Profile: The John Hancock Cartridge Pen

(This page revised March 13, 2015)

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John Hancock advertisement, 1929 Magnifying glass
This John Hancock ad­ver­tise­ment ap­peared in the Sep­tem­ber 23, 1929, issue of The Sat­ur­day Eve­ning Post.

Manufacturer logoIn 1960, the Parker Pen Company introduced a new model that it called the 45. That model number was intended to reflect that the pen, which filled with a cartridge, was as easy to load as the Colt .45 revolver of the Old West. But just as Parker wasn’t the first to produce a cartridge pen, it was also not the first to use the gun metaphor in its advertising. The advertisement shown to the right, for the John Hancock Cartridge Pen, leads off with “Here is the new cartridge pen. It loads like a gun.”

John Hancock Christmas brochure, 1922 Magnifying glass
Pollock published this John Hancock Christ­mas brochure in De­cem­ber 1922.

Founded in 1921 to manufacture Robert T. Pollock’s cartridge-filling fountain pen (U.S. Patent No 1,658,940), the Pollock Pen Company, located in Boston, Massachusetts, boasted a board of directors including several titans of industry: King C. Gillette, president of the Gillette Safety Razor Company; Louis K. Liggett, president of the United Drug Company; shoe manufacturer Henry G. Lapham; leading stockbroker Daniel W. Gurneet; patent attorney Frank L. Belknap; Robert S. Potter, vice-president of the National Shawmut Bank; and Pollock himself, with Pollock as company president. (Pollock, a 1909 graduate of Worcester Palytechnic Institute, was also the president of the Robert T. Pollock Company, an engineering firm.) In 1922, having had the pen on the market for several months, the company flooded the media with a massive advertising campaign touting its $5.00 pen as “the biggest piece of fountain pen news in over 40 years.”

Initial John Hancock production was done using plain or chased hard rubber for the pen body; later, as celluloid became the material of choice, Pollock switched to celluloid and dropped the chasing. The pens came in three models: the Standard, a full-sized pen at 512" capped, the Continental, a 414" version; and the Dolly Madison, a slender 414" ladies’ ringtop pen. The Standard and Continental were normally fitted with clips but could also be ordered as ringtop versions.

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

Pollock’s design uses a copper cartridge that screws onto a hard rubber nipple mounted at the back end of the section, inside the barrel of the pen. Cartridges were sold in paper packets containing three cartridges; the packets were similar to sample packs of cigarettes. A “traveling case” came with the pen, so that the user could simply transfer the contents of a packet of cartridges to the greater security of the case. With hard rubber pens, the traveling cases were made of stamped metal; later cases were of celluloid in colors matching the pens they accompanied.

nib-and-carts
Cartridges in case Magnifying glass

At the outset, each cartridge was claimed to contain sufficient ink for 30,000 words or more, but cartridges for the smaller pens were only 23 the length of those for the longer model, with correspondingly less capacity, and by late 1922 the company had backed off from its original longevity figure, saying that each cartridge was good for 10,000 signatures or 22,000 words (approximately two months’ ordinary usage). This latter claim is more than credible; a modern long International cartridge holds 1.3 ml of ink, while the shorter of the two John Hancock cartridges holds 2.2 ml.

Cartridges Magnifying glass

The barrel and gripping section are a single piece, with a feed that slides in from the front and is held in place by a hard rubber pin fitted into a hole on the bottom side of the section so that it rests against the flat under surface of the feed. The back end of the feed is shaped to break the very thin metal cover that seals the front of the cartridge. Shown here are the nib, feed, and barrel/section with the pin in the section. The narrowed portion of the feed is a feature that Robert Pollock designed to prevent flooding (U.S. Patent No 1,724,107).

Fountain pen disassembled

Not visible is the threaded hard rubber nipple inside the barrel. The nipple has tapered threads on both ends, and the section is threaded with the same taper so that it does not matter which end of the nipple goes into the barrel first during assembly. The exposed end, with its tapered threads, expands the open end of the soft metal cartridge enough to create a reliable ink-tight seal.

As shown by the ladies’ pen illustrated immediately above and below, there is a “Jade Ring” (rather browned on this pen) at the joint between the barrel and the blind cap that covers the cartridge; the color of the ring was apparently changed at some point to red, as illustrated by the men’s pen at the top of this article. Many of Pollock’s advertisements pointed the ring out and told the reader to look for it.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Build a Better Mousetrap…

The first cartridge pens, made by the Eagle Pencil Company, used a plain glass cartridge that mated with a flexible rubber seal integrally mounted within the pen. In the 1930s, Waterman also used a flexible seal.

Pollock’s design, which required no flexible seal, foreshadowed the cartridge pens of today. His tapered threads created a good ink-tight seal with no need for wear-prone flexible parts. Another Pollock patent, filed on September 27, 1921, and issued on August 13, 1929, was for a pen that used an unthreaded cartridge. This latter design, which appears not to have been put into production, also included a feed design that ensured proper alignment between the nib and the feed so that these two parts could be removed from the pen for cleaning. Many modern pens use an adaptation of this design; in Pollock’s version, the feed was reduced in diameter where the nib mounted, while in the modern pens the nib housing is notched out for the nib.

Colors

The following table shows the colors I can document for the John Hancock pen. Early pens were made of black hard rubber, and these pens came in both chased and unchased versions. Color names are my own; I have seen no original sources listing any names.


The Colors of the John Hancock Cartridge Pen
Color Name

Black Black
Coral Coral
Jade Jade
Lapis Lazuli Lapis Lazuli

Notes:
  1. There seems to have been some confusion about the name of the company. Some contemporaneous trade-press articles (e.g., one in Printers’ Ink, March 9, 1922) refer to Pollock’s company as the John Hancock Pen Company or the John Hancock Fountain Pen Company. A person named Harry Rippner operated a John Hancock Pen Company in Cleveland, Ohio, during the latter 1930s and early to mid-1940s, and Benjamin Henig ran another John Hancock Pen Company in Brooklyn, New York, during the 1950s and 1960s. Robert Pollock had no connection with either of these companies.

  2. The cap of this ladies’ pen was chewed quite vigorously, possibly by a dog; in addition to some remarkably deep toothmarks, the cap lip suffered complete destruction. The lip on the cap as illustrated is a replacement shaped to match the lip on the men’s pen, and it is not quite a perfect color match.


The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. Thanks to Nathan Rockwell for providing a photo of a Lapis ringtop John Hancock to document that color. 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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