechanical pencil gold

The next pencil to show dates from 1937. Its length is approximately 120.7mm, so a little shorter than the 1926 pencils, but has put on a little weight, with a body diameter of 8.1mm. It has a soldered-on pocket clip, and, unlike the pencils already mentioned, which are plain, it has a barley impressed finish to the barrel, and an escutcheon area for engraving, should the buyer so wish. I think that this pencil has a particularly nice feel to it: the weight and balance make it a joy to hold and use.

Another 9ct. gold pencil comes next. This time, the length is 121.35mm, and the diameter 8.00mm. It has a soldered-on pocket clip, but it is a different shape from the earlier ones, having a ball end. The major change however, is that it now has a propel and retract mechanism. The pencil is hallmarked for 1955, so it dates from around the time that Edward Baker and Son was taken over by Yard-O-Led. Interestingly, when I purchased the pencil, it was in a Yard-O-Led box, and I have no reason to believe that it was not originally sold in the box. There were no instructions.
I assumed that, after taking over Baker's, Yard-O-Led merely sold off remaining stock and just supplied their own brand boxes to retailers, but the 1960 example described by Dave clearly indicates that Yard-O-Led were continuing to send 'Mascot' cases for assay and hallmarking some five years or so after the takeover. Hopefully, the photograph will show that this pencil also has a plain barrel.

My next pencil dates from 1957, and is just like the one described in Dave's article. The Yard-O-Led influence is beginning to show itself in the style of the pocket clip, which is separate and held down by the lead chamber cover. Although it is clearly the Yard-O-Led shape, it does not have any name on it. The barrel of the pencil has the impressed barley decoration. When I bought it, it was, once again, in a Yard-O-Led box, but this time there was an instruction leaflet, and if it was supplied with the pencil when new, it could have seriously confused the purchaser as it describes the Yard-O-Led mechanism and not the Baker type.

Presumably, at some stage, someone at Yard-O-Led decided that it was time to discontinue the use of the Baker's type mechanism and rationalise production on the well-established Yard-O-Led pattern, which had been successful and reliable since 1934. At the same time, it would have been apparent that the shape and dimensions of the 'Mascot' pencil were popular, and still had market appeal. It must also have been apparent that the Yard-O-Led mechanism could be fitted into a similar case with minimal adaptation, and hence the Perfecta was born. Again, I do not know the exact date when the model was first marketed, and, also, whether it was called the Perfecta from the outset. My first datable example is hallmarked for 1973, and continues to bear the Edward Baker maker's mark, which Yard-O-Led carried on using for a considerable time. (I have another identical model but, unfortunately, the date letter in the hallmark is unreadable).

While the style of the Perfecta is, undeniably, developed from the 'Mascot', the change in mechanism makes it a rather different animal. The lead diameter is the same at 1.18 mm, but it now uses 3" lengths, and, although spare leads continue to be stored in the barrel of the pencil, the arrangement is different and follows the practice of other Yard-O-Led models. There is no separate removable end cap over the lead storage provision, but the propelling mechanism is removed by turning the tulip shaped end and withdrawing it from the pencil body. A small round nut then holds the pocket clip, which also covers the spare leads that are accommodated in separate chambers within the case of the pencil. Although this is an elegant design feature, leads often become stuck in the chambers and are difficult to extract. While the tulip shaped end is engraved or stamped Yard-O-Led, Made in England, the pocket clip bears no name. The length of the pencil is 123.7 mm and the diameter 8.2 mm.
yard-o-led pencil hallmark

My next example is hallmarked for 1977, and requires little comment. It is very similar to the 1973 model, the main difference being that the pocket clip is now riveted on and bears the Yard-O-Led name. It is slightly longer, at 125.7 mm, but it should be noted that there are small variations in the lengths of Yard-O-Led pencils, even within the same model and date. Each pencil is individually produced, assembled and finished, so minor differences are normal.
Although the model shown here has the familiar barley pattern, I do have a plain bodied example from 1989, and other patterns may have been available. The body diameter appears to have also increased to approximately 9 mm.
yard-o-led perfecta mechanical pencil

As times have changed, the use of pencils has declined dramatically. Even quite sophisticated mechanical pencils were produced by a multitude of manufacturers and sold in their hundreds of thousands, or millions. In more recent times, the market for propelling pencils has become more specialised, and manufacturers like Yard-O-Led have increasingly concentrated on high-end luxury products, no longer offering pencils in less expensive materials, such as rolled gold, rolled silver, rhodium plating or platinine. Yard-O-Led also diversified to offer not only pencils, but ballpens, rollerball pens and fountain pens, as well as various luxury accessories. Fortunately, so far, pencils have not been phased out, and, along with other models, the Perfecta remains available today. It is not cheap, but it is still traditionally produced by craftsman in Birmingham. Alongside the traditional barley finish, the Perfecta is now also available in the beautiful Victorian design. The Victorian features a hand applied design covering the body of the pencil, each one requiring hundreds of individually hammered elements so, once again, every single pencil is unique. Like all current models of Yard-O-Led pencil, each one now carries an individual serial number and the Yard-O-Led name. Also, Yard-O-Led now has its own registered maker's mark at the London Assay Office, so, for a number of years, the hallmarks on the company's products have read YOL. As previously mentioned, the company now also produce ballpens, and the Perfecta is available in that form.
yard-o-led perfecta victorian pencil

I truly regard 'The Mascot' and its successor the Perfecta as classics of mechanical pencil design. I would also like to add a postscript to this story: the title refers to evolution, and one of the things about evolution is that it continues in ways that are not always predictable. This year, Britain's Prince Harry married Meghan Markle in the chapel at Windsor Castle. To mark the event, Yard-O-Led produced a limited edition set of ballpoint and pencil. The first numbered pair of the edition of one hundred sets was sent to the couple themselves: the ballpoint engraved H for Harry, and the pencil M for Meghan. The set are not Perfecta models, but they have distinct similarities. The case of the pencil, for instance, resembles the Victorian model, and the top is similar except that the end is flat (like the Regent and Edwardian models) to carry the engraved initial. The hand-hammered design on the pencil refers symbolically to the bride's heritage. I hope she enjoys using her pencil as much as I enjoy mine.
"The Meghan Pencil", Limited Edition No. 063

Thanks George. Your collection is a wonderous thing.

All text and images were supplied by George and he retains copyright.


Anonymous said...

YOL and vintage are not really my thing but I can understand why people like them. That's quite an article. Thanks for the effort.

Stefano said...

My congratulations to George, this article showed one of the marvelous aspects of collecting: a collection is a story to tell.
And I read this story with great interest, even if vintage pencils are not exactly my field.
Beautiful collection, by the way!