Friday, October 21, 2022

Waterman and the Barnes lever-filler patent

Pen history has largely been written by collectors rather than trained academic historians, so one often has to scramble to find solid references for what has become accepted knowledge. An example which recently sent me scrambling for documentation is Waterman's acquisition of John Barnes's lever-filler patent. For future reference, I will share the material I found in this post.

Firstly, let us note that there are two Barnes patents that are often confused with each other. The first is US726495, issued on April 28, 1903. The second is US738876, issued September 15, 1903. The first is referenced in the second, but with a misprint (725,495 for 726,495). Neither patent is for the use of a lever as a filling method per se, nor is the method by which the lever is attached to the barrel covered. As with Sheaffer's patents, there is much misunderstanding about what is claimed as original. Both Barnes and Sheaffer patented improvements to lever-fillers -- in Barnes's case, a pressure bar with an attachment to the barrel at the end and formed so as to be toggled to the end of the lever. The lever box was patented by Ferris, and had nothing to do with Barnes.

Both patents were initially assigned to W. F. and John Barnes Co. The exact date of their acquisition by Waterman I have not been able to establish as yet, but the following will help narrow down the range.

Earlier Waterman lever-fillers typically bear the date of the first Barnes patent on their levers, along with "PAT. APLD. FOR". And on March 13, 1916 Waterman filed for a disclaimer to this patent which was duly published in the US Patent Office Official Gazette of March 21, 1916.  The L. E. Waterman Company is there identified as "the assignee by mesne assignments".

1916 would also appear to have been the year that Barnes died, at least according to Edward F. Dunne's Illinois: The Heart of the Nation (1933). In volume 3, page 109, we read "John Barnes, who was also the inventor of a fountain pen which was sold to and is now being handled by the Waterman Fountain Pen Company, died in 1916, at the age of eighty-three years".

Also undated is the well-known anecdote from Walter A. Sheaffer's autobiography, in which he recounts (pp. 34-35):
"In the early days of the lever pen it was a novel device, but there was an old lever patent taken out by Barnes of Rockford, Illinois, that I could have bought for a few dollars; but this was one place where my patent attorney advised me wrong. He said, "It isn’t worth anything and I wouldn’t advise you to buy it." However, it was sold to/the L. E. Waterman Pen Company for about $100. This patent was the basis for the Waterman Pen Company to make a lever pen. As they were a very large concern, they showed lots of dealers a lever pen before we were able to get to them."
Indeed, the date of the Barnes patent appears on all early Waterman lever-fillers, even the very oldest examples known (see previous posts here and here) which likely date to the end of 1914 and certainly no later than the very beginning of 1915.

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