From time to time our shop is graced with stories and little bits of pencil history and it's our privilege to share them with our friends and fellow pencil people! Recently, this gorgeous antique machine was loaned to our shop by thoroughly awesome pencil person Steven Heimbold, collector and restorationist of vintage sharpeners (check out the incredible Pinterest Steven and his nephew have created - it's a huge wealth of sharpener and pencil goodness!!).
This durable desktop accessory is the U.S. Automatic Pencil Sharpener. First patented in 1906 by Essington Newell Gilfillan, the U.S. Automatic was the best-selling sharpener in the U.S. until about 1914. The Automatic Pencil Sharpener Company, better known as APSCO, bought the patent from Mr. Gilfillan, and produced it until about 1926.
The sharpener works using a sort of ingenious method. A tri-cornered blade rotates as you turn the handle. This blade does all the work - it both sharpens the pencil and acts as a cog to turn the gear holding the pencil so the pencil rotates as it sharpens. In addition the force of the blade drives the pencil downward so you can get a clean cut into the wood of the pencil. Three pieces of metal hold the pencil firmly in place - which is why this gem works best with hex or semi-hex pencils - and a tiny little oil cup (with a bold reminder to keep it full on the front of the machine) keeps everything running smoothly.
The point it makes is rather fascinating: the sharpener creates this gorgeous long but sort of chunky tip. It's not as needle-fine as a Masterpiece, but the length of it still gives you a nicely precise line for writing. It looks and feels like a knife sharpened point (because that's essentially what it is).
I sharpened up three General's Semi-hexes with it. It's an immensely gratifying process to sharpen with the U.S. Automatic. The blade makes a satisfying click, click as it rotates the top gear and you also get the exquisitely smooth slicing feel as it cuts through the pencil. Little bits of of wood shave off into the drawer below, while bit and pieces are flung all over the desk. It's pleasantly messy.
I made a little video so you can see the U.S. Automatic in action! Check it out: