Friday, October 19, 2012

Kraker: a look inside

Krakers are uncommon pens, and mottled hard rubber examples are every bit as hard to find as their Sheaffer brethren. This one recently came to us in unrestored condition, rather dirty but well preserved.
The one area of damage was the section, which had some rather aggressive plier marks. Someone clearly had a hard time opening up this pen -- and the reason became apparent once we had the pen apart.
Look at the picture above, and you'll see that the part of the section that fits inside the barrel mouth has a shallow, round-bottomed slot. This mates with a raised, round-topped rib inside the barrel mouth, visible below (click on the images to enlarge them, if these features are hard to make out). Those who like to twist sections when extracting them could find themselves in trouble with this design, and even with a standard straight wiggle-out, the rib-and-slot construction makes the joint more resistant to manipulation.
In compensation, the barrel mouth is not so easy to break as one might think. Though it is hard to see in the picture, the mouth is metal-lined. This is a construction method best known from Wahl-Eversharp pens of the later 1920s and 1930s (though not used on all their models), but very much the exception on hard rubber pens of this era.

NOTE: Although Walter A. Sheaffer later had harsh words for his former partner, George Kraker's contribution to the initial success of the Sheaffer pen company was considerable. You can read more about the story here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A wooden Waterman for President Taft

Waterman willingly accepted special orders, and a few examples are shown in the company's catalogs. Some of the most intriguing designs, however, are those described in the trade press, including the one shown here.
The pictures come from The American Stationer of August 28, 1909. The article explains:
The L. E. Waterman Company have recently had occasion to manufacture a notably historical pen. They were presented by John B. Hardy, Industrial Expert of New York, with a small block of wood saved from the last of thirteen trees planted by Alexander Hamilton on his estate in New York City. It will be remembered that each tree represented one of the original thirteen States.

From the block the Waterman Company manufactured a beautifully turned wood pen lined with rubber. The cap and barrel were very handsomely mounted with gold, the pattern of which was designed by Carolyn Mihr Hardy, and engraved as follows: On the three gold bands on the barrel -- "Protection - Progress - Patriotism," and on the two name plates on each side of the cap: "Presented to the Hon. Wm. H. Taft" and, on the reverse side: "Made from the last of thirteen trees planted by Alexander Hamilton on his estate."

The box in which the pen was presented, and which is above illustrated, was also made from the remaining portion of the block of the Hamilton tree. The exterior of the box was in the rough finish of the wood, very handsomely finished on the inside and finely lined with velvet and satin, the hinges and catch being made from gold.

The pen was presented to President Taft by Congressmen Pujo, Estopinal and Broussard of Louisiana and Frank Clark of Florida, all ardent Southern Protectionists and admirers of Mr. Taft.
Where is this pen now? 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Waterman's year of innovation: 1908

Of all the Waterman catalogs from the company's Golden Age, the 1908 catalog is a standout. Richly produced and printed, it listed some of the most interesting, beautiful, and desirable pens ever made. Stationery trade journals fill out the picture, highlighting how many of Waterman's most notable innovations date to this time.
At the beginning of 1908, for example, Waterman introduced its "Baby" (not to be confused with the so-called "Doll" pen, aka "World's Smallest") and the "Check Book" pen. The illustrations above appeared on the front page of the January 11 issue of The American Stationer. On June 27, the same periodical's front page announced Waterman's introduction of a full-length slender model, called a "Secretary Pen", but now more commonly known to collectors by its model number, 12 1/2.
Just a month later, it was Waterman's first retracting-nib safety pen being introduced, initially offered in just three sizes (12VS, 14VS, 15VS, each in just one standard length) with the option of gold filled barrel bands and the choice of smooth or chased black hard rubber, or "Cardinal" red hard rubber.

And at the beginning of October, to bring our short survey full circle, the front-page news was Waterman's lavish new 1908 catalog, produced at a claimed cost of $25,000. Followup stories about the catalog and its impending distribution appeared on October 10 and October 17. It is unusual that we can now date the 1908 catalog so precisely -- and this isn't purely of academic interest. For example, there was recently a discussion about the marking of Waterman silver "Filigree" pattern pens, in particular when the "4" in the hundreds place began to be imprinted on the barrel end. I will probably end up summarizing the conclusions in a future post here, but a key bit of evidence is that the 1908 catalog is the first occasion on which it is explicitly stated that the full model code will be stamped on the butt end of each pen. For various reasons, this wouldn't square so well with the evidence of surviving pens if the catalog had been released at the beginning of 1908; it is entirely consistent, however, with an autumn publication date.

PS Perhaps not in the same category, yet significant nonetheless: Waterman's Canadian factory started producing pens towards the end of that very busy year, 1908.

Friday, October 5, 2012

In praise of mint pens (and of keeping them that way)

I recently had the good fortune to acquire a pristine Wahl-Eversharp ringtop set, mint and stickered, boxed with instructions. The pen is shown in the picture above. Now there are those who seem to think that leaving a pen unused is somehow sinful. Yet when one gets back to pens of the 1920s and early '30s, truly mint examples are extremely scarce, and far rarer than examples that have been used, however gently.

The greatest value of pristine pens, though, is not monetary -- in fact, compared to most other areas of collecting, the premium for perfection in pens is small -- so much as informational. Years ago, it was a pristine Wahl "Deco Band" that tipped me off to the reason why Wahl caps tended to discolor in dark bands. You can read my 2002 writeup here, the upshot being that Wahl didn't use a normal hard rubber inner cap, but instead lined the top of the inside of the cap with a soft white rubber disk, and put another soft rubber washer on the outward-facing mouth of the inner cap, where the section presses when the cap is in place. Staining and hardening over time makes these construction features, which are not mentioned in Wahl company literature, invisible. They are clearly visible on pristine pens, however -- this newly acquired ringtop included.
Another ephemeral feature that we know about only from examples such as this is the in-filling of imprints. In most cases, imprints were not originally colored in, but there are a few exceptions. One little-known exception is the gold coloring sometimes applied to the nib grade stamps on Wahl-Eversharp feeds. This gold coloring is beautifully preserved on our recent acquisition, but one can see that it would be washed away rather quickly once the pen was put to use.

The discoveries don't end there. Another recent acquisition is shown below: a coral semi-streamlined X-Seal pen, also mint and stickered. This is a rare model, and a puzzling one. The pen itself does not appear in any known catalog or advertisement, and though it shares features with other standard production models, its profile is different from any of them.
The X-Seal has been the subject of much speculation, as it appears not just on these pens, but also on regular production pens, albeit rarely. Its use follows no discernible pattern, so any scraps of information about how it was used are invaluable.
Unfortunately, the sticker on this pen is half gone. Nonetheless, it gives us some idea of the pen's original price point, and at least part of its model number. Considering how rare these pens are in any condition, to find one with sticker largely intact is no small thing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Korean fakes: eBay seller on the move again

Our Korean criminal now is using a different user ID, sunpawel. At the moment he has only one item listed: a supposedly first-year Parker 51 set in the box. I will not go into all the details of why this is a fake, but I can assure you that this is an assemblage of newly-made parts and original (but not first-year) parts, deliberately put together to deceive.

Interestingly, his completed listings don't include any obvious frauds (the Duofold Senior is a possible exception), and indeed under this user name he has only two feedbacks as a seller, both very recent. This user account was registered December 8, 2010, and it seems that our forger used it primarily to buy (he has 170 feedbacks as a buyer, and the purchases that can be seen, are all, tellingly, of discolored or cracked Parker parts pens).

ADDENDUM: Hey, what a surprise: sunpawel was an active bidder on rttrfb/yeujeff/jeffriad's auctions! At least he left good feedback -- for himself. So not only a counterfeiter, but a bid manipulator as well. Too bad eBay makes it virtually impossible to report shill bidding, even when it is this flagrant.

UPDATE: That "first-year" set closed at $1025.01 on October 6. Had this set been genuine, this would still have been a very high price, well above what the best-established and most reputable dealers would charge at full retail. Unfortunately, the "winning" bidder (markjia) appears to be a real collector and not one of the Korean faker's shill bidding accounts.