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|This Inkmaker advertisement occupied the whole of page 207 in Popular Mechanics Magazine’s October 1944 issue. It tells the whole exciting story of the Inkmaker, calling it “the most appropriate gift you can send a service man — overseas especially, where ink is hard to get.”|
When America went to war in 1941, there were no longer any pens on the market that made their own ink; all of them 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 trench pen, but with the addition of the multiple-fill feature pioneered in the ’20s and ’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 February 4, 1942, Sager applied for a patent for a new ink maker. It would appear 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.”
Before we can go forward, however, we must step backward for a moment. Although Sager applied for his patent in February 1942, it turns out that his pen was already in production. A small advertisement on page 189 of the March 1942 issue of Popular Mechanics Magazine, shown to the left, offered the “Graph-O-Matic” inkmaking pen 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 — long known for the quality of its nibs — was at that time a division of the Sager Pen Corporation. The March issue of Popular Mechanics was published in February, and advertising for that issue would have had to be submitted several weeks before that. Thus, the pen was certainly in production no later than January, and it is likely that its design had been finalized 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.
There were two major versions of the wartime Inkmaker. There is at present no documentation indicating which came first or whether the two were introduced simultaneously; nor is there any information detailing the chronology of the Inkmaker’s five colors (as shown in the table at the end of this article). At some point, Sager set up the Graphomatic Corporation to produce the pens, or at least to be the public front for their production. (It is also possible that Sager changed its name to Graphomatic.) The only appearance of the Graphomatic name on the pens themselves was in the nib imprint, although the name was included on the papers accompanying each pen (but not on the box).
One version of the pen had an open nib and a Sager-standard section with the threads at the nib end, below the place where the user would grasp the pen instead of above. (This is the only version of which I have seen any contemporaneous documentation.) Except for the gold nib and the gold-plated metal furniture, this pen was all plastic, even to the military-compliant top-mounted clip. The cap crown piece, which was integrally molded with the clip, bore the imprint Sager Inkmaker Made in U.S.A. around its edge. Two variants of this version are known, one with a fairly broad ink-view window decorated with black lines around it and one with a narrower ink-view window with no lines. Note the forward end of the Ink Battery (described later), which is visible in the windows of the two pens here and also in the one further below.
The other Inkmaker version had a semi-hooded nib with the imprint shown to the right (highlighted with white wax for photographic purposes) emblazoned on the top surface of the shell. The two bands on the cap are enameled, leaving the nib as the only metal part in the pen. This version is today much less common than the open-nibbed version; it might have been unpopular at the time, or it might have been discontinued very shortly after its introduction for reasons to be touched upon later.
The Inkmaker was actually a very clever design. Sager’s patent shows how it worked:
For its ink supply, it 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 the bore. (The patent describes this as a cartridge, callout 19.) The filling system comprised one Ink Battery and a plug that screwed into the back end of the barrel and sealed 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 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) and 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.
Not included in Sager’s Inkmaker patent is a design element of the open-nibbed Inkmaker that speaks to the care in engineering that went into the pen. Already protected by U.S. Patent No 1,904,014 and used on earlier Sager pens such as the Transparo, this design made the front face of the section 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. The concave shape of the section’s end also dramatically reduced the possiblity of its becoming nicked or scratched in ordinary use. This feature was called the INK·“O”·GUARD [sic], and Graphomatic touted it in the pen’s advertising using the image to the right.
A 1943 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, yes. Whether it worked well enough to be really useful is not documented. In any case, Graphomatic had a backup plan in the form of a button-filling pen of similar appearance but with a metal clip and metal tassies on both ends. This pen, which seems to have appeared only in Jet Black and Mahogany colors, was identical in appearance to the pen in the 1942 Grieshaber advertisement and was called the Colonel™ De Luxe — and was priced at $7.50! The button filling system was advertised as the Magic Vacuum Filler.
The Colonel De Luxe raised the ire of the Parker Pen Company, which on February 3, 1943, filed suit against Graphomatic et al., presumably Solomon Sager, for infringing U.S. Patents Nos USD116,097 and USD116,098, which covered the design of the double-jewel Parker “51”. It is easy to see the resemblance between the Colonel De Luxe (upper) and the Parker “51” (lower):
Graphomatic appears to have responded by redesigning the Colonel De Luxe to remove the tassies and give the blind cap a sharper point like that on the Inkmaker. (The hooded version of the Inkmaker does not appear in the 1944 advertisement shown on this page; since the hooded nib was a principal feature of USD116,098, the possibility exists that this version was discontinued as part of the resolution of Parker’s suit.) The blind cap on the Colonel De Luxe and its redesigned successor, the Colonel (no longer De Luxe) was also shorter than the Inkmaker’s blind cap, as can be seen by comparing the locations of the colored line on the two models’ barrels. Colors changed, too; the redesigned model appeared in some or all of the Inkmaker’s colors. Although the redesign left the pen with a resemblance to the single-jewel “51, it was apparently enough to satisfy Parker.
The Graphomatic Corporation continued in operation at least until 1951, when 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 appeared in that directory.
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 two colors shown for it. The Inkmaker color names in this table were taken from the papers included with an Inkmaker pen. Except for Hospital White, the colors as shown here came from photographs of actual pens. (3D highlighting was added with a computer.)
In addition to the colors shown here, there was a “demonstrator” version of the hooded Inkmaker, with a completely transparent gripping section/shell but with the barrel and cap black. I enquote the word demonstrator because it is not clear that this pen was a true demonstrator intended for dealers to use in describing the pen’s features to potential purchasers. The only one I have ever seen came in a standard box with papers, suggesting that it was for sale to the public.
|The Colors of the Inkmaker Pen|
|The Colors of the Colonel De Luxe (with metal furniture)|
|Mahogany (my color name, not the official name)|
The provenance of the 14K gold nibs used in the Inkmaker 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, they were identical to the nibs used in the wartime Morrison Patriot and Wearever Deluxe 100.
The two trim bands were made of sterling silver; thus, the pen contained no critical war resources at all.
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
In the interest of science, I dedicated an unused Ink Battery to learning how well the Inkmaker works. The results were more than discouraging: after 24 hours, the pen could produce only a very faint blue line. It must be remembered, however, that the Ink Battery was more than 70 years old. In the 1940s, the results might have been radically different.
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 by the U.S. Government’s Office of Price Administration (OPA) to prevent wartime price gouging. That the price of the Inkmaker had jumped before the end of 1943 from $2.95 to $8.75 suggests that this aim was not always achieved.
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. Some of the information in this article was provided by Daniel Kirchheimer, who also lent two pens for photography. Furthermore, I owe a debt of gratitude to Daniel for his having brought these wonderful pens to my attention.