Richard’s Pen Collection : Vintage American Fountain Pens

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

The Swan and the War

Manufacturer logoSwan pellet compartmentWhen the world turned to war in 1914, the pen industry responded, delivering hundreds of thousands of pens to the military. In 1916, Parker introduced a “Trench Pen,” with a blind cap covering a compartment at the back end of its barrel. Ink pellets, kept in the compartment, were mixed with water in the pen’s barrel to produce ink. This invention eliminated the need to obtain and carry liquid ink, a near impossibility under trench-warfare combat conditions. Other makers followed Parker’s lead, among them Mabie Todd, whose improved design for the pellet compartment features a cap that cannot be lost because it is not removable. (See the image to the right here, which shows the pellet compartment opened.)

My eyedropper-filling Swan “Military” pen was made in New York and is 52332" capped, 634" posted. This pen has one of Mabie Todd’s remarkably smooth nibs. Its autograph band is engraved Alfred Abelson 6–4–18.

Because I’m naturally curious about the people my pens belonged to, I researched Mr. Abelson. I found that he was born in Norway in 1888, came to the U.S. in 1902, and registered for the draft in June 1917. He served in the U.S. Army Air Service from June 1918 to January 1919. After the war he married a woman named Ida, and he died in 1958 at age 70, when he was struck by a car on a rainy street.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Although Parker’s was probably the best-known trench pen, it turns out that Parker didn’t invent the style. The earliest patent I’ve found belongs to the Bicks Pen Company of Chicago. One day recently, I stumbled across a Bicks pen. That was before I realized the importance of Bicks, and I sold the pen. A friend found another for me, still in its box and provided with a full tin of pellets, and I’m not going to sell this one. It’s 51332" long capped and 6916" long posted. The pellets are stored in the blind cap, which Bicks called a magazine.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

While the military market needed trench pens, the civilian market was a prime market for pens to fan the flames of the patriotic fervor that swept the nation when America’s boys went to war Over There. One response to this ready market was the “bullet pen,” made to resemble a rifle cartridge, and about the same size. These pens were sold as reminders of the troops and also as gifts to be sent to them. My Salz “Army & Navy” pen, made in 1917 or 1918, is typical of the genre. It’s 31516" capped and 42532" posted, fairly close to the size of a 9.3×74R cartridge. Like the trench pens above, it’s an eyedropper filler; but without a pellet system it would be somewhat less convenient in the field.

Pens that look like rifle cartridges are still being made today.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Parker’s “Diamond Jubilee” Baby: The 75 — and Its Heritage Arrow Nib Info

Manufacturer logoIn late 1963, after a series of remarkable and innovative pens beginning with the “51”, the George S. Parker Pen Company celebrated its 75th year by introducing yet another classic and one of the most enduringly collectible pens of all time, the Parker 75. Designed as a cartridge/converter pen, the brilliantly ergonomic 75 was initially provided with a squeeze converter resembling the Aero-metric filler in the “51” family. Produced in a variety of body materials that include Lustraloy, sterling silver, gold, and specialty metals such as silver recovered from Nuestra Señora de Atocha, a galleon in the Spanish treasure fleet that sank near Florida in 1715, and brass from the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth, the 75 was introduced and is perhaps best known in its sterling silver Crosshatch (“ciselé”) edition, shown here. My first-year 75 has a section featuring metal threads and a chrome section ring with a 0 reference mark, and it is fitted with a No 67 14K broad nib. It is 5116" capped, 558" posted.

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I like the Parker 75, but I don’t think I’ll ever become a 75-focused collector. Nevertheless, some of the pen’s designs are pretty much irresistible, and the French-made Florence is one of them. This pen’s capped size, 518", reflects the black cabochon on its cap. Posted, this baby stretches a petit 52332". I have a plain old boring medium nib in my Florence, but when a friend offers you a pen that writes this nicely, why push for more?

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The topper for any 75 collection has to be a Flighter. My Flighter is a Deluxe version, identified by its gold-plated furniture. In size, it’s pretty standard as 75s go: 5364" capped and 51732" posted. This pen also appears among my collection of Flighters.

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The advanced features of the 75, such as its ergonomic section and its adjustable nib, did not spring fully armed into existence as did Athena from the brow of Zeus. The company developed them over a period of several years and evaluated their marketplace acceptance, a year before introducing the 75, with the Parker VP (Very Personal). At 51532" capped and 52732" posted, the VP is a bit bigger than the 75. With its spare decoration that includes a barrel jewel without a tassie, it still looks remarkably modern. With a No 67 broad nib, my VP is a pleasure to use.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The advanced features of the 75 (déjà vu!) were obviously adaptable to other pen models, and in 1983 the Parker Premier made its appearance. Identical to the 75 internally, the Premier is longer and heavier at 538" capped and 6132" posted, — and it’s trimmed a little more upscale. There was a ciselé version, of course, and a plethora of lacquers and other metal finishes graced the display cabinets and the pockets of purchasers. I consider the most elegantly attractive Premier finish to be the Athènes, so that's what I have. Befitting its luxurious image, it‘s fitted with a smooth broad nib to lay down a most impressive signature.

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Industrial Design, Redux Arrow Profile

Eversharp logo Hoping to recover from the nearly fatal disaster that was the CA ballpoint, the Eversharp company engaged noted industrial designer Raymond Loewy to design a successor to its remarkably successful Skyline, whose popularity was fading as fashions changed. Loewy, the designer of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s famed GG-1 electric locomotive, the Electrolux vacuum cleaner, and the 1947 Studebaker, produced a sleek new pen. Eversharp introduced it in 1948, naming it the Symphony. Internally identical to the Skyline, the Symphony is smoother, more bullet-shaped at both ends. The pen’s most distinctive feature is its “slipper” cap, which looks somewhat as if it had been fashioned from halves of two caps, one slightly longer than the other, with the clip on the shorter side. The pen shown here illustrates the edgy Loewy design, with its angular clip and bandless matte-finished cap. This pen, 512" capped and 578" posted, has a lovely fine semiflex nib.

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First-Rate Second Tier: Wasp Arrow Profile

Manufacturer logoThe Wasp Pen Company was one of Sheaffer’s sub-brand companies. Among other things, Sheaffer used Wasp (from the initials of the W. A. Sheaffer Pen Company) as a testing ground for the plunger filling system that the company had perfected; in 1934, Wasp pens appeared with the new Vacuum-Fil system. My early “large” WASP VACUUM-FIL pen is an example of the development process, as instead of Sheaffer’s later combined blind-cap plunger knob, it has a removable blind cap and a brass plunger knob. This is a fat, oversize pen, at 5332" capped and 6532" posted. This green Lizard-Skin pen came to me with its barrel in two pieces, broken through about 14" from the threads and with a lizard scale-sized chip missing, and with its cap lip split.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Made probably at about the same time were these standard-sized men’s pens. The black Clipper is fitted with a medium/fine duo-point. It’s a very ordinary pen, but that does not mean it’s boring. Quite to the contrary, it writes wonderfully. The fine-nibbed red and green pen (not imprinted as a Clipper) is relatively uncommon; I don’t know what Sheaffer/Wasp called the color, but I call it “Rhubarb.”

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

My next Clipper, another “large” model, is a black Vacuum-Fil pen with a custom-retipped medium/fine duo-point stub nib. I think this pen was made in 1938. Its ordinary band marks it as a standard model, and it bears a “price” mark of 395.

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This is a wonderful “large” Clipper De Luxe Super-Value Set (pen and pencil) in Grey Pearl. It was priced at $7.50 and was probably made in 1939. (One exactly like it appeared in the September 9, 1939, issue of The Saturday Evening Post.) Its design from end to end, featuring a great striped/blocked celluloid pattern and faceted cap and barrel crowns, is among the most dramatically Art Deco pen designs of all time. Wasp Clippers have duo-point nibs of 12K gold, which costs slightly less than 14K. My pen is 518" capped, 638" posted. It has a lovely two-tone firm fine/extra-fine duo-point nib, and the clarity of its Visulated section is remarkable. The pencil is 43132" long.

Mechanical pencil Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Continuing the annual progression, I think, is this standard-size men’s Clipper pen/pencil set in Brown Pearl. Based on the pen’s streamlined comb feed and its more streamlined cap crown (which appears in 1939 adver­tise­ments), I believe this set was made in 1940 or 1941. (Interestingly, although these pieces definitely came as a set, the pencil has the older Art Deco faceted cap crown.) The pen is 5964" capped and 6732" posted, and the pencil is 42932" long.

Mechanical pencil Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

At 6316" posted, this late-model Clipper Junior shows the plunger-filling side of the line; note the broad stripes inserted into the cap material to match those in the barrel. This is a bottom-line Clipper, priced at $1.95, and its WASP Junior nib imprint emphasized its lesser status.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
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