Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Van Winkle Pen Company

It's not every day you see an early 20th-century taper-cap with a glass barrel. A patent application for this design was filed on October 24, 1910 and US patent 995307 was duly issued on June 13, 1911. The core part of the invention was the use of a metal tube between two barrel end pieces, over which either conventional pearl slabs could be mounted, or a glass tube allowing for insertion of printed advertising. This was the brainchild of Ralph F. Van Winkle, of Erie, Pennsylvania.

The patent date is imprinted at the end of barrel, next to the trim band. You'll also notice that there is a hole at the end of the barrel. Yes, this taper-cap is also a blow-filler. 


The ad below appeared in Commercial America, vol. 8, no. 4 (October 1911), p. 35.


Another Van Winkle product was the No-Dip Penholder, another blow-filling design -- basically a fountain pen for use at the desk, utilizing ordinary dip pen nibs.


This ad appeared in Commercial America, vol. 10, no. 1 (July 1913), p. 31. By this time the Van Winkle Pen Company had moved to Franklin, Pennsylvania, which is also the location indicated on our taper-cap pen at top. Unfortunately the company was out of business shortly thereafter. A brief entry in Geyer's Stationer of October 14, 1915, p. 11 reports the demise the previous week of R. F. Van Winkle of Franklin, PA from a brain tumor, noting that he had been in "poor health for more than two years, and because of this was forced to relinquish his business interests and retire to private life. The Van Winkle Co. was then disbanded."

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

John Holland and aluminum


One of the items in a recent eBay lot was the twist-pattern dip pen shown above. When it arrived, my initial reaction was disappointment: I had been hoping it would be silver, and possibly Gorham, given that maker's fondness for the twist. Instead, it was aluminum. It was even so marked.


Upon closer inspection, the holder end proved detachable -- one of those reversible plugs, allowing the nib to be stored inside the barrel.


And, lo and behold, on the previously hidden part of the plug, there was a familiar imprint: "JNO. HOLLAND". No disappointment here, after all.


I'd not been aware of aluminum being used by John Holland, and knowing a bit about the history of aluminum production (outlined here), I reckoned that this dip pen would date somewhere in the later 1880s or 1890s, with the imprint explicitly identifying the material as aluminum suggestive of the era when it was still something of a novelty. And indeed, a dive into Google Books turned up several references to John Holland's activity in the manufacture and sale of aluminum items in the 1890s. On p. 127 of the April 1895 issue of Aluminum World we find this listing:
JOHN HOLLAND GOLD PEN CO., CINCINNATI, O.—This concern makes a specialty of drawing aluminum tubes for penholders and similar class of work. They are also making an aluminum comb which is receiving a large sale. 
Mr. John Holland of the company, is noted for his researches in the metallurgy of iridium, and his discovery of the use of phosphorus as a flux in the melting and fashioning of the metal for gold pen-points. Mr. Holland has placed the same energy and business skill to his work with aluminum that he has already shown in his manufacture of gold and iridium work, and is doing a large business in this line.
On p. 153 of the May 1895 issue, there is the following ad. It would appear that the Star Aluminum Company was a Holland subsidiary. Note that "Star" was later used by Holland as a brand name for their fountain pens.

Following up with a search of Cincinnati city directories, it seems 1895 was the year Holland got involved in the manufacture of aluminum items. The 1896 issue of Williams' directory, whose annual publication date was in June, carried this ad on page 1813.


The 1895 issue, however, which would have been compiled the year before, lists only two companies under the heading Aluminum on page 1845, one for castings, the other for novelties, neither of them John Holland -- whose listing on page 779 makes no mention of aluminum articles.

ADDENDUM: At the 2022 Baltimore pen show I was able to take this quick picture of four Holland aluminum reversible traveling nib holders, courtesy of Scott Jones. Each holder has a different pattern.



Thursday, February 24, 2022

A Slender Maxima set: restoration choices and the preservation of history

This Parker Vacumatic set came to us from an old collection, assembled in the old days when vintage pens could be found in the wild in such abundance that most collectors soon gave up on restoring every single new acquisition. And like many such items, it was no longer exactly as it was when it left the factory. Which raised the question of how to proceed: whether to put the set back to its configuration when new, or to preserve its history of subsequent use and service.

So what was the set's original configuration? The pen's date code is worn away, but the Non-Stop repeater pencil's date code is for the second quarter of 1939. Wide bands identify both as Slender Maxima models. Striped screw-in end jewels and striped section plus the profile of the blind cap tassie would suggest 1938 production but would also be consistent with an early 1939 date. This would fit with the Blue Diamond clip and the date code of the pencil, not to mention the distinctive Streamline Art Deco box.


The nib, however, is a replacement of Major rather than Slender Maxima form, with a date code for the second quarter of 1941. It could have been installed at any point after then, though -- and one other clue suggests that it likely happened in the middle of the war years.


A Vacumatic made in 1939 would have left Janesville with an all-metal filler unit with an aluminum plunger. This pen's filler was replaced with a plastic unit, which could have been manufactured no earlier than 1942. 


Wartime (as opposed to postwar) dating was confirmed once the filler unit was removed, as it's all plastic, not just the plunger. All-plastic filler units turn up regularly in 51s and Vacumatics made during WW2, but by then Parker had standardized production and all models used the same small-size filler unit. It's rare indeed to find an all-plastic filler in a larger size, since they were only made as replacement parts for older models -- clearly in very limited numbers, given wartime production constraints. Our pen's replacement filler unit is at top, while a standard-sized unit is below.

Collectors tend to prefer pens as original as possible, so I initially reassembled this one with an all-metal filler unit from c. 1939-41, though with some hesitation. I knew the filler unit it had come with was something unusual, and told something about this particular pen's own story. Nor did it escape me that it was hardly consistent to replace the war-era filler while leaving the 1941 nib in place. After briefly posting the set for sale, however, Daniel Kirchheimer questioned me about these very issues, prompting me to return the pen to the configuration in which it had arrived at the shop.

Historical authenticity isn't always best served by trying to turn back the clock. For some of the most compelling stories old items convey only begin after they were sold and put to use.