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Profile: Waterman’s C/F

(This page revised July 29, 2018)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

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!”

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 a 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. Patents Nos D177,359 and D178,033). In retrospect, the pen’s advanced styling (by Donald H. Young, Robert G. Plantholt, and Frederick W. Hertzler, of Harley Earl Associates, a firm headed 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.

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 piercing tube 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 piercing tube, 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 piercing tube. The Atomica’s cartridge nozzle was sealed by a metal ball bearing; when a new cartridge was installed, the piercing tube 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.

Any revolutionary product is likely to need more than a pretty face and flashy advertising to sell it. The usual way to sell exciting new fountain pens in the shop itself was with a demonstrator, and Waterman turned to a transparent demonstrator for the C/F. This transparent model clearly showed exactly what was inside and how it worked:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The C/F was unquestionably a good pen. But it was not enough to sustain the failing L. E. Waterman Company. 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.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

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 red 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

An odd departure, or perhaps merely a cross-pollination from the styling of the C/F line to more “conventional” pens, was the model shown below, apparently named the R.D. Although fitted with an open nib, it could easily be mistaken (especially when capped) for a C/F like the one above — except for the presence of the unmistakable Waterman boxed lever:

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 wasn’t known for school pens the way Sheaffer wa s, 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

Working for the Other Guy

One sure way to boost revenue, especially if your company is in financial straits, is to job your product to other companies and let their advertising and sales increase your own correspondingly. Waterman did exactly that with the C/F school pen, producing a version with a clip that bore the Scripto name. Two-tone cars were all the rage in the mid-1950s, and the pen shown here would have been almost a match for Dad’s shiny new ’57 Chevy Bel Air in Tropical Turquoise or Plymouth Fury in Sky Blue:

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


The C/F remained in production for about 30 years, and its styling legacy lives on in the smoothly curving bifurcated clips of many more recent Waterman models; but all good things must end sometime. Waterman no longer makes even the unique cartridges that the C/F requires. All is not lost, however; as of mid-2018, converters for Waterman’s Lady series can still be found for sale online, and these converters also fit the C/F.

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.

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