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(This page revised July 9, 2021)
It’s 1925. You are a salesman in a pen store or the pen department of a prestigious department store such as Macy’s in New York or Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia. You are trying to convince customers that the pens you offer are well built and reliable. Even more important, however, they want to know how the pens work. How do you fill this one? How does that one guarantee a good flow of ink? You can’t take a pen apart to show the insides, of course, for you could not then sell that pen. What do you do?
If you are selling Bonded or Transo bulb-filling pens or Dunn-Pen pump-fillers, it’s easy. Although the pens are made mostly of opaque celluloid, their barrels are transparent, and you can see the breather tube through which the pen fills. You can even demonstrate how to fill the pen; in fact, you probably have a pen set aside for that purpose. The first pen shown here is a Postal Reservoir pen, made by the same company that made Bonded and Transo pens and identical except for the brand name. The second pen is a modern version of the Dunn-Pen “Tattler,” which featured a transparent barrel to show the ink supply.
A few other manufacturers used this technique as well. Parker, with its button fillers, offered pens with transparent Bakelite barrels for a short time, as did Dunn-Pen; but transparent Bakelite is very brittle and can easily be broken should the pen be dropped. Dunn-Pen switched to celluloid, and Parker ceased offering transparent barrels.
For hump- and lever-filling pens, however, it’s not quite so easy. They are completely opaque, and nothing inside is visible. Beginning very early in the 20th century, this problem was solved by the creation of cutaway demonstrator pens. A cutaway demonstrator is an ordinary pen that has had slots or holes cut in the barrel or cap, or both. The openings are strategically located to show the features that make the pen unique. In many cases, cutaway demonstrators were incomplete pens, lacking nibs and feeds. Some, especially those with slip caps, also lacked caps because there was no special feature to show inside a plain slip cap. Shown here is a No 4-sized Conklin Crescent-Filler cone-cap barrel that was probably a factory reject and was turned into a demonstrator in lieu of being thrown away.
|Photo © David Nishimura. Used with permission.|
As noted above, slip-cap pens had no need to show what was inside the cap — but screw caps, which came along about 1910, were another matter. What’s the purpose of the inner cap inside a screw cap? How is the clip secured; will it come loose easily? The Sheaffer flat-top demonstrator shown below has holes that are cleverly placed to answer both of these questions. The hole near the cap crown shows that the clip is attached by a “stirrup” that loops around a peg on the end of the inner cap. This Sheaffer-proprietary design greatly reduces the stress on the cap body and also provides a remarkably firm attachment. This clip is going nowhere. Should it become damaged and need replacement, the stirrup-and-peg design requires only removal of the inner cap to release the clip. The other hole is placed to expose the open end of the inner cap, making it easy to see that when the pen is capped, the end of the section butts against the inner cap to seal the inked nib within a very small space where it is prevented from drying out. The three holes in the barrel provide a good view of the operation of the pressure bar and the lever. This cutaway demonstrator from Sheaffer is a fully functional pen with a very nice No 46 Special nib.
As the use of celluloid progressed, manufacturers learned more about its characteristics. It soon became apparent that it was possible to make reliable pens using clear celluloid; in 1929, Pelikan introduced its first pen, called the Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen. The pen was not completely transparent, however, and it was not intended as a demonstrator. The barrel (tinted brown or green) was the only transparent part. Because the pen was a piston-filler and could be assembled from the rear, the barrel was made with the section as an integral part. The section area was then dyed black, and the barrel itself was almost entirely covered with an opaque Binde, a tube of thin celluloid extending to the back of the barrel and leaving an area of the barrel only about " (2 cm) long next to the dyed section exposed to serve as an ink-view window. The piston knob and the cap were initially made of black hard rubber but later became celluloid. This basic design remained in production until 1944. The pen shown here was made in about 1936:
Other manufacturers quickly picked up on the ink-view concept. In 1933, Parker introduced the Vacumatic, which was made of alternating layers of colored celluloid blended so that they sparkled. Taking the ink-view concept to the next level, the barrel used transparent celluloid instead of black in the alternate layers, and this provided a full-length view of the ink reservoir. As shown by the pen below (made in 1934), the filler pump’s diaphragm could also be seen, providing something of a demonstrator feature.
Instead of the sparkly rings, the Vacumatic Junior featured marbled colors. Parker also produced several variants of the Vacumatic Junior in black with differing transparency patterns in the barrel. The Crystal Junior, with a fully transparent barrel, did serve as a full demonstrator.
One of the first manufacturers, if not the very first, to introduce completely transparent pens explicitly for use as demonstrators was Sheaffer. As “demonstrated” by the pen shown here, a fully functional 1934–35 lever-filling Balance in yellow, transparency opened a complete new window on showing off the internal features of one’s pens. It is not clear in what year the first Balance demonstrators were made; the earliest example I have seen was a transparent green pen made in 1931 or ’32.
Sheaffer also made plunger-filling demonstrators in the same timeframe as the pen above. As shown by the pen immediately below, those pens had colorless barrels and black caps, and the back portion of the barrel was also dyed black to match the plunger knob.
|Photos © David Nishimura. Used with permission.|
First-tier makers were not the only ones who made demonstrators to augment their ability to sell their products during the 1930s. With celluloid pens flooding the market in all directions, it was inevitable that second- or even third-tier manufacturers would add demonstrators to their sales armamentaria. But ordering an additional quantity of transparent celluloid might be more expense than a small company could support; the quick way out would be to make cutaways like this Regal:
Parker took the world by surprise in 1941 with the introduction of the “51”. With its hooded nib, the “51” was unlike anything seen before, and it definitely merited the creation of a demonstrator so that salespeople could explain what made the new pen so revolutionary and point out the features that made its remarkable performance possible. The “51” retained the Vacumatic filler, then four years into in its second (“Speedline”) generation, and because the filler design was already well known in the marketplace, the company decided not to make a completely transparent pen. Full transparency might distract the potential buyer from the all-important part, that hooded nib with the ability to write with a new ink that dried in a fraction of a second. Not only did they make the shell (hood) completely colorless, but they also highlighted the ink collector by making it transparent red:
World War II imposed a slowdown in the manufacture of pens. After the war, as production picked up, demonstrators reappeared. Sheaffer made a fully transparent demonstrator of a lever-filling Statesman in 1946 or ’47 and a partially transparent 1949 Touchdown (with an opaque cap and operating knob), and might well have made others.
During the war, the Parker “51” had been heavily advertised but difficult to obtain in the civilian market. To service the pent-up demand, the company went into serious production, and in 1947 and ’48 that included demonstrators. This time around, however, the demonstrators had completely transparent bodies, even to the blind cap. The red collector was gone, however, replaced by a standard colorless one.
1948 saw the introduction of the Eversharp Symphony, the company’s next mid-line pen model after the Skyline. Eversharp apparently concluded that the company’s lagging sales could be boosted by showing off the unique construction of the Symphony’s unitized lever/pressure bar assembly, and about a year later there appeared a Symphony demonstrator, fully transparent even to both the section and the cap:
Beginning in the fourth quarter of 1948 with the introduction of its new Slender “51”, Parker replaced the Vacumatic filler with a completely new Aero-metric filling system called Photo-Fill. It is not clear why the company continued making demonstrators with the Vacumatic filler in 1948. One possible reason could be that because the Slender was the only model with the Aero-metric filler at the time, Vacumatic demonstrators were thought to be instrumental in pushing the sale of existing standard “51” pens. In 1949, the Aero-metric filler was applied to the standard “51”, and Aero-metric demonstrators were soon to follow, again fully transparent to “show it all off”:
The “Demo Race,” if it can be called that, continued into the 1950s. What might have been the most spectacular demonstrator of all time appeared in 1952, accompanying the release of Sheaffer’s “messless” Snorkel TM. Filling a fountain pen had always before entailed more or less potential for a mess, and for all practical purposes, the Snorkel eliminated the mess. It was important to show off just how it worked, and the Snorkel demonstrator, fully transparent even to the section, filled the bill nicely:
The black area in the cap might be thought to be a violation of the “fully transparent” description, but the plastic of the cap is all transparent. The interior of the black area has been dyed to cover up a certain amount of messiness in the construction of the cap: there is a metal inner cap that is glued to the main cap, and the glue was not applied with an eye to visual neatness. (See the “Dolphin” demonstrator below.)
Sheaffer’s PFM (“Pen For Men”), introduced in 1959, also merited a demonstrator. The PFM demonstrator was, like its predecessor, fully transparent — except for the Inlaid Nib section assembly. The internal appearance of the Inlaid Nib, a technological marvel with the plastic shell injection molded around the metal nib (which has tabs sticking out to anchor it within the plastic), can be a little less than pretty, and this might be why Sheaffer chose not to make that part of the pen transparent.
|Photo © Brent Couch. Used with permission.|
Sheaffer’s short-lived “Dolphin,” so dubbed by collectors for the shape of its nib area, was introduced in 1962 as a Touchdown or as a cartridge-filler. This model, which was fitted with an ordinary nib, featured a V-shaped trim insert to mimic the appearance of the premier Inlaid Nib at a lower cost point. Lacking an Inlaid Nib, the “Dolphin” demonstrator was fully transparent except for the operating knob on the Touchdown version. As mentioned earlier, the appearance of the glued-in inner cap was not attractive; Sheaffer’s reason for not dyeing this area black as with the Snorkel and PFM demonstrators is a puzzle.
|Photo © Brent Couch. Used with permission.|
A couple of years after Sheaffer introduced the Snorkel, Waterman released the first widely marketed cartridge-filling fountain pen. (It was not the first successful cartridge-filler; that honor goes to the LUS Atomica, from Italy.) The Waterman C/F was responsible for a wholesale shift away from self-filling pens because of its convenience and because, even more than the Snorkel, it did away with the mess. As a revolutionary step away from the past, it needed to be demonstrated to be understood, and so Waterman made fully transparent demonstrators:
The L. E. Waterman Company’s U.S. division ceased manufacturing in 1954. To keep the company running, the French division, JiF Waterman, developed a capillary-filling pen called the X-Pen, that was simpler and much less costly than the contemporaneous Parker 61, and demonstrators were made to show the pen’s internal simplicity. The X-Pen was the last fountain pen model sold by L. E. Waterman; the U.S. organization folded in 1957, and Jif Waterman assumed control of the Waterman name.
Demonstrators were never limited to only the various manufacturers’ top-line models. The Conklin Crescent-Filler demonstrator shown earlier would have applied to any Crescent-Filler regardless of its price level, and similarly for any other demonstrator. Sheaffer’s 98¢ cartridge-filling school pens of the late 1950s, with no real reason to show their interiors except as an ink-view feature, had transparent barrels and thus served as their own demonstrators. There were both colored and colorless versions, and some of the latter were hot-stamped on the barrel with the word DEMONSTRATOR, probably for use to show potential adult buyers how, with a Sheaffer pen, a new cartridge could be dropped in and would automatically impale itself on the piercing tube as the barrel was screwed on. (This was not, and still is not, a universally adopted feature.) Shown here is an ordinary green example.
When Parker bought the failing Eversharp Corporation’s writing instruments division in 1957, the primary reason for the purchase was to acquire Eversharp’s cartridge-filler technology, which was already far advanced. The culmination of that technology acquisition, of course, was the Parker 45, but the 45 and its sibling, the slightly less expensive Parker Eversharp Challenger, were not the only descendants to arise from the original parentage. The pen below, an Eversharp “10,000 Words Pen,” was one of the most strikingly styled pens of the latter half of the 20th century.
The iconic Parker 75, introduced in 1963, had user-interchangeable nibs and a collector that was buried within the section, a feature introduced on the Parker 45, which had hit the market three years earlier. As Parker’s first cartridge pen, the 45 had appeared as a demonstrator, with a transparent barrel and an opaque section; the 75 demonstrator, on the other hand, was an ordinary sterling ciselé pen in all respects except that the section was transparent (colorless) to expose that hidden collector.
As the fountain pen became less popular in the West, it survived and blossomed in the East. Japanese manufacturers were doing a land-office business in all styles of pens: fountain pens, ballpoints, sign pens (Nylon tips), rollerballs, even fude (brush) pens. Early in the 1960s, pocket pens became all the rage. Japan’s Big Three, Sailor, Platinum, and Pilot, all made pocket-pen demonstrators. Correspondence with the manufacturers has revealed that they have not retained records from the pocket-pen era; consequently it is not known whether these pens were intended as “real” demonstrators or for sale to the public. Shown here is the demonstrator version of the Pilot Volex, made in 1975:
In the past few decades, as interest in fountain pens has been resurrected, interest in how the pens work has surged, and to satisfy that healthy curiosity, numerous “demonstrator” pens have appeared, from established premier manufacturers like Sheaffer to newly founded makers such as Taiwan’s TWSBI. These pens are not demonstrators in the original sense, that of being used exclusively by pen-store salespeople to show a pen’s features to potential buyers. Instead, they are made for sale to the general pen-buying public. This idea is not entirely new. In addition to the Sheaffer school pens and the Parker 45, I have seen photos of a hooded-nib Graphomatic Inkmaker pen made during World War II that was fitted with a transparent section and came with full retail packaging, which a purpose-made demonstrator would not do. The current appreciation of demonstrator-type pens is nonetheless refreshing as a testament to people’s curiosity.
The most visually impressive modern demonstrator I have seen is the Bexley Deluxe, an oversize Parker-style button-filler that was introduced in 1994 and was fitted with furniture made of 10K gold. Shown here is Deluxe demonstrator No 106 of an edition of 250. The furniture is 10K white gold:
In the latter part of the 1990s, Pelikan began producing its M200 model in a shifting range of transparent colors. Sine then, the range has included colorless, amber, cobalt blue, ruby red, emerald green, anthracite gray, and more. The M205, introduced later, has also appeared in transparent garb. Shown here are a few of these colors:
Today, demonstrators are probably never used by salespeople to explain or demonstrate a pen’s features to potential buyers. They are nonetheless popular, and they are widely sold and enjoyed. It’s fun and interesting to see what your pens look like inside and how the stuff inside works. Shown here are jus a few modern demonstrators:
|Pilot Custom 74|
|Pelikan M800 (names of parts engraved on outside surface; also offered plain)|
|Lamy Vista (Safari)|
|Onoto Magna Plunger Filler|
This article could not possibly illustrate, or even mention, all of the demonstrator fountain pens that have been made. Likewise, any collection of demonstrators, however extensive it might be, cannot be complete. If the representative sampling included here has stirred your acquisitive bug, or even just your curiosity, spend a little time on the Internet searching for others, and you will be amazed at the great variety you will find.
The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information. My thanks to David Nishimura for permission to use his photographs of the Conklin Crescent-Filler and Sheaffer plunger-filler demonstrators. My thanks also to Brent Couch, who photographed his Sheaffer PFM and Dolphin demonstrators specifically for this article.