Richard’s Pen Collection : Vintage American Fountain Pens

Writing instruments on this page are part of my personal collection and are not for sale.

Fifty-Two Ways to Love Your Waterman Arrow Profile

Manufacturer logoThe L. E. Waterman Company didn’t invent the lever-filling fountain pen; that honor goes to Walter Sheaffer. But Waterman’s pens were, and remain, very popular. Among the most popular, partly because of the great number of these pens still to be found in usable condition, is the famed Ideal No 52. Beginning its life in 1917 as a hard-rubber (Ebonite) model, the 52 was produced in many variations: with and without clip, chased or plain, black or red rippled. In the 1930s, it shrank a little, and when Waterman finally gave in to progress and started making celluloid pens, the venerable 52 even crossed that hurdle.

A very good friend brought me the 52 below, a pedestrian BCHR model, 51332" capped and 62332" posted, at the Philadelphia Pen Show in 2008. What’s so special about it? Oh, nothing. Except the magical artist’s nib, otherwise known as a wet-noodle needlepoint. This is a pen to die for, as they say; but I’m lucky enough that I stayed alive for this one.

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The skinny variant of the 52, probably thought suitable for secretaries and stenogs, was the 5212. This black chased one has a firmish fine nib, good for shorthand. It’s 51332" capped and 658" posted.

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Different trim levels and styles appeal to different people. Among the most interesting of Waterman’s hard-rubber variations is rippled hard rubber, introduced in 1926 and a Waterman exclusive during the Golden age. A little newer than the pen above, my Red Rippled Hard Rubber (RRHR) No 01852 features a semiflexible extra-fine nib, and it is 51332" capped, 62132" posted. My late-model RRHR No 52, which does not fit into the Standard Numbering System because of its nickel-plated furniture, has a semiflexible fine nib and is 42332" capped, 6516" posted.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Waterman’s numbering system allowed for a variety of pens bearing related numbers. Next is a ring-top Ideal No 055212V. This pen, although markedly different from the 52 above, is an x52 because it is a lever filler with a No 2 nib (in this case, a sweet flexible stub). The 05 portion of the number indicates a gold-filled overlay. The 12 says the pen is thinner than a standard model, and the V says it's shorter (a vest-pocket model). Including its ring mount, it is 31316" capped and 5132" posted.

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Another charming variant is this ring-top RRHR Ideal No 01852V, shorter than the standard but just as thick. With its very sweet No 2 flexible stub, this pen is really a pleasure to use — posted, that is, so that it’s 52732" long. Capped, it’s 41732" in length.

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One of the less common Waterman color/trim varieties, because without any added carbon in the mix it is much less durable than black, is plain red hard rubber. I’m fortunate to have this ring-top Ideal No 0185212V. This Waterman also has a lovely No 2 flexible stub, and I find it remarkably enjoyable to use despite its small size of 41532" capped and 534" posted.

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Below is my “last” 52; I call it that because it is a very late representative of the venerable model. Waterman resisted the changeover to celluloid that began in the mid-1920s, and it toook until 1934 to switch the 52 to the newer material. When they finally got around to it, this slightly updated pen (at 5116" capped and 614" posted, a little smaller than earlier pens) was the result. The more modern design is reflected in the streamlined furniture and the tapering of the ends, but the pen still retains the “classic” flat ends.

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The First Successful Self-Filler Arrow Design Features

Manufacturer logoRoy Conklin invented his self-filling pen in 1897. Patented four years later in 1901, Conklin’s Crescent-Filler heralded a new era of convenience.

My oldest Crescent-Filler was made within a very few years of 1903, when Conklin got a patent on his improved filler lock ring. (The patent date is imprinted on the barrel; the improvement was a slight reshaping so that the ring would jam tightly under the crescent instead of being loose enough to jiggle around until it exposed the slot and allowed the crescent to be inadvertently pressed in the user’s pocket.) This Conklin’s Self-Filling Pen No S3 has a wonderful flexible No. 3 nib, and at 512" capped and 63132" posted, it’s deliciously, elegantly slender.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

My Crescent-Filler No. 30 was made, as best I can determine, around 1920. It writes beautifully with its flexible No. 3 nib. It’s 538" capped, 634" posted. Conklin seems to have had problems keeping a given model number assigned to one particular kind of pen — any other No. 30 might differ from this one by lacking a clip or possessing a cap band or other trim, or even in size.

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Plastic Hits the Scene

Manufacturer logoIntroduced in 1924, the flat-top Sheaffer’s Lifetime, with its distinctive White Dot and “jade” color, was not the first celluloid pen but does claim the honor of having been the first to succeed widely in the marketplace thanks to Sheaffer’s size and clout. The green celluloid plastic, which Sheaffer called Radite, has a great tendency to turn brown with age, and I consider myself very fortunate to have found this oversize Model J8C flat-top, with its very good first-generation color. 514" capped and 658" posted, it’s a great fit.

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After it became clear that Radite pens were the way of the future, Sheaffer began transitioning its non-Lifetime models to celluloid as well. The pen here, a 5-30, was actually built as a service pen (loaner); and, because it wasn’t going to be sold commercially, it was fitted with the somewhat smaller nib and feed from a 3-25. (The nib is a general-purpose Fine.) Both the cap and the barrel of this pen are engraved to indicate its status as a service pen. At 514" capped and 61132" posted, it’s is the same basic length as the Lifetime pen above, but it’s much thinner — and, with its 3-25 nib, it’s significantly shorter when posted.

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The ’40s: Streamlined Arrow Profile

Manufacturer logoDuring the late 1930s and early 1940s, futuristic streamlining was all the rage. In the pen world, that school of design is exemplified by the Eversharp Skyline. Designed by Henry Dreyfuss (who also designed the streamlined steam locomotives that pulled the New York Central’s famed 20th Century Limited), the Skyline was the most successful of all the Eversharps, and an excellent pen. It was manufactured from 1941 to 1948 in several materials, including all-plastic, metal-capped, and solid precious metals.

My first Skyline is a Standard with a black celluloid barrel, an ink-view section, and a stainless steel cap. This pen is relatively early production, and it is made of celluloid and fitted with a long-V-style pressure bar. It measures 5932" capped, 52332" posted; and it writes like a dream with a very wet flexible medium nib.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Next is a Dubonnet Red Standard topped with a green/blue striated cap. This pen is also early production, and it too is all celluloid, even its cap. It measures 5932" capped, 51316" posted, and with its very firm XXF nib it would be ideal for the “accountant” in me.

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My Garnet Modern Stripe Standard, 5532" capped and 5916" posted, has a medium manifold nib.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Parker called it the Maxima. Sheaffer called it the Premier. “It” is an oversize pen, and Eversharp called it the Skyline Executive. At 534" capped and 6732" posted, the Executive is one big honkin’ pen. The best part about it is that it’s a delightful pen to handle, even with a nailish nib like the one on my Dubonnet Red Executive.

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The Skyline was also made in a reduced-trim version called the Streamliner, without the Double Checked warranty mark and with a clip that did not wrap over the derby. This is my Streamliner, a Silver Gray Demi-sized pen with a lovely fine flex nib. It’s 42532" capped, 518" posted.

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