Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A noble shard

Many years ago, Pier Gustafson organized a show-and-tell display among Boston area pen collectors of what he aptly termed "noble shards" -- the wreckage of once-notable (and perhaps, still notable) pens.

The remnants of the end-lever Crocker shown here amply qualify. The cap may be missing its top half, and the section assembly is absent. But this battered survivor is still very special, for it is not hard rubber, but casein. The pattern is a sort of woodgrain, though it is now stained and faded. The end knob is imprinted "2S", and in raking light the characteristic alligatoring of aged casein is clearly visible.

I am not aware of any advertising or catalog listing for casein Crockers, and I have only seen one other example over the years -- much better preserved, in a solid green similar to that of a Parker Ivorine. But sometimes the only survivors are fragmentary, overlooked in a parts box.

Friday, December 19, 2014

An unusual wartime Sheaffer

With the entry of the United States into WW2, penmakers were faced with production quotas and restrictions upon materials needed for the war effort. Aluminum, brass, and stainless steel were replaced by silver and gold, which the USA had in abundance. The pen shown above, a Sheaffer Feathertouch Defender, shows the characteristic tarnish of gold over silver wartime trim: a greyish-black film, often blotchy, caused by silver atoms migrating to the surface and oxidizing on exposure to the air.

The over-the-top "military" clip is another characteristic wartime feature, allowing the pen to sit low enough in a uniform blouse pocket so as not to interfere with closure of the pocket flap. But the wartime features of this particular pen don't stop there. The section is celluloid, rather than hard rubber (rubber was a critical war material) -- not uncommon -- and so is the plunger shaft.

Wartime plunger-fillers typically used celluloid-covered carbon steel plunger shafts instead of stainless steel. These worked well enough, though the carbon steel was susceptible to rust swelling should any moisture penetrate its coating. All-celluloid shafts were another matter, as they were insufficiently rigid and prone to warpage. They are rare enough today that it is likely that they were only made experimentally -- and quickly rejected.

It would be easy enough to retrofit this pen with a postwar stainless shaft and matching blind cap (the original blind cap has a simple unthreaded hole into which the celluloid shaft press-fits), but we have put it back together as it was made, minus its original piston seal washer -- not functional as a pen, yet eloquent as witness to an era.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Waterman dummy


The pen above looks like a commonplace Waterman 52.  Flip it over, and you will see that it isn't a working pen at all, but a dummy made up for window display.  Real pens left on display were always a theft risk, dummy pens, much less so -- and display dummies also kept the real pens from being faded by sun exposure.

Dummy pens were often made up from rejected parts, and this one is no exception. In this case, the barrel isn't even a Waterman, for it bears a clear Aikin Lambert imprint. And though a Waterman lever box has been installed, it doesn't fit quite right since there isn't a cutout at the end of the lever slot, as the Aikin lever was of simpler form. By this time, Waterman had owned Aikin Lambert for a good ten or fifteen years, and production facilities had long been consolidated.

If you look more closely at the finish of the smooth part at the end of the barrel, you will also see another dummy-specific feature: the pen has been painted black, to better resist fading while in a shop window.  The paint is partially worn off here, and another patch of wear-through is visible on the cap top as well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Parker 1.0 mm lead pencil converter

By the 1930s, lead sizes for American mechanical pencils had been thoroughly standardized. There was the older standard of 0.046 inches (metricized as 1.1 or 1.2 mm) and the newer standard of 0.036 inches  (0.9 mm), and for drafting pencils there was 0.075 inches (2 mm). The plethora of odd sizes used in the 19th century had all been dropped in the first decades of the 20th.

So it was to my complete astonishment that I recently discovered that Parker, in the later 1960s, briefly adopted a completely nonstandard lead diameter of 0.040 inches (1.01 mm). Not in a mechanical pencil, strictly speaking, but for its "pencil cartridge", shaped like a Jotter ballpoint refill and used to convert any Jotter-style ballpoint into an injector pencil. The example shown above came in a sterling silver Classic ballpoint; it was still full of lead, but I thought I'd add a little more before offering it for sale (Parker didn't advertise these cartridges as refillable, but all it takes is to hold one tip-up, press the back button down, and feed new lead into the front). Yet when I put in some 0.9 mm lead, it didn't work properly. The lead was held firmly when the end button was released, but when the button was depressed, the lead shot out instead of advancing a millimeter or two at a time. Upon closer examination, the original lead that came inside the cartridge measured a hair over 1 mm and worked perfectly -- as did some 1.0 mm lead that I then added as a test.

According to Jotter: History of an Icon, p. 204, Parker's pencil cartridge was introduced in 1968 (other authorities specify that it was at the beginning of that year). No mention is made of the lead size used, however, though in external form our 1 mm cartridge is the earliest model shown, all metal with only a bit of black plastic at the end, and no eraser. How long it remained in production is not clear, though I was able to find the image below from a 1969 Parker catalog, originally posted by Graham Hogg here.

It seems clear that Parker adopted a slightly oversize lead diameter to prevent users refilling their cartridges instead of buying new ones. Customers would assume that the cartridges were worn out, never suspecting that the lead diameter was the issue. Indeed, Parker advertised the cartridges as being good for up to a year, or up to 50,000 words -- clearly positioning them as consumables, despite building them stoutly enough for years of service.

I haven't had the time to go back through all the different Parker pencil cartridges in my shop to check lead diameters, but I've handled quite a few of them over the years and this is the first I've found that didn't work when refilled with standard-sized lead. My guess is that later models all used standard lead, and that perhaps even the original model was reconfigured at some point to use standard lead as well.

ADDENDUM: At the Columbus pen show I was able to ask around about this. I found only one person -- a former Parker employee -- who knew about the 1 mm lead. Unfortunately, this was from observation, not company lore, so we still don't know how this all came to be. Did Parker anticipate that consumers would try to refill the cartridges, and made them to use the nonstandard lead from the beginning? Or were they originally made to use standard lead, and a modified version using nonstandard lead was introduced only later, after the problem of refilling became apparent?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Equi-Poised combos in a catalog

Among the top-line American penmakers of the 1920s and 1930s, the response to the fad for pen-pencil combinations varied considerably. Wahl-Eversharp made some fine combos, but did not appear to have advertised them; they are very scarce today, and were surely made in small numbers at the time.

To date, I have found one catalog showing Wahl-Eversharp combos. It is not a Wahl-Eversharp catalog, though the illustrations were surely supplied by the company. The catalog is dated 1932-1933, and the combos shown are economy-line versions (Wahl-Eversharp combos are based upon either the top of the line Gold Seal Equi-Poised pens -- an example here -- or the smaller and less solidly constructed non-Gold Seal pens of similar profile, also often found branded as Wahl-Oxfords).

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A late Heath magic pencil

What at first glance appears to be an unprepossessing silver golf pencil, turns out, with a pull on the end, to be a magic pencil -- and one made by the fabled firm of George W. Heath & Co.

It's no accident that its styling recalls the streamlined golf pencils of the 1920s and '30s, for this is a very late magic pencil. The design, with the screw-off lead reservoir shown below, was the subject of US patent 1,514,965 -- the very last of Heath's writing equipment patents. The application was submitted on July 19, 1922 and the patent was issued on November 11, 1924. The "PAT. APP. FOR" imprint locates the pencil between those two dates.

The pencil is also of interest in that it bears both of the standard Heath marks. The famous H in a square is on the extending shaft, while "G. W. H. CO." appears on the barrel. The Heath marks stop appearing on the overlays of name-brand pens well before this pencil was made -- suggesting that the omission of the marks from contract work was customer, not Heath's, choice.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chapmans vs Waterman: Miscellaneous

There are a lot of scattered historical tidbits in the Chapmans vs Waterman trial record (background here). Some notable nuggets are listed below:
As of 1915, A. A. Waterman production was around 100,000 pens annually (p. 153) -- less than a tenth of Waterman's volume, per William I. Ferris' testimony (p. 179).

A. A. Waterman's sacs were guaranteed for only two years, replacement cost 25 cents (p. 349).

The Sterling Fountain Pen Company originated in the February 1899 dissolution of A. A. Waterman & Company and its takeover by Rhodes Lockwood, formerly a silent partner and the firm's financial backer (pp. 185-86).

A December 2, 1909 letter from the Modern Pen Company states, "Within the last year Mr. [Arthur A.] Waterman was withdrawn from the Chicago Company and is now with the Held Pen Co. of Salt Lake City, Utah" (p. 592, see also p. 595).

In December 1907, Waterman bought 1512 gold nibs from the Modern Pen Company for $393, including a $15 charge for "Altering tools" -- presumably, the tooling charge for the imprint stamp (pp. 547-48). The transaction was indirect, the nibs being sold by Modern to William L. Chapman and by him to William I. Ferris (pp. 118, 126). According to Chapman, he dealt directly with company president Frank D. Waterman (mistakenly called "Fred") and Ferris, and set up the transaction at their request to conceal that they were buying nibs from a rival (pp. 146-48). Ferris later claimed that the nibs were bought for Aikin Lambert, but court adjourned for the weekend before he could be pressed on this, and when the trial resumed the following Monday, the questioning moved in other directions (p. 191).

According to Walter L. Rieman, in charge of Waterman's repair department, 350-400 packages arrived by mail per day, some with more than one pen. This impressive repair volume did not include repairs received over the counter, as there was a separate repair department attached to the retail department (p. 406).

Chapmans vs Waterman: Chasing machines

One of the ways in which the Chapmans' counsel attempted to discredit Waterman (background to the case here) was by claiming that Waterman wasn't really a manufacturer, but instead merely assembled parts made by others. Even in 1915, many manufacturers relied upon subcontractors, so I'm not sure this was a well-chosen tactic. In any event, it led to many exchanges about the sourcing of holders (that is, hard rubber pen parts) and the application of chasing. Waterman's counsel emphasized how chasing required time, skill, and experience, and thus how, along with hand-fitting, nib-setting, and clip attachment, it constituted real manufacturing and not mere assembly of premade parts. The Chapmans' counsel in turn tried to trivialize the chasing operation, as in this cross-examination of Waterman's William I. Ferris (pp. 186-87):
Q. The chasing is a simple matter, isn't it? A. It is part of the manufacturing.
Q. You simply put the pen in a machine and run it through? A. You may say the same thing of the holder, you put it in and turn it around.
Q. It takes skill to do that? A. The other requires skill.
Q. Doesn't any dollar a week girl do that? A. She does not.
Q. How much do you pay her for running the chasing machine? A. My recollection is the girl gets $12 a week.
Q. Is it run by unskilled labor? A. Experienced labor; it takes a lot of experience to operate them properly.
Q. Do they not put half a dozen holders into a machine and simply run it through a little machine and it comes out chased; is that right? A. Yes; but the machine has to be properly adjusted and operated or they don't come out chased.
In later exchanges, Ferris clarified that "boys" ran the chasing machines, with "one girl in charge under a superintendent, and young men operate the machines", each "boy" running two to four machines at once, depending on the class of work. (pp. 197-98). He also stated that it typically took four to five minutes to chase a holder, depending on its size (p. 275).

Ferris's was not the only testimony about Waterman's chasing methods. A Brooklyn stationer, Van Brunt Tandy, owner of the stationery firm formerly known as John M. Bulwinkle -- reputedly Waterman's first commercial account -- was queried about his visits to the Waterman factory (pp. 238-39):
Q. Did you see anybody chasing penholders at the L. E. Waterman & Company shop? A. Yes.
Q. How is it done? A. It is done with six holders put in at a time, six caps in one section and six holders in. another section, in which a tool goes around like that and cuts them; possibly the steel escapes the part where there is any plain spaces.
Q. The result is that with all this chasing, a plain holder has this wavy appearance? A. Yes.
Q. Does one boy manipulate a number of machines? A. Manipulates two machines, one for the holders and one for the caps and one for the body. . .
Q. What did you see? A. I saw him put six caps in one machine to the left and six holders in another machine to the right, and those two machines were both working at the same time.
Q. With respect to the rapidity of the number that are produced in that way? A. I would say it would take about ten minutes to do six complete.
Q. A little over a minute apiece? A. They had six at a time.
Q. Do you mean to say it takes ten minutes to go through that machine? A. I certainly do. '
Q. Isn’t it done in ten seconds? A. No, sir.
I've been working on a full article on the history of hard rubber chasing and chasing machines, and sources are remarkably few. The material above is a useful addition to what we know of how these machines were actually used in a production environment. For further description and illustrations of the machines used by Waterman in this era, see the article on Waterman pen manufacture in Machinery, vol. 18 (Dec 1911), p. 253.

Chapmans vs Waterman: Notable pens

In the Chapmans vs Waterman case (background here), a number of pens were introduced as evidence. Most were Watermans, many noteworthy. The list of exhibits (pp. v-xiv) records nine with overlays, five in sterling silver, three in 14K gold, and one simply "gold" -- presumably gold filled. The testimony transcript indicates this group included a 424 sterling silver Pineapple (p. 180) and a 512 solid gold sleeve-filler (p. 265), as well as a selection of pens chosen to illustrate the range of Waterman designs then in production, including the coin-filler (pp. 265-66).

Surely the most extraordinary pen mentioned, though, was a Waterman 20 self-filler. Edward Rohlfing, assistant manager in Waterman's retail department at 173 Broadway, recounted on the stand how he sold this pen to a customer who had brought in a #8-size A. A. Waterman/Modern pen -- clearly, a fan of big pens! -- for a nib swap (p. 356). There can be no doubt about the pen's identity, as the model number was mentioned multiple times, and Rohlfing describes the pen as "unusually large". And when asked, "Does that fact that this No. 20 self filler that you sold to him, impress this incident on your mind?", Rohlfing responded, "It does, because it is a very unusual size, and we very seldom sell one of the large 20 self fillers" (p. 357). From the context, this sale likely took place in 1912 or 1913, and the pen was a giant sleeve-filler -- a pen now known in only one surviving example, with this trial transcript the only other record of the model's existence known to date.

Some idea of the relative rarity of such a pen at the time may be gained by considering that Rohlfing had been serving some 200 customers daily for the previous four years (pp. 353, 358). It would take something special indeed to stand out from such a crowd.

Chapmans vs Waterman: Safety pen patents

One of the disputes brought out in the Chapmans vs Waterman case (background here) was over claimed infringements by Waterman of safety pen patents held by A. A. Waterman/Modern Pen. The main discussion appears in a letter from Waterman dated May 21, 1908, addressed to Alexander S. Bacon, Modern Pen's lawyer, and entered into evidence as Plaintiff's Exhibit 25 (pp. 496ff). The letter recounts Waterman's negotiations to purchase Modern Pen, including its patents (though in the trial, the focus seems to have been put on Waterman's attempts from 1907-08 to buy the A. A. Waterman trade name; p. 122-24). According to the Waterman letter, the sale of Modern was a done deal, awaiting only "formal corporate authorization". Counting on this pending acquisition of the Modern patents, Waterman "began the manufacture of a safety fountain pen which is the one of which we assume you complain." When this manufacture began is a bit unclear. Bacon had sent letters on April 29 and May 19, 1908 protesting the infringement, but how long did it take for Modern to learn of the new safeties and to respond? The Waterman letter states that the expected sale of Modern was still pending when Bacon's letter of April 29 was received, but the deal afterwards fell through. The letter then avows (p. 497):
As soon as we learned that these negotiations of sale had been broken off, we forthwith entirely discontinued the manufacture and sale of the safety fountain pen as then constructed and of which we assume you complain. Of the safety fountain pens of which we assume you complain only a few have been sold, probably less than a dozen.
Considering the letter's purpose, this improbably low number should be taken with a grain of salt. Admitting no fault, the letter goes on in good legal style to name and deny the validity of the patents allegedly infringed (523234 Peck and O'Meara, July 17, 1894; 551895 Horton and Peck, December 25, 1895; 700909 Frazer, May 27, 1902), and to state that Waterman's abandonment of this original safety design was "merely to avoid litigation and the trouble and expense incident thereto." The letter then concludes:
We are now using for our safety fountain pen a construction or structure which our predecessors in business used more than twenty years ago, and which has been commonly and continuously used for pencils and fountain pens since 1852, and of which we assume you claim no monopoly, If you desire, we would be pleased to submit to you a sample of the safety fountain pen as we are now making and selling the same. We wish to repeat that we have entirely discontinued making and selling fountain pens of the structure of which we assume you complain, and that we do this merely to avoid litigation and not because we recognize the validity of the patents you claim to be infringed, or that the pen as made by us did actually infringe any of these patents.
The generally accepted chronology for Waterman safeties posits that the earliest examples were those in which the nib turned as it extended and retracted, the tracks cut into the interior of the barrel being helical, rather than straight. Later safeties used a straight track and a helically-slotted driving tube (for illustrations, see our Waterman Safeties Pen Profile). The arrangement of the earlier safeties would have been to get around the Peck and O'Meara patent. The Waterman letter adds another twist to the story, so to speak. The helical-track safeties were not Waterman's first, after all. For while the standard straight-track pens did follow the helical-track pens, it seems they also -- albeit briefly -- preceded them.

If that "construction or structure which our predecessors in business used more than twenty years ago, and which has been commonly and continuously used for pencils and fountain pens since 1852" is to be identified with the straight-track safeties, how is that particular passage to be read? The reference to "our predecessors in business" is particularly opaque, implying as it does that Waterman itself used this mechanism in its earlier days -- and inasmuch as Waterman evidently didn't, must be interpreted as a deliberately misleading way of saying that other, earlier, and unrelated companies did. The reference to 1852 appears to invoke the mechanism described in John Mabie's US patent 11762, application date unknown, but issued in 1854. Others had long used a basic retracting or propelling mechanism consisting of a carrier riding in a longitudinally-slotted tube, riding in turn inside a helically-slotted tube, the carrier having a pin engaging both slots, by which the carrier was driven when one tube was twisted and the other held fixed. Mabie's patent added two improvements: a pin that went all the way through, engaging the outer tube's track on both sides; and helical slots in both tubes, cut in opposite directions. The Waterman letter undoubtedly refers to the first improvement, applied to the older form of retracting mechanism, rather than to the second, which is unknown in Waterman safeties of any era. Waterman's claim that this mechanism had been in use for decades for fountain pens appears to be a complete fabrication.

The limitations of advertisements as evidence are once again highlighted here. Previously, our earliest notice of Waterman safety production came in advertisements and trade journal mentions at the end of July 1908. We now know that Waterman began making safeties no later than April, and had switched to a non-infringing design in May.

ADDENDUM: In case you were wondering how A. A. Waterman/Modern Pen ended up with all the key retracting-nib safety pen patents, see Geyer's Stationer, vol. 31, Apr 4, 1901, p. 35, which reports on Frazer & Geyer's purchase of the bankrupt Horton Pen Company's plant, machinery, and patents.