Richard’s Pen Collection : Vintage American Fountain Pens

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

Eyedroppers and Slip Caps

Early fountain pens had no levers, buttons, or other filling mechanisms. To fill one of these pens, you screw it apart, usually at a nearly invisible joint between the gripping section and the barrel, and fill it with an eyedropper. When you reassemble it, you cap it with a cap that slips over the tapered section and is held in place, if you’re lucky, by friction. Pens of this type were notorious for uncapping themselves and leaking, and it was this fault that led to the invention of “safety” pens such as Moore’s Non-Leakable and the Parker Jack-Knife.

My earliest eyedropper is this straight-cap overfeed design, a D. W. Lapham pen labeled only “THE RIVAL” PAT. FEB 14 – 93. The patent date yields the name of the inventor, David W. Beaumel, who had not yet formed his own company. This pen, 5" capped and 52932" posted, has a straight cap and two repoussé gold bands.

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Not my oldest ED, but among my most cherished ones, is this Parker Lucky Curve No 1. Priced at $1.50, this straight-cap model was the least expensive of Parker’s pens during the latter half of the “Oughties” (c. 1905-1910). Its barrel imprint proudly proclaims that its patented features include the Lucky Curve feed and the feed’s 1905 enhancement, the notches that have earned it the “Christmas Tree” nickname. At 558" capped and 612" posted, this baby is about the size and shape of a BiC Stic — but it doesn’t write like one. Its nib is the right size, but it’s actually a later Parker nib that I reworked to fit the pen (which arrived with an Evans nib). I have to admit that I like this juicy medium stub.

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Next is a D. W. Beaumel eyedropper, made probably around 1910. This cone-cap pen is 51132" capped, 634" posted. With its large flexible stub WARRANTED No 4 nib and two repoussé gold bands, this pen was probably fairly expensive; it might have sold for perhaps $3.00.

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L. E. Waterman was famous for the quality of its pens, and this red mottled hard rubber cone-cap Waterman’s Ideal No 12 eyedropper is a lovely example of the company’s production. The pen body, which is 5316" capped and 61316" posted, has a broad repoussé cap band and a gorgeous surface pattern that is almost a woodgrain, dark but with a bit of fire here and there — but it almost pales into insignificance because of its nib, a needle-fine superflexible “wet noodle.”

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Somewhat older than the pen above is this Waterman’s Ideal No 12, made c. 1896. At 512" capped and 7364" posted, it’s a little longer than its successor, and it’s a little plainer. What makes it particularly interesting to me is its early feed design; the only patent dates on this pen are the two 1884 dates that reflect Lewis Waterman’s very first venture into pen design and manufacture. The nib isn’t original to this pen, but it is a correct New York No 2 — and a wicked good flexie to boot.

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Waterman’s model numbering system assigned the 20s range to taper-cap pens. Roughly contemporaneous with the first No 12 above is is this black chased hard rubber Waterman’s Ideal No 24. At 52732" capped and 61516" posted, this pen has has two broad repoussé bands on its barrel and a smooth fine semiflex No 4 nib.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

A pen doesn’t have to have a name on it to be a good pen. I have several more modern no-name pens, and I couldn’t resist this lovely overlay ED. It’s 52332" capped and 7116" posted, a big pen. Its mother-of-pearl overlay uses shell whose golden hue matches the color of the gold-filled overlay; it’s an elegant touch that I would normally expect to see on a more prestigious pen — but I won’t fight it. The No 4 WARRANTED nib has enough flex to be interesting, but it’s not a wet noodle.

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One of the problems with the usual eyedropper filler is the location of the joint between section and barrel. If you don’t screw the pen together tightly enough after filling it, ink can seep through the joint and make a mess on your fingers. One attempt to solve this problem was the middle-joint pen, in which the joint is moved back so that it falls in the gap between where you place your fingers and where the pen rests between the thumb and index finger. One such pen was this HUB FOUNTAIN PEN, No 31, made by the Hub Fountain Pen Company, of Everett, Massachusetts. This pen is 51732" long capped and 61316" posted. The nib is a decent Warranted No 3.

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

Another way to solve the joint-leak problem was to make the pen with no joint. Parker did this with its Jointless pens. In a Jointless, the nib and feed become a nib unit, held together by a hard rubber collar. This Parker Jointless No 020 is imprinted COMPLIMENTS THE TEMPLE PUMP COMPANY. It’s 52532" long capped and 61116" posted, with a very nice Parker Fountain Pen No 2. Although it does solve the leakage issue, the Jointless design brings with it another set of problems: removing the nib unit almost guarantees inky fingers, and it can also be virtually impossible for the average person should the unit become stuck.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Parker Duofold Geometric: The “Toothbrush” Arrow Profile

manufacturer logo In the 1930s, Parker allowed the Duofold to languish, removing it from the catalog in 1935. In 1939, the Duofold reappeared, not as the top of Parker’s line, but as a button filler of only moderate quality, rather similar to the Challenger and called the Duofold Geometric. Its unusual celluloid bears a pattern that is reminiscent of a toothbrush, and today it is usually known as the Parker “Toothbrush.” The Geometric was short lived; in 1940 the Striped Duofold replaced it. My Geometric, made in 1939, is 5116" capped, 51316" posted, and it has a firm fine 14K nib.

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A Fountain Pen That You Don’t Fill Arrow Profile

manufacturer logoMedallion In 1956, Parker introduced the first fountain pen that actually fills itself by itself, requiring no action from the user. No button, no lever, no plunger, no squeeze bar, just take off the barrel and put the back end of the Parker 61 into a bottle of ink, and the pen sucks up a fill by capillary action. Advertised as “Unlike any gift in this world…or any other,” the capillary-filling 61 was (and still is) a remarkable pen, but it was ultimately unsuccessful because its somewhat finicky filling system required more care than others. Like the “51” before it, the 61 appeared in numerous variations.

My first 61 is a first-year model; its green/rose gold Rainbow cap has a First Edition medallion (shown above, to the right) and yellow gold-plated furniture. This Surf Green Mark I pen is 512" capped and 52532" posted, and its smooth medium nib is adjusted to write a veritable river. (Many 61s are notoriously dry writers.)

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At 5932" capped, 558" posted, my Vista Blue 61 is the second model (Mark II); the most visible difference is the thicker trim ring between the barrel and shell. This pen, with a Lustraloy cap and chrome-plated furniture, has a smooth wet medium nib.

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I also have a 61 Mark II Flighter, which is 51132" capped, 51932" posted. This lovely pen has a smooth wet extra-fine nib. Interestingly, this pen’s cap has a “51”-style ring clutch rather than the 61-style finger clutch.

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At 538" capped, 52132" posted, my fourth 61, in Rage Red with a gold-filled cap, looks like a Mark II pen. But it is actually the third and final 61 version (Mark III), a cartridge/converter model that Parker produced in response to numerous complaints about the cantankerous nature of the capillary filler (which actually works remarkably well if given proper care and feeding). No longer was the 61 the pen that you don’t fill! This pen has a smooth wet fine nib.

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Some pens just aren’t made to have caps. My 61 Mark II desk pen is one of those — its 52732" length fits perfectly in my hand, and of course its smooth wet medium nib makes writing with it a pleasure. I especially enjoy the ’60s space-age styling (U.S. Patent No D193,373), so out of fashion now but who knows…?

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desk set
Fountain Pens That Aren’t Fountain Pens? Arrow Design Features

Manufacturer logoIf a fountain pen has to have a nib, stylographic pens aren’t fountain pens. A stylograph’s point is a small metal tube with a wire running through it. The wire is attached to a weight inside the pen, and when the pen is at rest with its point downward, the weight blocks the ink passage to prevent leakage. When the point touches the paper, the wire pushes the weight upward in the barrel to allow ink to flow. Alonzo Townsend Cross received a patent for the first successful stylographic pen in 1877 (seven years before Waterman’s patent for the channeled feed), after he had already been selling his pens for several years. With their very rigid points, stylographic pens offer a significant advantage over most fountain pens with nibs: They are eminently suitable for producing carbon copies. Today, stylographic pens are used in drafting, technical illustration, and art.

My oldest stylographic pen is a BCHR Gravity Stylo eyedropper filler made by Sanford & Bennett. It is 438" capped, 5916" posted, and its medium point is nice and smooth.

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My first Inkograph is a splendid spiral woodgrain hard rubber pen, Model 20M, from the late 1920s. It is 538" capped, 61116" posted, and it has a fine point.

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Next is another Inkograph pen, from the latter half of the 1930s, probably a Model 70, in Moss Agate celluloid, with a fine point and a transparent section. This pen is 42932" capped, 618" posted.

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Manufacturer logoMy newest stylograph (in terms of manufacture) is one of the most unusual pens in my collection, a Kueffel & Esser Leroy technical pen for use by draftsmen and illustrators. New when I bought it in 1970, it’s actually a barrel and a set of eight interchangeable pen units with tips of different sizes from 000 (0.2 mm) to 5 (1.0 mm). The user chooses the pen that will produce the line width desired. This pen is 42932" capped, 538" posted. It is intended for use with India ink, but it works with fountain pen ink. The only drawback is that it must be held vertically in order to guarantee a consistent line.

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