The Starr Pen Company was a partnership organized in 1935 by members of the Starr family. The patriarch of the Starr family, whose name I have not been able to find, died sometime before 1942, and the matriarch passed away in 1942, at which time the company passed to their four children, Joseph Starr, William Starr, Samuel Starr and Jack Starr. William withdrew from the company, leaving Joseph with 70 percent of the company and Samuel and Jack with 15 percent each.
Starr never manufactured any products of its own, but had cheaply made steel-nib pens and pencils produced for it under a variety of names, including not only Starr but also Waltham and Winchester, and Starr also supplied pens and pencils to Penman Company. Starr then bought what was left of Conklin in November, 1941, which by that time was nothing more than the name, and had pens produced that were nowhere near the quality the former giant in the industry had made.
The trouble started just a couple months after the Conklin purchase, after the United States entered World War II. The War Production Board issued an order early in 1942 limiting production of fountain pens and prohibiting the use of steel in nibs. At the same time, the Office of Price Administration put a price ceiling on fountain pens to prevent war profiteering. Overnight, Starr Pen, which was in the business of producing steel nib pens, was put out of business.
At least legally.
Penman Company, a major customer of Starr, officially shut down its retail pen and pencil business in the summer of 1942 and wound down the rest of its business by the end of 1942. However, on January 1, 1943, Penman's former sales manager, Martin King, and two shareholders in Penman's parent company, Edward Larson and Nelson McMahon, formed a partnership called K, L & M, to pick up where Penman left off in the retail pen business, selling pens and pencils under the Conklin and Winchester names. They came back to Joseph Starr, who was only too willing to continue to supply them pens -- for a price.
By 1943, there was an acute shortage of writing instruments in the United States, and were it not for the OPA's price controls, the cheap pens and pencils Starr sold would sell for more. Much more. OK, a helluva lot more. So Starr and K L & M concocted a scheme by which Starr would sell K L & M pens and pencils for one price, shown on invoices from Starr and paid by check by K L & M, but K L & M would then pay Joseph Starr and Samuel Starr "royalties," in cash. Lots and lots of cash, in bags and envelopes, passed across tables in restaurants or delivered to Samuel's law office. The numbers were staggering: $223,198.80 to Joseph Starr individually and another $12,000.00 individually to Samuel Starr.
Whether these cash payments were "royalties" or violations of the OPA price ceilings, there's no question what Joseph Starr DIDN'T call it -- income. None of the cash showed up on Joseph's 1943 and 1944 returns, although K L & M took a healthy deduction on its return.
Now with all that cash going to Joseph and Samuel, and Jack not alleged to have received any, who do you suppose was the government's "Starr" witness? After the tax fiasco, Samuel Starr and Jack Starr dropped out. Brother William, however, came back again and resumed partnership with his brother.
But Starr's troubles didn't stop there. In 1948, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against "Joseph Starr and William Starr, trading as Starr Pen Company, Winchester Pen Company, Waltham Pen Company and Conklin Pen Company," because "the respondents [were] representing that the pens are of such superior quality and durability that they will last a lifetime." The FTC concluded that what they company was really providing was a contract to repair their products for 25 cents each time it was sent in for service, and that 25 cents was more than the product was worth. Whether this was really the case, or whether Joseph Starr's reputation as a war profiteer and tax evader preceded him, Starr Pen Company never stood a chance.
Joseph Starr was still standing in 1955, when a Federal Court of Appeals finally denied the last of his appeals on his tax case, but from a business standpoint, he was finished by then. I don't know whether he ended up going to jail.
Even though Starr never made a single pen or pencil, Joseph Starr was there to supply pens and pencils to a thirsty public during the darkest days of World War II. Not legally, but he did it when no one else could. Not good pens and pencils, but lots iof pens and pencils. You don't have to like Joseph Starr, but there's no denying the tremendous influence he had on the pencil industry and our hobby.
(click on pictures to enlarge)