Friday, March 6, 2015

Why the Waterman 52?

Recently we've seen a spate of ridiculously high selling prices for plain black Waterman 52 pens with flexible nibs on eBay, with prices on similar Waterman 12 pens not far behind. These models are among the most common of quality vintage fountain pens, and are far and away the most common Watermans of the hard rubber era. Yet bidders seem willing to pay a premium of up to several hundred dollars for examples with very flexible nibs -- even flawed examples which have been reblackened or which have lost their clips, pens that up until a short time ago could be bought by the handful for a few tens of dollars (and of which there is certainly no shortage: many of us have bins full, as in the photo above). Clearly, these pens are not being bought by collectors. But why are the users who are spending so much on common-as-dirt Watermans ignoring other brands, and even higher-end Watermans that carry the same nibs?

As far as I can determine, it all began when pen fanciers new to vintage started asking online about how to find old pens with flexible nibs. They were typically told to seek out a Waterman 12 or 52 -- not because these pens were anything particularly special, but because they were plentiful, cheap, and could readily be found with a nib with some flex. In fact, there are other pens that are more frequently found with highly flexible nibs (for example, safeties, especially Moores; Conklin crescent-fillers; US-made Swans; sub-brands with nibs of thin gold), but pointing out the most common and most available models made perfect sense when recommending starter pens for the novice.

The unexpected result, however, was that the most common pens suddenly became the most sought-after. The Waterman 52, in particular, seems to have gained a bizarre cachet among flex-nib aficionados, who will diligently search them out while ignoring other models and especially other brands. This has left most vintage pen enthusiasts scratching their heads, while others have rushed to cash in on a bubble that clearly cannot be sustained indefinitely.

For while the demand for flexible nibs will surely continue, buyers will eventually realize that the supply consists of more than the Waterman 52 (or, for that matter, the 12 and the 7 -- and don't even get me started about the cult of the Pink and the "Artist's" nibs). At present, though, flex-nib bargains are to be had for those willing to broaden their horizons.


colin tatum said...

Until there is a non subjective standardized system of measuring a nibs flexibility people are going to go for what they perceive to be the safest bet for finding a flexible nib. Mauricio Aguilar does a pretty good one, but terms like light touch are so subjective. and little things like the angle you hold your hand at can greatly affect how flexible a nib is.

If there was something concrete, like a modern dip pen nib, that you could consistently compare to the different grades of fountain pen flexibility then it would make finding an accurately graded nib a lot easier for buyers.

i think it would take someone like you or Richard Binder backing it to gain widespread use.

David said...

I recently saw an old reference to a flex testing machine used by IIRC Wahl-Eversharp. I bet dip pen nib manufacturers also had something of the sort. Making a device that holds a nib at a standard angle and measures tine deflection as a function of downward pressure would be trivial. I suspect most buyers wouldn't want to dig through all the data, though.

So many flex nib sellers greatly exaggerate the capabilities of their nibs, pushing them far beyond sustainable levels of deflection, and using grossly excessive pressure. I just don't see a standardized flexibility grading system making a dent in this sort of hucksterism. Buyers will have to learn which sellers to trust.

penrookie said...

Where can I get a reasonably priced one (Waterman 52) though other than ebay?

David said...

Indeed, I'd recommend almost anywhere other than eBay! Pen shows, pen club meetings, other collectors, and of course dealers will all be good potential sources.