Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A noble shard

Many years ago, Pier Gustafson organized a show-and-tell display among Boston area pen collectors of what he aptly termed "noble shards" -- the wreckage of once-notable (and perhaps, still notable) pens.

The remnants of the end-lever Crocker shown here amply qualify. The cap may be missing its top half, and the section assembly is absent. But this battered survivor is still very special, for it is not hard rubber, but casein. The pattern is a sort of woodgrain, though it is now stained and faded. The end knob is imprinted "2S", and in raking light the characteristic alligatoring of aged casein is clearly visible.

I am not aware of any advertising or catalog listing for casein Crockers, and I have only seen one other example over the years -- much better preserved, in a solid green similar to that of a Parker Ivorine. But sometimes the only survivors are fragmentary, overlooked in a parts box.

Friday, December 19, 2014

An unusual wartime Sheaffer

With the entry of the United States into WW2, penmakers were faced with production quotas and restrictions upon materials needed for the war effort. Aluminum, brass, and stainless steel were replaced by silver and gold, which the USA had in abundance. The pen shown above, a Sheaffer Feathertouch Defender, shows the characteristic tarnish of gold over silver wartime trim: a greyish-black film, often blotchy, caused by silver atoms migrating to the surface and oxidizing on exposure to the air.

The over-the-top "military" clip is another characteristic wartime feature, allowing the pen to sit low enough in a uniform blouse pocket so as not to interfere with closure of the pocket flap. But the wartime features of this particular pen don't stop there. The section is celluloid, rather than hard rubber (rubber was a critical war material) -- not uncommon -- and so is the plunger shaft.

Wartime plunger-fillers typically used celluloid-covered carbon steel plunger shafts instead of stainless steel. These worked well enough, though the carbon steel was susceptible to rust swelling should any moisture penetrate its coating. All-celluloid shafts were another matter, as they were insufficiently rigid and prone to warpage. They are rare enough today that it is likely that they were only made experimentally -- and quickly rejected.

It would be easy enough to retrofit this pen with a postwar stainless shaft and matching blind cap (the original blind cap has a simple unthreaded hole into which the celluloid shaft press-fits), but we have put it back together as it was made, minus its original piston seal washer -- not functional as a pen, yet eloquent as witness to an era.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Waterman dummy


The pen above looks like a commonplace Waterman 52.  Flip it over, and you will see that it isn't a working pen at all, but a dummy made up for window display.  Real pens left on display were always a theft risk, dummy pens, much less so -- and display dummies also kept the real pens from being faded by sun exposure.

Dummy pens were often made up from rejected parts, and this one is no exception. In this case, the barrel isn't even a Waterman, for it bears a clear Aikin Lambert imprint. And though a Waterman lever box has been installed, it doesn't fit quite right since there isn't a cutout at the end of the lever slot, as the Aikin lever was of simpler form. By this time, Waterman had owned Aikin Lambert for a good ten or fifteen years, and production facilities had long been consolidated.

If you look more closely at the finish of the smooth part at the end of the barrel, you will also see another dummy-specific feature: the pen has been painted black, to better resist fading while in a shop window.  The paint is partially worn off here, and another patch of wear-through is visible on the cap top as well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Parker 1.0 mm lead pencil converter

By the 1930s, lead sizes for American mechanical pencils had been thoroughly standardized. There was the older standard of 0.046 inches (metricized as 1.1 or 1.2 mm) and the newer standard of 0.036 inches  (0.9 mm), and for drafting pencils there was 0.075 inches (2 mm). The plethora of odd sizes used in the 19th century had all been dropped in the first decades of the 20th.

So it was to my complete astonishment that I recently discovered that Parker, in the later 1960s, briefly adopted a completely nonstandard lead diameter of 0.040 inches (1.01 mm). Not in a mechanical pencil, strictly speaking, but for its "pencil cartridge", shaped like a Jotter ballpoint refill and used to convert any Jotter-style ballpoint into an injector pencil. The example shown above came in a sterling silver Classic ballpoint; it was still full of lead, but I thought I'd add a little more before offering it for sale (Parker didn't advertise these cartridges as refillable, but all it takes is to hold one tip-up, press the back button down, and feed new lead into the front). Yet when I put in some 0.9 mm lead, it didn't work properly. The lead was held firmly when the end button was released, but when the button was depressed, the lead shot out instead of advancing a millimeter or two at a time. Upon closer examination, the original lead that came inside the cartridge measured a hair over 1 mm and worked perfectly -- as did some 1.0 mm lead that I then added as a test.

According to Jotter: History of an Icon, p. 204, Parker's pencil cartridge was introduced in 1968 (other authorities specify that it was at the beginning of that year). No mention is made of the lead size used, however, though in external form our 1 mm cartridge is the earliest model shown, all metal with only a bit of black plastic at the end, and no eraser. How long it remained in production is not clear, though I was able to find the image below from a 1969 Parker catalog, originally posted by Graham Hogg here.

It seems clear that Parker adopted a slightly oversize lead diameter to prevent users refilling their cartridges instead of buying new ones. Customers would assume that the cartridges were worn out, never suspecting that the lead diameter was the issue. Indeed, Parker advertised the cartridges as being good for up to a year, or up to 50,000 words -- clearly positioning them as consumables, despite building them stoutly enough for years of service.

I haven't had the time to go back through all the different Parker pencil cartridges in my shop to check lead diameters, but I've handled quite a few of them over the years and this is the first I've found that didn't work when refilled with standard-sized lead. My guess is that later models all used standard lead, and that perhaps even the original model was reconfigured at some point to use standard lead as well.

ADDENDUM: At the Columbus pen show I was able to ask around about this. I found only one person -- a former Parker employee -- who knew about the 1 mm lead. Unfortunately, this was from observation, not company lore, so we still don't know how this all came to be. Did Parker anticipate that consumers would try to refill the cartridges, and made them to use the nonstandard lead from the beginning? Or were they originally made to use standard lead, and a modified version using nonstandard lead was introduced only later, after the problem of refilling became apparent?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Equi-Poised combos in a catalog

Among the top-line American penmakers of the 1920s and 1930s, the response to the fad for pen-pencil combinations varied considerably. Wahl-Eversharp made some fine combos, but did not appear to have advertised them; they are very scarce today, and were surely made in small numbers at the time.

To date, I have found one catalog showing Wahl-Eversharp combos. It is not a Wahl-Eversharp catalog, though the illustrations were surely supplied by the company. The catalog is dated 1932-1933, and the combos shown are economy-line versions (Wahl-Eversharp combos are based upon either the top of the line Gold Seal Equi-Poised pens -- an example here -- or the smaller and less solidly constructed non-Gold Seal pens of similar profile, also often found branded as Wahl-Oxfords).

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A late Heath magic pencil

What at first glance appears to be an unprepossessing silver golf pencil, turns out, with a pull on the end, to be a magic pencil -- and one made by the fabled firm of George W. Heath & Co.

It's no accident that its styling recalls the streamlined golf pencils of the 1920s and '30s, for this is a very late magic pencil. The design, with the screw-off lead reservoir shown below, was the subject of US patent 1,514,965 -- the very last of Heath's writing equipment patents. The application was submitted on July 19, 1922 and the patent was issued on November 11, 1924. The "PAT. APP. FOR" imprint locates the pencil between those two dates.

The pencil is also of interest in that it bears both of the standard Heath marks. The famous H in a square is on the extending shaft, while "G. W. H. CO." appears on the barrel. The Heath marks stop appearing on the overlays of name-brand pens well before this pencil was made -- suggesting that the omission of the marks from contract work was customer, not Heath's, choice.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chapmans vs Waterman: Miscellaneous

There are a lot of scattered historical tidbits in the Chapmans vs Waterman trial record (background here). Some notable nuggets are listed below:
As of 1915, A. A. Waterman production was around 100,000 pens annually (p. 153) -- less than a tenth of Waterman's volume, per William I. Ferris' testimony (p. 179).

A. A. Waterman's sacs were guaranteed for only two years, replacement cost 25 cents (p. 349).

The Sterling Fountain Pen Company originated in the February 1899 dissolution of A. A. Waterman & Company and its takeover by Rhodes Lockwood, formerly a silent partner and the firm's financial backer (pp. 185-86).

A December 2, 1909 letter from the Modern Pen Company states, "Within the last year Mr. [Arthur A.] Waterman was withdrawn from the Chicago Company and is now with the Held Pen Co. of Salt Lake City, Utah" (p. 592, see also p. 595).

In December 1907, Waterman bought 1512 gold nibs from the Modern Pen Company for $393, including a $15 charge for "Altering tools" -- presumably, the tooling charge for the imprint stamp (pp. 547-48). The transaction was indirect, the nibs being sold by Modern to William L. Chapman and by him to William I. Ferris (pp. 118, 126). According to Chapman, he dealt directly with company president Frank D. Waterman (mistakenly called "Fred") and Ferris, and set up the transaction at their request to conceal that they were buying nibs from a rival (pp. 146-48). Ferris later claimed that the nibs were bought for Aikin Lambert, but court adjourned for the weekend before he could be pressed on this, and when the trial resumed the following Monday, the questioning moved in other directions (p. 191).

According to Walter L. Rieman, in charge of Waterman's repair department, 350-400 packages arrived by mail per day, some with more than one pen. This impressive repair volume did not include repairs received over the counter, as there was a separate repair department attached to the retail department (p. 406).

Chapmans vs Waterman: Chasing machines

One of the ways in which the Chapmans' counsel attempted to discredit Waterman (background to the case here) was by claiming that Waterman wasn't really a manufacturer, but instead merely assembled parts made by others. Even in 1915, many manufacturers relied upon subcontractors, so I'm not sure this was a well-chosen tactic. In any event, it led to many exchanges about the sourcing of holders (that is, hard rubber pen parts) and the application of chasing. Waterman's counsel emphasized how chasing required time, skill, and experience, and thus how, along with hand-fitting, nib-setting, and clip attachment, it constituted real manufacturing and not mere assembly of premade parts. The Chapmans' counsel in turn tried to trivialize the chasing operation, as in this cross-examination of Waterman's William I. Ferris (pp. 186-87):
Q. The chasing is a simple matter, isn't it? A. It is part of the manufacturing.
Q. You simply put the pen in a machine and run it through? A. You may say the same thing of the holder, you put it in and turn it around.
Q. It takes skill to do that? A. The other requires skill.
Q. Doesn't any dollar a week girl do that? A. She does not.
Q. How much do you pay her for running the chasing machine? A. My recollection is the girl gets $12 a week.
Q. Is it run by unskilled labor? A. Experienced labor; it takes a lot of experience to operate them properly.
Q. Do they not put half a dozen holders into a machine and simply run it through a little machine and it comes out chased; is that right? A. Yes; but the machine has to be properly adjusted and operated or they don't come out chased.
In later exchanges, Ferris clarified that "boys" ran the chasing machines, with "one girl in charge under a superintendent, and young men operate the machines", each "boy" running two to four machines at once, depending on the class of work. (pp. 197-98). He also stated that it typically took four to five minutes to chase a holder, depending on its size (p. 275).

Ferris's was not the only testimony about Waterman's chasing methods. A Brooklyn stationer, Van Brunt Tandy, owner of the stationery firm formerly known as John M. Bulwinkle -- reputedly Waterman's first commercial account -- was queried about his visits to the Waterman factory (pp. 238-39):
Q. Did you see anybody chasing penholders at the L. E. Waterman & Company shop? A. Yes.
Q. How is it done? A. It is done with six holders put in at a time, six caps in one section and six holders in. another section, in which a tool goes around like that and cuts them; possibly the steel escapes the part where there is any plain spaces.
Q. The result is that with all this chasing, a plain holder has this wavy appearance? A. Yes.
Q. Does one boy manipulate a number of machines? A. Manipulates two machines, one for the holders and one for the caps and one for the body. . .
Q. What did you see? A. I saw him put six caps in one machine to the left and six holders in another machine to the right, and those two machines were both working at the same time.
Q. With respect to the rapidity of the number that are produced in that way? A. I would say it would take about ten minutes to do six complete.
Q. A little over a minute apiece? A. They had six at a time.
Q. Do you mean to say it takes ten minutes to go through that machine? A. I certainly do. '
Q. Isn’t it done in ten seconds? A. No, sir.
I've been working on a full article on the history of hard rubber chasing and chasing machines, and sources are remarkably few. The material above is a useful addition to what we know of how these machines were actually used in a production environment. For further description and illustrations of the machines used by Waterman in this era, see the article on Waterman pen manufacture in Machinery, vol. 18 (Dec 1911), p. 253.

Chapmans vs Waterman: Notable pens

In the Chapmans vs Waterman case (background here), a number of pens were introduced as evidence. Most were Watermans, many noteworthy. The list of exhibits (pp. v-xiv) records nine with overlays, five in sterling silver, three in 14K gold, and one simply "gold" -- presumably gold filled. The testimony transcript indicates this group included a 424 sterling silver Pineapple (p. 180) and a 512 solid gold sleeve-filler (p. 265), as well as a selection of pens chosen to illustrate the range of Waterman designs then in production, including the coin-filler (pp. 265-66).

Surely the most extraordinary pen mentioned, though, was a Waterman 20 self-filler. Edward Rohlfing, assistant manager in Waterman's retail department at 173 Broadway, recounted on the stand how he sold this pen to a customer who had brought in a #8-size A. A. Waterman/Modern pen -- clearly, a fan of big pens! -- for a nib swap (p. 356). There can be no doubt about the pen's identity, as the model number was mentioned multiple times, and Rohlfing describes the pen as "unusually large". And when asked, "Does that fact that this No. 20 self filler that you sold to him, impress this incident on your mind?", Rohlfing responded, "It does, because it is a very unusual size, and we very seldom sell one of the large 20 self fillers" (p. 357). From the context, this sale likely took place in 1912 or 1913, and the pen was a giant sleeve-filler -- a pen now known in only one surviving example, with this trial transcript the only other record of the model's existence known to date.

Some idea of the relative rarity of such a pen at the time may be gained by considering that Rohlfing had been serving some 200 customers daily for the previous four years (pp. 353, 358). It would take something special indeed to stand out from such a crowd.

Chapmans vs Waterman: Safety pen patents

One of the disputes brought out in the Chapmans vs Waterman case (background here) was over claimed infringements by Waterman of safety pen patents held by A. A. Waterman/Modern Pen. The main discussion appears in a letter from Waterman dated May 21, 1908, addressed to Alexander S. Bacon, Modern Pen's lawyer, and entered into evidence as Plaintiff's Exhibit 25 (pp. 496ff). The letter recounts Waterman's negotiations to purchase Modern Pen, including its patents (though in the trial, the focus seems to have been put on Waterman's attempts from 1907-08 to buy the A. A. Waterman trade name; p. 122-24). According to the Waterman letter, the sale of Modern was a done deal, awaiting only "formal corporate authorization". Counting on this pending acquisition of the Modern patents, Waterman "began the manufacture of a safety fountain pen which is the one of which we assume you complain." When this manufacture began is a bit unclear. Bacon had sent letters on April 29 and May 19, 1908 protesting the infringement, but how long did it take for Modern to learn of the new safeties and to respond? The Waterman letter states that the expected sale of Modern was still pending when Bacon's letter of April 29 was received, but the deal afterwards fell through. The letter then avows (p. 497):
As soon as we learned that these negotiations of sale had been broken off, we forthwith entirely discontinued the manufacture and sale of the safety fountain pen as then constructed and of which we assume you complain. Of the safety fountain pens of which we assume you complain only a few have been sold, probably less than a dozen.
Considering the letter's purpose, this improbably low number should be taken with a grain of salt. Admitting no fault, the letter goes on in good legal style to name and deny the validity of the patents allegedly infringed (523234 Peck and O'Meara, July 17, 1894; 551895 Horton and Peck, December 25, 1895; 700909 Frazer, May 27, 1902), and to state that Waterman's abandonment of this original safety design was "merely to avoid litigation and the trouble and expense incident thereto." The letter then concludes:
We are now using for our safety fountain pen a construction or structure which our predecessors in business used more than twenty years ago, and which has been commonly and continuously used for pencils and fountain pens since 1852, and of which we assume you claim no monopoly, If you desire, we would be pleased to submit to you a sample of the safety fountain pen as we are now making and selling the same. We wish to repeat that we have entirely discontinued making and selling fountain pens of the structure of which we assume you complain, and that we do this merely to avoid litigation and not because we recognize the validity of the patents you claim to be infringed, or that the pen as made by us did actually infringe any of these patents.
The generally accepted chronology for Waterman safeties posits that the earliest examples were those in which the nib turned as it extended and retracted, the tracks cut into the interior of the barrel being helical, rather than straight. Later safeties used a straight track and a helically-slotted driving tube (for illustrations, see our Waterman Safeties Pen Profile). The arrangement of the earlier safeties would have been to get around the Peck and O'Meara patent. The Waterman letter adds another twist to the story, so to speak. The helical-track safeties were not Waterman's first, after all. For while the standard straight-track pens did follow the helical-track pens, it seems they also -- albeit briefly -- preceded them.

If that "construction or structure which our predecessors in business used more than twenty years ago, and which has been commonly and continuously used for pencils and fountain pens since 1852" is to be identified with the straight-track safeties, how is that particular passage to be read? The reference to "our predecessors in business" is particularly opaque, implying as it does that Waterman itself used this mechanism in its earlier days -- and inasmuch as Waterman evidently didn't, must be interpreted as a deliberately misleading way of saying that other, earlier, and unrelated companies did. The reference to 1852 appears to invoke the mechanism described in John Mabie's US patent 11762, application date unknown, but issued in 1854. Others had long used a basic retracting or propelling mechanism consisting of a carrier riding in a longitudinally-slotted tube, riding in turn inside a helically-slotted tube, the carrier having a pin engaging both slots, by which the carrier was driven when one tube was twisted and the other held fixed. Mabie's patent added two improvements: a pin that went all the way through, engaging the outer tube's track on both sides; and helical slots in both tubes, cut in opposite directions. The Waterman letter undoubtedly refers to the first improvement, applied to the older form of retracting mechanism, rather than to the second, which is unknown in Waterman safeties of any era. Waterman's claim that this mechanism had been in use for decades for fountain pens appears to be a complete fabrication.

The limitations of advertisements as evidence are once again highlighted here. Previously, our earliest notice of Waterman safety production came in advertisements and trade journal mentions at the end of July 1908. We now know that Waterman began making safeties no later than April, and had switched to a non-infringing design in May.

ADDENDUM: In case you were wondering how A. A. Waterman/Modern Pen ended up with all the key retracting-nib safety pen patents, see Geyer's Stationer, vol. 31, Apr 4, 1901, p. 35, which reports on Frazer & Geyer's purchase of the Horton Pen Company's plant, machinery, and patents.

UPDATE: More details about the correspondence between Modern's counsel, Alexander Bacon, and Waterman is to be found here. There is a slight inconsistency in that the first letter from Bacon is there dated April 20 rather than April 29. What is more significant is that the contents of this letter and Bacon's followup letter of May 19 are reproduced, both noting advertisements for Waterman's safety in Cosmopolitan. Searching online copies from March to May 1908 has so far been unsuccessful, as available versions all seem to lack all or part of their advertising sections.

Chapmans vs Waterman: Ferris' testimony

Perhaps the most revelatory testimony in the Chapmans vs Waterman case (background here) is that of William I. Ferris (pp. 176ff, 267ff). Ferris had been with Waterman from very early on -- 1885, by his testimony, when the company consisted of but L. E. Waterman himself and his secretary (p. 177-78). Nearly all of Waterman's key patents after 1884 were Ferris's. Nor was he a closeted inventor, as he was also in charge of Waterman's manufacturing -- though he wore other hats within the organization as well.

Ferris on early Waterman advertising:
"In the first few years the advertising was limited to a few magazines. As the business went on and grew the advertising increased from magazines into newspapers and car cards [interruption] and other display matter, and this increased gradually through the 90's . . ." (pp. 178-79)

Ferris on Waterman sales volume:
"The first three or four years [from c. 1885, presumably] we sold in the neighborhood of 10,000 pens a year. From 1890 to 1900, it increased every year. About that time we sold in the neighborhood of 150,000 to 200,000 pens a year, but from early, 1901 to 1905, or for the last ten years, the sales have been upward of a million pens a year." (p. 179)

Ferris on the first Waterman overlay ("mounted") pens:
"in the early 90's, 1891, 1892 or 1893." (p. 180)

Ferris on the first Waterman self-filler (syringe-filler):
"The first self filler we made in about 1891 or 1892." (p. 184)
"We made a piston operating pen, which we made about 1891 or 1892." (p. 188)
[This is the first and only contemporary reference to this extraordinarily rare pen that has been found to date. Only two surviving examples are known, both with cone-caps, suggesting manufacture no earlier than 1894.]

Ferris on the Waterman pump-filler:
"We make what we call the pump pen; that was made about 1895, and it was put out more generally about 1900. We experimented and sold a few of them." (p. 184)
"We made a . . . pump filling pen, which we made in 1898, and 1900 they came out more extensively." (p. 188)
[Followup query: "You soon abandoned those, didn't you?" Ferris: "We still make them; some people won't have anything else." Goading queries follow: "The pump filling pen keeps pumping after you stop pumping and pumps the ink all over your fingers, doesn't it?" and "You have to have a college education to use one?"]
Upon further questioning about the pump-filler being abandoned or currently sold in only small numbers, Ferris stated that pump-filler sales were still running at 15,000-20,000 per year. (p. 267)
[Full introduction of the pump-filler only several years after an initial trial release is consistent with the evidence of advertising, patents, and surviving specimens. Note too that Robert C. Liddell, manager of Waterman's retail department, testified that the pump-filler had been made for about ten or twelve years. (p. 340). One wonders if Ferris was exaggerating pump-filler sales, but even so, 15-20,000 was a pretty small share of a total annual pen production of over a million.]

Ferris on the Waterman coin-filler:
"We make what we call the sleeve pen which has a rubber sack in, and a coin slot pen which -- [interrupted] And a pen with a lever attachment." (p. 184)
Q. What is this coin slot pen? A. That is a pen with a slot in the side of the barrel that you use a coin or knife blade or edge that will go in and compress the sack and fill it.
Q. How long have you been manufacturing them? A. About two to three years.
Q. Since the beginning of this action in 1910? A. Yes. (p. 189)
Coin-filler included in a Waterman salesman's sample case assortment introduced as evidence. (pp. 265-66)
Q. How long have you sold those with the coin apparatus for filling? A. About four years.
Q. Since about the beginning of this suit? A. About that time. (p. 267)
[Waterman coin-fillers have been dated to around 1913, since their only known appearance in advertising was in that year. Their rarity has been taken to indicate a short period of production, but this testimony suggests that they were produced from c. 1910-15 at least, though probably not much later than that.]

Ferris on the Waterman lever-filler:
Mentioned last in a chronological account of Waterman's self-fillers (see under coin-filler above, p. 184)
Lever-fillers introduced "last year, about a year ago" (p. 188), "last year." (p. 267)
Liddell, when asked how long the lever-filler had been sold, responded "The last month or so." (p. 340)
[These dates are not necessarily entirely inconsistent, given that both Ferris and Liddell testified on February 16, 1915, and the likelihood that Ferris may well have overseen test releases some time prior to what Liddell would have seen overseeing the retail department. In any event, the trial record shows that Waterman produced its first PSF-series lever-fillers some months prior to their first appearance in advertisements in mid-March 1915.]

Ferris on the relative popularity of various Waterman pens:
Estimate that eyedroppers ("regulars") were about 50% by number of pens sold. (p. 187)
Reiterated on cross-examination. (p. 266)
Same figure provided by Liddell. (p. 339)
Q. In the beginning, at the beginning of this action in 1910, what proportion of your pens were the old fashioned kind that you filled with a dropper? A. Probably fifty or fifty-five per cent. (p. 267)
Estimate that safeties were around 15-20% of pens sold. (p. 267)

Ferris on Waterman and Aikin Lambert:
In response to questioning about the consolidation of Aikin Lambert and Waterman nib production, date of consolidation given as "1910, about." (p. 196)
Same date given on cross-examination, noting Waterman was buying small quantities of nibs from Aikin Lambert in the years prior. (pp. 274-75)
Q. When did the Waterman people first get control of Aiken-Lambert Company? [objection, overruled]
A. About 1907. (pp. 196-97)
[The timing of the takeover was discussed here; Ferris's testimony indicates that it took place quickly, despite the public denials of the parties involved at the time.]

Ferris on Waterman manufacturing:
As of 1915, the Days' hard rubber plant in Seymour, Connecticut was still independent, though nearly all of its output was for Waterman, and Waterman managers had the run of the plant. (p. 185)

Waterman's own nib factory started in 1900. (p. 185)
Previously, all nibs outsourced:  Q: In 1898 . . . you bought your pen points and your holders both, didn't you? A. We did. (p. 186)
Waterman continued to buy nibs from outside suppliers for years after starting own nib production. (p. 197)
Ferris evasive on buying nibs from other makers: "We have bought a few in the earlier years, but in the last eight or ten years we have made them all that we have used under the name Waterman." (pp. 185-86)
Q. When did you last buy any pen points from outsiders? A. Any pens with the Waterman name on, I should say it is seven or eight years. (p. 187)
[Ferris and others also testified about the process of hard rubber chasing, which I have put into another post. It is interesting that Ferris stated that nearly all Waterman pens were chased (p. 275), as that is borne out by the relative rarity of smooth hard rubber models from that era.]

Ferris on Waterman sub-brands:
Q. What other pens do you manufacture? A. We manufacture the pen under the name of Remex, Edson, Pen An Ink (sic). (p. 187) Q. You have a self filler Remex, don't you? A. We did. (p. 188)
[The Remex self-filler was a sleeve-filler with a rotating rather than a sliding sleeve, introduced around 1905; Ferris's answer suggests that it was no longer in production by 1915.]

There are a few inconsistencies in Ferris's testimony, reminding us that no source can be used uncritically. Ferris was repeatedly asked how many different sizes of pens Waterman made, and repeatedly stated that there were seven, from size 2 to size 8 (p. 183, pp. 268) -- forgetting entirely to mention the biggest of all, the 10-size pens (a #10 nib is shown on p. 54 of Waterman's 1908 catalog, and the sale of a 10-size self-filler is recounted here). In the same exchange, Ferris also responded that Waterman sold pens with plain holders, chased holders, and mottled holders, forgetting to mention red (Cardinal) holders, which were standard catalogued items by this time. Asked when safety pen manufacture began, Ferris responded "about ten years" (p. 188), even though other evidence places it firmly in 1908, not 1905. Perhaps by this time Ferris was a "big picture" manager; the Waterman 20 (and at the other extreme, the "World's Smallest" No. 000) he might not have considered a regular production item -- present rarity likely reflecting past rarity, given that the survival rate of standout items is typically much greater than for the run of the mill. 

Chapmans vs Waterman: A pen history trove

Trial transcripts offer some of the richest repositories of behind-the-scenes historical information about the pen industry. The dispute itself is often of secondary interest, in comparison to what gets brought out in the testimony. This is very much the case with a volume I recently discovered on Google Books, which records the appeal by Isaac E. and William L. Chapman against the L. E. Waterman Company, heard in 1915 in the New York State Supreme Court's Appellate Division. This was the penultimate action in the long-running legal battle between Waterman and A. A. Waterman that was finally settled once and for all in 1917 -- a battle already treated at great length by George Kovalenko, to whom I will leave the task of analyzing the new material and incorporating it into the Waterman vs Waterman story.

What I intend to do instead, is to highlight some of the tangential information brought out in the testimony. This will take the form of multiple posts, so as to maintain a degree of organization by topic. Much of the new information has to do with Waterman, but covering everything from specific designs and models to manufacturing techniques to operational procedures in the repair departments -- plus the odd intriguing anecdote. The post topics are: Ferris' testimony; Safety pen patents; Notable pens; Chasing machines; and Miscellaneous.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Patience rewarded

Project pens sometimes take a while to complete, but the silver Sheaffer shown above took longer than most. I found it, capless, in a Florida resale shop in the late 1980s; the cap only turned up in the last year or so, and it had been so long that I had forgotten exactly where I'd put away the barrel. When I finally dug it out earlier this week, the cap proved to be a perfect fit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ammonia, stress corrosion cracking, and 14K gold nibs

Several years ago I posed the question of whether pen cleaning solutions containing ammonia could pose a risk to gold nibs via the process known as stress corrosion cracking (SCC). The original discussion at FPN can be reviewed here (the responses on Lion & Pen contained less of substance, and in any event are now lost). The most useful scientific paper cited in that discussion was David A. Scott, "The Deterioration of Gold Alloys and Some Aspects of Their Conservation", Studies in Conservation, vol. 28, no. 4 (Nov 1983), pp. 194-203. According to Scott, gold alloys in the 9-14K range are most vulnerable to stress corrosion cracking, whereas gold of 18K purity and greater is largely invulnerable. A number of reagents that could provoke stress corrosion cracking were mentioned, including aqueous solutions of ammonia. Unfortunately, details were not provided concerning the concentration of these solutions, or the length of exposure required before embrittlement took place.

That particular online discussion ended without any firm conclusions being drawn. My concerns remained, however -- enough that I drastically cut back on my own use of ammonia solutions on gold nibs. If ammonia could embrittle gold nibs, it would be a slow, cumulative process -- very possibly taking years or even decades before becoming apparent -- so I did not find any reassurance in arguments that consisted of little more than, "I've not had any problems, so it must be OK." What worried me particularly was the large number of  vintage gold nibs with cracks in locations that just didn't make sense. Cracks where a nib is subjected to repeated bending are readily explained by metal fatigue. But what about cracks in the heel of a nib, where it is firmly sandwiched between the feed and section? Fatigue would not seem to be a concern there, so why are such cracks so common? Conventional wisdom is that the gold was made too hard, but if so, why are these nibs so often cracked only where they are wedged into the section? The answer may be that while the heel is the part of a nib least subject to the cyclic loading that causes fatigue, it is the part of a nib under the greatest constant stress. And it is that very stress that makes materials vulnerable to stress corrosion cracking.

A recent reexamination of the materials science literature available online has helped fill out this picture. The studies cited by Scott, for example, are referenced in more detail in Jennifer M. M. Dugmore and Charles D. DesForges, "Stress Corrosion in Gold Alloys", Gold Bulletin, vol. 12, no. 4 (Dec 1979), p. 141:
Much of the published work on the stress corrosion cracking [of] gold alloys is that of Graf and his co-workers and results were obtained using binary gold alloys. For example, Graf (15) found that the susceptibility of such alloys actually increases as the gold contents increase from 5 to between 15 or 20 atomic per cent, in which range maximum susceptibility is observed. The precise gold content at which the maximum susceptibility occurred depended on both the corrosive media and the stress applied to the alloy. When gold-copper alloys were exposed to a mixture of ammonia, water and oxygen the maximum susceptibility occurred at a gold content of about 15 atomic per cent . . . Graf also observed that as the gold content was increased above that at which the susceptibility to stress corrosion cracking was a maximum, the susceptibility dropped rapidly and the alloy appeared to become virtually immune. In other work (3), this author reported that ultimately the susceptibility dropped to a constant low value at higher gold contents, an effect he attributed to strong general surface attack. He also observed that when the stress was increased, not only did the susceptibility to stress corrosion cracking increase but its maximum was shifted towards higher gold contents.
It is previously explained that "9 carat alloys contain about 18 atomic per cent, and 14 carat alloys often less than 30 atomic per cent gold. In each caratage, the percentages vary according to the atomic weights and the proportions of the non-gold components present in the alloys." While this might at first glance suggest that the gold content of 14K alloys puts them comfortably above the level of maximum susceptibility to ammonia-induced stress corrosion cracking, the last sentence of the longer passage quoted above indicates that under higher stress there might be no safety margin after all.

This is at least partially confirmed by another article, W. S. Rapson, "Tarnish Resistance, Corrosion and Stress Corrosion Cracking of Gold Alloys", Gold Bulletin, vol. 29, no.2 (Jun 1996), pp 61-69, which makes specific mention of fountain pen nibs, and of ink (p. 64):
SCC may be induced not only by exposure to acids during pickling but also a result of contact with reagents such as ink, traces of hydrochloric acid in the atmosphere, perspiration, etc. It has frequently been initiated at points of stress created in annealed low carat alloys by subsequent stamping. Articles such as fountain pen nibs, rings, chains, etc, provide well-known examples.
A further reference appears on p. 66:
In early production of 14 carat fountain pen nibs, for example, Loebich (27) has stated that when ternary Au-Ag-Cu alloys were used, it was found desirable to age the fabricated nibs. In the aged condition they did not undergo stress corrosion cracking in use; whereas if heated to the point where they became homogeneous, cracking by the action of the ink became likely. When certain 14 carat quaternary Au-Ag-Cu-Zn alloys are used, however, such ageing is apparently unnecessary. This could be due to the known limiting effect of the zinc on phase separation in these alloys. The susceptibility of alloys of this type to stress corrosion is apparently considerably influenced both by their zinc contents and by heat treatment. Analogous anomalies occur in the case of the white Au-Cu-Ni-Zn alloys and these have been discussed by Graf.
I have not yet been able to consult the articles by Loebich (who worked for Degussa: Otto Loebich, "Metallkundliche Probleme bei der gewerblichen Goldverarbeitung", Zeitschrift für Metallkunde 44 (1953) p. 288-92) or Graf (L. Graf and J. Budke, "Zum Problem der Spannungskorrosion homogener Mischkristalle III: Abhangigkeit der Spannungskorrosionsempfindlichkeit von Kupfer-Gold und Silber-Gold Mischkristallen von Goldgehalt und Zusammenhang mit dem "Mischkristall-Effect"", Zeitschrift für Metallkunde 46 (1955) pp. 378-385). Nonetheless, the fact that 14K nibs did have problems with stress corrosion cracking is highly significant. While that exposure was to ink -- that is, to acids and salts -- rather than to ammonia, we now have incontrovertible evidence that under the right conditions, even very weak solutions of known problem reagents can eventually leave alloy gold fatally embrittled.

What can we conclude from this? It seems clear that the observed cracking of nibs at the heel is indeed due to stress corrosion cracking -- and on balance, it is likely that this is primarily due to long-term exposure to ink, rather than to much shorter exposures to ammonia. We cannot assume that ammonia exposure is no more damaging than  ink exposure, however, given that typical ammonia cleaning solutions are far more reactive than ordinary modern inks. And given the cumulative nature of stress corrosion, minimizing ammonia exposure is only prudent.

One precaution to be considered is to remove nibs from sections before cleaning. Stress corrosion does not take place where there is no stress, and by all indications, nibs are most stressed by being wedged into their sections -- though internal stresses cannot be entirely ignored. If nibs are removed and cleaned separately, one also has the option of using other solvents not implicated in stress corrosion at all, such as denatured alcohol.

A further question is how ammonia solutions react with gold alloys in an ultrasonic cleaner. The scrubbing action of an ultrasonic will typically remove more encrusted ink in a minute than in hours of soaking, but ultrasonics are also known to be able to erode objects by driving the cleaning solution into microscopically small surface cracks and pores. Though it would seem that ultrasonic cleaning has the potential to dramatically accelerate the process of stress corrosion, I have not been able to find any relevant studies (including with other metals and other reagents).

Two final notes: While we might worry about ammonia, chlorides are a proven danger. I have personally seen a 14K gold pen overlay spontaneously crack to pieces after a few minutes of exposure to undiluted bleach. Even in very dilute form, bleach (and even heavily chlorinated water) will rapidly embrittle gold jewelry many times thicker than a pen nib. Jewelers' websites routinely caution against wearing gold rings of 14K purity or less when using cleansers, swimming in chlorinated pools, and even handling some foodstuffs (vinegar and salt, for example). And we can also learn from the jewelers regarding another aspect of stress corrosion cracking prevention, which is heat treatment. A stress relief anneal, typically 30 minutes at 250°C, is recommended after any jewelry repair. This is consistent with Loebich, cited above -- though I wonder how many of those who currently engage in nib repair have any knowledge of this.

ADDENDUM: Worth noting is the near-total absence of heel cracks on gold dip pen nibs, which were made in much the same way as fountain pen nibs, and which in use would have been subject to very similar fatigue cycling -- but very different clamping stress, and no ink exposure.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Conway Stewart bankruptcy and liquidation

Last week it was announced that Conway Stewart was under administration, with the possibility of an imminent sale mentioned. Now it seems that if there is to be any sale, it will be of the name alone, for the physical assets of the company are up for auction, starting the day after tomorrow. In addition to the expected machinery, furniture, and the like, the catalog lists a good number of pens -- including quite a few vintage pieces, undoubtedly acquired as reference specimens.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pelikan 100N seals

The latest addition to our fountain pen seal selection is shown above: replacement piston seals for the Pelikan 100N. Late-production 100N pens with acrylic barrels use the same seals as the Pelikan 400, but many earlier 100N barrels are slightly oversize -- 9.1-9.2mm, instead of 9.0mm. These translucent green seals are similar in shape to our translucent white and black 400 seals, but are a bit larger and a bit softer as well. They are also a good choice for Pelikan barrels which are now oversize due to reaming to remove interior roughness (or to accommodate other oversize seals on the market). For pricing, see our catalog, or contact us for details on quantity discounts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bender pneumatic-filler

Most pen collectors can readily recite the lineage of pneumatic-fillers (pens with sacs compressed by air pressure), from Crocker's 1901 blow-filler patent to Chilton's incorporation of a hollow plunger in the mid-1920s, and thence to Sheaffer introduction of the Touchdown system in 1949.  Few indeed, however, recognize the name of Frederick William Bender, who patented and briefly produced a plunger-operated pneumatic-filler some fifteen years before Chilton.

I confess that I would be no exception, were it not for a New Jersey pen friend's discovery of a Bender pen earlier this year. That got me digging into its story, and after managing to acquire the pen I was able to dig into the pen itself -- a story in itself.

As the pen came to me, it had been converted a long time ago to a twist-filler. The inner end of the plunger had been plugged with a piece of wood sloppily glued in place, covered with the end of a rubber sac, and then used as the mounting nipple for the inner end of the tube-sac. That sac was further secured by being tied with silk thread, with the other end attached to the section nipple in conventional style.

Once all the added bits had been carefully removed, the original metal fitting became visible. Note that there is an axial hole running all the way through this assembly, including the external filling knob in hard rubber, which screws on the other end. The inner end of the plunger tube is mushroomed over, clearly to hold the piston washer. Below is the assembly with a new rubber washer installed, and with the hard rubber tube that covers the hollow brass plunger shaft.

As found, this tube had been pushed into the pen's body until it was flush with the end of the barrel. This must have been done when the pen was converted into a twist-filler, with the tube -- luckily, left uncut -- used as a bushing. Restored, it looks like this when extended:

Filling is done just as it is with a Chilton. The plunger is extended, a finger is placed on its end to block the central vent hole, the plunger is depressed, and the finger is then released, allowing the compressed air in the barrel to escape and the flattened sac to reinflate. The pen works exactly as described in Bender's US patent 825442, issued on July 10, 1906, noting that the patent does not specify the details of the piston seal.

This was not Bender's first pen-related invention, as he had applied for patents in 1903 and 1904 which were granted in 1904 and 1905 as US patents 772204 and 784538. Both dealt with internal valve arrangements of unnecessary complexity, likely never produced. His pneumatic-filler was a much better idea, however, and on October 19, 1908, The F. William Bender Company was incorporated to manufacture the new pen. As noted in Geyer's Stationer, vol. 46, October 29, 1908, p. 22:
ARTICLES of incorporation of the F. William Bender Company have been filed with the County Clerk of Hudson County, New Jersey. The company will manufacture fountain pens, with offices at No. 47 Newark street, Hoboken. The capital is placed at $50,000, divided into 500 shares of the par value of $100. The incorporators are Frederick William and Henry Bender, of Hoboken, and Conrad Goldbecker, of No. 183 Hackensack plank road, Weehawken. F. W. Bender, for many years in the insurance business at Hoboken, is the patentee of the pen, which is to be known as the “Bender Pneumatic Filler Fountain Pen." The pen is said to possess many advantages as a self filler. The holder is partly glass, though rubber covered, and contains a rubber sack. There is a plunger at the top, with an air vent which, when pulled out and released to settle back, sends out the air and draws up the ink. The company has a factory in Hoboken, but is looking for a New York location.
A shorter mention in the American Stationer, vol. 64, November 7, 1908, p. 12, adds no details, but gives the name of the third partner as C. Goldbeck, rather than Goldbecker. As far as I can tell, no glass components can be found in our Bender pen.

How long did the Bender pen company last? It was still a going concern when the March 1910 edition of Polk's (Trow's) New York Copartnership and Corporation Directory was compiled (vol. 58,  p. 77), but it is no longer listed in the 1914 edition. Bender himself died on February 7, 1912, at the age of 59. His obituary in the New York Sun of February 8, 1912, p. 7, col. 6, appears below:

From this account and others, it is apparent that for Bender the fountain pen business was a sideline. Only in the stationery trade press was his pen venture highlighted, as in this brief death notice in Geyer's Stationer, vol. 53, April 4, 1912, p. 5: "F. W. Bender, inventor of a safety fountain pen that has had considerable export business, died recently in his home in Hoboken, N. J." Where this export business might have been, remains to be discovered. As is, I have yet to find so much as a single advertisement for Bender's pen, or any mentions beyond what has been cited above.

Bender's last pen patent, 1098469, for an adjustable feed, was issued posthumously on June 2, 1914. The application had originally been filed on August 6, 1910, but was renewed on April 14, 1914 under the name of his widow, Pauline Bender, as executrix.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

New seals for Pelikan 100N, 400, 120, and 140

Although we started selling replacement seals for Pelikans some time ago, we were never entirely satisfied with them. They were larger than the originals and softer, and did not always fit securely enough onto the piston shaft -- to the point that in some cases they had to be glued in place. The first ones were also bright blue, which looked nothing like the originals when viewed through the ink window, and the later ones weren't much better, being off-white.

We decided we could do better, and now the results are in: seals just like the originals, that fit securely, and made in both clear and black -- the latter giving an accurate original appearance to Pelikan 100N pens equipped with the early black synthetic seals.

They are now listed in our catalog, and will shortly be listed on eBay as well. Resellers interested in wholesale quantities should contact us directly for pricing.

UPDATE: Most earlier Pelikan 100N pens have a barrel that is slightly larger (0.1-0.2mm) inside than the 9.0mm standard for the later, acrylic-barreled 100Ns and the 400, 120, 140, etc. For these pens, we now have oversize seals in translucent green.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dating a Waterman instruction sheet

George Kovalenko has been trying for some time to pin down exactly when Waterman first offered pens in red hard rubber. He has managed to narrow down the likely point of introduction to somewhere between November 1906 and February 1907, as is explained on his pen history blog. So when the pen below crossed my path, the instruction sheet accompanying it caught my eye as fitting neatly into this chronology.

The pen is a smooth 0512 1/2, in a Christmas box with a gift inscription dated 1910. The instruction sheet gives much space to promoting the new "Clip-Cap", and from the way the clip is represented and from the range of materials offered, the date must be right around 1906.

This is also consistent with the listing of spare parts on the same sheet, shown below. Parts are listed as plain, chased, or mottled -- Cardinal is not mentioned. Both #3 and #7-size pens are still in the lineup, as are the desk pens (eyedroppers with long, tapered barrels, too long to be carried in a pocket).

Intriguingly, the parts list includes two models I have never seen nor heard of, oversize taper-caps in #7 and #8-size.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Printing problems with and an HP Deskjet

This has nothing to do with pens, but since I had no luck Googling for an answer, I thought I'd share the solution that finally worked for me. Printing from the software to my HP D1300-series Deskjet worked fine under Windows XP. Under Windows 7 Pro it was another story. With standard settings, using print spooling, nothing would print (the print queue would read "1" for an instant, and then back to "0", without the printer making a sound). With print spooling off, sending documents directly to the printer, none of my other applications could print, while printing took incredibly long -- maybe a half-hour to print an envelope, for example.

Using a reference driver wasn't an option, as HP doesn't appear to offer one for this series of printers. In the end, however, the tech I talked to suggested that I try printing to the built-in Microsoft XPS Document Writer -- essentially, printing to a file -- and then printing from that file. A bit of a workaround, but it does the trick.

NOTE: Default print quality for printing from the XPS Viewer is "best", so for reasonable printing speed I end up having to open up preferences each time in the printing dialog to select "fast draft" instead. I have not been able to figure out how to change the default print settings of the XPS Viewer, unfortunately.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Ups and downs

Some ups and downs this week, the big "down" being the loss of a pen to credit card fraud (if you are offered the BHR Duofold Deluxe with the distinctive engravings shown above, it's stolen).

A nice "up" to end the week, however, was the successful restoration of the early Moore safety shown above. The pen was bought at the Chicago pen show auction; there was a gaping crack at the front of the barrel, and another in the end knob. The latter was the result of screwing the knob onto the shaft too far, splitting it from the inside end. The knob was removed from the shaft, relaxed and reformed with heat, and the crack sealed closed. The threads were then chased and deepened so that the knob could be screwed onto the shaft without excessive outwards pressure. The crack now looks like a superficial scratch.

I'm afraid I didn't take a "before" picture of the crack at the front of the barrel. Once again, the damaged area was heat-relaxed and reformed, but here the material was very thin and not entirely round or concentric, so sleeving it was very tricky work. The thinness of the barrel mouth was probably how it ended up cracked in the first place, as a heavy-handed writer putting a lot of pressure on the nib could easily overstress the thin walls holding the nib assembly in place. Repair entailed careful internal grinding of a recess for the hard rubber sleeve, then careful shaping of the sleeve's interior profile. Once again, the crack now looks like a superficial scratch, and there is enough strength to the repaired area that the pen is once again usable, with due care.

Early Moore safeties with the short cap are rare in any form. Examples with overlays are highly desirable, but to find an overlay over mottled hard rubber is extraordinary. This is certainly the first such I've ever handled, and very well may even be the first one I've ever seen. Definitely a worthwhile restoration effort!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Yet another Edward Todd

Here is another example of the creativity of Edward Todd in its heyday. This sterling silver dip pen features pierced work, which gives the effect of a silver filigree overlay over ivory. In fact, the body of the pen is hollow from end to end, and the "ivory" is a lacquer-coated metal tube closely fitted inside.

The construction is effective, and quite convincing -- as the detail above illustrates. The Edward Todd maker's mark is clearly visible next to the "STERLING" imprint.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Don't snap that box!

One thing that I learned young about the handling of Old and Delicate Things was how to close a box with a spring-loaded latch. Press the release button down -- don't snap the box closed.

This beautiful and uncommon fitted Waterman box shows why. Snapping a box closed not only puts a lot of pressure on the latch plate, but also subjects it to the impact of the falling catch -- which itself can break from the repeated shocks. In this case, it was the latch plate that gave way. Subsequent snap closures did further damage, gouging away the leatherette and wood at the latch point.

Good old boxes are becoming harder to find, and the wooden parts of hundred-year-old boxes are typically dry and fragile. So please, hold that button down, and don't snap that box.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

More unusual Edward Todd pens

The pen above lacks its cap and nib. It's been sitting forgotten in my parts box for years, noticed only when I had to rummage around to see if I could find some Edward Todd parts for yet another project pen. Fully marked, "The Todd Pen", it is -- most unusually -- a middle-joint eyedropper.

Nearly all middle-joint pens are A. A. Waterman or Sterling products. Likely this pen was made under license, as it appears to predate the expiry of the 1899 middle-joint patent.

The other unusual Edward Todd is also missing a few parts -- the feed and the cap -- but what a nib! It's a fully marked "J" nib, with the "J" stamped in relief just as done with steel "J" dip pen nibs. Very hard to find in gold fountain pen form, and for some reason more often seen on German pens such as early Montblancs.

UPDATE: Here's a picture of a typical base-metal J-nib, marked "WHS" (for W. H. Smith, the English stationery firm, still very much in business).

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

State of the Blog

Over 170 published posts now, with several more articles in progress. Over 3000 page views in March. We have some shows coming up soon, along with other springtime activities, so posting may slow down a bit. On the other hand, you never know what interesting items may turn up for a quick profile.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Edward Todd enameled pen


Edward Todd was a venerable company that started out in the dip pen era, and though its fountain pens were not technically innovative, they often took a very distinctive path when it came to design. If you run across an American-made boxed and matching set of a metal pen, pencil, and pocket knife, odds are it's Edward Todd. Ditto for elegant solid gold pens with inlaid enamel decoration -- true vitreous enamel, and not so-called "cold" enamel, as used by Wahl-Eversharp and a few others.

And don't forget pens with fully enameled overlays, such as this recent acquisition. Not at all common, with most examples badly chipped. For some reason enameled overlays were much more popular in Germany and Britain -- though the European preference was for transparent colored enamel over guilloché.