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Profile: Graphomatic: The Inkmaker & the Colonel

(This page revised December 3, 2022)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

The story behind World War II-era ink-making pens is as intriguing as the technology.
Inkmaker article, March 1942
This article appeared on page 197 in Pop­u­lar Mec­han­ics Mag­a­zine’s March 1942 issue. Its ren­der­ing of the new pen’s ap­pear­ance is re­mark­ably ac­cu­rate.

LogoWhen the United States was dragged into World War II (WWII) in December 1941, there were no longer any pens on the market that made their own ink. All of the ink-making pens marketed up that time had faded into a mostly well-deserved oblivion. Solomon M. Sager, whose Chicago-based Sager Pen Corporation had been making pens since the late 1920s, seems to have taken a stab at reinventing the World War I-era trench pen, an eyedropper-filler that made its own ink when the user mixed a pellet of dry ink with water in the barrel — but with the addition of the multiple-fill feature pioneered with less than stellar success by Camel, Inkpak, and other brands in the ’30s. America was overwhelmingly charged up to support its military in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and it was obvious that a working pen that made its own ink would be of great benefit to troops in the field. On June 4, 1942, Sager applied for a patent for a new ink-making fountain pen. One might assume that he was waiting on tenterhooks, and as soon as he received notice that his patent would be granted in due course (and it was, on July 27, 1943, as U.S. Patent No 2,325,550), he began cranking out the Sager “Inkmaker” Pen. That, however, was not the case.

Inkmaker advertisement, March> 1942

Before we can go forward, we must step backward for a moment. Although Sager applied for his patent in June 1942, it turns out that his pen was already in production. (This was actually a typical scenario; many products are put on the market before their patents are granted, and it is not uncommon for production to start even before the patent is applied for.) On page 197 of the March 1942 issue of Popular Mechanics Magazine there appeared a brief article (shown to the right) describing the features and benefits of a new ink-making fountain pen that was, according to the article, “now on the market.” As was customary, the article did not identify either the pen or its manufacturer by name. Probably not coincidentally, the small advertisement shown to the left appeared on page 189 of that same magazine, offering an “Amazing Military ‘INKMAKING’ Pen,” named the Graph-O-Matic, for the munificent sum of $2.95, postpaid. The manufacturer was listed as the Grieshaber Pen Company, also of Chicago. What the ad does not say is that Grieshaber — then 58 years old and long known for the high quality of its nibs — was at that time a division of the Sager Pen Corporation or that the $2.95 price was for a pen with a steel nib. As published in many newspaper advertisements at the time, the purchaser would have to shell out $5.00 to get an Inkmaker with a 14K gold nib.

The March 1942 issue of Popular Mechanics appeared on newsstands in February, and copy for that issue would have had to be submitted several weeks before that. Thus, the Graph-O-Matic was certainly in production no later than January, and it is likely that its design was well underway before Pearl Harbor. The war changed everything, however, including the identity of the manufacturer and — as we shall see later — the price of the pen.

Some images on this page can be clicked or tapped to display magnified versions for more detail. When you mouse over a clickable image, the image will give a visual indication by growing a little, and the mouse pointer will change to a magnifying glass. On a touchscreen device, touch and hold your finger on the image briefly to see if it reacts. If it does, you can tap it.

The Inkmaker’s Heritage

Cap crownAt some time shortly before America’s entry into WWII, Grieshaber began production of a button-filling pen called the Colonel™ De Luxe. The barrel, section, and cap were made of Lucite. The pen had a gold-plated steel washer clip that was secured by a distinctive Art Deco-styled gold-plated brass tassie with a stepped crown (shown to the right), and there was a matching tassie on the blind cap. The “business end” of the Colonel De Luxe was typically Sageresque in design, featuring an open nib in a section that apparently contributed to the pen’s “exquisitely streamlined” design by having its threads at the nib end, below the place where the user would grasp the pen, instead of above. There was a milled gold-plated trim band, made of sterling silver (possibly for improved corrosion resistance), on the section below the threads, matching the relatively broad gold-plated cap band, which was also milled. The pen also had a short nonfunctional “breather tube” like the one in the Parker Geometric Duofold. There was no transverse hole in the feed; thus, nothing could actually flow through this tube. Its actual purpose was to break up surface tension in the reservoir, promoting more reliable flow.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
Colonel De Luxe advertisement, January 1946

This section design had been used on earlier Sager-branded pens such as the Transparo, and it was protected by U.S. Patent No 1,904,014. The design included a section whose front face was conically concave, shaped to engage perfectly with the edge of the inner cap, forming an ink-tight seal and thereby greatly reducing the probability of leakage. Logo The concave shape of the section’s end also reduced the likelihood of its becoming nicked or scratched in ordinary use. This feature was called the INK·“O”·GUARD [sic], and Graphomatic touted it in the Colonel’s advertising using the image to the right.

Immediately after the Japanese attacked the Hawaiian Islands on December 7, 1941, things changed. America went to war, and within days many new regulations were promulgated. One set came from the War Production Board (WPB), which only three days after the attack issued restrictions on the use of many critical war resources. Order M-21 prohibited the manufacture of many objects made of iron or steel after January 1, 1942, and Order M-9-C did essentially the same with copper and copper-based alloys. As soon as existing stocks ran out, the Colonel’s gold-plated steel clip and brass tassie were gone, replaced by a one-piece matching-color plastic clip/capscrew (shown to the right below). The gold-plated cap band may have been brass earlier; I have seen no examples of such a design, but in any case it was thenceforth sterling silver, milled and plated like the band at the end of the section. The barrel-end tassie disappeared as the blind cap assumed a bullet shape. Rubber was also affected, by Order M-15, and the Colonel’s hard rubber feed eventually gave way to a molded plastic feed. As shown by the postwar advertisement to the left, published in January 1946, these changes did not cause removal of the phrase “De Luxe” from the pen’s name.

Cap crown
Fountain pen
Fountain pen

The Inkmaker Is Born

It is not clear exactly when the earliest Sager ink maker, the Graph-O-Matic, appeared. As shown by the Popular Mechanics article and advertisement at the top of this page, that pen was a button-filler with an open nib, a lookalike offshoot of the Colonel. It is possible that the two versions were developed in parallel. The dried-ink cartridge (callout 53 in the drawing below) was affixed to a plug (callout 52) at the back end of the section in essentially the same manner as a modern cartridge. The cartridge contained two distinct ink materials: a small “primary charge” that was readily soluble (callout 54), to provide the necessary “instant response” when the pen was first filled with a new cartridge, and a larger “secondary charge” that was slower to dissolve (callout 55), to provide the long-term supply.

Patent drawing

This design for the cartridge is shown as Figure 8 in Sager’s patent. That it was not Figure 1 suggests that it was not the preferred implementation by the time the patent was filed, although the Popular Mechanics article and at least one early newspaper advertisement (shown to the left, from the Cincinnati Enquirer, June 15, 1942, page 15) depicted the pen with that design.

The implementation in the patent’s Figure 1 (discussed later in this article) shows a different design that replaced the initial version at some point fairly early in the production cycle. Not only did the ink supply migrate to the back end of the barrel to be married with the valve-type filler shown in Figure 8, but the external styling also changed dramatically. These changes eliminated the button filler and a potential headache over a user-separable joint (callout 46) between the barrel and the nib unit, but the changes did not stop there. The patent illustrates an open-nib design, but the stunningly streamlined Parker “51” had appeared in 1941, just before America went to war, and the race was on among other manufacturers to bring out pens to compete with it on a more even footing. The new Inkmaker pen was offered in two models: the De Luxe, an open-nib version (below, upper), priced at $8.75, that was externally identical to the Colonel De Luxe except for a longer blind cap (and a correspondingly shorter barrel) to accommodate the new filling mechanism; and the Victory, a hooded version (U.S. Patent No D135,448), priced at $7.50, that looked perhaps a little too much like a Parker “51” (below, lower). Emblazoned on the top surface of the Victory’s shell was the heat-stamped imprint shown to the left of the pen (highlighted for photographic purposes).

The Inkmaker retained the ink-view window of the Colonel, but the Inkmaker’s window was wide enough to provide an excellent view of the pen’s “Ink Battery” (to be described later). Mirroring the bands around the window were two enameled bands that replaced the metal cap band. There do, however, exist hooded-nib Imkmakers with plated metal cap bands.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
Fountain pen
Fountain pen

Parker v. Graphomatic

The Inkmaker Victory’s new hooded-nib design attracted the attention — and the displeasure — of the Parker Pen Company and its employee Marlin S. Baker. On February 3, 1943, Parker and Baker filed suit against Graphomatic et al., presumably Solomon Sager. (At some date before the suit was filed, Sager had set up the Graphomatic Corporation, with W. Russell Arrington and M. E. Belland as co-principals, to produce the pens, or at least to be the public front instead of Grieshaber.) The Parker suit alleged infringement of U.S. Patents Nos USD116,097 and USD116,098, which covered the design of the hooded-nib Parker “51”. It is easy to see the resemblance between the nib ends of the Inkmaker (upper) and the “51” (lower):

Fountain pen
Fountain pen

Based on the available evidence, it appears that the judgment must have gone in Parker’s favor despite the existence of Sager’s design patent, and that Graphomatic responded by withdrawing the Victory — probably in October 1943. A newspaper advertisement for the Smith-Patterson Company, a Boston Jeweler, appeared in the Boston Globe on October 8, 1943, listing Christmas gift ideas for overseas shipping. The Inkmaker was in the list, with both prices printed. However, only 26 days later, on October 31, Boston’s A. Stowell Company ran an ad, also in the Globe, with a Graphomatic cut illustrating the De Luxe and mentioning only the $8.75 price. That ad and all that followed it illustrate only Inkmaker De Luxe pens like the ones below, showing the pens posted rather than capped as in the 1942 ad. Judging by the reappearance of metal cap bands in ads beginning in mid-1944, we can reasonably infer that the government began relaxing at least some WPB restrictions on materials at that time.

Two basic variants of the Inkmaker De Luxe are known: (1) with a fairly broad ink-view window decorated with black lines around it (shown below, top pen) and (2) several with ink-view windows of various widths but with no lines (below, two lower pens). Note the forward end of the Ink Battery, which is visible in the windows of the three pens shown here.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
Fountain pen
Fountain pen
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Fountain pen

The Inkmaker De Luxe was almost certainly the model for which the nib imprint shown below was created, although nibs with this imprint appeared on both the Inkmaker and the Colonel.

Copy of nib imprint

The Inkmaker Victory is today much less common than the De Luxe.

How Did It Work?

The final version of the Inkmaker, as disclosed in Sager’s patent, was a very clever design:

Patent drawing

Patent drawingFor its ink supply, the Inkmaker used an “Ink Battery” that was a short length of heavy-walled plastic tubing with a couple of holes drilled along the side, containing the dried ink in its bore. (The patent describes this as a “cartridge or shell,” callout 19 in the drawing above; the dual ink supply is callouts 22 and 23.) The filling system comprised one Ink Battery and a plug that screwed into the back end of the barrel, sealing the barrel with an elastomer washer. The plug, called the Air Control Handle, had a socket that held the Ink Battery in the middle of the barrel, and in the final design there was another socket on the Air Control Handle’s back end for a spare Ink Battery. The threads on the sides of the Air Control Handle were cut away to provide a flat surface; when the Air Control Handle was unscrewed about three turns, air could pass along its length between the barrel and the outside. To fill the pen, the user removed the blind cap (not included in the patent), unscrewed the Air Control Handle the requisite amount, and immersed the pen almost fully into a glass (or other container) of water as shown in the patent’s Figure 2 (to the left), stopping at the colored line that was enameled on the barrel at the point where the blind cap seated. Atmospheric pressure would force water into the pen, with the air inside passing to the outside along the Air Control Handle. When the pen was full, the user screwed the Air Control Handle down tightly, cleaned off the water, and replaced the blind cap.

The November 1944 issue of Consumer Reports Magazine noted, “The current attempt to crash the inkless field is being made with the Inkmaker ($8.75), the ink supply for which is provided from dry ‘ink batteries.’ The idea is appealing.” Did it work? To some extent, it must have worked; otherwise, the Inkmaker would have followed its predecessors into oblivion. Whether it worked as well as claimed is perhaps questionable. In any case, Graphomatic had a backup plan in the form of the button-filling Colonel, which at $7.50 was priced lower and was known to work. The button filling system was advertised as the Magic Vacuum Filler.

War Work

The supply of Inkmaker pens during the war was drastically limited. In November 1942, the WPB restricted pen companies to producing no more than 46% of the number of pens they had made in 1941, and in the summer of 1944 further restrictions were applied on a per-company basis with the intent of giving smaller manufacturers a proportionally bigger share of the pie. The Federal Register, Vol. 9, No 67, contained on page 3566 a table that assigned to Graphomatic a quota of no more than 1,500 pens per quarter for civilian production and 1,500 for special (military) procurement — a total of no more than 38 pens per workday! The highest quota on the list was that of David Kahn, Inc., which could produce up to 953,750 pens per quarter for civilian use and 10,000 for special procurement. (Several companies were allotted unlimited production for special procurement.) Graphomatic was probably not able to satisfy the demands of its customers, and it is likely that only a combination of war work and nib sales to other manufacturers was were keeping the company afloat.

A Note on Packaging

Inkmaker “instruction sheet”
Inkmaker “instruction sheet”

Pen and boxUnlike modern fountain pens, many of which come in fancy (and sometimes costly) oversize heavy presentation boxes with little or no utility, pens of the World War II era usually came in relatively plain boxes, many of which were of paperboard and not much larger than the pen itself. The Inkmaker was no exception. (See the photo to the left.) Its packaging did, however, include an instruction sheet and a glossy two-sided full-color paper that amounted to a free advertisement for the pen: with luck, the purchaser would pass the paper on to a friend, who might buy another Inkmaker. The front and back of that paper are shown to the right.

Postwar Postscript

Testimonials from soldierscap crownThe latest Inkmaker advertisement I have found that was placed by Graphomatic itself was a full-page ad on page 48A of the January 1946 issue of Popular Mechanics. Below a white-on-black banner headline reading “NOW You Will Never Run Out of Ink!” it touts the Inkmaker’s virtues and includes the brief testimonials shown to the left, claimed to have been written by servicemen overseas during the war. The advertisement also lists a diminished color palette, as shown in the table below.

What really happened after the war ended was that with the troops home again, nobody seemed to want the Inkmaker anymore. By mid-March 1946, Namm’s, a department store in Brooklyn, New York, was clearing out its fountain pen inventory with the Inkmaker priced at $1.95 — and a full-page “After Easter” ad placed by O'Neil’s Department Store in the Akron, Ohio, Beacon Journal of April 8, 1947, was, along with many other bargains, offering the store’s remaining inventory of eighteen Inkmaker pens for 89¢ each. The ink-making fountain pen had once again proven itself to be only a flash in the pan.

But Graphomatic was not through yet. The Colonel De Luxe was without question a good fountain pen, and sales continued apace. The only Graphomatic Colonel De Luxe advertisement I have found, shown earlier in this chapter, was a -page ad on page 234 of the January 1946 issue of Esquire Magazine. That ad extolled the pen’s writing qualities (“WRITE … as if Gliding on Air”) and ease of filling. At some time after the printing of that 1946 ad, the prewar steel clip returned to replace the molded plastic clip, accompanied this time by a flattish plated brass topscrew resembling an oversize brass paper fastener (shown below). Newspaper advertising continued at least into 1948, after which the trail grows cold.

The Colonel De Luxe of this generation lacked the false breather tube of its predecessor, and gone too were the attractively milled trim bands, as both bands, although still gold plated, were now smooth (still silver on the section but brass on the cap).

Pen unpacked from box

The new-in-box postwar Colonel De Luxe illustrated here, Mahogany in color, has a nib imprinted INKMAKER / — / 14K / U.S.A.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen

I have found no documentation indicating when, or even if, Graphomatic stopped making Inkmaker pens before the company’s demise. Either Graphomatic was still producing Inkmakers when this Colonel was made or there were INKMAKER nibs left over when Inkmaker production ceased. In either case, however, the most notable feature of the pen shown above is neither the nib nor the unusual flattened conical capscrew — it is the retro-styled pierced cap band. None of the other Graphomatic pens I have seen is trimmed with a cap band like this. Was this pen a regular production variant, or was it a rare genetic sport?

The puzzles do not end with a pierced cap band. The pen shown below is a relatively common postwar example in Mahogany, with a remarkable feature of its own: a nib imprinted TOWER.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen

Tower was a house brand of Sears, Roebuck & Co., introduced in 1947. Sears catalogs show Tower pens as bargain-basement steel-nibbed models, priced at 87¢ or less — until the appearance of the Fall/Winter 1951 catalog, when the company offered a new series of high-quality hooded-nib Tower pens featuring a “Touch-O-Matic” 14K gold nib and ranging in price from $3.89 to $16.95. Graphomatic might have produced a run of the Colonel De Luxe for Sears, whose house-branded pens came from several different manufacturers, only to have Sears ultimately decide not to market the model. By early 1953, Sears had apparently realized that house-branded high-end pens were no longer its forte in any case; the Spring/Summer 1953 catalog offered only one gold-nibbed Tower pen, the $4.45 Style King, which was clearly not a Graphomatic product.

Winding Down

The Graphomatic Corporation was still in operation in 1951, when a listing for it appeared on page 196 of the Greater Chicago and Surrounding Territories Business Classified Directory. Neither the Sager Pen Corporation nor the Grieshaber Pen Company was listed in that directory. The 1953 edition of the Illinois Certified List of Domestic and Foreign Corporations listed Graphomatic with Arrington and Belland as principals. In 1953 and 1956, entries appeared in the Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, listing trademark applications that had been canceled. I have found no later documentation for Graphomatic.

To the Colors

The following table shows the colors I can document for Graphomatic pens. It is likely that this is a complete list, but I cannot certify that the Colonel De Luxe appeared only in the colors shown for it. The Inkmaker colors and their names in this table were taken from the papers included with a wartime Inkmaker pen; Colonel colors reflect specimens that I have actually seen. Except for Hospital White, the colors as shown here came from photographs of actual pens. (3D highlighting was added with a computer.)

The Colors of the Inkmaker
Color Name

Jet Black Jet Black
Burgundy Burgundy
Navy Blue Navy Blue
(Colors below discontinued after WWII)
Military Khaki Military Khaki
Hospital White Hospital White

The Colors of the Colonel De Luxe
Color Name

Jet Black Jet Black
Burgundy Burgundy
Mahogany Mahogany

In addition to the colors shown in the table, there were various “demonstrator” versions of the Inkmaker. I enquote the word demonstrator because it is not clear that these pens were true demonstrators intended for dealers to use in explaining the pen’s features to potential purchasers. I know of the following variants:

  1. Sager also filed for a Canadian patent on the Inkmaker, and Canadian Patent No CA420039 was issued to him on September 5, 1944.  Return

  2. The provenance of the 14K gold nibs used in the Inkmaker and Colonel is unknown, but it is likely that Grieshaber was the supplier. Whoever made them, the same nibs also became available to other manufacturers; except for their imprint, the Graphomatic nibs were identical to the nibs used in the wartime Morrison Patriot and Wearever Deluxe 100.  Return

  3. This design may have been copied deliberately from Sheaffer’s Model 47 (the Crest) or Parker’s Vacumatic Imperial, both of which were advertised as having sleeker lines than other pens.  Return

  4. The INK·“O”·GUARD name actually appeared in the imprint on the feed in at least some Sager Transparo pens: Reg. U.S.A. Pat’s. Pend. Ink·“O”·Guard  Return

  5. It is not uncommon for a utility patent to illustrate implementations other than the preferred one in order to keep competitors from circumventing the patent by developing an implementation that might be interpreted as sufficiently different that it does not infringe. One example of such a situation was William Welty’s hump-filler (U.S. Patent No 834,542), which was different enough from Roy Conklin’s crescent-filler (U.S. Patent No 685,258) that Welty won the case when sued by Conklin.  Return

  6. The imprint reads genuine sager / “inkmaker” pen / pat’s. pend. / made in u.s.a. / S. M. Sager. The “Inkmaker” trademark, Registration No 412,466, was stated to have been first used on November 6, 1942, dating this pen to a timeframe beginning on or about that date and ending when production of the hooded pens was halted. The imprint also implies that Sager had apparently filed for multiple patents, but only the one identified in the first paragraph of this article was granted.  Return

  7. The Parker Pen Co. v. The Graphomatic Corp. et al., in Washington, D.C., North Dakota, Illinois, and the U.S. Eastern Division (Docket 43C86).  Return

  8. With a single exception, all of the magazine advertisements I have found for the Inkmaker were in Popular Mechanics Magazine. The one exception was a -page postwar ad that appeared on the upper left side of page 208 of the November 1945 issue of Popular Mechanics and in the same location on page 290 of the same month’s issue of Popular Science Magazine. Newspaper advertising appeared in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and possibly other states.  Return

  9. Consumer Reports found the Inkmaker unsatisfactory. Their testers had to resort to pliers to unscrew the Air Control Handle for filling, and the Ink Battery performed very poorly in their tests.  Return

  10. Both of the prices cited in this paragraph are documented in an issue of the Consumer Goods Desk Book, a list of ceiling prices published in 1946 by the U.S. Government’s Office of Price Administration (OPA) to prevent wartime and postwar price gouging. The price of the Inkmaker (available only with a gold nib in 1945 due to wartime rationing of steel) had risen from $5.00 at its 1942 introduction to $8.75, as documented in the Federal Register, Vol. 10, No 9, published on Friday, January 12, 1945.  Return

  11. The “Blackhawk Div.” was the U.S. Army’s 86th Infantry Division, named to honor the Sauk Indian leader Black Hawk by Major Frederick McLaughlin, commander of the division’s 333rd Machine Gun Battalion during World War I.  Return

  12. “Mahogany” is my guess at the name, based on the use of that name by several other manufacturers for pens of the same general coloration. The official name is unknown.  Return

  13. The clips for wartime Mahogany Colonels were made of black plastic, daubed by hand with splotches of brown paint.  Return

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 Daniel Kirchheimer for introducing me to Graphomatic pens and for the great amount of information he has provided for this article.

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