Friday, November 15, 2013

What is a Waverley nib?

This is a Waverley nib. Its complex shape is best appreciated in a side view, which shows the necked collar, the three ridges, the up-down-up longitudinal contour, and the turned up tip.

The creation of the Waverley nib is credited to Duncan Cameron, who in 1850 joined his brothers as one of the principals of the Scottish firm of Macniven and Cameron. This date has sometimes been confused with the date of the Waverley nib's introduction, some fourteen years later. Production appears to have begun in 1864, with a British patent for the turned up tip issued in 1865 and a US patent in 1867. Elements of this distinctive design were later copied by other makers of steel and bronze nibs, but the only gold fountain pen nibs made in this form were those used in Macniven and Cameron's own "Waverley" fountain pens -- though usually without the upward bend at the tip.

The Waverley nib was very successful, and aggressively advertised. It remained in production until 1964 -- a full 100 years -- and though some sources assume this also marked the end of Macniven and Cameron, the company continued on, issuing a token to commemorate its bicentenary in 1970. Renamed Waverley Cameron, the firm ran into troubles in the late 1980s, but was only finally dissolved in 2012.

A few years ago, Richard Binder began to offer customized nibs with turned up tips, which he dubbed "Waverley" nibs as a tribute to Duncan Cameron and Macniven and Cameron.  Unfortunately, this led to a bit of confusion, with some collectors and pen sellers wrongly assuming that "Waverley" could be used as a generic term for any nib with a turned-up tip.

In fact, the original Waverley was neither the first nib with its point turned up, nor the only. Nor was its name ever used to denote anything but an actual Macniven and Cameron Waverley nib. And let us not forget that at least some original Waverley nibs -- Macniven and Cameron's own gold fountain pen nibs -- dispensed with the turn-up entirely!

Macniven and Cameron themselves offered other nibs with turned up tips: the Nile Pen, for example, featured "a combination of turned up and turned down points" (The Educational Reporter, May 1, 1870, p. 1, quoting The Stationer) in a design patented on February 20, 1870 ("This invention consists in making the bodies of pens of a bowl shape by curving the sides and nibs, or giving a downward curvature to the nibs, and combining with this bowl form of the body a turned-up point.")[NB: "nibs" at this time denoted what are now called the tines]

I have not yet been able to determine how many other Macniven and Cameron nibs might have been made with turned up tips during the 14-year life of the 1865 patent, or if other companies made such nibs under license. The validity of the Camerons' patent seems rather questionable, however, given the priority of Charles Winterton Bayliss' patent of Dec 16, 1840, as described in Mechanics' Magazine, vol. 34, 1841, p. 463:
One of the principal defects of metallic pens, is their continual tendency to catch in the paper, and tear it in the up-strokes, which is the case more or less with all pens after they have been a short time in use.

In order to remedy this defect, and to afford increased elasticity, the patentee bends the point of the pen upwards, so that the angle made by the slit of the pen and the surface of the paper written on is much more acute than in the ordinary straight pen.
Between this and Josiah Longmore's patent of May 4, 1843, which called for "bending back a portion of the extremity of the nibs 'to an angle of from forty-five to ninety degrees'" (Patents for Inventions, 1869, p. 71, noting that the expressed goal was durability rather than smoothness), the claims of Camerons' 1865 patent appear much narrower than at first glance, and much easier to circumvent (note that the Camerons' patent -- at least in its USA version -- emphasizes that the upwards bend should take the form of a segment of a circle, rather than "strictly angular" -- a practically meaningless distinction, given that bending metal naturally forms the outside surface into an arc, not a sharp corner).

In any event, by the later 19th century a wide variety of nibs with turned up tips were available, and from multiple makers. I have not found a single instance of one of these nibs being described as a "Waverley" (used as a generic term), or even as "Waverley-style". Instead, they were simply and without exception described as having turned up points, as in the listing in the January 1882 Perry & Co's. Monthly Illustrated Price Current (p. 8), seen above. Nor have I found a single instance of Macniven and Cameron claiming credit for having invented the turned-up nib -- a rather telling silence for a company that did not stint on advertisement and promotion.

The Esterbrook ad above is another example of a nib with a turned up point. This ad appeared in the American Stationer of Feb 12, 1891, along with a short article on p. 331 which stated that Esterbrook began to make nibs with turned up points not long after 1871. An ad for Hunt's Pens listing nibs with turned up points can be found in Walden's Stationer and Printer, Jan 11, 1909, p. 3. Many more examples could be cited -- this is just a small selection.

The same nomenclature carried over into nibs for fountain pens. The image above comes from Waterman's 1902 catalog, in which the various tip options are listed below each size of nib. An alternative name for the turned-up nib starts to show up, however, as the 20th century gets under way.  The 1908 Waterman catalog, below left, shows the "turned up" nib from the side, listing "Turned-up Pens or ball points of different degrees of fineness." (boldface in original), while the 1925 catalog calls them simply "Ball Point" nibs (below right).
These three images are from copies of Waterman catalogs in the PCA Reference Library (for actual photos, see this page). Other catalogs available there further illustrate the ubiquity of the terms "turned up" and "ball point", such as the 1912 Conklin catalog (p. 19: "pens with turned-up points"), the 1918 Parker catalog (p. 33: "ball point nibs"), the 1918 Sheaffer catalog (p. 16: "turned-up"), the 1921 Sheaffer catalog (unpaginated: "turned up"), the 1925 Wahl catalog (p. 41: "BALLPOINT: Sometimes called the 'turn up' nib . . . The best nib for nervous or old people"), and the 1929 Wahl-Eversharp catalog (p. 88, showing Gold Seal nibs in two sizes marked "BALL POINT"). Again, many more examples could be cited, for these nibs are found under these same names in virtually every major penmaker's catalogs throughout this era.

So what should we be calling nibs with turned up tips?  "Waverley" is clearly out.  "Ball point" is historically valid, yet nowadays too easily confused with rolling-ball ballpoints, and might also be misread as referring to modern nibs with especially bulbous (but not upswept) tips. For historical and descriptive accuracy alike, "turn-up" is the clear winner (along with "turned up" and similar variants).  Sometimes it's best to keep things simple.

ADDENDUM:  Discussions of the recent (mis)use of "Waverley" to denote turned-up nibs are found in discussion threads here, here, here, and here. Note also Alan Charlton's article, "The Wavering Waverleys", Writing Equipment Society Journal 77 (Winter 2006) pp. 38-40.

AND A FURTHER NOTE:  Although his example has clearly been the most influential among collectors, it seems Richard Binder might not have been the first to use "Waverley" to denote a nib with a turned-up tip. Pilot offers a special-order turnup nib which it calls a "Waverly" (note the difference in spelling), but it is not clear when this design was introduced (Ron Dutcher's essay, posted here and here, is frustratingly vague), or if it might have been initially introduced under a different name.

AND YET ANOTHER NOTE:  It has been pointed out that "Waverly" is used in a generic sense in the 1923 Wahl Service Manual for Eversharp and Wahl Pen (p. 7) and in Wahl's catalog number 103 of 1924 (p. 55), where it is defined as "sometimes called the 'turn up' or 'ball point' nib". How widespread this usage was at this date, however, remains difficult to assess. Wahl's 1921 and 1922 catalogs do not include a detailed description of nib types, while "Waverly" is replaced by "Ballpoint" in Wahl's catalogs from 1925 on. Was this usage a reflection of popular terminology, or was it an attempt by Wahl to "borrow" a catchy name for its turn-up nibs?  At this point we simply don't know -- though Wahl's rapid abandonment of the name certainly suggests that Macniven and Cameron were still actively defending their venerable trademark.

FINALLY:  Looking back through old copies of the Pen Fanciers' Magazine, I stumbled across the image below on p. 23 of the October 1981 issue. It came from a 1926 volume by Pilot on nib grinding. "Waverly", "Turn up", and "Ball point" are there listed as synonyms.


AAAndrew said...

Esterbrook got into the turn-up tip game in 1871. This is explained in an 1891 (American Stationer, 12 Feb 1891, p. 331) word ad.

Turned Up Point Pens
The first steel pens made in Birmingham about the year 1837, while providing a ready made instrument for penmen, failed to give that ease in writing which was the characteristic of the old quill. They were uniformly fine pointed and naturally more or less scratchy. The remedy for this was not found until a generation later, when the demand for an easier writing pen because imperative. Manufacturers began to make them with blunt and broad points.

In 1871 the Esterbrook Steel Pen Company made its first stub pen, No. 161, and now the company has as many as eighteen numbers of stub pens on its catalogue. This did not completely satisfy the demands until the happy idea occurred to turn up the points. This rendered the evolution of the pen complete.

In 1876 the Esterbrook Steel Pen Company produced its 1876 Telegraphic, followed shortly after by No. 256 Tecumseh, and No. 309 Choctaw. At the special request of many the Falcon pen was made in this style. Another pen has now been added to the list, and is known as No. 477 Postal. This is a size larger than the Choctaw, with finer points.

The perfect ease afforded by these pens contributes one of the most valuable luxuries provided for writers at this end of the century. The penman can write longer with less fatigue than with the ordinary styles. The tediousness of writing is almost entirely avoided, and the relief is so complete that it converts a drudgery into a delight and a pain into a pleasure, and anyone who has taken up one of these turned up point pens for a companion will never consent to be without it.

David said...

Yes, that is cited in the post.

Unknown said...

Where can one buy a turn-ed nib like the Waverly today, other than investing in the whole Pilot with their "Waverly" nib? Just the nib itself.

David said...

I'm not familiar with modern offerings, sorry to say. But in vintage, Sheaffer is probably the brand with the largest number of turned-up nibs. That was pretty much their default nib design from the 1930s through the 1950s. Spare nibs are also easily found at reasonable cost, which can be installed in modern pens as desired.