Friday, January 19, 2018

Instructional videos on nib straightening and repair

As online instructions on fountain pen repair continue to proliferate, one particular area remains largely left out: the reshaping of bent or maladjusted nibs. This has not gone unnoticed, and I've been particularly aware of the situation given my efforts to make affordable nib blocks available to the pen community.

Contrary to what some indignant posters claim, the lack of nib repair primers is not due to any unwillingness to share information. In fact, those who have nib repair expertise have often added helpful comments to online discussions about nib work (noting that all too often their input is then blithely ignored, as with the use of shims). The real problem is that the number of people who are truly expert nibworkers is much smaller than the number of those who are able to advise on more general pen repair questions, and they are almost all professionals or semiprofessionals with the inevitable constant backlog of work to be done. To expect them to take time off to compose free tutorials is unrealistic, and to blame them for not doing so is clearly out of line.

Nor can the skills being sought be easily taught. They are difficult enough to demonstrate and explain in person, much more so through the written word, and challenging even through video. Straightening nibs is all about dealing with complex curves in three dimensions, precisely controlling the stretching and compressing of the tempered gold. It's far from a matter of just making simple bends, or pressing sheet metal into forms. Taking out a bend is vastly more involved than putting one in, as anyone who has worked in metal with confirm.

In addition to all this, the work is done in small scale and under magnification, with the fingers and tools right on top of the workpiece. Taking photos or videos that adequately show the process is going to be tough indeed, and virtually impossible for the solo nibworker without bringing in an assistant  to do the camera work. Yes, it will happen eventually. But while you are waiting, know that it's not without good reason.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Setting things straight about Parker Quink

It seems the battle against misinformation is never-ending. Once one old collectors' myth is put to rest, new ones arise to take its place. I've recently noticed a sudden upsurge of confused factoids about Parker inks in the fountain pen groups on Facebook. Inks are rather outside my main areas of research interest, but I know enough to be able to see a problem in the making -- so let's set things straight before they get totally out of hand.

First, when we're looking at Parker ink production from the 1930s through the 1950s, we're talking about three product lines: Quink, "51" ink, and Superchrome. Quink is the oldest of the three, and the only one still in production (with minor reformulations). Quink was introduced in 1931; despite what the confused Wikipedia article states (at least, until I can get a chance to correct it [now corrected; let's hope no one changes it back -- D.]), Quink was a mild ink that would not harm pens such as Parker's top-line Vacumatics which held their ink directly within celluloid barrels, as well as models such as the Challenger whose sections featured transparent celluloid ink windows. 

The strongly alkaline pH balance and isopropyl alcohol content that distinguished "51" ink were NEVER features of Quink. The Parker 51 and "51" ink were developed in tandem, the pen designed specifically so it would be able to hold up to its special caustic ink. The ink was explicitly promoted and sold as suitable only for the Parker 51. Parker openly stated that it would clog and damage pens not specifically made to use it. "51" ink was introduced in 1941, and was replaced in 1947 by Superchrome -- a somewhat milder but still corrosive reformulation, similarly marketed for use exclusively in pens made to use it: the Parker 51 and its budget offspring, the Parker 21. 

It does appear that there was an initial release of "51" ink as "Double Quink" (discussion here), but I very much suspect that this took place only as unadvertised market trials done as part of the well-documented market trials of preproduction Parker 51 pens from 1939 on. It is telling that I have yet to see a photo of an actual surviving Double Quink bottle, and that David Shepherd was unable to come up with one for his Parker 51 monograph despite years of diligent focused collecting and free access to Parker's own archives.

ADDENDUM: While rewriting the Wikipedia article on Quink, I took a closer look at the apocryphal story that Quink had been invented by and named for a Filipino chemist, Francisco Quisumbing. While clearly false -- the details of the development and naming of Quink have been thoroughly documented -- it was puzzling how such a story could have arisen in the first place. As it turned out, a Francisco A. Quisumbing had in fact founded a successful ink company in the Philippines in 1923, a few years after completing his Ph.D. at Columbia University. The basic biographical details appear in the 1937 volume of Who's Who in the Philippines, pp. 128-29. Quisumbing contributed the preface to a 1960 book, Forensic Chemistry of Ink in Documentary Investigation, by Paul R. Verzosa, in which it is mentioned that the Quisumbing Ink Products company supplied all agencies of the Philippine government under an exclusive contract (p. 22).
I was also able to find mention (and dismissal) of the Quisumbing/Quink myth in a book published in 1999, so the story has been around for a good long time (Virgilio L. Malang, Inventions & Innovations: A Glimpse of the Filipino Legacy, p. xiv).


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Waterman's first screw-cap pen

While any collector who has been around for a while is familiar with Waterman's POC-series screw-cap eyedropper-fillers, few are acquainted with their much rarer precursors, the Chatelaine pens. The Chatelaines were barely mentioned in Waterman advertisements, though they are listed in the 1908 catalog, as seen here. The narrow raised barrel threads are every bit as prone to damage and wear as one might think, though the long section does help keep the writer's fingertips away -- just as well, since the cap is not furnished with an inner cap.


How late Waterman continued to offer the Chatelaine remains an open question. One might think that it would have been replaced by the better-designed POC, with its stronger threads and tight-sealing inner cap (the Chatelaine lacked an inner cap), and yet none of the early mentions of the POC include a ringtop version. The introduction date of the Chatelaine can be determined with rather more certainty, thanks to the article below from the American Stationer of August 20, 1904, p. 48:



Initially the Chatelaine was offered in only two sizes, 12 and 14. This was still the case at the time of the ad below, from the Ladies' Home Journal, June 1905, p. 23, though by the time the 1908 catalog had been compiled sizes 15, 16, 17, and 18 had been added.


These larger sizes seem outscale for hanging from a pin, yet examples survive. The pen below is a 17, and enormous.


At the other size extreme, I have had at least two or three slender 12 1/2 Chatelaines -- a size not mentioned in any source I have found to date. Not that Waterman was averse to mixing things up, as the pump-filling Chatelaine below indicates.


I have never seen a Chatelaine in mottled or red hard rubber, though they are found both chased and smooth.

The Waterman POC

I've been meaning for some time to do a write-up on Waterman's Chatelaine series -- the company's first screw-cap pens, which appear almost as an afterthought in the big 1908 catalog but which were advertised at least as early as 1905. The recent appearance of a possibly unique factory-made man's screw-cap (8-size, with clip and without suspension ring) using Chatelaine components, however,  has raised the question of exactly when Waterman began offering screw-cap pens for pocket carry -- so here is a quick post about the introduction of the POC line.


After a bit of searching, I found the blurb shown above, which ran in the American Stationer of March 29, 1913 (vol. 73), p. 34. No mention of the line appears in earlier issues, and indeed mention is sporadic in following years as well. The standard tag line in Waterman advertisements remains "Regular, Safety and Self-Filling Types", with "Pocket" only occasionally included -- as in the ad below from Geyer's Stationer, February 18, 1915, p. 27.


The POC line was short-lived, at least under that name. With the 1917 change in Waterman's model numbering system, the "POC" suffix was dropped and "7" was added in the tens place. The 12 POC became the 72, the 15 POC became the 75, and so on. 


Although the POC suffix was always imprinted all in capital letters on the pens, in advertising it was typically rendered as "Poc." as shown above. Interestingly enough, the most common POC model shown in ads was the 412 POC with silver filigree overlay.

POC models haven't attracted a great deal of collector interest, yet they mark a turning point in the evolution of Waterman pen design. All subsequent Waterman pocket pen designs, no matter the filling system, followed the POC template, with a screw cap, inner cap, and flared section, while the older slip-cap models gradually disappeared from the lineup.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Waterman Father Time

 
Waterman collectors have known for years about a very rare version of the 58 with an extra-long cap with a small rectangular watch set into its side. Thanks to the discovery of the ad shown above, we now know the model's name and date of introduction. The ad first ran in the American Stationer in the December 25, 1920 issue on page 19, appearing again on the same page on January 8 and 22. We surely would have found this ad much sooner if the volume it appears in -- volume 87 -- were more completely digitized. As is, searching the two Google versions and the HathiTrust version for "Waterman" yields only a fraction of the instances that are actually present -- a valuable reminder that while text searches can quickly turn up material, one cannot assume that all has been found unless one has gone through manually, page by page -- which is how I eventually stumbled across the Father Time ads.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tracking the rise of the self-filling fountain pen

Google's Ngram Viewer is a powerful tool for evaluating the popularity of words and phrases over time. Here are the results for "self-filler", which neatly illustrate the triumph of the self-filling fountain pen over the dropper-filler in the English-speaking world in the first decades of the 20th century:


The transition peaks between 1915 and 1920, then rapidly falls off as self-filling pens become the new norm.


The dropoff is more pronounced in the second chart immediately above, which is limited to American English sources. This is not a surprise, inasmuch as British penmakers continued to emphasize self-filling in both model names and advertising later than their American counterparts.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Waterman "Gentleman's Set"

Belatedly digging through newly-digitized volumes of The American Stationer, I came across this fantastic item -- a specially-packaged set written up in the November 15, 1902 issue (p. 6).


As noted in the accompanying text, the set comprises a black 14 with gold filled barrel bands, a mottled 14, and a silver 224 half-overlay taper cap. The special leather case -- I've never seen an actual example -- added $2 to the price of the ensemble.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Yet more American Stationer issues digitized

Mike Kennedy just informed me that volume 47 of The American Stationer is now viewable online. Looking more closely, I realized that several volumes in the same sequence were all digitized at Columbia University in late July, and are now being added one by one to Google Books. Right now one can see the listing and a partial table of contents. Within the next few weeks, however, full-text access should be available. I've gone ahead and listed the new volumes in the master list, noting that full viewability is still pending.

UPDATE: As I deduced, all of the newly digitized volumes (51-56) are now available in full text (Aug 21, 2017).

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Geyer's Stationer list update

Mike Kennedy recently brought to my attention two volumes of Geyer's Stationer not listed in our directory of issues available online: volumes 51 and 63, from 1911 and 1917. I have just updated the directory, also adding in links to the HathiTrust copies. In all cases but one, the same volumes, from the same repositories, are available through both Google Books and HathiTrust.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The introduction of Waterman's "Spoon Feed"


Waterman's original feed was narrow, just wide enough to carry the grooved ink channel. It was protected by US patent 293545, issued on February 12, 1884 with a term of 17 years and thus due to expire on February 12, 1901. So it made sense that the successor design, the wider Spoon Feed, would have been introduced in 1901 -- as per the conventional wisdom -- even though it had already been patented a few years earlier (US625722, filed August 24, 1898, issued May 23, 1899). But pinning down an exact date wasn't easy. Waterman often introduced new models or features well before advertising them, and the application for the Spoon Feed trademark (37530, filed April 27, 1901, registered December 31, 1901) claimed use since August 1, 1900. And yet a Google Books search for "Waterman" and "spoon feed" from 1899-1900 yields no hits at all, while an ad in Scribner's Magazine Advertiser, vol. 29, 1901, p. 59, suggests an introduction at the very beginning of 1901:
"Most bookkeepers and stenographers have used Waterman's Ideal Fountain Pens for years. After January 1st, 1901, you will not be up-to-date without one, since our new Spoon Feed brings them to absolute perfection for professional writers."
Even this mention is less than authoritative, though, inasmuch as it appears in a spring advertising supplement that is undated, but full of ads for summer cruises and the like, and bound messily with tables of contents for issues up to July 1901. Another early mention is found in a different spring advertising supplement, this one in McClure's (vol. 16, no. 6, p. 109):
"Painting the Lily and improving the Waterman Feed seem equally absurd. Yet Waterman's Ideal Fountain Pen is now furnished with a new Spoon Feed which is better than the old."
This also can only be dated indirectly, including as it does an ad on p. 20 for the Pan-American Exhibition, which ran from May to November of 1901. Otherwise, the only securely datable ads that I was ever able to find mentioned the Spoon Feed date no earlier than May (Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, vol. 52, May 1901).

The material cited so far was assembled some time ago. But now with the recent digitization of the key issues of The American Stationer spanning the years 1900 to 1901, the longstanding question of when and how Waterman introduced its "Spoon Feed" can finally be answered. As it turns out, an unexpected factor in the rollout appears to have been the rivalry with Parker, which had taken its most recent ugly turn with litigation arising from Waterman's attempt to enforce its limited and rather questionable patent on a slip-cap (US604690). That Waterman was engaging in serious lawfare is in no doubt, with the extent nicely illustrated by this entry (August 10, 1901, p. 23 -- oh, to have access to those twelve volumes now!):


At the Philadelphia Export Exhibition in fall of 1899, Waterman had served papers on a Parker exhibitor for a claim of patent infringement. The wrangling lasted until March 1901: Parker's lawyers objected and the service was ruled invalid; Waterman appealed, but lost again (American Stationer, Oct 13, 1900, p. 34; Mar 30, 1901, p. 11). Meanwhile, Parker struck back with ads in July 1900 that openly taunted Waterman over their respective cap patent claims (July 7, 1900, p. 16; also July 14, p. 16):


The taunting took on a new twist in the American Stationer of January 12, 1901, with a series of Parker ads that touted the Jointless as not being "covered with EXPIRED patents" (p. 7; also January 19, 26, Feb 2, all p. 7; the January 5 ad lacks the dig).


The week after the last of the above ads ran, the gloves came off. What had been alluded to was now spelled out in black and white. It was a barefaced attack, without even the pretense of being part of advertising Parker's own products.


These ads ran for three weeks, starting February 9, in Parker's usual spot on p. 7. Waterman's response was immediate, with their front cover ad in the next issue (February 16) formally announcing the Spoon Feed, noting that "Most of our customers have seen this successful invention, since it has already been offered in our special bookkeepers' and stenographers' pens".


Further mention of the new feed appeared inside the same issue (p. 23), as part of a report on a recent Waterman's publicity coup in which each guest at a dinner of the Stationers' Board of Trade was given a gold-mounted fountain pen (that is, with gold filled trim bands).


Reading between the lines, it seems as if the transition from the old feed to the new feed was intended to be gradual, but the company ended up scrambling to speed up the changeover. And though the professed reason was market demand, the threat of Parker trumpeting the expiry of the patent and the implicit obsolescence of the old feed to the general public (the salvos above were in a trade journal) surely weighed heavily in Waterman's decision to kill off the old feed sooner rather than later. This is consistent with the account below -- all mention of patent status discreetly omitted -- published once the dust had settled, in the American Stationer of August 17, 1901, p. 62:


The key passages include: "Early in the spring of the present year [1901] they started to introduce their new spoon feed", "the company supposed it would be nearly a year before a complete change in their output would be necessary", "in two months they were almost swamped", and "now . . . the plant has been entirely changed over".

It would seem then that the August 1, 1900 "first use" date for "Spoon Feed" in Waterman's trademark application would represent the beginning of market testing, which according to the earliest ads began with pens for bookkeepers and stenographers -- long and slender models, presumably. The switchover for other models would have been underway by early 1901, but drastically accelerated in mid-February, old feed production being phased out over the next few months, ending by mid-August at the very latest.