Friday, August 7, 2020

Greek nib breaththrough

It's now been several years since I posted on a mysterious group of early 20th-century American-made pens with Greek imprints. Not having worked on them in the interim, it was an especially pleasant surprise to have received this note from my fellow pen enthusiast Panos, reproduced here in full with his permission and my gratitude:

Dear David,

I hope you are keeping well in these difficult times.

I'm writing you because I believe that I can offer a humble contribution to your blog on the subject of the "Greek Nib" pens article

I actually read your article for the first time a couple of years ago (or perhaps more), but it was only recently that I decided to do a little research of my own on the subject. After all, speaking the Greek language provides a certain advantage in such cases…

After completing my research, I can safely say that the reason, for which you were unable to discover any information on these pens, is that you are looking for the wrong name…. But, let us look into this in detail.

Indeed the pens in question were produced by the Kritikaki Brothers, which appear to have been active members of the Greek community in N.Y., and many of their customers must have been fellow Greek New Yorkers of the time. I have no information for a potential reseller in Greece, for these pens, but I suppose that Greek-Americans of the time may have brought their pen(s), or some pens as presents to relatives and friends, back to Greece on one of their visits. One way or another, this explains why one of the pens mentioned in your article, was "rediscovered" in Greece.

Now, it was more than often the case (and still is) that immigrants changed their names as part of their integration to the society they lived in. After all, the number of native English speakers that can properly pronounce Greek names must be minute in our days, and certainly, back then, in the beginning of the 20th century N.Y., it must have made the grand total of…. none at all. And this is, admittedly, not good for business… So, among the Greek community the company was known as the "ΑΔΕΛΦΟΙ ΚΡΗΤΙΚΑΚΗ" (Kritikaki Brothers), but to the general American public, they were the... "KRITIKSON BROTHERS" or "KRITIKSON BROS."! And although the Greek flags and the references to Beautiful Greece must have appealed to the customers from the Greek-American community, they also had pens for the rest of the American public.

But let's look at the actual evidence…

The weekly magazine "Η ΝΙΚΗ" of 17/08/1913  (The title means "The Victory" and we have to note that during the period of 1912-1913 Greece and its neighbours were awfully busy fighting the Balkan Wars, and thus both the title and many articles of the publication seem to depict this). I also like the typo in the title page (which only exists in this particular issue of the magazine, so it is indeed a typo) : "PUBLISHED BY THE GREEK BUBLISHING CO."

So, in its second [to] last page we have the advertisement for the model No 58, a black chased pen, featuring two gold plated bands with the Greek and the American flag. By the way "ΜΕΛΑΝΟΦΟΡΟΣ" actually means that the pen carries its own ink, and not that it has a black cladding. The thing that probably confused you is that the ancient (but also the modern) Greek word for "ink" comes from the ancient Greek word for "black", probably because the ink of the old times used to be always black…. But perhaps the most intriguing fact is that the advertisement states that their catalogue (which they are happy to send to you for free) contains 75 different kinds (of pens)!
By the way, I believe that you are right about the pen featuring King Constantine I. It must have been a  commemorative edition, for the accession of the king to the throne. He was also very successful in leading the Greek army during the Balkan Wars, and thus he must have been very popular among the Greeks in general. You can also see him on page 3 of the same magazine above "commanding an officer of his entourage".

Now, things become more interesting in this advertisement from the N.Y. Greek newspaper "ΑΤΛΑΝΤΙΣ" ("Atlantis", first appeared in 1894), from the 1st of January 1914. Here the Kritikson Brothers propose gifts from the new year's day (Greeks traditionally exchanged gifts on the first day of the new year, and not on Christmas) and it has a list of different models, including No 58.
I shall try to translate the model descriptions - Note that the description is using the word "jewel" where - I suppose - we would use the words "pattern" or "design" these days :

No 182. GOLD DECORATED. Gold plated with bright bands. $4.50
No 444. FLOWER DECORATED. Gold decoration with jewels depicting clover. $6.00
No 312. CLUSTER DECORATED. Gold plated in its entirety with clusters of colourless Greek and American flags. $6.50
No 121. GOLD BAR DECORATED. Gold plated in its entirety with clusters of bars. $7.00
No 484. FLOWER DECORATED. Gold plated in its entirety with jewels of orange tree flowers. $7.50
No 390. RIBBON DECORATED. Gold plated with ribbon like jewels. $6.50
No. 642. FLOWER WREATH DECORATED. Gold plated with wreaths of flowers and
branches. $9.00
No 560. VARIOUS DECORATIONS. Gold plated with various different jewels. $9.00
(Number missing) FLOWER DECORATED. Gold decorations with jewels depicting violets (Viola odorata). $6.50
No. 58. Black chased with two beautiful gold plated bands on which the Greek and the American flags are engraved $2.50 - With only one band $1.50. (note here that in the 1913 advertisement, the price of $1.50 was without any bands).
No. 805. Gold plated in its entirety, with square jewels.
No. 810. Gold plated in its entirety with jewels of squares and flowers.
No. 815. Gold plated in its entirety with jewels depicting stars.
No. 800. Gold plated in its entirety with jewels depicting flowers (which look suspiciously like fleur-de-lys, in other words, lilies).

Finally, and as all the pens appear to be clipless, the note at the end reads "Clip for the protection of the pen, gold plated 50c, nickel 15c".

Also, notice the nibs of the pens. I see mainly three different versions: - One with the letters A K, standing for the Greek version of their name ("ΑΔΕΛΦΟΙ ΚΡΗΤΙΚΑΚΗ"). - One with the letters K B, standing for the English version of their name ("KRITIKSON BROTHERS") - And the ones featuring all or some of the following: the Greek flag, the words "Η ΩΡΑΙΑ ΕΛΛΑΣ" (The Beautiful Greece), and the initials A K.

So far so good. But what happened to the Kritikson Brothers of New York? Well, it seems that they became the Kritikson Brothers of Chicago, and that they concentrated on producing their patented SECURITY PEN. I suppose that it was a good idea, as it would be very difficult to compete with companies like Waterman and Parker….

So, their Security Pen patents were filed between 1919 and 1921…

Security pens do not feature the Greek flag nibs, of course, and in the English language advertisements there is no mention of the Greek name of the brothers or anything like that…..

But, have a look at this advertisement in the Atlantis of 1921, providing the missing link…
The advertisement has the title "Where can I get one?", referring to the wonderful "SECURITY" CHECK PROTECTOR PEN, and, after enumerating the awesome features related to the pen (mechanism, nib, feeder and clip), it goes on to say "All the above features are PATENTED INVENTIONS of (the) Brothers Kritikaki, having 17 years of experience in this field and having founded, three years ago, the company "SETTLES PEN COMPANY" with a capital of $250,000. The factory is one of the largest and one of the most perfect in America, with annual production of 500,000 pens." It goes on to mention a provided 5-year warranty and prices of the pens. Interestingly, the pens were also available without the CHECK PROTECTOR, in which case they were lowered by $1.00. It also says that they  are seeking for partners in America and abroad.

So, we also learn that the Kritikaki Brothers were related to the SETTLES pens as well! And their 17 years experience means that they were involved in the fountain pen manufacturing since 1904!

Alright, I think this is enough research for this week! Surely this info does answer a good number of questions, and you may feel free to use it to expand your original article. On my side, I am glad that I seem to have discovered a previously unknown (?) Greek contribution to the fountain pen saga. Sadly, none of the Kritikakis Brothers' pens have made it to my
limited collection so far. Perhaps one day…


As noted in the previous articles, the pens offered by the Kritikson/Kritikaki Brothers during their early years in New York were made by other companies, such as Aikin Lambert and Eagle. It was only later that they began manufacturing on their own.

For those delving into the later history of the brothers, this account is found on p. 104 of Walden's Stationer and Printer, vol. 45 (November 1921), describing a tour of the factory by the former Prime Minister of Greece. The brothers are described as "native Greeks". For some reason Settles is misspelled as "Settels" throughout this volume.
In the following issue (December 1921, p. 64) there is some further biographical information on the brothers. Of particular interest is the mention of them buying "a few job lots of seconds from the factory which they assembled at home in the evening". From the phrasing it is not entirely clear, but it would seem to be saying that the seconds came not from Waterman, where John worked, but from the other, unnamed factory where George was employed.


Michael Quitt said...

How wonderful that Panos took the time to do the research on the history of these pens and forwarded this information to you and then you to the rest of us. Thanks for posting his letter, David...!!!

Jan Koenig said...

Fascinating. Great piece of research and well laid out story!

Jan Koenig said...

Settles is shown in 1921 at the same address.

Jan Koenig said...

And there is this from the April 1922 edition of "Office Appliances: The Magazine of Office Eauipment"

And from Geyer's

Formation of Illinois Pen Co. in 1918 form "India Rubber World"

Jon Veley said...

Wonderful stuff! Grateful to both of you for posting it -

Jan Koenig said...

According to the two Kritikson's WWI draft cards, on June 5, 1917 they were living together and they both were employed as "gold pen makers" at CE Barrett.

Jan Koenig said...

According to his "Declaration of Intention" associated with his naturalization, John Kritikson was still living in NY in 1911. His occupation is once again described as "Gold Pen Maker".

It's interesting that at different times, he lists himself as coming from Smyrna, Greece or from Smyrna, Turkey. The naturalization paper lists Turkey.

David said...

Smyrna was occupied by Greece from 1919 until it was retaken by the Turks and then largely destroyed by fire in 1922.
Before then, it was a strongly Greek city despite centuries of Ottoman rule. Per Wikipedia:

"Greek influence was so strong in the area that the Turks called it "Smyrna of the infidels" (Gavur İzmir). While Turkish sources track the emergence of the term to the 14th century when two separate parts of the city were controlled by two different powers, the upper İzmir being Muslim and the lower part of the city Christian. . .

During the late 19th and early 20th century, the city was an important financial and cultural center of the Greek world. Out of the 391 factories 322 belonged to local Greeks, while 3 out of the 9 banks were backed by Greek capital. Education was also dominated by the local Greek communities with 67 male and 4 female schools in total."

Andrew Timar said...

Excellent and enjoyable sleuthing demonstrated here. Thanks.

waiting to deliver said...

Thank you for this piece. I hope you don't mind me asking you this here, but I need some help:

I am married to the great grandson of John Kritikson. The pens are a legend in the family (As well as his other invention, the loaf burger).

However, there are no Kritikson pens in the family. Where can I go to acquire one? Do you know of anyone who is selling? Thank you!

Alan Marshall said...

Thank you David and Panos (Efaristo!)

Naturally, I had to check eBay:

a-z said...

Amazing! So many years of reading your blog and I had missed the initial postings.
Excellent details and the connections with the greek politics of the era is amazing.
King Konstantinos (whose portrait was featured in one of the pens and Venizelos (prime minister who visited the Settles factory) were the leaders of the two sides of the greek civil war which was playing at the same time with the first world war and the later Greek-Turkish war which led to an incredible exchange of populations between the two countries.
I would have loved to have a pen like this in my collection.
Thanks for a great presentation David and excellent information Panos.