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.


hvillepenman said...

Hello David,

I'm the fellow that sold you the Waterman pen at the Washington show. The pen originally came from a friend of my wife, who (the friend) lives in the Rochester NY area. The friend said she found the pen at a garage sale or a yard sale around Rochester. She will buy fountain pens when she finds one and she had several Esterbrooks as well as the Waterman.

I'm glad that the Waterman cleaned up so nicely. It really looks good in the photograph.

Thanks for making our hobby more interesting.


David said...

Thanks for the additional info, Jim. It's pretty neat that unusual pens still keep turning up, whether from old collections or from yard sales or even from pen show parts boxes.