Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hispanexco: Diamond Points for export

I stumbled across this advertisement recently in The Mexican Mining Journal, vol. 6 (April 1908), p. 31. The distinctive clip immediately identifies the pen as a Diamond Point, as one can see from the ad below which ran in American Exporter, vol. 61 (Jun 1908), p. 140.

The Hispano-American Export Company even kept the same model numbers, but they added a generous markup: $2 for a basic No. 50 eyedropper, including registered mail "to any post office in the world", for a model that could be bought from the manufacturer for $7.50 per dozen (I haven't been able to determine exactly how much the shipping would have been, but at the time registration cost only ten cents, and a domestic letter only two).

I've never actually run across any pens marked "Hispanexco" or "Hispano-American Export Co.", nor can I find any discussion online. But I've not done any buying in the Americas outside of the USA and Canada, so I'm hoping my pen friends south of the border will chime in if they've seen any. Some of the Hispanexco pens were fancier, too, as we see from this ad in a Spanish-language magazine published in Buffalo, New York (América, vol. 1 (July 1908), p. A13).

Diamond Point does seem to have been pushing export sales. Looking back through old copies of American Exporter, there aren't many fountain pen companies paying for ads, and most advertised for a just a year or two. Diamond Point wasn't advertising in 1907, but made a tentative start in 1908 (Modern/A. A. Waterman, Smith, and Wirt were the other penmakers advertising that year, all taking out much more ad space). In 1909 Diamond Point became a regular advertiser, joining A. A. Waterman and Crocker.

And if we look all the way back to 1897, a large contingent from South and Central America came to the Northeast to visit the big industrial exhibition that opened that summer in Providence, Rhode Island. Diamond Point placed a large bilingual advertisement, shown above, right below the long and detailed writeup of their visit in the Jewelers' Circular (vol. 34 (June 23, 1897), p. 27).

Friday, December 18, 2015

Fine silver overlay construction

The differences between early fine silver (.999) overlays and later overlays in sterling silver (.925) go well beyond metal content. Sterling silver overlays were made from sheet stock, rolled into tubes. Fine silver overlays were made by electrodeposition, and instead of being pushed onto a hard rubber pen, they were generally plated in place. On the barrel, a recess was cut so that when the silver was deposited, the surface of the silver would be level with that of the adjacent hard rubber. Cuts were made into the surface of the hard rubber where the silver was to go; once the silver was plated into and over these cuts, the overlay would be locked in place -- which is why you never see a fine silver overlay that has rotated or shifted, whereas this is common with sterling silver overlays, even where they have been crimped in place.

This construction is clearly visible in these photos of a Waterman barrel which formerly carried a fine silver filigree overlay.

Fine silver was also used for some of Waterman's early non-filigree overlays, such as this acid-etched half-overlay shown below. The same method of construction was used, and the photo clearly shows how the surface of the silver is level with that of the hard rubber. In this case the metal is not marked as being fine silver, but it is apparent that is what it must be.

There are other construction details that can also indicate electrodeposited fine silver, even when the metal is marked "STERLING", as is often the case. This is especially common in brands other than Waterman, perhaps due to sterling being by far more recognized by the general public, then and now.

The blobby splash of silver on the rim of the cap of this Waterman is a giveaway. Surface lumps simply don't occur on sterling silver flat sheet stock (or tube stock, though this was not the norm until much later). Another giveaway on filigree pens is scoring of the hard rubber at the perimeter of the cutouts, where the workman cut a little too deeply through the soft silver. This is generally not found on overlays made from sterling sheet stock, where the cutting must have been done with the overlay mounted on a mandrel. This clearly wasn't an option when fine silver was plated directly onto the hard rubber cap.

Scoring of this sort isn't always found on fine silver filigrees, however, especially on pens where the silver layer is very thin. As noted in a 1909 article (The Metal Industry, vol. 7, no. 7 (July 1909), pp. 241-242), selective deposition was another method used, as was removal of material by either reverse plating or dissolving with acid. Although I seem to have misplaced the photo, I own a Waterman "Chased" 222 with a "STERLING" mark in relief, which could only have been done by one of these three techniques, strongly suggesting that the entire overlay is actually electrodeposited fine silver. And while the 1909 article only discusses deposition directly onto caps and barrels, there is an illustration of what appears to be a Waterman Puritan/Patch -- confirming that complex relief work was being done by deposition and not just flat surfaces.

How might this have been done? I would posit that instead of plating directly onto hard rubber, a layer of pitch would have been applied, and the relief design impressed into the pitch. The impressions would be retouched by hand as necessary, then the pitch given a conductive coating and plated. The design would be somewhat softened, in essence being molded from the back, but could be sharpened by judicious use of hand chasing. The alternative would be to plate inside a multipart female mold, which would also require some hand finishing to clean away seam lines.

Much surely remains to be discovered about the making of overlays. As a final snippet, I will add the following, which appears in the previous issue of the same journal (The Metal Industry, vol. 7, no. 6 (June 1909), p. 234):
Geo. T. Byers, 69 John street, New York, manufacturer of gold and silver chased work, has recently put in a plant for silver deposit work on fountain pens, etc.
ADDENDUM: The image below illustrates how the cuts made into the hard rubber before plating could leave visible traces on the electrodeposited silver surface. These "nicks" are commonly found on thinner overlays, and are usually assumed to be the result of wear and usage rather than artifacts of original manufacturing methods.

Which came first: the blue, or the diamond?

1941 Parker 51 filler with diamond imprint

Hindsight bias is a powerful thing.
For pen people, the Blue Diamond guarantee mark is indelibly associated with Parker. So when I recently catalogued some pens and pencils made by Parker for resale by Sears under their Diamond Medal and Webster house brands, I didn't think twice before writing that their imprints incorporated the Parker diamond logo. And then, the realization suddenly hit me: these Sears imprints were from the mid-1930s, a few years before Parker first put the Blue Diamond on its own pens. Whose logo was that diamond anyway?

I have not had much luck with my trademark search efforts so far, but the diamond in these imprints was already part of Sears' Diamond Medal logo back in the 1920s.

Originally posted by ToasterPastry at Fountain Pen Network
Without the medal, however, the diamond by itself would not have been an easy trademark to defend. Diamond Point had been using a diamond-shaped logo (with lettering inside) going back to the hard rubber eyedropper era. So when Parker began using the Blue Diamond as its lifetime guarantee mark in 1939, Sears might not have been able to do much about it -- the question remaining open, however, regarding Sears' opinion of the "borrowing".

In a recent article Jon Veley makes a compelling case that Sheaffer's White Dot was copied from Dunhill's White Spot -- an instance of trademark appropriation that was entirely legal, since Dunhill's mark had been registered for "tobacco products" and not for writing instruments. The background to Parker's Blue Diamond mark differs, in that both the Blue Diamond and its precursors were registered for the same class of items, color being added to set the marks sufficiently apart. Nonetheless, it now appears that both of these two famous pen trademarks were not purely original creations.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Edward Todd enameled pen puzzle

This Edward Todd came to me recently, bringing to three the number of similar enameled ringtops sitting around the shop (one was profiled here last year). Unlike the other two, which are both lever-fillers, this one is an eyedropper-filler. Like the others, it is fully marked on the end of the barrel. But while the others came with their apparently-original Edward Todd nibs, this one had a Wahl Tempoint nib instead. My first impulse  was to dig out a suitable Edward Todd nib to swap in, but then it struck me that the section profile wasn't right, either, as it was identical to that found on early Wahls and their Boston precursors. Ditto for the feed.

But wait: this pen is an eyedropper, so if this were a Wahl or Boston section, the section's threads would have to match. Yet after digging into my store of Wahl and Boston eyedroppers, I found that the threads don't match. Their dimensions are correct, but while the Wahl and Boston threads are all single-start, the Edward Todd's threads are triple!

From top to bottom: Edward Todd lever-filler, Edward Todd eyedropper, Wahl eyedropper

Why anyone would use triple-start threads for an eyedropper's section joint is beyond me. It makes opening and closing the pen marginally faster, but at the cost of increasing the risk of the section coming unscrewed unintentionally. In any case, there can be little doubt that the section now in my newly-acquired pen is the original. The threads are one indication; the other is the Edward Todd lever-filler shown at the top of the picture above, whose section (press-fit) has a similarly Wahl-like exterior profile -- though the feed is simple and unfinned. So I'm not going to do any switching of sections, feeds, or nibs, though I am now wondering if Edward Todd was purchasing hard rubber components from Wahl or Boston. If so, that still doesn't explain the presence of the Tempoint nib, since Edward Todd consistently used own-marked nibs throughout the company's history. Just a coincidence, a Wahl nib put into a Wahl-made Edward Todd section? If any readers have any other data points, please let me know. I have several other non-enameled Edward Todds somewhere around the house, and when I locate them I'll check to see if any have similar sections or feeds.

NOTE: While Mabie Todd sections can have a similar profile -- a cylinder, a conical taper, and another conical taper -- the cylindrical part is markedly wider than on the Wahl and Boston sections, and the transition between the cylinder and the adjoining taper is generally more rounded.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The opposite of flex

While some sought flexibility, others required rigidity -- and nibs didn't get much more rigid than this. The "Beaver" has a steel nib, shaped so as to provide channels to conduct and hold ink by capillary action. From what I have been able to find, it was introduced in the early 1920s, and was made in England.

The nib writes quite smoothly. "Indestructible" isn't much of an exaggeration -- this tip might as well have been advertised as "armor piercing".

Monday, November 2, 2015

Measuring nib flexibility, continued

It has taken some time to follow up on my proposed method of measuring nib flex as a function of writing pressure. The sample above was done on Clairefontaine paper, using a classic vintage extra-fine flexible dip pen nib, the Spencerian No. 1 Double-Elastic. Once the weighting of the pivot arm was set, using a digital scale, the nib was inked and set down on the paper, which was withdrawn to make the sample line.  In this preliminary trial, four weights were used: 15, 50, 150, and 200 grams. Line widths were 0.2, 0.5, 1.4, and 1.85 mm. Since this is a nib prized by calligraphers for its flexibility, it offers us a handy benchmark. We will be posting further test results shortly.

UPDATE: Below are improved test sheets for three different nibs: the Spencerian No. 1 (again); an extremely flexible Ladd & Miller #4 gold nib; and a flexible Fairchild #6, also gold. The ink was blue washable Quink, and the paper was our usual testing standard, Rhodia with a 5 mm grid. Weights used were 10, 25, 50, 100, and 150 grams. In our previous test we pushed the Spencerian No. 1 up to 200 grams, which it can safely handle, but 150 grams was pretty much the safe limit for our two gold nibs. Less flexible gold nibs could easily handle more pressure, of course, and would be tested accordingly.


Note that the Fairchild is very similar to the Spencerian within this range of pressure, with similar snapback as well (not something we are attempting to measure here, however). The Ladd & Miller nib has a larger tip, but it opens up with markedly less pressure than the other two nibs, both of which would be classified as full flex.

UPDATE: Some more nibs now added, updated chart below. Note that the Esterbrook 9788 Renew-Point was an unusual specimen, significantly more flexible than the norm.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sheaffer demonstrator packing unit

Lately I've been working on new techniques for disassembling Sheaffer plunger-fillers with Triumph nibs. Getting those nib units out without damaging anything can be very tricky. While testing different approaches on various pens, I came across the inner barrel shown above. It's not uncommon to see the reuse of scrap material in hidden components, but the scrap is usually not transparent, as here. As is, it gives a good view of how a Sheaffer packing unit was constructed, with stacked layers of rubber sheet and grease-soaked felt.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

"Polypoint" three-color magic pencil

Three-color mechanical pencils are not uncommon. Nearly all use some form of slider to extend and retract the three nozzles. Much less common are those which make use of other mechanisms: twist-action and drop-action come to mind, with a tripling of the standard single-nozzle version's complexity. Taking it to the next level is this three-color magic pencil, where pulling the barrel back extends one of three nozzles, depending on how the forepart is rotated.

As with other high-quality three-color pencils, this example is sterling silver with hard enameled color indicators in red, blue, and black. While most are English-made, this one appears to be of American manufacture. Construction is solid, with considerable heft and fine attention to detail, but the nozzles are one-piece and not marked with the lead size -- marking that was the norm in Britain.

The only marks are found on the inner shaft: "PAT. APPL'D FOR" and "STERLING", followed by an unreadably small maker's mark that at first glance might be taken for Hicks's acorn.

After a quick look through our writing instrument patent reference library (and with special thanks to the compilations of Jonathan Veley), however, it became clear that the minuscule maker's mark must be that of Edward Todd, for the pencil's distinctive mechanism is none other than the one described in John C. Haring's US patent 940,247 for a "Polypoint Pencil", assigned to Edward Todd. The application was filed August 17, 1908, patent was issued November 16, 1909, allowing us to date this example within that span.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Nib blocks for all

Our latest project is just in -- affordable nib blocks, made in clear acrylic. A nib block is an essential tool for pen repair, allowing one to straighten bent nibs against either a matching concave or convex surface, using an appropriately-shaped burnishing tool to apply the necessary pressure to straighten and counter-bend. Nib blocks have traditionally been made of tool steel, but vintage blocks seldom hit the market and newly-made blocks have only been made in very limited numbers, the expense of manufacture and finishing keeping their prices in the hundreds of dollars.

Some years ago, we bought a group of old nib blocks from a long-established pen repair service in England. Most were tool steel in various shapes, but a couple were made of acrylic. Though they had some superficial scuffing and scratches from decades of hard use, they were still as good as ever, which inspired us to use the same material for a new run of nib blocks, enabling them to be priced at a level affordable for every pen hobbyist.

In fact, while there are some applications where steel has no substitute -- hammering, for example, and heavy-duty burnishing for displacement and hardening of metal -- acrylic has the advantage of having just a slight degree of "give", just enough to allow one to use pressure to apply bending force, as when one wants to straighten by counter-bending. Metal doesn't allow this, which is why a strip of thin paper is sometimes laid over a metal block to provide that "give" that the bare block lacks.

The blocks are now listed in our website catalog here, at $25 each. They are also available on eBay. We'll be bringing some along to the next few pen shows we attend, which will be Madrid and Los Angeles.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Waterman five-color Ripple

When I was new to pen collecting, I heard of (but never got to see) Waterman Ripples in experimental colors, colors other than the standard red and black, Olive Ripple, Blue-Green Ripple, and Rose Ripple. So when I was offered such a pen at this last Washington, DC pen show, I counted myself lucky indeed -- not to mention thankful, since a number of fellow collectors kindly helped steer the pen my way.

The vivid colors seen in the photo at top were not clearly in evidence at the time. A better idea of what the pen looked like can be had from the picture immediately above. It looked like an odd Olive Ripple with streaks of green, though the section, protected from fading, gave some idea of the material's original appearance.

As it turned out, the pen cleaned up beautifully. In addition to the tan, brown, and green, there is red and a bit of black. It may seem nitpicky, but the patterning of the cap and barrel doesn't match especially well -- not so much in the shape of the rippling as in the balance of the colors. Nearly all multicolor hard rubbers use just two colors, for the difficulty of getting even and consistent patterning increases rapidly as more colors are added. This isn't so much of an issue for artisanal production or for items sold face to face. For mass-produced pens marketed primarily through print advertising and catalogs, however, too much variation in appearance causes problems. Although I cannot prove it, I do believe the desire for consistency of appearance was the main impetus for the move from the amorphous mottling of early 20th-century pens to the more regular woodgrain patterning of the 1920s, out of which Waterman in turn developed its "Ripple".

Our understanding of how Ripple hard rubber was made is still incomplete. It seems likely that the process involved extrusion of tubes, which were mounted on mandrels for vulcanization. Looking inside the mouth of the barrel, there is almost no patterning visible inside, just an even biscuit color. From my experience having had patterned hard rubber made, I would bet that the variation between cap, barrel, and section stock is no accident, and that this was the best matching that could be done with the material available. Indeed, with such an ambitious combination of colors, it is probable that much of the experimental stock was entirely unusable.

Restoration of the pen was conservative. The surface was gently cleaned with a fine abrasive paste, in a water-based medium, and the cap band was temporarily dismounted in order to remove a dent.. The only part replaced was the missing lever box, into which the original lever was mounted. Though they may not be visible in the photos, the imprints are strong, though there is no model number imprinted on the barrel end.

Sheaffer 18KP trim

It had been at least 20 years since I'd seen another, and very possibly closer to 25. I have only seen one other, and it's been so long I cannot remember who owned it -- though it wasn't any of the leading Sheaffer collectors of the present day, none of whom could recall ever having seen an example.

So what is this mysterious "it"? A Sheaffer with trim marked "18KP", "P" undoubtedly standing for "platinum" [see addendum below - D]. This set came my way this past weekend, sold out of a collection reportedly in storage for the past few decades. Clips, cap band, crown, and nozzle are all fully marked, and are yellow-tinged white in color. Paradoxically, the one example I had seen long ago had trim that to all appearances was gold. I recall the discussion that ensued, since the markings didn't seem at all consistent with gold or gold filled, while the color wasn't consistent with platinum. Perhaps the trim was mismarked, though it is possible it could have been plated by an owner who preferred the look of gold.

ADDENDUM: Another apparent inconsistency was the use of the18K mark with platinum, since platinum is normally at least 900 or 950 fine, but Daniel Kirchheimer has pointed out that the "P" must denote palladium, not platinum -- the mark therefore indicating 18K white gold.

Monday, August 31, 2015

California interlude

We had a fine time at the San Francisco pen show this weekend, and will soon be heading home with our purchases. It may take a few days to catch up once we do get back, but all should be sorted out by the end of the week. Thanks for your patience, as we've not been able to do much correspondence over the past several days.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A unique Moore self-filler

When I first saw this pen at the DC show, I assumed it was a Grieshaber. The knob at the end of the barrel, the chunky cap with a fancy extra-wide band, all are distinctive features of Grieshaber hump-fillers. So much so, that when I was informed it was in fact a Moore, my initial reaction was disbelief.

Yet the barrel imprint leaves no doubt about it, and though the nib seems outsized, it too is Moore-marked.

Whereas the Grieshaber hump-filler (produced under US patent 956895 of 1910) uses an end knob to lock the hump to prevent accidental actuation of the attached pressure bar, this pen's end knob turns in place to actuate a rotating cover plate. This Moore is a sleeve-filler, with a rotating internal sleeve akin to that used by Century, as covered by Mooney's US patent 879,296 of 1908 -- the difference being that Century attached the sleeve to a rotatable section instead of a rotatable end knob. And though I have not been able to track down a patent, I have been able to find a Grieshaber sleeve-filler with the very same arrangement, though with cap and barrel proportioned more conventionally. On balance, it seems certain that this Moore was made by Grieshaber, an experimental venture into self-fillers for a company built on safety pens.


I have collected Moores for many years, concentrating on unusual mechanisms and configurations. Models that others marvel at -- Twistouts, ink-pellet pens, stylographic safeties, safety-like sleeve-fillers with sliding sleeves, cutaway demonstrators -- I've seen and owned them all. This Moore, however, is something completely new to me, and a wonderful reminder of how many discoveries remain to be made in our field of collecting.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A most unusual English-market chatelaine Waterman


This pen recently turned up at auction, fresh to the market. Even at first glance it was something out of the ordinary, a short (11.1 cm) #2-size straight-cap with a silver overlay in a seldom-seen and uncatalogued pattern, with London hallmarks for 1903/4 and FDW maker's mark leaving no doubt about it being a genuine factory-original product.

The side-mounted suspension ring is also clearly original, as there is a break in the straight-line chasing leaving a smooth area for its attachment. Upon reflection, however, this arrangement didn't make much sense. Other early 20th-century pens designed to hang by a chain fastened to a pin -- Swans and Houstons, for example -- had the chain anchored to the cap, so that the pen could be used freely once uncapped. A short chain attached to the pen's barrel wouldn't allow the pen to be used without unfastening the clip. Furthermore, the barrel lacked a posting end, which would leave the user holding the cap in one hand while dealing with a dangling chain and pin with the other.

When something doesn't make sense, it's a good indication to take another look. The only way I could imagine this pen working would be in a manner analogous to the chatelaine pen carriers popular in Britain in this era, with the visible barrel acting as a carrier for a removable barrel inside. And sure enough, there was an inner barrel -- though it took some time and effort to extract it, as it was cemented firmly in place by encrusted ink.

The inner barrel, once revealed, turned out to be finely line-chased in the manner uniformly used by Waterman for the inner components of telescoping assemblies (most commonly, two-part caps). Once removed from the outer barrel the pen does appear a bit ungainly, as the inner barrel is markedly smaller in diameter than the cap. It is entirely functional, however, and the cap can be posted on the barrel end in the usual way.