Profile: Waterman’s C/F

(This page revised July 27, 2012)

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C/F advertisement, December 18, 1954 Magnifying glass
This December 18, 1954, ad­ver­tise­ment from The Saturday Evening Post proclaims, “What a wonderful way to fill a foun­tain pen!”

Manufacturer logoCartridge-filling fountain pens had been pioneered as early as the 1890s, and in the 1930s Jif-Waterman of France marketed a line of glass-cartridge pens built by Waterman in the U.S.A. World War II put s severe crimp in the further development of cartridge pens, but Jif-Waterman did revive the line after the war, and some of them were quite stylish. Shown here is a fully streamlined glass-cartridge pen from that period.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

In 1953, however, L. E. Waterman eclipsed these pens entirely when it introduced the first widely successful modern cartridge-filling fountain pen, Waterman’s C/F (U.S. Patents Nos 2,802,448 and 2,987,044).

With its drop-in loading and disposable cartridges, the C/F changed forever the way the world uses fountain pens; but as revolutionary and successful as it was, the C/F was not first to the market. That honor goes to the LUS Atomica, a remarkably cheap but also remarkably well designed and reliable Italian pen, which beat the C/F by about a year. C/F nib section The Atomica was an excellent pen, and many thousands were sold of the original version and its improved successors. But LUS was a regional company and could not compete with Waterman’s global clout; and as the market shook out, it was the C/F that came out on top.

The design of the C/F was thoroughly modern: sleek and slender in profile, dramatically sculptured in black plastic set with shiny metal (U.S. Patent Nº D178,033). In retrospect, the pen’s advanced styling (by famed automotive designer Harley J. Earl) seems to have been about half a decade ahead of its time. (Compare the Parker 61, which appeared about three years later, and the appearance in 1957 of similar styling on U.S. automobiles as exemplified by the ’57 DeSoto below.) An unfortunate consequence of all that brightwork was a tendency for the section’s gold- or rhodium-plated brass “apron” to corrode at the tips, where it is adjacent to the nib. Corrosion of this type, which has in some cases eaten away large areas of the metal, diminishes the value of a C/F significantly.

(If there is a magnifying-glass symbol (Magnifying glass) next to an image, click the magnifying glass to view a zoomed version for more detail.)

1957 DeSoto sales brochure
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Internally, the C/F was more robustly engineered than many modern cartridge/converter pens. The sophisticated feed was fabricated of hard rubber and featured a hard rubber center feed. The cartridge nipple is metal, not plastic, and the section assembly is well sealed by a rubber gasket to prevent extraneous seepage. This beefier and more reliable design was costly, and as time went by Waterman made changes to reduce the cost; later C/Fs have molded plastic feeds with plastic center feeds. The cartridge nipple, however, remained metal through the C/F’s product lifetime. The small C/F nib is novel; it fits smoothly into the pen from the front, and when it is pivoted upward into its final position it keys itself in place against molded ledges inside the shell. The feed, inserted from the back, locks the nib so that it cannot pivot downward and fall out.

The C/F cartridge itself seems to have been modeled on the design of the cartridge for the LUS Atomica; but it was not as thoroughly engineered. Both have a metal reinforcing cap at the back and a narrowed “nozzle” that connects to the pen’s nipple. The Atomica’s cartridge nozzle was sealed by a metal ball bearing; when a new cartridge was installed, the nipple forced the ball bearing into the cartridge, where its movement served to improve flow by breaking surface tension. The C/F cartridge lacks this advanced feature.

After the U.S. Waterman operation closed down in 1957, Jif-Waterman in France continued to produce different C/F versions to attract new buyers. Among these was a selection of pens with lacquered bodies like this tortoise-shell brown one.

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Catering to the Crowd

The high-style C/Fs shown above were near the top of the model range, and there was a significant portion of the population who preferred less fancy writing instruments — primarily because they cost less. The C/F 875 shown here, as its model number suggests, was priced at $8.75, and that price bought a 14K nib — even a flexible one if the purchaser desired. The pen here does have that elusive flex nib, as shown by the chalk mark still present on the underside of its barrel.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

At the bottom of the “standard” C/F line, the construction of the cap shows a distinct move to economy, with a visible rivet (bearing a stamped imprint of Waterman’s Ideal globe) to secure the clip instead of the hidden attachment used on most of the more expensive models. Pens at this level have steel nibs:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Waterman isn’t known for school pens the way Sheaffer is, but the least expensive C/F pens would have been ideal for school students; they are rugged, fitted with economical steel nibs, and definitely a step up in style from the almost ubiquitous Sheaffer school pens of the day. These pens, although they lacked the trendy automotive styling of their more costly siblings, would have been an ideal fit for the budget of a price-conscious student. They had bullet-shaped caps and barrel ends, without the bright barrel tassie that marked pens even as inexpensive as the green-and-white one shown above, and they also lacked the usual C/F nib. These basic pens were fitted with a relatively ordinary nib that wraps around the feed to leave only a narrow gap, or slot, at the bottom:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

And for Those in the Chips…

Since the days of gold and silver overlays on hard rubber pens, metal pens have been symbols of prosperity. In those early years, Waterman made some very beautiful pens, and the company’s tradition of creating elegant metal designs continued unbroken, long after overlays had faded into obscurity, to the C/F. There were sterling silver C/Fs, solid gold C/Fs, and — for the slightly less well heeled — several attractive gold-plated models. Shown here are two French-made pens, one gold filled in the Barleycorn (Grain d’Orge) pattern and one in sexy silver moiré:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Afterword

The C/F remained in production for about 30 years, and its styling legacy lives on in the smoothly curving bifurcated clips of several more recent Waterman models; but all good things must end sometime, and Waterman no longer makes even the unique cartridges that the C/F requires. All is not lost, however; at this 2007 writing, the U.S. Waterman service center in Janesville, Wisconsin, still has small supplies of cartridges and of the very solid squeeze-type converter that was designed for the diminutive Waterman Lady but also fits the C/F.


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