I am penning this article over a number of weeks, so book mark and pop back as I work though the collection
I remember the very first time I started to use a fountain pen, maybe not the day more like the era, like most people it is the dark or bright years of schooling. When I look back at my old textbooks. It’s this blue pale ink, over emphasised curves on the cursive written letters, the obligatory low levels of ink at the start of a new page and ink blots. Then I found computers and the old gel nib rollerball pen and the rest as they say is history.
It was only years later when looking on eBay one lazy afternoon, as you some times do, sitting there randomly putting in things into the search box and up came a vintage fountain pen. Collectible fountain pens! what a neat idea. Despite an altogether misaligned introduction to fountain pens I started a passion for the instruments that would consume much reading and browsing from that point on. There is a certain pleasure in collecting something that is actually functional, that is the first thing I would say for anyone looking for a good hobby to get into.
I purchased my first collectible fountain pen off eBay from a gentleman who was given it as his retirement gift some decades earlier. Brief piece of research later I won the bid and through the post arrived the first fountain pen in my collection. 18 Carrot Gold nib, early 1990s, not 1890’s but it was still the beginning of collecting vintage fountain pens. I loaded the writing instrument with the finest ink and then I was on my way, this started a passion of writing, journaling and note taking with the hand. This pen turned out to be nothing like the pen brought from the shop during my school years. This pen glided as if it was skating on ice, with a slight brevet of friction. Like everything in life, you sometimes do get what you pay for.
So what better way to share my love for collecting fountain pens than to pen this short post and give you my top tips on what I think is the 3 cannot fail buy brands in the vintage pen sector. I spent so long reading into models, brands that I have decided to pen this with a different focus. When I look back, I just wish I learned more from practical experience. That is my top tip here, before delving into batch numbers and build variants try and build a passion for the object. The internet is full of forums and sites that will break down where possible batches of a particular rare product, so I am here just going to drop the nugget for you hopefully to be enough to get going on your journey of Vintage fountain pen collecting.
The Big three Fountain Pen manufacturers
To get your bearings in any market, you do need to spend a little effort understanding who the main players are, some are recognisable today as they provide writing instruments from high prices to right down in price for the school pencil case . Others were exclusive in the 1930s and remain so today.
One thing you will notice with this list, they bear the name of the creator of the business, George Parker, Walter A Sheaffer and Lewis Edson Waterman
Parker Fountain Pens
Possibly the most well known of fountain pen manufacturers, founded in 1888 by George Parker, later to be joined by both sons.
Lucky Curve Parker Pen
whose company in 1894/95 patented a new ink feeding design called the lucky curve which solved one of the fundamental problems of ink pens of the time, controlling the flow of ink. The design would be produced by Parker for decades, with albeit still one design problem to solve, that was the total elimination of blotting of ink due to the accumulation of excess ink. Nonetheless Lucky Curve parker pens where manufactured as the main pen up until 1929
WW1 and the Parker Trench Pen
Parker adapted during the First World War by securing a US government contract to produce the trench pen. Unique in holding ink pellet capsules in the body of the pen, that would turn into flowing ink when mixed with fluid.
Duofold Parker Pen
1921 brought with it a new model and new design direction that would go on to define the history of parker into 2 main segments, pre Duofold and Post. Shortly after the war, Parker made a turn over of around 1 million US Dollars. The introduction of the Duofold in the 1920s would transform Parker into a global leader of writing instruments.
Bright Colours, was a Parker first to the market, a shift from limited colours, these pens popped decades before the term became synonymous with making online images jump out.
By the mid 1920s Parker promotes non-breakable plastics for its Duofold pens. Add campaigns of pens being dropped from multi story buildings, aeroplanes and even the Grand Canyon drive the messaging home. Seems on reflection quite an extreme campaign, where does indestructible pen come in the list of most required features. The campaign seemed to have worked, by 1928 Parker provided the guarantee for ever against all defects.
not technically a pen, but the companies emblem was born in 1933, the first time is appeared in a pen clip on the new Vacumatic model, a pen that holds twice the ink capacity of the duofold.
The pen that literally won the war. The German surrender was signed by Eisenhower using a Parker 51 and Douglas MacArthur used his wife’s 20 year old Parker duofold in signing the Japanese surrender documents, end the war in the Far East
The Parker 51 would become one of Parkers best sellers. For a Pen that was developed and released during world war 2, the company did not hold back on development, spending around 1/4 million dollars on development.
The Parker 51 also was used to sign the Ford Motor company contract resulting in Ford employees to become the highest paid employees in the automotive industry.
The French signed the foundation agreement documents of the European Economic Cooperation organisation EEC with the Parker 51, the EEC would go on to become the European Union EU. Not clear what pens where used to sign the later treaties.
The next evolutionary step, the first self filling pen providing up to 6 hours of writing without a refill.
75th Anniversary Parker pen made from solid sterling silver with a 14 karat gold nib.
Parker released the duofold Centennial in 1987 a year before Parkers 100 year anniversary with a 18 Karat gold nib
The beginnings of the Sheaffer story
The story is one of fight for survival and entrepreneurial spirit, during the early part of the 1870s Jacob Sheaffer, a successful merchant, ran a Jewellery business as well as getting into the insurance business. The insurance side of the business grew further with the tie-up with the Western Insurance company of Chicago, a decision which would have far reaching consequences.
All was about to change, operating in the Insurance business is one of constant calculation of risk and being aware of your overall exposure. In good times, it is usually a straight forward profitable business model. In 1871 the Great Chicago Fire hit the city which would turn the good times on its head. The fire killed 300 people, made 100,000 homeless and destroyed 3.3 square miles of the city before finally being contained.
With the tie up with the Western Insurance Company, Jacob Sheaffer had allot of debt exposure which would lead to the force sale of all his assets, everything they had worked towards was gone.
This is where son Walter comes into the picture, growing up in a family in debt. At the grand old age of 11, not finishing high school. Walter Sheaffer started work. During this period Walter was working jobs that paid from $1 per week to $7.20 per month with a Peanut stand idea he set up selling in the neighbourhood which made $75 in one month. By 1880 his father Jacob managed to borrow some money and restarted back into the Jewellery business.
Walter having been successful in saving and appreciating the value of money and showing an early understanding of business, eventually moved with his family out of town to set up his own Jewellery store.
Sheaffer from jewellery to Pens
What is the connection with Jewellery and pens? Walter was reading an add of the Conklin pen, which had an elaborate, but what Walter would go on to conclude clumsy way of filling it with ink. The Spark of an idea was born with what would turn out to be the first of a filed patent in 1908 for a lever pen, ink filling device. A revised second patent was later submitted which would go on to be the lever design the company still uses today.
Walter in his mid to late 40s, with a successful jewellery business to his name staked everything on Pen manufacturing, with 2 patents to his name. striking a deal with 2 pen salesmen who had toured the country selling Conkin Pens wanted a 33% cut to Sheaffer pens. That decision would result in the Sheaffer Pen Corporation that is still strong today, with over 250 employees with annual turnover of over $35 million.
Sheaffer Flat-Top Pen 1914-28 Single and Double Bar
These are the earliest pens from Sheaffer, the name flat top was actually derived from the collectors markets and not the name used by the manufacturer. The first batch used a single bar lever mechanism, that would compress the rubber sac, when released would inhale ink. The early single bar models where prone to small leakage, which was resolved with a two bar level model design that came out in 1912. Many of the earlier single bar types where sent back to the factory for upgrade to be fixed. You guessed it, come across a single bar model should be something to add to your buy list.
Sheaffer LifeTime Pen 1920-1928
1920 is the release of the aptly named Lifetime pen, in recognition that the model came with a lifetime guarantee. How does that work with a 100 year old pen, read the small print.
The life time guarantee was advertised as unconditional for the life time of the first user. As World War 2 took hold the guarantee changes to cover just the nib. Lifetime guarantees remained I place, not on all models, and with some conditions attached.
The trademark LIFETIME imprinted on the 14K gold point and on the clip to identify the new LIFETIME fountain pen guarantees its proper performance under normal conditions below for the life of the person in whose name a certificate finished for each pen is required. If during your life as the registered owner, this LIFETIME fountain pen should fail to function properly for any cause other than wilful or accidental damage send the pen to our factory postage prepaid and we will repair or replace it for you completely free of charge.Sheaffer pen Corporation
The sheaffer White Dot: the most famous pen trade mark
The white dot first appeared on the pens from 1924, in various locations it has to be said; center of the top of the cap, tail end of the barrel, below the lever and even on the side of the cap near the top.
The reason for the white dot dancing around various pen models was partly due to manufacturing challenges of drilling into the case and the requirement for a lower profile pen.
The white dot originally designated the pen came with a lifetime guarantee. Changes with the guarantee would see over time a disassociation of the white dot trade to mark the pens guarantee status. The White Dot mark would be a mark of luxury and a symbol of satisfaction of the product. All Sheaffer top flight pens carried the white dot.
Sheaffer Balance 1929-1941
1924 rolled out with a early version of plastic called Radite. These pens where particularly known for the colour and patterns the pens came in. One buy product of Radite was it was sensitive to discolour of time, and the cause was the rubber ink sac inside the pen. The Balance pen came to market with the new plastic and was the first in the line to be in a shape of a torpedo.
Other Sheaffer models
- Wasp Clipper 1934-1940Wasp Addipoint 1934-1940
- Military Clip Pens 1940-1945
- Skyboy 1940-1945
- Tuckaway 1940-1950
- Triumph 1942-1948
- Sheaffer Stratowriter 1946-1950
- Fineline Pen Line 1947-1953
- Early Sheaffer Touchdown Pens 1949-1950
- Thin Model Touchdown Pens 1950-1951
- Sheaffer Snorkel 1952-1959
- Sheaffer Tip Dip Touchdown Pens 1953-1963
- Lady Sheaffer Skripsert Cartridge Pen 1958
- Imperial Model AS9 c1960
- Sheaffer Compact Cartridge Pens 1961-1962
- Sheaffer Imperials 1961-1962
- Sheaffer Dolphin Pens 1962-1964
- Lifetime Pens 1963-1964
- Sheaffer Stylpoint / Glideriter 1965-1968
- TwinWell / TwinWell Glideriter 1965-c1966
- Smoothie 1965-c1968
- Stylist 1966-1968
- Soft Stroke 1969-1973
- Sheaffer NoNonsense 1969
- Nostalgia Introduced 1970
- Silver Imperial Introduced 1970
- Targa 1976-1998
The evolution of Waterman pens was in a similar trajectory to the other 2 manufacturers of fountain pen by way of innovation, spotting a gap in the market and designing something to fill that gap.
Unlike the American origin of Parker and Sheaffer, Waterman is French
Lewis Edson Waterman was a pen salesman who held in his hands the problem at first hand, with the current crop of fountain pens he was trying to sell, they leaked. Lewis set about inventing the solution in the way of the ‘Three Fissure System’, which would solve one of the problems with fountain pens tendency to flow to much ink when in use. The design was patented in the early 1880’s and would feature in the first pen to be sold by Lewis Edson Waterman in New York, but not under the name Waterman, well not yet at least.
In 1884, the Ideal Pen Company proudly presented its first pen called the Regular. The name, the ideal pen company by 1888 would be renamed 4 years later would be renamed LE Waterman.
1904 saw the first first clip was attached to the pen to allow it to be hung to the pocket and by 1913 a lever controlled ink supply system was developed that would remain in the company line up of pens into the 1940s..
Waterman Safety 1904
Waterman glass ink Cartridge
Waterman Patrician 1929
The pen design is Watermans present to the art Nouveau era and is one of the most coveted fountain pens. When this pen was first sold, it was marked at a eye watering amount of $10, in part due to a number of hand made components. The Parker equivalent competitor to this pen was the Parker Vacumatic which was sold cheaper. The Patrician was not a volume seller and commands premium prices today.