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Profile: Waterman’s Ink-Vue

(This page revised November 19, 2015)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

Waterman advertisement, 1934
This very early Ink-Vue ad­ver­tise­ment ap­peared dur­ing the 1934 Christ­mas sea­son.

LogoOne of the simplest and most reliable filling systems to come out of the early 20th century was the bulb filler, patented in 1903 by George W. Perks and Frederick C. Thacker (U.S. Patent No 723,726). Huston Taylor patented an improved design in 1905 (U.S. Patent No 802,668) and assigned his patent to Aikin Lambert. Over the next 30 years, in characteristic fashion, inventors on every side complicated the system by plastering hardware onto the pen to hide the bulb from the user’s fingers.

Out of the Gate

Cap crown medallionOne of those Rube Goldberg contraptions emerged from the L. E. Waterman factory in late 1934, just barely in time for the Christmas season. Although it appears to be a lever-filler, Waterman’s Ink-Vue, Model 84, is actually a bulb-filler variant. It was Waterman’s answer to the success of the Parker Vacumatic, whose see-through barrel was attractive and gave the user a really good view of the ink supply. (Although the bulb-filler patent had long since expired by 1934, Waterman had acquired the patent rights to it when the company purchased Aikin Lambert in 1915.) The Ink-Vue was decked out in a striking pattern of crisscrossed pearlescent strips with black between (U.S. Patent No D96,914, by John Hill for the Celluloid Corporation). On the barrel, the areas between were transparent to provide a full-length view of the ink reservoir. The pen was priced at $5.00. Initially, there were two colors: Emerald-Ray (shown below) and Silver-Ray. At each end of the pen was an inlaid gold- or chrome-plated coined brass Globe medallion: at the cap crown the medallion read Waterman’s, and at the back end of the barrel it read Ideal. Shown to the left is the cap-crown medallion from the pen below.

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In what was then an intensely competitive business, Waterman’s advertising drew a bullseye on the Parker Vacumatic and Sheaffer’s Vacuum-Fil, without naming, them by pointing out that the Ink-Vue had “No parts to unscrew and get lost … no springs or pistons to break or get out of order … no packing to dry out and cause leakage.” The Ink-Vue embodied a filler designed by Gabriel Larsen (U.S. Patent No 2,068,419). Filler design In what was the blind cap on an ordinary bulb-filler, Larsen mounted a lever and a pressure bar. As with Waterman’s ordinary lever fillers, the pressure bar was secured to the lever by channels along its sides, in which rode small tabs protruding outward from the sides of the lever. The lever’s sides extended into the space inside the blind cap. See the drawing fragment to the left, from Larsen's patent (color added to make the principal parts easier to recognize). Each time the lever (pink) is opened and closed, the sac (brown) inflates itself to draw some ink into the pen through the breather tube and then expels some air as the lever closes and squeezes it. About half a dozen cycles are sufficient to fill the pen. As the drawing shows, the lever pivots at the end closest to the distal end of the blind cap; it opens “backwards.”

When the lever was closed, it was under pressure from the sac that it was squeezing. As with other Waterman levers, there was no pressure-bar spring; the lever was held closed by the friction of an interference fit between two small holes on the sides of the lever and corresponding bumps on the sides of the lever box. As the bumps became worn through use of the filler, the sac’s pressure could overcome the resistance of the closure, and it was readily conceivable that buyers might soon find their pens’ levers popping open unexpectedly.

Around the First Turn

Filler design Waterman quickly recognized the potential problem, and even before the Ink-Vue appeared on the market, Larsen had redesigned the lever. It was now a two-piece jointed lever that pivoted in the middle. Raising the exposed end (pink) to a right angle engaged the other end (green), and pushing the lever further drove the pressure bar (blue) into the sac. This design had the advantage that the sac was relaxed when the lever was closed, thereby relieving the pressure that could otherwise pop the lever open. The drawing to the right, from U.S. Patent No 2,087,672, for which Larsen filed in April of 1935, shows the lever in the extreme open position, compressing the sac as far as possible. (The drawing shows the lever opening in the “normal” direction, but when the product appeared in stores, the lever had been flipped. Like the first version, it opened toward the distal end of the blind cap.) Within about six months of the Ink-Vue’s introduction, Waterman rushed the improved version (which I have designated Type 1 for its having been the first widely sold model) into production; consequently very few of the first version (Type 0) were sold. Today, Type 0 pens are very rare and highly collectible. To add to the confusion, the Type 1 patent was actually filed nearly four months before that for the Type 0 but was issued six months after it. It might be that at that point, Waterman filed the Type 0 patent only to protect itself from potential copies by competitors.

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With the introduction of the Type 1 pen with its “Double Action Lever,” Waterman gained another advertising point against the Vacumatic because the Type 1’s lever did not eject ink when it was closed, as did the Vacumatic’s Lockdown filler (and as the Type 0’s lever did). At some point, probably as a phase-in with the introduction of the Type 1 version, the Globe emblem inlaid into the cap crown gave way to a less costly plain celluloid crown design, stepped in Art Deco style, as shown by the Emerald-Ray pen above. The changeover certainly happened very early in the Ink-Vue’s product life; the pen shown in the late 1934 advertisement at the top of this article has a stepped cap crown.

As was only sensible, Waterman applied what it already had in terms of technology to the Ink-Vue, including the new Tip-Fill feed (U.S. Patent No 1,882,644, issued in 1932) and the keyhole nib created in 1927 for the No 5 “Ripple” pen. Some Ink-Vue pens are found with color-coded nibs, but others (probably made later) have no color codes.

For the 1936 catalog, a year after having introduced the Ink-Vue, Waterman ratcheted up the pressure with a De Luxe version priced at $8.50. Coming on the scene at a time of transition in Waterman’s model numbering schemes, the De Luxe appears — like the Patrician — not to have had a model number. The De Luxe was slightly larger than the standard Ink-Vue; it featured the larger keyhole nib from the No 7 pen, adding a matching colored section and a thin-fat-thin triple cap band with the two narrow side bands and the edges of the clip jazzed up with milling. ’36 also saw the addition of Copper-Ray and Jet colors. (Jet did include the Ray-based transparency feature in its barrel, but the opaque strips were black with no pearlescence.) Shown here is a Copper-Ray De Luxe pen:

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In 1930, Waterman had introduced the Lady Patricia, a tiny companion for the then top-of-the-line Patrician. To rejuvenate the little pen, the company ran it back through the design mill, and in late 1936 the new Lady Patricia appeared, fitted with a slightly smaller Ink-Vue filler, an elegant Art Deco lozenge-design faceted clip and band (U.S. Patent No D102,720), and an all-over pearlescent color scheme highlighted by a fancy patterned transparent barrel (U.S. Patents Nos D105,022 and 2,162,223, both by Gabriel Larsen). The Ink-Vue Lady Patricia was available in a standard version with chrome-plated furniture (650V, illustrated by the Sunset pen below) for $5.00 and a De Luxe version (651V) with gold-filled furniture for $6.50.

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On the Backstretch

Filler design It appears that Waterman discovered the Ink-Vue to be more costly to manufacture than had been anticipated; in 1938, the Type 1 was superseded by a new Type 2. By then, the Standard Numbering System was nothing but the merest shadow in old-timers’ memories; the new pen, briefly called the “New Ink-Vue” but soon renamed “Vacuum-Fill,” received Model No 511 and was priced at $5.00. The new design (U.S. Patent No 2,217,755, also by the industrious Gabriel Larsen) was much simpler to build. It featured a one-piece barrel, including the section, and used a special flanged sac installed from the open back end of the barrel. The sac’s flange snapped into a groove in the barrel wall, to be secured by a plug inserted into the barrel ahead of the sac and then forced into the sac’s open end by a tool inserted through the section. (The assembly method is described in the patent.) The open barrel end was then closed attractively by a threaded plug.

Gone was the standard Ink-Vue (but not the De Luxe model or the Lady Patricia, both of which appear to have made it until World War II). The new model wore an elegant longitudinally pinstriped pattern in Grey Pearl (shown below, the 511G), Emerald Pearl (511N), or Copper Pearl (511C). The lighter pearlescent pinstripes are bordered with narrower stripes of the intermittent blue that gave these pens their popular model name, “Blue Streak.” Instead of extending the length of the reservoir, the transparent area was reduced to a band on the back side of the barrel’s cap threads, much like that in Eversharp’s Airliner Dorics. A black version without pinstriping, numbered 511J (for Jet), also appeared, and these colors were also offered on an ordinary lever-filling model.

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When the U.S. entered World War II, the government clamped down on the use of paper, and pen catalogs from the wartime years do not exist. Thus, it is not possible to assign an end date to Ink-Vue production; but the Blue Streak model appears to have make it into the war years, as shown by the Copper Pearl 511C below. This pen shows the military clip that débuted in 1940; and its cap bears three rounded grooves that provide a decorative look without using metal bands, a design that saved brass for the war effort and was used, so far as I know, only during the time the country was actually at war.

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Around the Clubhouse Turn

Waterman also applied the Type 2 filler to the aging No 7. Sadly, by 1939 the No 7 was reduced to black only, and the attractive colors that appeared on the 511 (illustrated above) and other contemporaneous models were not used on the No 7 (below).

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In addition to the regular Ink-Vue models, Waterman produced transparent demonstrators so that dealers could show off the Ink-Vue’s features. (Only stepped-top Type 1 and Type 2 demonstrators are known to exist today.) Demonstrators were not available to the buying public. Waterman’s advertising claimed that no one else was showing transparent demonstrators, but the early Crystal versions of the Parker Vacumatic were essentially demonstrators in their own right, albeit without transparent caps like that on Waterman’s demonstrator, and Sheaffer had produced some fully transparent Balance demonstrators as recently as 1934 or 1935.

Bringing It Home

The problem that the Ink-Vue presents for today’s collectors is that restoring its filling system is not easy. The Type 0 and Type 1 are not terribly difficult, requiring only care and a couple of special tools. But the Type 2 is quite difficult; the repairer must either remove the lever assembly, risking the almost inevitable breakage of its tabs, or fabricate a special tool that allows insertion of the sac past the lever assembly.


The following table shows the colors Waterman used for the Ink-Vue. Color names are as printed in the Pen Prophet and other Waterman ephemera. Except as noted, these color chips are taken from photographs of actual pens. (3D highlighting was added with a computer.)

Colors of the Ink-Vue Type 0 and Type 1
Color Name

Emerald-Ray Emerald-Ray (Type 0 and Type 1)
Silver-Ray Silver-Ray (Type 0 and Type 1)
Copper-Ray Copper-Ray (Type 1 only)
Jet Jet (Type 1 only)

Colors of the Ink-Vue Lady Patricia
Color Name

Sunset Sunset
Mist Mist
Black Lace Black Lace

Colors of the Blue Streak (Vacuum-Fill)
Color Name

Jet Jet
Grey Pearl Grey Pearl
Copper Pearl Copper Pearl
Emerald Pearl Emerald Pearl

  1. Based on the following text in an undated Christmas advertisement: “FRIENDLY TIP! INK-VUE pens are so new that your dealer may not have received his supply. If so, write to…” and on the January 6, 1935, date of a catalog from Deutsch & Marks, Inc., a wholesale jeweler located in New York City (Waterman pens shown on pp. 67 and 68).

  2. The transparent portions of the barrels on the Lady Patricia colors are computer generated for clarity, based on the patent drawing and measurements from a real pen. These areas have been colored to represent aged celluloid; on the Mist and Black Lace pens, they were initially colorless.

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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