Profile: The Conklin Nozac

(This page revised March 22, 2013)

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Conklin Glider Advertisement, 1946 Magnifying glass
This very early Conklin Nozac adver­tise­ment appeared in May 1931.

Manufacturer logoEver since 1929, when Pelikan introduced the pen that became its Model 100, screw-actuated piston-filling pens have seemed to be almost a German monopoly. But only two years after Pelikan took the market by storm, the Conklin Pen Company of Toledo, Ohio, brought out a piston filler with a well-engineered mechanism designed by Conklin’s chief designer, Andreas Bienenstein (U.S. Patent Nº 1,902,809). Promoted as “the pen that winds like a watch” and placed at the top of Conklin’s product line, the new model was streamlined like the Endura Symetrik (introduced a year earlier). Riffing on the fact that the absence of a sac made its new pen unlike virtually all other self-filling pens then being made in the U.S., Conklin called its creation the Endura Nozac (“no sack”), also advertising it as the Nozac Symetrik. Soon, the “extra” nomenclature disappeared, and the Conklin Nozac entered into its reign as America‘s best “sackless” self-filler.

With the introduction of a new feature, manufacturers often created demonstrator pens so that store clerks could actually show prospective purchasers, “up close and personal,” how the pen worked. Conklin’s Nozac, being essentially a revolutionary advance over then-current American designs, was the ideal candidate for a clear demonstrator, and Conklin wasn’t slow to realize that fact. Taking the demonstrator concept one step further in a probable attempt at viral marketing, in which happy purchasers would bring the Nozac to their friends’ attention (“Hey, look at this!”), Conklin offered its clear pens for sale to consumers — but it didn’t refer to these pens as demonstrators. Shown here is an early clear Nozac that was sold at retail; the deeply ambered area shows severe discoloration by the action of ink:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen nib

Along with the obvious advantage of its piston filler, the Nozac also bore a new feed (shown to the right) that offered improved flow control and a special inner cap to prevent leaking. Seeing no reason to stray away from a successful design, Conklin continued to use its excellent center-mounted sprung clip; a few early pens had the rounded clip of the 1920s (shown above), and lower-line models continued with this design, Fountain pen feed but most top-line Nozacs featured a sharply streamlined clip designed by Andreas Bienenstein, and somewhat similar in appearance to Sheaffer’s later “radius” design. In the latter half of the 1930s, Conklin fitted the pens with its new extra-smooth “Cushon Point” nibs (shown to the left).

Art Deco influenced many designs during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Nozac’s torpedo shape, with long cylindrical areas, was well adapted to Art Deco styling, and about a year after the pen’s introduction Conklin endowed the Nozac with a Beinenstein-designed 12-faceted body having alternating clear and colored areas so that the user could see how much ink was in the pen. (The earlier rounded body, with double narrow cap bands and a “glitter” crescent set into the cap above the clip, was also the product of Bienenstein’s fertile imagination.) To further promote the relatively large capacity of the Nozac, the company in 1932 invented a “Word Gauge” feature: with a hot-stamped scale reading in thousands (1-M, 2-M, etc.) applied to the barrel, the pen supposedly helped to keep track of how many words remained in the ink supply. Nozac advertising proclaimed, “A pen without a Word Gauge is like a car without a gas gauge.” Here is a typical Nozac, a 5-M Word Gauge, showing both features:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Like most silver- or gray-colored pens of the 1930s, this Nozac has chrome-plated trim. (Note that the Word Gauge has been gilded to make it more visible; Conklin did not apply gilding at the factory.)

The 1930s were a time of brilliantly colored pens, partly to offset dampened spirits caused by the Depression (which was in full swing in 1931) and partly because the use of celluloid allowed an incredible freedom of design. Among Conklin’s most beautiful pens, and in fact some of the era’s most dazzling designs, are the V-line (“Herringbone”) Nozacs. Here are V-Line pens in red/silver and plain silver:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Break It in Two

The Nozac’s piston system was relatively costly, and part of the cost was the need to bore the barrel through from end to end without having the tool wander off center. Conklin reduced the cost by changing the barrel to a two-piece assembly. Each half, being shorter, was easier to machine; and assembly of the piston mechanism was also easier. The new design also offered new styling possibilities; the front half could be made clear and screwed into an opaque back half that contained and concealed the mechanism. The back half of the barrel carried the Conklin Nozac imprint, and the clear front half was stamped with the Word Gauge. Pens with this two-part barrel design are relatively uncommon today, especially in good condition, and collectors prize them. The example illustrated here shows discoloration due to ink staining, a common problem.

Fountain pen

No Sac, No Piston Either (Well, Sort of...)

The Nozac reigned supreme for only a couple of years. In early 1933, Parker brought out the Vacuum Filler, renamed within six months to become the Vacumatic. In 1934, Sheaffer introduced an updated plunger filler on its Wasp and Vacuum-Fil pens. Suddenly the Nozac was just another among several sackless pens. It was also expensive to manufacture, and its capacity was less than that of Parker’s and Sheaffer’s new pens. What to do? Like Sheaffer (and, soon after, Wahl-Eversharp), Conklin went after the one-stroke plunger filling system (U.S. Patent Nº 2,040,999, by Lloyd A. Kelley), creating the Nozac Q.F. (Quick Filling). In addition to its rapid filling and positive flushing, the Q.F. increased the Nozac’s ink capacity; in a pen the same size as a 5-M Word Gauge with a piston, the Q.F. offered 8-M (as shown by the pen below). The plunger design in the Q.F. did not call for special graphite-impregnated rubber as did Sheaffer’s version, yet its plunger moved effortlessly on the upstroke and sealed more positively on the downstroke.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Note
Note
For modern collectors, there is a downside to the Q.F., i.e., restoring the filler is much more difficult than restoring the fillers in other plunger fillers. Conklin made its plunger shafts of mild steel sheathed in celluloid, and the shaft is almost always found so badly rusted by exposure to ink that it needs to be replaced. The rusting shaft leaves part of itself inextricably buried in the nut that secures the plunger-head gasket, and the nut also needs replacement. Finally, the felt shaft packing is quite different from that in a Sheaffer or Wahl-Eversharp pen, and replacing it is correspondingly more complicated.

Top Line, Not So Top Line

The Nozac appeared in three sizes, ladies’ (shown below), standard (5-M) and oversize (7-M). Most pens had black sections and, depending on the model, either black or self-colored (matching) operating knobs. The more deluxe versions had a broader cap band, a two-tone nib, and a self-colored section. Cap bands were roll engraved.

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Conklin did not limit the Nozac mechanism, either piston or plunger, to the top of its line, however. Even student pens, a little thinner than the standard size (but the same length), appeared in the piston version, and Q.F. pens were also made in lower-level trim. The pen shown here is imprinted with the Conklin name but is not identified with any model designation. Its cap band is smooth and narrower than the band on a Nozac-branded pen:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Making its Nozac-type pens in a very restricted range of sizes allowed Conklin to gain the economies of scale by using exactly the same piston and plunger mechanisms in most of its pens. In contrast, other manufacturers made their plunger pens in a variety of lengths; Sheaffer, for example, made pens requiring at least a dozen different shafts while Conklin made the Q.F. in only one length.

Last Words and Last Rites

Nozacs were excellent pens, but today the Nozac series is looked upon as a marketing failure because Conklin’s dwindling fortunes did not enable the company to promote it enough. By the 1930s, Conklin had been reduced to black-and-white advertising, taking out mostly quarter- and half-page ads, while its competitors were buying colorful full-page or even “double-truck” spreads. Requiem for the Nozac sounded in 1938, when a Chicago syndicate bought the Conklin company and moved its assets to Chicago, ending manufacture of high-quality, high-line pens in favor of third-tier models such as the $2.75 Glider.

Colors

As mentioned earlier, the 1930s were a colorful decade: printed materials of all sorts began using much more color than before, clothing styles were bright and flowing, cars were painted in more brilliant hues, Technicolor made its appearance in the movies, and even fountain pens appeared in a tremendous range of colors. The Nozac joined the party with a will, being produced in a great variety of hues and patterns. The following table shows colors that I have seen personally; this may or may not be the entire range.


The Colors of the Nozac
Color Name

Black Black
Red/Silver V-line Red/Silver V-line
Red V-line Red V-line
Green V-line Green V-line
Emerald Green V-line Emerald Green V-line
Royal Blue V-line Royal Blue V-line
Silver V-line Silver V-line
Brown Striated Brown Striated
Green Striated Green Striated
Gray Striated Gray Striated
Red/Green Marbled Red/Greeen Marbled
Green Marbled Greeen Marbled

Notes:
  1. In this article, “no sack” and “sackless” are spelled as Conklin spelled them in its advertising.


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