(This page revised July 30, 2018)
|This advertisement featuring the “Ripple” No 7 appeared in the September 1929 issue of Good Housekeeping.
One of the factors that led to the eventual demise of the original L. E. Waterman Company was its reluctance to abandon the manufacture of hard rubber pens in the late 1920s. In 1924, Sheaffer had followed the lead of LeBoeuf, a small New England company that had begun selling celluloid pens four years earlier, and transitioned its production from hard rubber to celluloid. In 1925, Parker began the same transition. Waterman, however, was inextricably involved with (and later purchased) H. P. & E. Day, Inc., a hard rubber manufacturer located in Seymour, Connecticut, and was not yet ready to let go of hard rubber. When the company introduced its new No 7 (Number Seven) model in 1927, the pen was made of hard rubber. But it wasn’t ordinary hard rubber; it was a beautiful two-tone material with the unique “Ripple” pattern that Waterman and Day had developed to replace Waterman’s four-year-old mottled (“woodgrain”) hard rubber.
The No 7, called the Number Seven in early advertising, was not really a new pen. It was actually a No 55 body fitted with a slightly larger nib that featured a remarkably attractive keyhole-shaped breather hole. Its big selling feature was a new “color” system, in which nib point styles were identified by color names. For example, the system assigned Red to the most commonly used style, a medium-point, medium-length, semiflexible nib. Each nib was imprinted with its color name, as illustrated by the Blue nib to the left. No longer was there the need to guess at point styles by eye; the color system made it almost a science. To make it even easier to identify the point style on a given pen, Waterman added a casein band of matching color to the cap. This innovation made it possible to identify one among several otherwise identical pens without uncapping any of them, a benefit that must have encouraged at least some purchasers to buy more than one No 7. (The pen shown above has a Purple nib and cap band.)
The photos below show second-generation No 7 pens with Pink (upper) and Blue (lower) nibs. Second-generation pens were the same as the first generation except that the later version had gained a pair of narrow white bands outlining the cap’s color band, which could otherwise be difficult to see (as illustrated by the band on the Purple pen near the beginning of this article), especially in poor light.
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The No 7 went on the market at a price of $7.00, with a selection of six different nib styles: Red, Green, Pink, Blue, Yellow, and Purple. The seeming incongruity of a Number Seven pen with only six nibs might have motivated Waterman’s introduction of a seventh nib, Brown. By the time of the 1929 Good Housekeeping ad shown above, Waterman’s advertising described the No 7 as “Everyman’s pen,” encouraging the reader to "Ask any dealer to show you all seven styles…" Before the end of the No 7’s product life, three additional colors (Grey, Black, and White) appeared, making a total of ten.
The No 7 also gained a smaller companion; in 1928, Waterman introduced the No 5, priced at $5.00. Shown here is a No 5 with a Purple nib. (The cap’s color band is a modern replacement, lighter in color than the casein original.) The No 5 offered only five nib styles, not as many as were available for the No 7, but it had a little eye-catching feature of its own in the form of a slightly flared cap crown. Although it was sold only in a version with a clip, the No 5 might have been intended as a ladies’ pen; it is significantly shorter and slightly smaller in diameter than the contemporaneous No 52.
Waterman finally saw the handwriting on the wall, and sometime in 1929 the company introduced a celluloid version of the popular No 94. Other celluloid models followed, among them the No 7. But while bright colors led the way for other models, the No 7 came in dramatic… Jet (black). On a Jet pen, that bright color band would have been out of place, so something else had to be done. Waterman relocated the color identifier, morphing it into a circular disk set into the back end of the barrel (at right, a Yellow color disk). The No 7 also lost a little in size, shrinking from about 5" capped and a little over 7" posted to about 5" capped and a little over 6" posted. This is a Jet No 7 pen with a Red nib:
The No 94 also appeared at this time in Jet with barrel-end colored disks.
Once having made the leap and discovered that the No 7 hadn’t fallen off along the way, Waterman went ahead and treated the pen to new and exciting colors. When Emerald-Ray and Silver-Ray joined the Waterman palette, the No 7 (a little larger again, having grown to about 6" posted) was among the pens that wore a Ray suit, but only in Emerald-Ray. Because the No 7 was at that time available only as a lever filler, it had no reason to be offered in the Ray version of Jet. The barrel-end color disk disappeared in this generation. Here is an Emerald-Ray No 7 with a Brown nib, a quite uncommon pen today:
The No 5 was not produced in the Ray colors; its last incarnation before being removed from the catalog was the Jet version with the barrel-end colored disk.
Having lost its color-coded disk, the No 7 was ready for the next step in its loss of identity: the disappearance of its color-coded nib. In the latter half of the 1930s, Waterman began shipping No 7 pens fitted with nibs bearing the number 7 below the WATERMAN’S IDEAL imprint instead of color names above it.
By that time, however, Waterman had developed the Ink-Vue filler together with a line of pens that used it and bore the same name. These pens came in the Ray colors and were marketed concurrently with the No 7 pen in Emerald-Ray. It is not clear whether the No 7 appeared with the original Ink-Vue filler (Type 0 or Type 1, U.S. Patents Nos 2,068,419 and 2,087,672, respectively); if it did, then when Copper-Ray was introduced, the formerly pointless Ray version of Jet probably also appeared on the No 7. But the original Ink-Vue filler design was expensive to manufacture. In 1939 a new version appeared that was much more economical to make (U.S. Patent No 2,217,755) — and this one made it to the No 7. Sadly, the attractive colors on more “plebeian” models (e.g., the No 511G, illustrated below, upper) appear not to have been used on the No 7. The No 7 ( below, lower) had changed in size again; the tale of the tape now read about 5" capped and 6" posted. Interestingly, the cast clip on this last version of the now-venerable No 7 had made its first appearance a decade earlier, at the height of the Art Deco era, on the Patrician!
In comparison with many other Waterman models such as the 52, Waterman’s No 5 and No 7 are relatively uncommon, and for many collectors these pens pens (especially the No 7) areare almost a Holy Grail among pens. But most seem to concentrate on the “Ripple” pens, collecting as nearly full a set of nib colors as possible. (Although attempts have been made to pass off faked White nibs, no authenticated example is known to exist, so that a complete color collection comprises nine nibs.) Few collectors opt to seek out all the variations of this iconic pen, yet there is much to appreciate in the various celluloid models, and much to challenge the collector. Assembling a type collection might be less expensive than gathering a set of nib colors — but it would not necessarily be less difficult.
The following table shows the colors in which I believe Waterman’s No 7 to have appeared.
|Colors of Waterman’s No 7 (in Chronological Order)
|Jet (Ray version)
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 David Nishimura for the information on the demise of the No 5, and to Jim Baer for the loan of several pens for photography.