Saturday, September 28, 2019

Anomalous Aikin Lambert fountain pen nibs

As prior research has shown, until well into the 20th century almost all American fountain pen manufacturers bought their nibs from specialist suppliers. Even some of the largest and most successful companies did not bring nib manufacture fully in-house until the 'teens or twenties. Exactly who was making what for whom and when remains a puzzle that will take years to put together, but we can be sure that certain companies with a long history of gold dip pen nib production were not only making nibs for themselves. One such company is Aikin Lambert, which was taken over by Waterman from around 1906, but which was working closely enough already in the 1880s to have their nibs listed alongside Fairchild's in the charts in Waterman flyers showing which size nibs went with which holders. Not surprisingly most Aikin Lambert fountain pen nibs closely resemble Waterman-marked nibs. They have similar proportions and have heart-shaped vent holes. But there are exceptions which make the experienced collector sit up and take notice.

The nib at left has a very distinctive keyhole pierce, identical to those found on Parker Lucky Curve pens of the first and second decades of the 20th century. Offhand I cannot think of any other contemporary pen brand with a pierce anything like it. What does this suggest regarding where Parker was getting at least some of its nibs?

The nib in the center has an oval pierce that is also distinctive, albeit not to the same degree. While it also recalls Parker-marked nibs, similar pierces are also found on gold dip nibs from multiple makers. I have included it here nonetheless, circumstantial as its evidence may be.

The nib at right has a pierce at least as distinctive as the keyhole. Star-shaped pierces on gold nibs are virtually unique to Fairchild, with it generally accepted that the few known examples of early Waterman nibs with such pierces were Fairchild-made (Fairchild being Waterman's first documented nib supplier). So what is such a pierce doing on a nib made by a rival firm? I can only speculate that any earlier rivalry dating back to the dip pen era would have been history by the time this nib was made in the early 20th century, and that Aikin Lambert and Fairchild's nibmaking operations likely ended up converging under Waterman. We know that Waterman absorbed Aikin's nibmaking operation into their own by around 1910; so far, we know much less about the later history of Fairchild. This nib, however, suggests that by the 'teens Fairchild may no longer have been producing their own nibs -- suggesting in turn that their nibmaking operation had by then been sold to Waterman.