De Witt-La France Co.
The De Witt-La France Co. was formed by William P. De Witt and David J. La France, and was one of several Boston-area pen and pencil producers of the late teens and early 1920s. The company produced both hard rubber and all metal pens and pencils.
My research has revealed more speculation by other collectors than hard proof, but when I merge all of the stories, here's the best I can come up with: De Witt and La France, both of whom were inventors, went into the pen business sometime between 1916, when David La France first applied for a patent for a fountain pen, and 1918, when the pair first collaborated on an invention assigned to DeWitt-LaFrance Co. Over the next few years, the pair patented several innovations for writing instruments, most notably for a fountain pen lever and a pen and pencil clip. As is shown before, the first of the company's pens and pencils were produced by the Samuel Ward Manufacturing Co. under the brand name "SAWACO." Later, the company produced pens under the names "DELACO" (as of the writing of this article, I have found no pencils so marked) but more frequently under the trade name "Superite." At some point in the early 1920s, the company landed a substantial contract to supply pens and pencils to the Rexall Drug Stores, under the name of "Signet" (one source I read suggested that the Rexall contract was actually with the Moore Pen Company, but De Witt-La France was subcontracted to supply the product). The company may have also acquired a contract to produce pens for the Laughlin Pen Company, which went bankrupt sometime in the mid- to late 1920s (I have never seen a Laughlin pencil).
Meanwhile, the Carter Ink Co. decided to get into the writing instrument business. In 1926, when Carter started making pens and pencils that appeared to be made from Laughlin pen parts and bearing the De Witt-La France clip, DeLaCo pens cease production, but the "Superite" brand continued until about 1929. After 1929, all trace of De Witt-La France writing instruments disappears, although collectors of antique radios appreciate the fact that the company made radios into the 1930s, including the "Superadio."
The first patent I found, 1,209,978, was for a fountain pen lever design and was assigned to Charles Brandt, owner of the Boston Pen Company (later sold to Wahl Eversharp). Later De Witt-La France patents I found prior to 1926 listed both David J. La France and William P. De Witt as inventors and the assignee was the De Witt-La France Co. On December 20, 1929, David J. La France applied for a patent for an improved version of a De Witt-La France pencil design -- by himself -- and the assignee of the patent was The Carter's Ink Co.
(click on pictures to enlarge)
Sawaco (Samuel Ward Manufacturing Co.)
This piece, marked "Sawaco S. Ward Mfg. Co. Boston," and "Pat. Pend." on the clip, surfaced shortly after I wrote the initial draft of this article.
Samual Ward Manufacturing Company was well established before 1915, and it would make sense for a startup company like De Witt-La France would not have had the machinery to put their ideas into production.
Here is a selection of "Superite" pencils, none of which bear the De Witt-La France name.
The side clip models have either "Pat." or "Pat Pend." on the clip, a reference to Patent Number 1,350,412, which was applied for on September 13, 1918 and was granted on August 24, 1920. View patent here.
All but one of the metal pencils are marked Pat. Pend. on the barrel (one piece is marked Pat., and it is an advertising piece for a bank). De Witt and La France applied for 2 separate patents for their pencil designs on October 2, 1919, which were granted on July 25, 1922 as number 1,423,603 (view here) and on November 22, 1922 as number 1,434,684 (view here).
That means the pencils with Pat. Pend on both the clip and the pencil were made between 1919 and 1920; the ones that say Pat. Pend. on the pencil but Pat. on the clip were made between 1920 and 1922.
Those that say Pat. on both the clip and the pencil were made after November, 1922.
The hard rubber example on the right is marked simply "Superite." Although it resembles the Signet shown below, it is a nose drive rather than rear drive pencil.
|One rare thing to look for are the Superites with DeWitt-LaFrance imprinted on them, as well. They don't come up that often.|
|In addition to the regular line, De Witt-La France offered the tiny "Superite Jr.", shown here next to a regular sized ringtop.|
|After 1922, the company produced pencils with fraternal emblems in the top, such as this Shriner example.|
|The company also made advertising pencils, but De Witt-La France advertising pieces were a cut above the rest. The machinery required to produce pieces such as these was truly remarkable.|
Lest you entertain lingering doubts about a S. Ward Co/De Witt - La France connection, here's a closeup of the Sawaco (top) and a Superite.
This one is marked "DeLaCo Gold Filled Pat."
The name is obviously a take off from the SaWaCo, but the imprint indicates that this was manufactured after the "Superite" trademark was adopted.
Note also that the crown is smooth, unlike those in the preceding frame.
These are both marked "Signet Sold only in the Rexall Stores."
Compare the black hard rubber example to the identical model on the Carter's page. If De Witt-La France didn't produce the early Carter's pencils, then Carter's must have acquired the design, the machinery and the materials.
|This example, imprinted with the name "Broadway," has "Pat" on both the clip and the barrel, indicating that it was made after 1922.|
By 1929, David J. La France had applied for patent number 1,845,293 by himself, without William De Witt, and the patent was assigned to Carter's. This indicates that by 1929, whatever remained of De Witt-La France's pen and pencil operation had been absorbed. View patent here.
In one final irony, that last patent application was not granted until 1932, the year Carter stopped producing the pens and pencils De Witt and La France created.