Saturday, January 7, 2017

One discovery inside another

Experienced Waterman collectors have long been familiar with the giant mottled hard rubber straight-cap illustrated in Fischler and Schneider’s “Blue Book” (Fountain Pens and Pencils: The Golden Age of Writing Instruments, first ed. 1990), where it was described as significantly larger than all known #8-size straight-caps, and possibly being #10-size. This pen was discovered some 30 years ago, purchased at a California flea market along with a large group of Waterman Ripples. No similar pen has turned up since. The pen remained in the collection of its original finder for many years until being sold to a European collector. The dispersal of that collection several years ago made possible yet another discovery.

The pen was originally found without a nib, and is comparable in size to Watermans that carry a #10 nib at 15.6 cm long, closed, with a cap easily wide enough to accommodate a nib of that size. Nonetheless, the section and feed are clearly sized to hold a #8 nib, not a #10 – not even an early, ventless, example. Nor could the pen be as early as Fischler and Schneider dated it, for the barrel imprint includes the August 4, 1903 patent date, as does the feed. Though it has gone unremarked to date, the feed is unique: neither three-fissure nor spoon feed, it is narrow and rectangular in section, with ink-trapping channels running parallel and on either side of the central feed channel. These ink-trapping channels do not open to the sides, and are only vented to the underside by means of short slots that are almost entirely hidden inside the section; these slots appear to serve the same function as the holes found on the underside of the largest Waterman spoon feeds, where the holes connect to the semicircular side cutouts. This design is otherwise unknown, and does not appear in any Waterman patent – though it is boldly imprinted with the dates for spoon feed patents 625722 and 735659, from 1899 and 1903. As noted in a previous post ("An unusual Waterman feed"), the slots would seem to be most closely connected to Weidlich's US patent 760,829 of 1904. The feed was carefully removed for photography, then replaced in the exact position as found. The ink residue on both section and feed left no doubt that the feed had not previously been removed.

On first examination, a small axial pillar was noted inside the barrel, loosely mounted. Since it was apparent that the posting end was made from a separate piece of hard rubber, I attempted to unscrew it. To my surprise and astonishment, the pen was revealed to be a pump-filler – the “pillar” being the weight-holding shaft, the applied metal weight having disintegrated to powder, as is often seen.

Although the pen is extremely large, the pump itself is not comparably oversized. Instead, the inside diameter of the barrel is reduced at the back by means of an insert – the separate piece probably the result of using tube rather than rod stock for the barrel. The ink residue again indicated a pen untouched for decades. One final anomaly is the barrel imprint, which is upside down when the pen is held in the right hand in writing position. I have seen only one other Waterman with such an imprint: a prototype pump-filler, acquired several years ago along with a number of other experimental non-production items from the granddaughter of a Waterman employee – an employee whose identity I was unfortunately unable to trace.

Why the inverted imprint? I think both pens may have belonged to the same person, someone who played a central role in design and engineering at Waterman – and who was, in all likelihood, left-handed. The prime candidate is none other than William Irving Ferris, the engineering genius responsible for nearly every significant Waterman innovation from the 1890s on, and most prominently, the spoon feed and the pump-filler (more on Ferris here; I have had no success to date in determining if Ferris was indeed left-handed).

For the moment, this is only speculation – though it is hard to imagine who else could have been responsible for this pen’s unique combination of extraordinary features. If it was not Ferris, it would have to have been someone just like him: yet as far as we know, Ferris was one of a kind – as is this pen.

NOTE: The photos above were taken in 2009, immediately after the pen was first thoroughly examined and its special features noted. They are being shared with the full permission of the pen's current owner. I have since confirmed that all its previous owners were entirely unaware that it was a pump-filler. The delay in publication is my own fault, as I mistakenly believed I had already posted on it.


TTTTTTT said...

As you know, Ferris' signature appears on all of his patents. Perhaps consultation with a handwriting expert could help establish whether the signature is written by someone who is left-handed.

David said...

Thought of that already, and apparently it's not really something one can determine with any certainty from a signature alone.

Jeffrey Krasner said...


I have a very interesting pen: it's a Waterman 78 (like a 58 but an eyedropper not a lever filler). It has the same imprint as the #8 size pen you feature, but in standard "right-hand" configuration. The hard rubber is wild, like the cap of the pen in your article. Very zany, seems experimental. Mostly red with thin streamers and small blotches of black. It also has the weird feed with the slots and the May 23, '99/August 4, 190? imprint. Has an early-looking #8 nib like your pen. BIG PROBLEM: I only have the barrel, feed, section and nib, no cap. Would love to share a photo with you. Let me know how to send you a photo. Jeff Krasner, Boston, P.S. I also found a similar slotted feed in a #2 Waterman recently.

David said...

Looking forward to seeing pictures. I wouldn't assume that the HR was experimental, though, so much as old-fashioned: mottled, rather than woodgrain. Some Waterman mottled HR is almost all one color or the other.
Note that the straight-cap pump-filler does not belong to me, and that the nib it carries is not original to the pen.