(This page revised March 10, 2015)
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The Quintessential Wartime Pen
|This Morrison advertising matchbook, which makes the Patriot set seem almost a necessity, appeared c. 1943.|
During World War II, people around the world learned to get along on less, giving up critical war resources such as steel, rubber, and gasoline so that their countries’ war efforts could go forward. The War had a profound effect on fountain pen manufacture. One of its most noticeable results in the area of writing instruments was the creation of the Morrison Patriot, born of war and designed to fan the flames of patriotism in its users. Despite the fact that the Patriot did not conform to military regulations and could not be carried in the breast pocket of a uniform, Patriot advertising (as exemplified by the matchbook cover shown to the right) suggested that Stateside civilians should purchase the pen as a gift for that lonely soldier or sailor who was fighting on the other side of the world.
The Patriot’s Roots
Before the War the Morrison Fountain Pen Company, of New York City, made lever-fillers at several price levels, none of them competing directly with the first-tier products of the Big Four. Here is an interesting prewar low-line Morrison; it’s a small pen, but it presents the essential design feature of the Patriot, the sloped cap crown that Morrison called the Cameo Top:
The earliest pens I’ve found that are actually marked “The Patriot” appear to have been made before the U.S. entered the War, or at least before the restrictions on materials went into effect. The lever-filling Patriot shown here was made before Morrison decided to use the Cameo Top design. Like many other pens of the years leading up to the War, it is modeled along the lines of Sheaffer’s Balance. Somewhat unusually, it’s made of chased celluloid, which Morrison had used for several black models during the 1930s. It originally had an untipped Morrison Nº 7 steel nib, the sign of a bottom-line model.
The Real Deal Arrives
In 1942, or possibly as early as late 1941, Morrison began producing the “real” Patriot, a Cameo Top pen fitted with a 14K gold nib and issued in versions to honor the Army, Navy, Air Corps, and Marines. (There are rumors of a Coast Guard Patriot, but I have never seen any credible reference to a “Coastie” version.) That the Air Corps model was named as it was, despite the fact that the Army Air Corps had become the Army Air Forces in June 1941, suggests that Morrison had already planned these pens several months before the U.S. entered World War II. Like their forebears, initial production pens were lever-fillers, as shown by this Army example:
Rationing of rubber articles began with tires in January 1942. Very shortly, Morrison could no longer get enough rubber sacs to make lever-fillers; to keep production going, Morrison’s engineers developed the syringe-filling Patriot. Considered on its own merits, the syringe-filling design is superior to the lever-filler in almost every respect, but Morrison shipped at least some of these pens with an apologetic note explaining that they were a wartime exigency.
Here are Army, Navy, Air Corps, and Marine Corps Patriots, presented in order of their rarity:
The Army and Navy pens shown here have gold nibs imprinted MORRISON 14 KT U.S.A. The Air Corps and Marine Corps pens have nibs imprinted 14K MADE IN U.S.A.
All four of the pens uillustrated above are syringe (“Post”) fillers, with the entire barrel screwing off to expose the filling unit — which Morrison’s instruction sheet calls the Visual Vacuum Filler. Each has the crest of its service, cast in sterling silver and gold plated, glued to the sloped Cameo Top cap crown. Some early emblems were enameled; the enameled Army emblem, for example, shows red, white, and blue in the Eagle’s shield. See Rogues’ Gallery, later in this article, for clear photos of the cap-crown emblems on these pens.
The engineering behind the aesthetically pleasing syringe-filler design is obvious: the new filler design eliminated the metal lever, snap ring, and pressure bar as well as the operations associated with cutting the lever slot and snap-ring groove. Threading the section joint and gluing the filler’s reservoir to the sac nipple made the transition very easy and economical. Overall, re-engineering costs were held to an absolute minimum. Except for its two sliding seal gaskets (one of cork and one of a waterproof clay-impregnated material colored red), the filler unit itself is made entirely of celluloid. (The filler illustrated above has had its seals replaced with O-rings.)
The syringe-filling Patriot lived up to its name when it came to conserving critical war resources. Initially, its filler reduced rubber consumption, and when further restrictions on rubber were enacted in October 1942, Morrison replaced the hard rubber section and feed with black celluloid. Except for the filler’s two gaskets and the necessary metal parts, the entire pen was at that point made of celluloid. Thus, syringe-filling pens with hard rubber sections can probably be dated to the first three quarters of 1942. Further identifying characteristics of early syringe fillers, illustrated below, are the presence of steel nibs and the design of the plunger shaft, which has no screw-threaded knob but instead is just necked to provide a decorative finger hold.
On the Home Front
Recognition for American mothers was an important aspect of patriotism. Women whose sons and daughters were in the service were listed as Blue Star Mothers and were encouraged to display Blue Star Mothers placards in their home windows. There were also pins and ribbons decorated with the Blue Star Mothers design, a blue five-pointed star on a white background, enclosed in a red rectangular border. Morrison got in on the act by producing a Blue Star Mothers “Victory” pen whose cap crown emblem superimposed the design over a large letter V. The pen shown here has lost all of its thin gold plating, appearing almost to have been fitted with chrome-plated furniture. The cap crown emblem, as with other Patriots, is silver, in this case enhanced with intarsia enameling.
Morrison also made Patriots to honor the American Legion, a patriotic veterans’ organization chartered by Congress in 1919, with a mission of service to veterans, servicemembers, and communities.
Dressing It Down
Apparently it was felt that the crested Patriots were too flashy to be carried by some people; there were also crestless versions that were the same except for a slightly rounded flat-top cap design to replace the crested Cameo Top. Here is a crestless Navy Patriot with a MORRISON 14 KT U.S.A. nib:
The crestless Patriot also appeared in colors more oriented to civilian use, such as burgundy and midnight blue, and crestless pens in Olive Drab had black cap crowns.
Brothers in Arms
The U.S.A. did not fight World War II alone, and Morrison appears to have taken notice of that fact. Not only did the torpedo-shaped Patriot exist before the War, but the company also made a Cameo Top lever-filler honoring the Lend-Lease program under which America, still ostensibly neutral, declared itself the Arsenal of Democracy and shipped millions of tons of war matériel to the Allied belligerents (primarily Great Britain and, after the launching of Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa, the Soviet Union). The Lend-Lease pen, orange in color and fitted with a Morrison Nº 7 untipped steel nib, bore on its cap crown a full-color decal transfer showing the crossed flags of the United States and the United Kingdom encircled by the words FREEDOM OF DEMOCRACY. The Lend-Lease pen shown here is in “mint” condition, with its original store-display sticker. The matching pencil has only a U.S. flag on the cap crown.
Further, Morrison made at least one pen model on both lever-filling and syringe-filling Patriot chassis to honor our allies. Some of these pens are marked as Patriots, while others are not. The cap bears a hemispherical crown decorated with the Red, White, and Blue roundel of Britain’s Royal Air Force. The syringe-filling pen shown here is fitted with an IRIDIUM TIPPED U.S.A. steel nib. The earlier lever-filler has an untipped steel nib. The untipped variety appears to have been more common before Morrison switched to gold.
The RAF pen also appeared in a black version, perhaps as a tip of the hat to the Royal Air Force’s night-bombing squadrons.
There was also a Patriot with the black-banded hemispherical crown that had been used earlier for Morrison’s Black Beauty model. This version might have been a “quick and dirty” way to honor the Royal Australian Air Force, but this is only conjecture, as the RAAF’s roundel actually had a blue border, not black, with a red kangaroo in the center of the white circle.
The Patriot shown below has a plain Cameo-Top plaque made of gold-plated brasss instead of any identifiable crest. Absent any documentation of this form, I think it was probably intended as a pen on which the owner’s initials could be engraved in a more elegant fashion than just placing them on the barrel.
After the War
In many areas of American life, the things of war disappeared very quickly after the end of World War II. One thing that did not disappear immediately was the Patriot. I have no information on when Patriot production finally stopped, but the pen shown here is a Navy Patriot that was unquestionably made after the War. It shows that Morrison returned to the lever-filler while also doing some restyling. The cap-crown emblem is now a water-slide decal like the Lend-Lease version, and the section and distal end of the barrel are streamlined.
Here are clear photos of the cap-crown emblems on all the Cameo Top Patriot variants discussed in this article.
Blue Star Mothers
Royal Air Force (OD)
Royal Air Force (Black)
Royal Australian Air Force (?)
Plain Cameo-Top Plaque
When Was It Made?
I have no documentation giving the production dates of the Patriot, but there are possible clues to the approximate time when a given pen was made. During its production life, the Patriot underwent several more or less subtle changes in its appearance, as listed here:
The most obvious changes are the grand design revisions: the early transition from the torpedo-shaped pen to the Cameo Top design and the postwar streamlining of the pen body’s ends.
Prewar and wartime Patriots exist with two section shapes: a smoothly curved shape similar to the design introduced by Sheaffer in the 1930s (on the Lend-Lease and torpedo-shaped pens here) and a blockier shape that harks back to the 1920s. My speculation is that pens with the smoother section were made early and used existing tooling, and that later pens reverted to the blockier section as tooling was replaced. The less-streamlined section would be faster and less costly to tool for and to manufacture.
Two filling systems were used: the lever-filler and the “Visible Vacuum” syringe-filler. Restrictions on the use of rubber were in place from October 1942 until the end of the War. Therefore, a lever-filling Patriot must have been made before the restrictions went into effect or after they were lifted, while a syringe-filler was made between the enactment of the restrictions and their lifting.
Two different clip designs appear on Patriots: the common Morrison clip of the time (on all of the pens illustrated on this page except the syringe-filling Army, Air Corps, and Marine pens; used before, during, and after the War) and a slightly more Art Deco design (on the three service-specific pens named in this list item; apparently used only during the War).
As many as four different nibs appear to have been used: MORRISON-imprinted untipped steel (on the Lend-Lease and torpedo-shaped pens shown here), tipped steel (on the Royal Air Force pen shown here), and 14K gold with two different imprints (one including the MORRISON name and one without it). Prewar pens appear to have had steel nibs, with gold becoming available as a result of wartime restrictions on the use of steel. After the War, untipped steel returned. The tipped steel nib on the RAF pen may be a retrofit; I have another RAF pen with a MORRISON-imprinted untipped steel nib.
Olive Drab pens (Army, Air Corps, and Marines) appeared with barrel ends in both Olive Drab and black:
OD, OD barrel end
OD, black barrel end
Most Patriots were made with flat barrel ends, but some examples have three concentric grooves in the barrel end. The American Legion pen shown on this page has a grooved end.
Flat barrel end
Grooved barrel end
Truth and Fiction
In recent years, the Internet has hosted an oft-repeated legend to the effect that the Patriot was made by a Japanese company:
A 1942 Military Fountain Pen manufactured by the Morrison Pen Company founded in 1918 as the Kikaku Seisakusyo company, the companys [sic] name was changed in 1933 to the Morrison Company. This fountain pen was made specifically to comply with the requirements of the United States Army.
I do not know the origin of this preposterous story. Japan’s Kikaku Seisakusyo company did change its name to Morison (with only one r) in 1933, and the company continued making pens of excellent quality for many years — but it didn’t make the Patriot. The Morrison Fountain Pen Company was founded in 1910, in New York City.
Also, as noted at the beginning of this article, the Patriot did not conform to military regulations, which required a military clip; it was made for, and sold to, civilians. Patriots were produced as pen/pencil sets priced at $6.25, and the $1.25 wartime excise tax raised the consumer’s cost to $7.50.
Marketing of the Patriot, as for other products, leaned heavily toward the idea that this pen was something you could buy to show your support for a friend or loved one in uniform. Seemingly recognizing that soldiers or sailors would have to carry their Patriots in their duffel bags or sea bags, Morrison packaged the sets with real leather pouch cases that would protect the pen and pencil while keeping them together. Shown here is a Marine Corps set with its pouch.
Collectible? Yes, but…
Patriots are not so common as they once were, but they are not so hard to obtain as to be out of reach for the average collector. The Army and Navy versions are far more common than the Air Corps and Marine Corps; the latter two are rather rare, while other versions are similarly uncommon. More difficult than finding them, however, is getting them into working order. Restoration is possible, but the filling system was not designed to be reparable, and for this reason there are few restorers working today who handle the Patriot.
No secret was made of the Lend-Lease program, and the Germans objected strongly to it. America’s pseudo-neutral stance was a contributing factor in the torpedoing of the destroyer USS Reuben James on 31 October 1941, about a month before the U.S.’ official entry into the War.
At one time, this description appeared, identically worded, on several Web sites. I copied it from the now-defunct Fountain Pen Emporium site; but it disappeared from that site before the site was taken down.
The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative. 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 Tim Holl for the loan of his rare lever-filling Cameo Top Army Patriot.