Guide to Autopoint and Dur-O-Lite Spiral Pencils
A Working Paper
Robert L. Bolin
This is a working paper
based partially on conjecture. I would appreciate any comments, corrections,
and additional information.
Return to the
- Spiral pencils and Mark Sense Technology
- The Three Basic Designs
- Commercial Models
- Dur-O-Lite Models
- Autopoint Models
- Institutional Customers
- The Bell System
- US Government
- H&R Block
- Wooden Spiral Pencils
Spiral Pencils and Mark Sense Technology
In the late 1930s, the Dur-O-Lite Pencil Company, developed a pencil with
a distinctive spiral mechanism. The mechanism is shown below in instructions
for "How to Reload Your Spiral Pencil" from the 1985 Dur-O-Lite Catalog.
The spiral pencil design can be seen in this pencil made with clear plastic.
Also in the late 1930s, IBM introduced "mark sense" technology for use
in punched-card data processing operations. A pencil could be used -- in
conjunction with certain special equipment -- to record data on punched
cards. Mark sense applications required use of a special lead with
high graphite content called "mark sense" or "electrographic" lead. The
mark sense or electrographic lead was 0.46" (1.1mm) in diameter which was
standard in the 1930s.
The spiral pencil proved useful for mark sense applications
because it could hold a long piece of lead. Dur-O-Lite sold many thousands
of spiral pencils to AT&T which used mark sense technology to record
long distance calls.
In the mid-1950s after the Dur-O-Lite patent expired, the Autopoint Company, a
rival pencil company in Chicago, reverse engineered the spiral pencil and
began producing it. Autopoint took great care to make its pencil appear
identical to the Dur-O-Lite models. Autopoint expressly went after the
Western Electric contract for electrographic pencils.
Autopoint was able to outbid Dur-O-Lite and took over many of the contracts
with institutional customers.
The Three Basic Designs
In the original spiral pencil, the tip assembly is about 5 inches long
and there is no storage space for leads in the pencil. That pencil can
hold a piece of lead about 4 inches long. Some of those sprial pencils
had clips, but many do not. Three main variations exist:
Both Dur-O-Lite and Autopoint made pencils with a short spiral mechanism
like the one shown below.
The tip assembly is about 2¾ inches long. That pencil has a
storage space for leads under the eraser like a conventional Autopoint
or Dur-O-Lite pencil.
The third variant is a double-ended pencil in which two of the shorter
tip assemblies are used for different color leads.
Dur-O-Lite sold a pencil with a metal body and a pocket clip.
Autopoint made a version consisting of two short pencil segments held together in the center with a ¾ inch metal band. Both pencils with a black and a red segment and with two black segments have been seen.
The Autopoint double-ended pencil had no pocket clip. That pencil did not appear in Autopoint commercial catalogs. Probably
Autopoint did not advertise it to commercial customers because they had
a double-ended mechanical pencil of another design that they had sold very successfully
since the 1920s.
Dur-O-Lite sold spiral pencils to their commercial customers as well as
to large institutional customers.
Several models are shown on this page from the 1985 Dur-O-Lite catalog: