Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Waterman five-color Ripple

When I was new to pen collecting, I heard of (but never got to see) Waterman Ripples in experimental colors, colors other than the standard red and black, Olive Ripple, Blue-Green Ripple, and Rose Ripple. So when I was offered such a pen at this last Washington, DC pen show, I counted myself lucky indeed -- not to mention thankful, since a number of fellow collectors kindly helped steer the pen my way.

The vivid colors seen in the photo at top were not clearly in evidence at the time. A better idea of what the pen looked like can be had from the picture immediately above. It looked like an odd Olive Ripple with streaks of green, though the section, protected from fading, gave some idea of the material's original appearance.

As it turned out, the pen cleaned up beautifully. In addition to the tan, brown, and green, there is red and a bit of black. It may seem nitpicky, but the patterning of the cap and barrel doesn't match especially well -- not so much in the shape of the rippling as in the balance of the colors. Nearly all multicolor hard rubbers use just two colors, for the difficulty of getting even and consistent patterning increases rapidly as more colors are added. This isn't so much of an issue for artisanal production or for items sold face to face. For mass-produced pens marketed primarily through print advertising and catalogs, however, too much variation in appearance causes problems. Although I cannot prove it, I do believe the desire for consistency of appearance was the main impetus for the move from the amorphous mottling of early 20th-century pens to the more regular woodgrain patterning of the 1920s, out of which Waterman in turn developed its "Ripple".

Our understanding of how Ripple hard rubber was made is still incomplete. It seems likely that the process involved extrusion of tubes, which were mounted on mandrels for vulcanization. Looking inside the mouth of the barrel, there is almost no patterning visible inside, just an even biscuit color. From my experience having had patterned hard rubber made, I would bet that the variation between cap, barrel, and section stock is no accident, and that this was the best matching that could be done with the material available. Indeed, with such an ambitious combination of colors, it is probable that much of the experimental stock was entirely unusable.

Restoration of the pen was conservative. The surface was gently cleaned with a fine abrasive paste, in a water-based medium, and the cap band was temporarily dismounted in order to remove a dent. The only part replaced was the missing lever box, into which the original lever was mounted. Though they may not be visible in the photos, the imprints are strong, though there is no model number imprinted on the barrel end.

Sheaffer 18KP trim

It had been at least 20 years since I'd seen another, and very possibly closer to 25. I have only seen one other, and it's been so long I cannot remember who owned it -- though it wasn't any of the leading Sheaffer collectors of the present day, none of whom could recall ever having seen an example.

So what is this mysterious "it"? A Sheaffer with trim marked "18KP", "P" undoubtedly standing for "platinum" [see addendum below - D]. This set came my way this past weekend, sold out of a collection reportedly in storage for the past few decades. Clips, cap band, crown, and nozzle are all fully marked, and are yellow-tinged white in color. Paradoxically, the one example I had seen long ago had trim that to all appearances was gold. I recall the discussion that ensued, since the markings didn't seem at all consistent with gold or gold filled, while the color wasn't consistent with platinum. Perhaps the trim was mismarked, though it is possible it could have been plated by an owner who preferred the look of gold.

ADDENDUM: Another apparent inconsistency was the use of the 18K mark with platinum, since platinum is normally at least 900 or 950 fine, but Daniel Kirchheimer has pointed out that the "P" must denote palladium, not platinum -- the mark therefore indicating 18K white gold.