Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Waterman PSF chronology

When did Waterman first offer lever-fillers for sale, and what are the likely dates for the various design changes in the first few years of production? This is very much still a work in progress, but we're far enough along that I'd like to assemble and share the evidence compiled to date.

Though the first known appearance of lever-fillers in Waterman ads isn't until mid-March of 1915, the testimony in the Chapmans vs Waterman litigation indicates that they were put into production anywhere from a few to several months prior. We also have some circumstantial evidence from two patents, US1197360 (application Aug 17, 1914, issued Sep 5, 1916) and US1156748 (application Mar 19, 1915, issued Oct 12, 1915). The first patent is a big one, covering the classic Waterman lever box -- but it also covers a distinctive form of pressure bar with a spring attached by a rivet and anchored in the barrel with a sort of C-shaped base akin to that later used by Sheaffer. The second patent is more limited, covering the toggled two-piece sprung pressure bar commonly found in PSF-series pens.

In a blog post from 2012 an early PSF was discussed which has a pressure bar and lever box identical to those described in the first patent (second issued, but first applied for). Inasmuch as it predates the much more common toggled pressure bar of the second patent, it was most probably made between August 1914 and March 1915, and suggests that the first date may be taken as the probable start for Waterman lever-filler manufacture. As for the end of PSF production, my best estimate so far is late April to early May of 1917 for the changeover to the 5x model designation. That leaves us with a total PSF production span of two years and eight months, of which the first five to eight months might be regarded as test marketing leading up to a soft launch. The lack of advertising is telling, as is the extreme rarity of the earliest first-patent pens.

Setting aside the earliest PSFs for the moment, the series has two major design changes which we would like to be able to date. One is the change from narrow raised barrel threads to flat threads; the other is the change from the two-piece sprung pressure bar to the classic Waterman one piece unsprung bar toggled to the end of the lever. Both changes occurred at close to the same time, though the coincidence does not appear to be exact. Advertising images give us some indication of when raised threads were discontinued, as flat threads begin to show up in Waterman ads from October of 1916 and possibly somewhat earlier. There is some inconsistency, however, as raised threads do sporadically appear in later ads, likely the result of reuse of printing blocks. 

Ads are no help in dating the change in pressure bar design; we have to rely upon the evidence of the pens themselves. That evidence is not just individual, but also collective -- that is to say, we can glean some idea of what was made when by comparing the how many pens survive with what specific features. A full census of PSF pens would be an ambitious undertaking. What I have done so far is much more modest, taking my sample from pens in my parts boxes plus pens that have been through my catalog inventory over the past 25 years. 

This sample yields a total of 73 pens with raised threads vs. 36 with flat threads, almost exactly a 2:1 ratio. Given our best guess above that full production of PSFs ran only for some 24 to 27 months, and assuming that the rate of production increased over that span, we can surmise that the flat thread PSFs were produced for no more than 8 or 9 months and probably less -- entirely consistent with the evidence of the ad images.

Examination of our pens also suggests that all raised-thread pens were originally manufactured with two-piece sprung pressure bars. While some of our parts pens have unsprung bars, they also have later replacement levers. Among the pens in better condition, no unsprung bars are to be found. Among the flat-thread PSFs in our sample, however, a substantial number have the sprung bar. It must be noted that there is a discrepancy in the ratios between the pens from the parts boxes and those from catalog inventory, with the six out of 24 ratio of the former probably more trustworthy than the five out of nine of the latter (pens with unusual features such as sprung pressure bars are much more likely to be acquired and listed for sale). If so, introduction of the unsprung pressure bar would have postdated the introduction of flat threads by some two months, or a quarter of the overall flat-thread production span.

There is one more data point, however, that may call for some adjustment of our timeline. This is a single flat-thread pen with an unsprung pressure bar with a toggled lever with early-style imprints, with the 1903 Barnes patent date on one side and "PAT. APLD. FOR" on the other [see Addendum below]. Every other PSF with the unsprung bar that I've seen has the September 5, 1916 date opposite the 1903 date. The existence of this pen strongly suggests that introduction of the unsprung bar predates the issuance of the 1916 patent, while its rarity suggests that the interval between the two events was extremely short. By that line of reasoning, we'd be looking at later August to early September 1916 -- whereas our reckoning from total numbers points more towards late October to early November. 

Can these estimates be reconciled? Perhaps the new unsprung bar wasn't adopted all in one go, but instead was quietly introduced alongside the older sprung bar, only replacing it over a period of a few months. A further consideration is the possibility that our numbers for the flat-thread PSFs are skewed by the greater vulnerability of the two-part pressure bar to damage. Replacement by an unsprung bar would be undetectable as long as it took place before the levers were redesigned to leave off the patent dates entirely. So perhaps our catalog sample isn't so far off after all, and the adoption of the unsprung bar stretched over a period closer to four months than to two.

One investigation inevitably leads into another. While wrestling with the bigger questions about PSF chronology, I realized that there was also a more limited design change in the line which would prove more far-reaching. The redesign of the overlay versions of the 12½ VPSF so that they were shorter than their plain equivalents and with overlays that extended all the way over the barrel end set the pattern for all the overlay 52½V models for the next decade and a half, as well as all the full-length LEC models. This is still a work in progress, but from what I have been able to find so far, the earliest appearance of the redesigned x12½ VPSF pens is in December 1916. They show up in multiple Christmas advertisements without any fanfare, indeed without any acknowledgment that they might be in any way novel. Though the sample size is too small to give it much weight, of the eight x12½ VPSF that have gone through my inventory, three were the redesigned version. And for whatever reason, Waterman's 1919 catalog still shows one solitary old-style vest pocket overlay without the "E. C." (end covered) designation, a 452½V Filigree. Leftover old stock? Continuing demand? We may never know.

Saturday Evening Post, Dec 9, 1916, p. 71

ADDENDUM: Here are some photos of the single example -- known to me -- of a PSF with the unsprung one-piece pressure bar and "PAT. APLD. FOR" lever imprint. Note that the pressure bar also bears a "PAT. APPLIED FOR" mark. Digging in my parts stock of Waterman pressure bars, I was able to find two other examples with this same mark.



I'm not sure why the pressure bar would have been imprinted. The pending patent application referenced on the lever would be the one for the Waterman lever box; the toggled connection between an unsprung pressure bar and the end of the lever would have been covered by the 1903 Barnes patent. Perhaps an application was filed for the tab that keeps the pressure bar from sliding out past the connection point with the lever, yet I'm not aware of any patent being issued for this feature (and if there were, it surely would have been stamped on later Waterman pressure bars).

Sunday, October 23, 2022

More American Stationer volumes available online

 It has been a while since I last checked, but digging into some 1920s Waterman research I found to my surprise that several volumes of the American Stationer that had formerly been snippet-only at Google Books are now fully readable, including volumes 92 through 99. In addition, quite a few volumes that had formerly been available only through Google Books are now also available through HathiTrust. The full master list here has been duly updated.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Waterman and the Barnes lever-filler patent

Pen history has largely been written by collectors rather than trained academic historians, so one often has to scramble to find solid references for what has become accepted knowledge. An example which recently sent me scrambling for documentation is Waterman's acquisition of John Barnes's lever-filler patent. For future reference, I will share the material I found in this post.

Firstly, let us note that there are two Barnes patents that are often confused with each other. The first is US726495, issued on April 28, 1903. The second is US738876, issued September 15, 1903. The first is referenced in the second, but with a misprint (725,495 for 726,495). Neither patent is for the use of a lever as a filling method per se, nor is the method by which the lever is attached to the barrel covered. As with Sheaffer's patents, there is much misunderstanding about what is claimed as original. Both Barnes and Sheaffer patented improvements to lever-fillers -- in Barnes's case, a pressure bar with an attachment to the barrel at the end and formed so as to be toggled to the end of the lever. The lever box was patented by Ferris, and had nothing to do with Barnes.

Both patents were initially assigned to W. F. and John Barnes Co. The exact date of their acquisition by Waterman I have not been able to establish as yet, but the following will help narrow down the range.


Earlier Waterman lever-fillers typically bear the date of the first Barnes patent on their levers, along with "PAT. APLD. FOR". And on March 13, 1916 Waterman filed for a disclaimer to this patent which was duly published in the US Patent Office Official Gazette of March 21, 1916.  The L. E. Waterman Company is there identified as "the assignee by mesne assignments".

1916 would also appear to have been the year that Barnes died, at least according to Edward F. Dunne's Illinois: The Heart of the Nation (1933). In volume 3, page 109, we read "John Barnes, who was also the inventor of a fountain pen which was sold to and is now being handled by the Waterman Fountain Pen Company, died in 1916, at the age of eighty-three years".

Also undated is the well-known anecdote from Walter A. Sheaffer's autobiography, in which he recounts (pp. 34-35):
"In the early days of the lever pen it was a novel device, but there was an old lever patent taken out by Barnes of Rockford, Illinois, that I could have bought for a few dollars; but this was one place where my patent attorney advised me wrong. He said, "It isn’t worth anything and I wouldn’t advise you to buy it." However, it was sold to/the L. E. Waterman Pen Company for about $100. This patent was the basis for the Waterman Pen Company to make a lever pen. As they were a very large concern, they showed lots of dealers a lever pen before we were able to get to them."
Indeed, the date of the Barnes patent appears on all early Waterman lever-fillers, even the very oldest examples known (see previous posts here and here) which likely date to the end of 1914 and certainly no later than the very beginning of 1915.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Remembering W. M. & C. -- and not for Nott

 

This lovely pencil arrived not long ago but to my frustration I could not recall what the letters "W. M & C" stood for. No luck with a Google search, nor checking Jon Veley's indispensible site. It was Jon who finally set me straight though, pointing me to . . . my own blog post here on Thomas Addison. Ouch.

At least I remembered that the "W" was for "Wilmarth". That alone should have sent me back to my research notes. Anyway, Wilmarth, Moffat & Curtis was the short-lived partnership that succeeded the partnership of Thomas Addison & Co. as of August 1, 1829. It apparently ended with the death of Jonathan Wilmarth on September 26, 1835, though another Wilmarth – William M. –  subsequently formed a new partnership with Addison, doing business as Addison, Wilmarth & Co. up until c. 1843. In 1849 Moffat and Curtis sailed for San Francisco, where Moffat won lasting fame among numismatists and California Gold Rush historians for his gold ingots and coins.

What first caught my eye about this pencil, though, was the seal end. It was clearly a portrait, not an idealized classical bust. Before the pencil arrived it seemed likely it might be someone prominent enough that someone might recognize the image. The task was considerably simplified, however, by the discovery upon arrival that the pencil had been engraved with the name, "Mrs. Howard Nott".

While the identification is for now tentative, it seems probable that this pencil belonged to Margaretta Matilda Stewart Bowers Nott (1810 – 1876), who in 1831 married Howard Nott (1809 – 1880), the son of polymath Eliphalet Nott (June 25, 1773 – January 25, 1866; described by Wikipedia as "a famed Presbyterian minister, inventor, educational pioneer, and long-term president of Union College, Schenectady, New York"). Though I have not yet been able to find any portraits of Howard Nott, pictures of his father show a decided resemblance to the profile of the pencil seal bust.

Margaretta Nott was buried in Brooklyn, at The Evergreens Cemetery on Bushwick Avenue. No photos online, but it is now on my list of historical graves to visit in the greater New York area.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

A gold pen from San Francisco

 


Having grown up in California, I have a special interest in pens made there. Especially appealing are those dating back to the 19th century and the Gold Rush era. Not many writing instruments were made on the West Coast back then, as manufacturing was concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest. So this dip pen was a lucky recent find with its gold nib marked "J. H./BAPTIS/S.F./5". 


John H. Baptis was a Civil War veteran who made and sold gold nibs in San Francisco from approximately the 1870s through 1900. I've not had time to do a thorough investigation, but in the San Francisco City Directory for 1878 there were but two listings under Gold Pen Manufacturers: Henry D. Pearce at 615 Montgomery, and Baptis at 328 Bush. By the 1880s Baptis was at 319 Kearny, where he appears to have remained as long as he remained in business. The Kearny address appears in the 1899 city directory, but in the October 31, 1900 Insurance Press it is recorded that a life insurance payout had been made for a J. H. Baptis of East Oakland (now Berkeley). 


Although the buildings in San Francisco are gone (319 Kearney in particular appears to have been lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire, as the building now on that site was built in 1907) Baptis's 1880 home at 1425 Milvia in Berkeley survives and was recently lovingly restored. You can read about it here.


The plain black hard rubber holder does not appear to be of West Coast manufacture. It is marked "F. M. LIBBY'S PAT. MAR.4.84." This would be US patent 294477 issued to Frederick M. Libby of Portland, Maine. It is a rather unusual design that proposes to add springiness to a nib by allowing it some movement rather that gripping it rigidly. 

UPDATE: Baptis appears in the Alameda County record of deaths as entry 267, 22 August 1900. He is recorded as 64 years 11 months and 15 days old, married white male, calculated birthday 7 Sep 1835. Tuberculosis is listed as cause of death; birthplace as New York.



Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Improved plunger-filler packing seals

 

We have been selling specially-sized O-rings for plunger-filler ("vacuum-filler") packing unit repair for quite a few years, but not any more. Instead, we will be offering a significantly superior alternative, shown above. Instead of a simple donut-shaped seal, these incorporate two sealing flanges on both the exterior surface and in the central bore. Two sealing points instead of one is not only more secure, it also reduces friction while greatly improving lubricant retention within the seal. You can now order them here, or as part of our plunger-filler repair kit. For the present these are available only through our website, but we will be rolling them out in our eBay listings soon.

NOTE: We will continue to offer our original round-sectioned seals for the time being, as they are not only time-tested and cheaper, but are also somewhat easier to install. Though the new seals are more efficient, they must be installed in the packing compartment so that they are held snugly with no wiggle room. This may require reducing the outside diameter of the closure washer so that it can be seated all the way down against the seal. The older seals being round in section are much more tolerant of loose mounting.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Van Winkle Pen Company

It's not every day you see an early 20th-century taper-cap with a glass barrel. A patent application for this design was filed on October 24, 1910 and US patent 995307 was duly issued on June 13, 1911. The core part of the invention was the use of a metal tube between two barrel end pieces, over which either conventional pearl slabs could be mounted, or a glass tube allowing for insertion of printed advertising. This was the brainchild of Ralph F. Van Winkle, of Erie, Pennsylvania.

The patent date is imprinted at the end of barrel, next to the trim band. You'll also notice that there is a hole at the end of the barrel. Yes, this taper-cap is also a blow-filler. 


The ad below appeared in Commercial America, vol. 8, no. 4 (October 1911), p. 35.


Another Van Winkle product was the No-Dip Penholder, another blow-filling design -- basically a fountain pen for use at the desk, utilizing ordinary dip pen nibs.


This ad appeared in Commercial America, vol. 10, no. 1 (July 1913), p. 31. By this time the Van Winkle Pen Company had moved to Franklin, Pennsylvania, which is also the location indicated on our taper-cap pen at top. Unfortunately the company was out of business shortly thereafter. A brief entry in Geyer's Stationer of October 14, 1915, p. 11 reports the demise the previous week of R. F. Van Winkle of Franklin, PA from a brain tumor, noting that he had been in "poor health for more than two years, and because of this was forced to relinquish his business interests and retire to private life. The Van Winkle Co. was then disbanded."

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

John Holland and aluminum


One of the items in a recent eBay lot was the twist-pattern dip pen shown above. When it arrived, my initial reaction was disappointment: I had been hoping it would be silver, and possibly Gorham, given that maker's fondness for the twist. Instead, it was aluminum. It was even so marked.


Upon closer inspection, the holder end proved detachable -- one of those reversible plugs, allowing the nib to be stored inside the barrel.


And, lo and behold, on the previously hidden part of the plug, there was a familiar imprint: "JNO. HOLLAND". No disappointment here, after all.


I'd not been aware of aluminum being used by John Holland, and knowing a bit about the history of aluminum production (outlined here), I reckoned that this dip pen would date somewhere in the later 1880s or 1890s, with the imprint explicitly identifying the material as aluminum suggestive of the era when it was still something of a novelty. And indeed, a dive into Google Books turned up several references to John Holland's activity in the manufacture and sale of aluminum items in the 1890s. On p. 127 of the April 1895 issue of Aluminum World we find this listing:
JOHN HOLLAND GOLD PEN CO., CINCINNATI, O.—This concern makes a specialty of drawing aluminum tubes for penholders and similar class of work. They are also making an aluminum comb which is receiving a large sale. 
Mr. John Holland of the company, is noted for his researches in the metallurgy of iridium, and his discovery of the use of phosphorus as a flux in the melting and fashioning of the metal for gold pen-points. Mr. Holland has placed the same energy and business skill to his work with aluminum that he has already shown in his manufacture of gold and iridium work, and is doing a large business in this line.
On p. 153 of the May 1895 issue, there is the following ad. It would appear that the Star Aluminum Company was a Holland subsidiary. Note that "Star" was later used by Holland as a brand name for their fountain pens.

Following up with a search of Cincinnati city directories, it seems 1895 was the year Holland got involved in the manufacture of aluminum items. The 1896 issue of Williams' directory, whose annual publication date was in June, carried this ad on page 1813.


The 1895 issue, however, which would have been compiled the year before, lists only two companies under the heading Aluminum on page 1845, one for castings, the other for novelties, neither of them John Holland -- whose listing on page 779 makes no mention of aluminum articles.

ADDENDUM: At the 2022 Baltimore pen show I was able to take this quick picture of four Holland aluminum reversible traveling nib holders, courtesy of Scott Jones. Each holder has a different pattern.



Thursday, February 24, 2022

A Slender Maxima set: restoration choices and the preservation of history

This Parker Vacumatic set came to us from an old collection, assembled in the old days when vintage pens could be found in the wild in such abundance that most collectors soon gave up on restoring every single new acquisition. And like many such items, it was no longer exactly as it was when it left the factory. Which raised the question of how to proceed: whether to put the set back to its configuration when new, or to preserve its history of subsequent use and service.

So what was the set's original configuration? The pen's date code is worn away, but the Non-Stop repeater pencil's date code is for the second quarter of 1939. Wide bands identify both as Slender Maxima models. Striped screw-in end jewels and striped section plus the profile of the blind cap tassie would suggest 1938 production but would also be consistent with an early 1939 date. This would fit with the Blue Diamond clip and the date code of the pencil, not to mention the distinctive Streamline Art Deco box.


The nib, however, is a replacement of Major rather than Slender Maxima form, with a date code for the second quarter of 1941. It could have been installed at any point after then, though -- and one other clue suggests that it likely happened in the middle of the war years.


A Vacumatic made in 1939 would have left Janesville with an all-metal filler unit with an aluminum plunger. This pen's filler was replaced with a plastic unit, which could have been manufactured no earlier than 1942. 


Wartime (as opposed to postwar) dating was confirmed once the filler unit was removed, as it's all plastic, not just the plunger. All-plastic filler units turn up regularly in 51s and Vacumatics made during WW2, but by then Parker had standardized production and all models used the same small-size filler unit. It's rare indeed to find an all-plastic filler in a larger size, since they were only made as replacement parts for older models -- clearly in very limited numbers, given wartime production constraints. Our pen's replacement filler unit is at top, while a standard-sized unit is below.

Collectors tend to prefer pens as original as possible, so I initially reassembled this one with an all-metal filler unit from c. 1939-41, though with some hesitation. I knew the filler unit it had come with was something unusual, and told something about this particular pen's own story. Nor did it escape me that it was hardly consistent to replace the war-era filler while leaving the 1941 nib in place. After briefly posting the set for sale, however, Daniel Kirchheimer questioned me about these very issues, prompting me to return the pen to the configuration in which it had arrived at the shop.

Historical authenticity isn't always best served by trying to turn back the clock. For some of the most compelling stories old items convey only begin after they were sold and put to use.

Friday, December 10, 2021

A bronze-nibbed dip pen from 11th-century Ireland


There are not a lot of surviving medieval writing instruments, so this bronze-nibbed pen excavated last year at Caherconnell in County Clare is a big deal indeed. For the full story, I will refer you to the announcement from June 1, 2020 at the Caherconnell Stone Fort Facebook page, as well as a more recent article in the Independent of Ireland. There is also a video of a reproduction in use here, and a post about the reproduction project here.

The form of the nib is such that my colleague Andrew Midkiff has suggested that it might be a specialized ruling pen. Certainly the rolled metal sheet construction would have been much more demanding than that of a more conventional quill-pen shaped metal nib -- but unfortunately examples of medieval metal nibs are so rare that definitive conclusions cannot be deduced from available evidence.