Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Some thoughts on original boxes

In many fields of collecting, an item in its original box is worth far more than one without -- so much so, that it is not uncommon for the box to be worth several times what it originally contained (a similar situation applies with modern first editions and their dust jackets). This has not been the case with pens and pencils, however, and though better boxes have come up in price a bit in recent years, even the best come nowhere near the value of their contents.

The box shown above is a rare one, only the second example I've seen. The pen that came inside is also rare: one of the earliest retracting-nib safety pens made, produced for only a few years in the mid-1890s. Since the box came up at auction, I had to give some thought to how much I would be willing to bid, which in turn got me thinking about the valuation of pen boxes in general. Why don't pen collectors value boxes so highly? Is it because so many collectors think of pens more as items to be used, than as historical artifacts to be preserved and studied? Is it because there are so many boxes available?

Certainly in comparison to many other collected items, the supply of original boxes is high. Perhaps because they were small and easily repurposed, many survive. And since cheaper pens and pencils were often sold in the same boxes as more desirable models, collectors who care about boxes usually have little trouble finding them. This has kept prices down both directly and indirectly, as general availability has shaped collectors' attitude towards what boxes should be worth. Even in those instances where the original box for a desirable pen is much rarer than the pen itself, few collectors are willing to pay more than a small fraction of the pen's value for its box.
It's hard to buck the tide. I was able to buy the Horton box for well under my maximum, yet that maximum was still a fraction of my maximum bid for the last Horton pen that came my way. I knew I was being cheap; at the same time, I was pretty certain no other collectors would be any less so. And though the box is unquestionably rare, so is the pen. No premium for rarity when the loss rate for each is comparable, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Silicone sacs are here at last!

Silicone pen sacs are the future, and we now have them! Latex ink sacs have been around for over a hundred years, but have recently begun to show their age. Many newer ink formulations have proven rubber-unfriendly, turning conventional sacs to goo in a matter of months or even weeks. And as latex rubber ages, it can give off sulfur compounds that will permanently stain celluloids and other permeable plastics.

Silicone, by comparison, is remarkably resistant to chemical action, and highly resistant to taking a set (most materials, if squeezed long enough, won't spring back all the way after a while; silicone will). It's also very stable, so not only will it last a long, long time, it will not break down and release anything nasty as it ages.

Which brings up another issue: what about those other companies' silicone ink sacs? A good question, in that we have not yet been able to find any. Shocking, yes -- but when we started testing various sacs that were being advertised and sold as silicone, not a single one turned out to be as advertised. While some may have had some silicone content, their predominant ingredient was PVC -- otherwise known as vinyl. PVC can be a very durable sac material, but it is a potential time bomb in celluloid pens. As it ages, PVC exudes a plasticizer known to attack celluloid, leaving deep scars wherever contact is made. Unfortunately, in the past several years many collectors and repairmen have installed these "silicone" sacs in their most valuable and best-preserved celluloid pens, inadvertently replacing traditional latex sacs with something potentially much more damaging.
This disheartening discovery was what spurred us to get into the pen sac business, manufacturing top-quality ink sacs guaranteed 100% silicone. As we also discovered, making vinyl sacs is easy, but real silicone is another story. Genuine silicone sacs have to be injection molded. You can see the telltale mold lines running the length of our sacs (click on the picture above to enlarge). The absence of such lines is a strong indication that the sac is either dip or blow-molded, and not silicone -- no matter what the seller claims.

At the moment we have silicone sacs in only one size, #18, but we will be expanding the range of offerings considerably in the coming year. Sacs are now available for purchase through our catalog and on eBay. We will also soon be posting a video showing how to test a suspect sac to see if it really is 100% silicone.

PS Note that there is a big difference between silicone vulcanized at high temperature (as used in medical-grade tubing, for example, and our sacs), and RTV (Room Temperature Vulcanizing) silicones, familiar as sealants and molding media. Some RTV silicones release acids as they cure, which can be a prolonged process. This is not the case with high-temperature vulcanized silicones.

PPS The video on silicone sac testing and identification can now be seen here.

PPPS A chart laying out the pros and cons of various pen sac materials is here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Waterman and Aikin Lambert

It has long been known that Waterman at some point took over Aikin Lambert. When this took place, however, has long been an open question. Over ten years ago we noted that in Sheaffer's patent infringement suit against Barrett et al, Walter A. Sheaffer made a passing comment in his testimony of late May 1915 that Aikin Lambert was already in 1914 “a subsidiary company for the L.E. Waterman Company”. But when exactly did this takeover occur?

The American Stationer on July 14, 1906 describes what appears to be the turning point:
REORGANIZATION and reincorporation of the firm of Aikin, Lambert & Co., of New York, manufacturers of the Mercantile fountain pen, followed the sale of the interests of two members of the firm. The old charter of the firm under New Jersey laws expired and re-incorporation was affected under New York laws.

With the re-incorporation of the firm, two members of the old firm sold their interests, H. A. Lambert and John B. Shea. Mr. Lambert will continue with the firm until the first of next year, and is now on one of his trips through the West. John B. Shea, who was superintendent of the factory, has retired, and is no longer connected with the firm in any way.

John B. Shea sold his interest to W. I. Ferris of the L. E. Waterman Company, and Mr. Ferris now controls the stock which Mr. Shea has owned for years. When asked to say to whom the stock owned by Mr. Lambert was sold, a representative of Aikin, Lambert & Co. said that was a private matter, which had no interest for the public.

Numerous rumors have been afloat concerning the effect of the transfer of stock upon re-organization of the company. It has been said that interests controlling the L. E. Waterman Company had secured control of Aikin, Lambert & Co., but that is denied emphatically by both companies. It is said that Mr. Ferris bought the stock as an investment and that no other motive influenced him in the purchase. James C. Aikin is president and manager of the new company and will continue so indefinitely. No further changes are contemplated by any of the members, and the business is to be run in the future exactly as it has been in the past.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Bookseller, Newsdealer and Stationer: another directory

The American Stationer is surely the most informative of the trade journals for historians of late 19th and early 20th-century writing instruments. There are other contemporary journals available online as well, however, and while their contents often overlap, it is worth consulting them all for the cases in which they do not. The Bookseller, Newsdealer and Stationer is probably the most useful of these, especially for periods when no copies of The American Stationer are available. It was published every two weeks, in two volumes per year (Jan-Jun and Jul-Dec).

Links are to Google Books; for advice on using them, please see our directory for The American Stationer. Corrections and additions are welcomed and invited.

1898 vol. 9
1899 vol. 10
1899 vol. 11

1904 vol. 20

1905 vol. 22
1905 vol. 23

1906 vol. 25  Dec 1 issue only
1907 vol. 26
1907 vol. 27
1908 vol. 28

1909 vol. 30

1910 vol. 32
1911 vol. 34
1911 vol. 35
1912 vol. 36 (another, no.2, Jan 15, only)
1912 vol. 37
1913 vol. 38
1913 vol. 39
1914 vol. 40
1914 vol. 41
1915 vol. 42
1915 vol. 43
1916 vol. 44
1916 vol. 45
1917 vol. 46 (another)
1918 vol. 47
1918 vol. 48 (another
1919 vol. 49 (another, Jul 1-Aug 1 only) 
1919 vol. 50
1920 vol. 51
1920 vol. 52
1921 vol. 53 (another, Nov 1 only)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The American Stationer: a directory of online copies

For those researching the history of writing instruments, copies of The American Stationer (later, The American Stationer & Office Manager) are an invaluable resource. Many of the issues have been digitized and are available through Google Books, the Internet Archive, and HathiTrust, but there are some catches. One is that many volumes have yet to be scanned, while others are available only via Google's "snippet view". The other is that the majority of the volumes available through Google Books are accessible only from within the USA. Persistent researchers in other countries can have recourse, however, to a proxy server service, that makes it look as if one is browsing from a location within the USA. Tunnelbear is one such service that seems to get good reviews, and is free for up to 500MB of data per month.

George Kovalenko was the first to compile a public list of volumes available. It is posted at the Lion & Pen website, along with much of George's original research into these and other old periodicals [Not any more, thanks to the unfortunate demise of Lion & Pen - D.]. The list below started with my own directory of links, since finding the individual volumes within Google is (even for US residents) a bit of a nightmare. Most cannot be found by following links from other volumes; instead, one has to search for them individually, occasionally lucking out and finding a handful of links to other missing copies. The volumes available through the Internet Archive are much better catalogued, and I believe are also available worldwide without recourse to proxy servers.

Note that there was an error in volume numbering in 1919 (there is a second volume 84), and that in many cases more than one copy is available. The Internet Archive scans tend to be much higher resolution than the Google scans, and are also normally available for download in a much broader selection of formats. In general, the Google volumes can only be searched online. The pdf versions are great to have as references, but they are images only and cannot be searched -- a major drawback, imperfect as the OCR sometimes is on the scans. In a number of cases there are duplicate scans, usually of volumes both at the New York Public Library (NYPL) and the University of Illinois at Urbana (UI).

This is a work in progress. If you have any additions or corrections to contribute, they would be most welcome. The list follows below.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: As noted in the comments below, it appears that some of the HathiTrust copies are defective, with pages missing or mixed up that are present and in correct order in other online versions.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

William Wrigley Jr.'s golden Wahl

This handsome little ringtop Wahl just joined our collection. It's solid 14K gold and nicely hand engraved, and it's also an eyedropper -- a design Wahl dropped from their line shortly after taking it over from the Boston Fountain Pen Company.

Even more notable, however, is the name engraved on the barrel: "Wm.Wrigley Jr./Chicago". Although the pen has no documentation of provenance, it was sold largely at gold value and there is no reason to think that the inscription was added falsely in order to enhance the pen's value.


William Wrigley Jr. (1861-1932) was a prominent figure, the founder of the Wrigley chewing gum company, owner of the Chicago Cubs, and namesake of Chicago's Wrigley Field. Wrigley was also the benevolent developer of California's Catalina Island, which he owned outright.


It was only appropriate that Wrigley owned a Chicago-made pen, and it would be interesting to find out if there were any business connections between him and the Wahl company, of the sort that have already been documented, for example, between Wahl and Montgomery Ward. The sharp-eyed may notice that the pen currently bears a Mabie Todd nib. A later replacement, to be sure, but perhaps still for the original owner. The pen itself must date to the late 'teens, and most likely was worn in a vest pocket at the end of a watch fob.

Before and after

A month back we posted this picture to our Facebook page. It shows a Waterman pen recovered from the  recently-excavated wreckage of a WW2 Lancaster bomber, shot down in France on D-Day -- but one of many poignant relics of the lost crew (full story here).
The excavated pen is a relatively common Canadian-made Waterman model equipped with a rather uncommon clip: an top-mounted "military clip" (allowing the pen to be clipped inside a flap-top pocket, in conformity to military requirements), with the Waterman globe logo prominently displayed on top (and again, smaller, on the side).
Coincidentally, we were recently able to acquire an intact example of the same model, which is shown above. We now know the story of the excavated pen; what stories might this pen tell, if it could speak?


Friday, November 30, 2012

From CNN (with video):
All you might feel is someone brush by you and a slight pin prick. But very quickly you would be suffering muscle paralysis followed by suffocation. You would be dead within a very short period of time. . .

Disguised to look like a Parker ballpoint pen, it contains a poison needle and is practically impossible to identify as a weapon.
Not for sale, luckily -- recently found in the possession of a North Korean assassin. He was also carrying a pen gun that resembled a Parker fountain pen, which shot a poisoned bullet, and a three-shot "flashlight". Apparently only the flashlight was new to South Korean intelligence, the other two devices having been around for some ten years or more.

ADDENDUM: To clarify, the two devices in their North Korean versions are of fairly recent date, but they are hardly new inventions. Both are decades old, and were Cold War staples. A recent episode of PBS' History Detectives was devoted to the development of the poison pin. Thanks to a faithful reader and correspondent for comments and the link.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Doric photo inlays

Every so often one runs across an Eversharp Doric with a snapshot portrait set into its cap. We sold an example from our catalog a few months back; as far as I can recall, it was the first such pen we'd ever listed.
With exemplary timing, last week we were able to acquire a 1935-dated brochure promoting these photo inlays. How long they were offered is unknown; Eversharp catalogs do not mention them, and though I have a vague recollection of some other documentation having been published long ago, they remain a bit of a mystery.

A FEW FURTHER THOUGHTS: It is interesting that the brochure makes no mention of the cost of this service, nor of how one went about getting this personalized inlay. Was it available only on special order, or could it be done to a pen already made? On Dorics, it was surely done as part of the manufacturing process, for it would have been a delicate operation indeed to mill out a recess on the back of a Doric cap, inlay the photo and its clear cover, and then reshape the cover to match exactly and seamlessly the faceting of the rest of the cap. And if done in this manner, after the passage of decades the inlay would no longer match the rest of the cap so well as is observed in surviving examples. It should also be noted that Doric facets were not cut, but mold-formed under heat and pressure, making it all the more difficult to match a cap's original profile exactly by use of a cutting tool. Unfaceted pens and pencils would have been easier to retrofit with photo inlays, yet "easier" does not mean "easy". Seamless installation of an aftermarket inlay would have required considerable skilled hand labor, surely involving removal of the clip and re-turning of the cap on a lathe.

Given all this, Eversharp photo inlays must have been special-order, installed as part of the manufacturing process. Their cost was undoubtedly insufficient compensation for all the disruption they caused to a production line set up to turn out large quantities of identical components, not individual custom pens. My guess is that the photo inlays were dropped after a very short time indeed, though I'd be happy to be proved wrong by the discovery of any other advertising for them that significantly postdates the brochure shown above.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post-Sandy outages

We are still having periodic power outages at the shop. The exact situation isn't clear, as the outages are unpredictable and affect the entire neighborhood. So far the main affect has been to slow down the listing of new items, but it has sometimes made us miss our shipping cutoff time, adding a day of delay in getting orders out.

PS All back to normal now (November 15), including our phone service which got rather scrambled by all the power fluctuations. We missed some days' worth of calls, as well as a number of voicemail messages -- so if you have been having trouble reaching us, please either call back or send us an email.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Korean faker goes straight?

The Korean faker now selling on eBay under the username sunpawel has now taken a new tack. He has now listed a Parker Duofold Junior "parts kit" in Mandarin Yellow, the key bits being his newly-made yellow cap and barrel, complete with Parker imprint. The big difference is that this time he is not presenting a completed pen as original, but rather is openly advertising his parts as reproductions. He is also stating that the imprint is not laser-engraved, and instead "Is made to the original process."

While this is an improvement on brazenly selling outright fakes, this is still far from good. The parts are not marked as reproductions, and are still designed to deceive. Unsuspecting collectors are still going to end up paying good money for fake pens -- if not directly to the faker, to those who buy from him.

It is unfortunate that Parker still seems to show no interest in protecting their trademarks, for sunpawel's operation could be shut down in a hurry if only Parker sent its lawyers after him for misappropriation of the "Parker" and the "Duofold" names. Montblanc and Pelikan certainly wouldn't hesitate to act, as we have seen on numerous occasions.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Kraker: a look inside

Krakers are uncommon pens, and mottled hard rubber examples are every bit as hard to find as their Sheaffer brethren. This one recently came to us in unrestored condition, rather dirty but well preserved.
The one area of damage was the section, which had some rather aggressive plier marks. Someone clearly had a hard time opening up this pen -- and the reason became apparent once we had the pen apart.
Look at the picture above, and you'll see that the part of the section that fits inside the barrel mouth has a shallow, round-bottomed slot. This mates with a raised, round-topped rib inside the barrel mouth, visible below (click on the images to enlarge them, if these features are hard to make out). Those who like to twist sections when extracting them could find themselves in trouble with this design, and even with a standard straight wiggle-out, the rib-and-slot construction makes the joint more resistant to manipulation.
In compensation, the barrel mouth is not so easy to break as one might think. Though it is hard to see in the picture, the mouth is metal-lined. This is a construction method best known from Wahl-Eversharp pens of the later 1920s and 1930s (though not used on all their models), but very much the exception on hard rubber pens of this era.

NOTE: Although Walter A. Sheaffer later had harsh words for his former partner, George Kraker's contribution to the initial success of the Sheaffer pen company was considerable. You can read more about the story here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A wooden Waterman for President Taft

Waterman willingly accepted special orders, and a few examples are shown in the company's catalogs. Some of the most intriguing designs, however, are those described in the trade press, including the one shown here.
The pictures come from The American Stationer of August 28, 1909. The article explains:
The L. E. Waterman Company have recently had occasion to manufacture a notably historical pen. They were presented by John B. Hardy, Industrial Expert of New York, with a small block of wood saved from the last of thirteen trees planted by Alexander Hamilton on his estate in New York City. It will be remembered that each tree represented one of the original thirteen States.

From the block the Waterman Company manufactured a beautifully turned wood pen lined with rubber. The cap and barrel were very handsomely mounted with gold, the pattern of which was designed by Carolyn Mihr Hardy, and engraved as follows: On the three gold bands on the barrel -- "Protection - Progress - Patriotism," and on the two name plates on each side of the cap: "Presented to the Hon. Wm. H. Taft" and, on the reverse side: "Made from the last of thirteen trees planted by Alexander Hamilton on his estate."

The box in which the pen was presented, and which is above illustrated, was also made from the remaining portion of the block of the Hamilton tree. The exterior of the box was in the rough finish of the wood, very handsomely finished on the inside and finely lined with velvet and satin, the hinges and catch being made from gold.

The pen was presented to President Taft by Congressmen Pujo, Estopinal and Broussard of Louisiana and Frank Clark of Florida, all ardent Southern Protectionists and admirers of Mr. Taft.
Where is this pen now? 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Waterman's year of innovation: 1908

Of all the Waterman catalogs from the company's Golden Age, the 1908 catalog is a standout. Richly produced and printed, it listed some of the most interesting, beautiful, and desirable pens ever made. Stationery trade journals fill out the picture, highlighting how many of Waterman's most notable innovations date to this time.
At the beginning of 1908, for example, Waterman introduced its "Baby" (not to be confused with the so-called "Doll" pen, aka "World's Smallest") and the "Check Book" pen. The illustrations above appeared on the front page of the January 11 issue of The American Stationer. On June 27, the same periodical's front page announced Waterman's introduction of a full-length slender model, called a "Secretary Pen", but now more commonly known to collectors by its model number, 12 1/2.
Just a month later, it was Waterman's first retracting-nib safety pen being introduced, initially offered in just three sizes (12VS, 14VS, 15VS, each in just one standard length) with the option of gold filled barrel bands and the choice of smooth or chased black hard rubber, or "Cardinal" red hard rubber.

And at the beginning of October, to bring our short survey full circle, the front-page news was Waterman's lavish new 1908 catalog, produced at a claimed cost of $25,000. Followup stories about the catalog and its impending distribution appeared on October 10 and October 17. It is unusual that we can now date the 1908 catalog so precisely -- and this isn't purely of academic interest. For example, there was recently a discussion about the marking of Waterman silver "Filigree" pattern pens, in particular when the "4" in the hundreds place began to be imprinted on the barrel end. I will probably end up summarizing the conclusions in a future post here, but a key bit of evidence is that the 1908 catalog is the first occasion on which it is explicitly stated that the full model code will be stamped on the butt end of each pen. For various reasons, this wouldn't square so well with the evidence of surviving pens if the catalog had been released at the beginning of 1908; it is entirely consistent, however, with an autumn publication date.

PS Perhaps not in the same category, yet significant nonetheless: Waterman's Canadian factory started producing pens towards the end of that very busy year, 1908.

Friday, October 5, 2012

In praise of mint pens (and of keeping them that way)

I recently had the good fortune to acquire a pristine Wahl-Eversharp ringtop set, mint and stickered, boxed with instructions. The pen is shown in the picture above. Now there are those who seem to think that leaving a pen unused is somehow sinful. Yet when one gets back to pens of the 1920s and early '30s, truly mint examples are extremely scarce, and far rarer than examples that have been used, however gently.

The greatest value of pristine pens, though, is not monetary -- in fact, compared to most other areas of collecting, the premium for perfection in pens is small -- so much as informational. Years ago, it was a pristine Wahl "Deco Band" that tipped me off to the reason why Wahl caps tended to discolor in dark bands. You can read my 2002 writeup here, the upshot being that Wahl didn't use a normal hard rubber inner cap, but instead lined the top of the inside of the cap with a soft white rubber disk, and put another soft rubber washer on the outward-facing mouth of the inner cap, where the section presses when the cap is in place. Staining and hardening over time makes these construction features, which are not mentioned in Wahl company literature, invisible. They are clearly visible on pristine pens, however -- this newly acquired ringtop included.
Another ephemeral feature that we know about only from examples such as this is the in-filling of imprints. In most cases, imprints were not originally colored in, but there are a few exceptions. One little-known exception is the gold coloring sometimes applied to the nib grade stamps on Wahl-Eversharp feeds. This gold coloring is beautifully preserved on our recent acquisition, but one can see that it would be washed away rather quickly once the pen was put to use.

The discoveries don't end there. Another recent acquisition is shown below: a coral semi-streamlined X-Seal pen, also mint and stickered. This is a rare model, and a puzzling one. The pen itself does not appear in any known catalog or advertisement, and though it shares features with other standard production models, its profile is different from any of them.
The X-Seal has been the subject of much speculation, as it appears not just on these pens, but also on regular production pens, albeit rarely. Its use follows no discernible pattern, so any scraps of information about how it was used are invaluable.
Unfortunately, the sticker on this pen is half gone. Nonetheless, it gives us some idea of the pen's original price point, and at least part of its model number. Considering how rare these pens are in any condition, to find one with sticker largely intact is no small thing.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Korean fakes: eBay seller on the move again

Our Korean criminal now is using a different user ID, sunpawel. At the moment he has only one item listed: a supposedly first-year Parker 51 set in the box. I will not go into all the details of why this is a fake, but I can assure you that this is an assemblage of newly-made parts and original (but not first-year) parts, deliberately put together to deceive.

Interestingly, his completed listings don't include any obvious frauds (the Duofold Senior is a possible exception), and indeed under this user name he has only two feedbacks as a seller, both very recent. This user account was registered December 8, 2010, and it seems that our forger used it primarily to buy (he has 170 feedbacks as a buyer, and the purchases that can be seen, are all, tellingly, of discolored or cracked Parker parts pens).

ADDENDUM: Hey, what a surprise: sunpawel was an active bidder on rttrfb/yeujeff/jeffriad's auctions! At least he left good feedback -- for himself. So not only a counterfeiter, but a bid manipulator as well. Too bad eBay makes it virtually impossible to report shill bidding, even when it is this flagrant.

UPDATE: That "first-year" set closed at $1025.01 on October 6. Had this set been genuine, this would still have been a very high price, well above what the best-established and most reputable dealers would charge at full retail. Unfortunately, the "winning" bidder (markjia) appears to be a real collector and not one of the Korean faker's shill bidding accounts.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Korean fakes: new eBay ID

Korean vintage Parker forger jeffriad/yeujeff now has a new eBay user ID: rttrfb-- buyers beware!
As yet, he does not appear to have any active listings (and all those that appear under completed listings are from July and earlier), but the fact that he has changed his user name suggests that he is planning to start up his counterfeiting business once again.

Previous posts about his fakes can be found here and here. You can see his eBay user ID history here. Quite a few name changes, and no wonder: rttrfb since September 12; yeujeff from June 9; jeffriad from June 28, 2011; koyo6te from March 27, 2011; yeu2002 from November 25, 2009; sasu159 from June 21, 2009; hasu4321 from October 16, 2008; and hasuk4321 from February 13, 2008.

UPDATE: Still no action under the rttrfb ID -- but a fake first-year Parker 51 set has just been listed under the eBay ID sunpawel -- yet another alias for the same crook (more here).

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Seal-top English Waterman

Pen books give ample coverage to Waterman's American production, but European-made pens and pencils have not been so thoroughly or systematically illustrated and discussed (a notable exception being the Waterman Safety book by Dansi, Jacopini, and Verduci). This 9K gold English-market Waterman is an example of the sort of pen that leaves many collectors puzzled. Is that seal stone in the cap top original, or is it a jeweler's customization?
Waterman pens with seal-stone tops seem to have been most popular in Britain and France, though they are not at all common. In the USA they were special order items, with one shown in Waterman's 1908 catalog. Nearly all of these, however, were slip-cap eyedropper-filling pens (examples here, here, and here); lever-fillers with seal tops are far scarcer.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Quink Concentrate

At just two inches (5 cm) high, this is one of Parker's smallest Quink ink bottles. The instructions on the side of the box state:
Pour the contents of the phial into a 4-OZ. bottle and fill with CLEAN COLD WATER.
In doing this BE SURE TO RINSE out the phial several times to make certain that ALL the content is used.
Quink Concentrate was a WW2-era product, marketed in the UK. The ad below explains more, noting that "the bottle shortage is greater than ever". The need to economize on shipping was a major concern during wartime; another response to this need was "V-mail", in which letters were copied to microfilm and re-printed at the letter's destination. Unused WW2-era V-mail ink is still commonly found in the USA.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A very early Waterman lever-filler

This pen is one of the earliest Waterman lever-fillers I have yet seen. Early PSF-series lever-fillers have the narrow raised barrel threads, but much less common is the form of the lever, shown below, stamped of thinner metal than later examples, with a small end with a narrow margin around the globe logo imprint, and plated rather than gold filled.
The recess for the lever end is also distinctive, and also rather crude compared to later examples. It is flat-bottomed and appears to have been made by milling a simple oblong depression -- basically just two overlapping circular recesses.
Early Waterman lever-fillers with the raised threads normally also have a sprung two-piece pressure bar, as shown below. The J-shaped spring has a T-shaped end, which toggles into a slot in the rigid pressure bar. Unlike later pressure bars, this bar is not toggled to the end of the lever, and the matching lever lacks the necessary tabs or "ears" to engage a later pressure bar.
This pen, however, has an even more unusual pressure bar. It too is two-piece and sprung, but here the spring has a C-shaped base to hold it in the barrel, and its other end is permanently attached to the rigid pressure bar by a single rivet.



UPDATE:
Here is a better close-up of the lever box area, which also shows another very early feature: the bent-over tab that serves as a lever stop, rather than the solid crossbar that is seen on all later Waterman lever boxes. At the bottom is a comparison shot of another early PSF with raised threads and sprung two-piece pressure bar, but with the more familiar lever box construction and fingernail groove in the lever end recess.

Friday, September 7, 2012

John W. Greaton, gold nib maker and metallurgist

Several years ago, before the value of gold began to climb, I bought a hoard of gold dip pen nibs. They were clearly early, many bearing dates in the early 1850s, and were all marked "John W. Greaton". They appeared to be new old stock, though some had been "tested" with a file to see if they were indeed solid gold; most of them are shown in the photo above -- note that the ones in the photo are big nibs, what later makers might call #6 to #7-size.

At the time, there was no Google Books, and I did not have the time to dig out information about Greaton by traveling to multiple libraries and sifting through old city directories and microfilmed periodicals. Now, however, basic research of this sort is much easier, so I can share the following about Greaton and his nibmaking career.

As it turns out, Greaton left the gold nib business early, gaining fame in his subsequent career as a chemist and metallurgist. His obituary appeared in The American Stationer, vol. 1, April 1, 1897, pp. 528-29:
John W. Greaton, who was engaged at one time in the manufacture of gold pens at 23 Maiden lane, New York, died at his home, 326 Union street, Brooklyn, N. Y., on March 26, at the age of seventy-four years.

Mr. Greaton was born on January 1, 1823, on Pump street near Shinbone Alley, New York, which are now known as Pearl street and Chatham square. When he left the gold pen business he became a chemist and an assayer. He invented a solder on copper which would not eat through gold, for which he was offered $50,000. When the Government began the manufacture of five-cent nickel pieces Mr. Greaton instructed the men at the mint how to alloy the metal so that the coin would not break the die. He had a laboratory in the rear of his home, where he conducted his experiments, and where, during which, he lost the sight of one eye.

In 1854 he removed to Brooklyn, where he became estranged from his family. This so affected him that he retired from business altogether, and spent the greater part of his remaining life in his library with his books (of which he had a large number) as his companions, counsellors and sympathizers.

He is survived by a widow, one son and two daughters.
An obituary in the New York Herald of March 27, 1897, p. 12, col. 2, also noted that Greaton "took an interest in educational affairs, [and] was a member of the Society of Cincinnati." His bibliophily is also noted in The Library Journal and The Art Collector, but without specifics.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Snorkel springs are here at last!

Rusted Snorkel springs have long been the repairman's bane. Original replacements simply aren't available, and no matter how hard one works to remove the rust, rusted springs never seem to end up smooth enough to prevent the Snorkel mechanism from feeling as if it were full of sand. But now we have newly-made reproductions, which will get your Snorkel operating as smoothly and cleanly as new! They are already listed in our website catalog, and on eBay, three for $18 (and much less in quantity).
At the same time, we decided to make some PFM springs as well. Other reproduction PFM springs have been offered before, but at a retail price of $10. We have cut that price in half, with substantial further discounts for quantity purchases. See them in our catalog and on eBay.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Wiley, another gold nib manufacturing pioneer

Although this entry is primarily about William E. Wiley, it also bears upon our ongoing research into the behind-the-scenes activities of Simeon Hyde in the early years of gold nib manufacture on both sides of the Atlantic.

Several years ago, the late John C. Loring published an article, "The Transatlantic Beginnings of the Gold Pen" (Stylus, Feb/March 2004, pp. 61-63), in which he perceptively noted Hyde's central role in buying Hawkins' gold nib business. Loring went on to speculate about Hyde's ongoing management of the business, proposing that "For the following fifteen years [from 1835], Hyde maintained gold pen factories in London and New York", also suggesting that since gold nibs were soon being made much more cheaply and in much greater quantity in America than in Great Britain, Hyde must have been bringing semifinished nibs from New York to be finished in London and resold as British. The evidence Loring provided does not support these conclusions (and other evidence opposes, such as the rarity of early British gold nibs and the fundamental differences in shape and form from their American counterparts), though in some cases it poses interesting questions -- such as the reason for the sudden drop in gold nib prices in London in 1850, a halving of the going price.

Loring tied this price drop to Simeon Hyde's departure from England in September 1848 after selling out his interest in the gold nib business to his partner, Francis Mordan (the departure and the change in ownership were noted by Frank Crosbie, cited by Samantha Grose and Jim Marshall, Francis Mordan and the Everlasting Pen, p. 22, but further corroboration of Hyde's places of residence and business dealings in the 1840s would be highly desirable). This doesn't make a lot of sense, however; if Hyde really had been taking advantage of American production efficiency in order to reduce the labor cost of gold nibs sold in England (itself completely unsupported speculation), one would expect English nib prices to go up, not down, once he left the scene.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Two early fountain pens

At the Washington, DC pen show this year I was fortunate to be able to acquire two rather esoteric bits of fountain pen history. Both formerly belonged to Mike Fultz; after he died, they ended up with a pen friend, who very kindly held them for me for months after I expressed interest, until we could finally get together in person at a show to work out a deal.
The older is a metal pen whose design owes much to contemporary propelling pencils, including the inset seal stone in the crown. The nib is extended by pushing forward the sliding collar at the rear, but that's not all, as it also reveals an opening with a thumb-operated pressure bar -- a very early sleeve-filler.
How early? It is marked "DARLING'S PATENT", the patentee being John Darling, of Stane, Lanark County, Scotland. The pen's design corresponds, albeit not exactly, to USA patent 68418, issued September 3, 1867. Darling had already successfully applied for British patents, including 3215, issued December 6, 1866, 74, issued January 11, 1867, and 288, issued February 2, 1867 (the last discussed but not illustrated in the Cantor Lectures), but as yet I only have these patents' titles, so cannot say if they differ substantially from the US patent in any key details. The US patent describes two main variants: in the first, the pressure bar was intended to be used to keep the underside of the nib supplied with ink (the feed was really nothing more than a bent tube) with the pen's reservoir to be filled by opening the end and pouring in ink; in the second, a second barrel aperture was added, the pressure bar being depressed through both apertures in order to fill the pen. It now seems obvious that the second aperture was redundant, and that a single central aperture would serve equally well to both fill the pen and expel ink as required, and this is fact appears to be how the pen shown above was made to be used, as there is no provision for opening the end of the reservoir and hence no other way the pen could have been filled. The pen appears to be of British rather than American manufacture, judging from its overall styling and appearance.
The second pen took a little more research to identify. The key was the October 2, 1877 patent date on its side. This would have been USA patent 195719, issued to John Morrow Might and William Hope Taylor of Toronto (Canadian patent 6462, awarded August 24, 1876; British patent 7617, awarded July 10, 1877). The construction is typical of contemporary US retracting dip pens and mechanical pencils, with similar gold filled trim and hard rubber components bearing the Day's patent stamp. The original cap is missing, and the patent drawings are not close enough to the actual pen to give a good idea of what the cap looked like. There are a number of features on the pen that do not appear in the drawings, including a rotating shut-off valve at the front of the barrel and the sliding collar which seems to have been intended to compress the internal sac by pushing inwards upon the slotted barrel. There is no nib, but interestingly enough the US patent explicitly states that the pen is designed to use "any ordinary pen-nib" (it is also noteworthy that the patent uses "pen" and "nib" in their modern senses).

UPDATE: The full Canadian patent may be viewed here -- thanks to George Kovalenko for the pointer.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

More pens of the famous

We know where Isaac Pitman's personal pen is; but what about these pens, noted in the American Stationer of 1909?
Dickens is as popular now as ever, so who knows what one of his pens might sell for now ("Boz" was a Dickens pen-name).
 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Isaac Pitman's pen

How did I miss this, back in 2004?
The gold-nibbed pen used by shorthand pioneer Sir Isaac Pitman has been sold at auction in Bath for more than £700.
The pen belonging to Sir Isaac, who lived in city, was valued at between £80 and £120 by Bonhams auctioneers.

 It was part of a sale of items from his home in Bath's Royal Crescent and the Pitman family home of Eastcourt House near Malmesbury, Wiltshire.
From the BBC, which provides only a very small image of the pen, taken from the Bonhams catalog entry ("An F. Mordans pen with turned wooden body and gold nib"), still available online with a zoomable picture. The Trowbridge Museum was reportedly unsuccessful in their attempt to acquire the pen for their collection, but as of 2007 the pen had found another and equally appropriate home:
A 170-year-old pen which belonged to Sir Isaac Pitman, the creator of the revolutionary method of shorthand, is now on display in Wetherby.

The gold-nibbed pen he used to create the system is set to inspire a new generation of Pitman students in the town's Pitman Training Group headquarters.

The wooden ink pen, which has a solid gold nib, was bought by the managing director of the group so it can join a small collection of Pitman artefacts on display at the Wetherby headquarters.
The Pitman Wetherby website is here, but it seems to be devoted strictly to business, with no mention of the pen or the other Pitman relics noted in the article.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Some uncommon Sheaffers

From top to bottom: a gold filled "Pigmy" (lengthy discussion of the model here; often misspelled "Pygmy", rare in any form, but especially so with overlay); Canadian "reverse trim" Lifetime Balance (silver striated with gold filled rather than the usual chrome trim); Canadian Lifetime Balance with Clipper-style clip; oversize Univer flat-top (sub-brand models are usually small economy pens); large WASP Clipper plunger-filler (not rare, but uncommon and attractive). All picked up at the Washington, DC pen show last week.

The Univer is also interesting in that it illustrates how Sheaffer created more color variety in its Univer line, taking a standard Dupont black and pearl and giving it a coat of tinted nitrocellulose lacquer. This was most commonly done with green or red lacquer. In this case, decades of wear and polishing have left some areas only thinly covered, revealing the original black and pearl color underneath.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Waterman 1893 Columbian Exposition medal

Pen makers proudly advertised the medals they had won at industrial fairs and international expositions. Waterman was awarded numerous medals of this sort -- so many, that they had replicas made so that a full panoply of awards could be exhibited in multiple locations.

This recently-acquired example is a an electrotype copy of the large bronze medal received by the Waterman company at Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Electrotypes were extremely precise copies made by plating a thick layer of copper into a mold of the original object. "Thick" is relative, however, as the copper shell was still thin enough to require backing, typically being filled with lead alloy to give support and weight.
 
That is the case with this medal; the construction method is easily visible in the seam running around the rim. There are some very deep dents to the rim as well, due to the softness of the lead core.
Although by definition not as rare as original award medals (each of which is, normally, unique), original electrotype copies are nonetheless extremely rare. It is likely that only a handful of copies were made of each medal, and in over 20 years of collecting, the number of surviving examples I have run across is few indeed.