(This page revised February 1, 2019)
|This Wing-flow advertisement appeared in the December 14, 1935, issue of The Saturday Evening Post.
The year is 1935. The Chilton Pen Company, late of Boston but currently plying its trade in Long Island City, New York, is hard at work — as are its competitors — on the next great thing in fountain pen styling. Having looked into and, for the time being, rejected the possibilities of a gripping section matching the pen body’s color instead of the usual black hard rubber section (U.S. Patent No 1,917,185), the company settles on a uniquely different approach: jazz up an otherwise plain solid-colored pen with inlaid designs consisting of bars of precious metal.
Applying a newly invented proprietary inlaying technique to its second-generation pneumatic-filling pen (U.S. Patent No 1,134,936) and mixing in a truly revolutionary nib design that provides improved performance and allows the use of less gold in the nib, Chilton is now ready to introduce its new pen. The clip design, U.S. Patent No D95,938, is also new, and the clip itself is Chilton’s elegantly spring loaded “Rocker” clip (U.S. Patent No 1,719,895, in use since 1930). The company, which until now has been a regional player in the northeast part of the United States, embarks on its first nationwide advertising campaign to sell the pen, which it dubs the Wing-flow.
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Absent the inlaid design, the pen shown above is attractive but undistinguished. The inlaid pattern sets it apart from all its contemporaries, but Chilton did not stop with a single pattern. Presently, eleven inlay patterns are known, of which ten were patented. The following drawings are taken directly from the U.S. patent documents; the unpatented eleventh pattern, shown here in an edited version of a patent drawing, is known from a single example and might have been a prototype, a special order, a later design, or even a “Saturday afternoon special”:
Early advertisements, like the one shown at the top of this page, offered the Wing-flow with six patterns of 14K yellow gold-filled inlays and four patterns of sterling silver. In actual production, the silver-colored overlays were generally 14K white gold filled so that they would not tarnish. I have, however, seen a small number of pens with actual sterling inlays, including this example in the "BB" pattern.
Pens also exist with inlays of solid 14K yellow gold; whether these were custom orders or later standard models is not known.
The Wing-flow fills by means of a clever suction-type filling system (U.S. Patent Nº 1,528,379). This system, introduced in the late 1920s, features a blind cap connected to a tube that slides within the barrel. When the blind cap is pulled to extend the tube, air flows into the barrel through a hole in the blind cap; covering the hole and pressing the blind cap down compresses the air in the barrel, squeezing the sac. At the end of the downstroke, uncovering the hole allows air to escape; the sac expands to its normal shape, drawing ink in as it does so.
Chilton used the inlaying technique that it had developed for the Wing-flow (U.S. Patent No 2,152,161) not only to produce patterned inlays but also to personalize pens for customers by using a pantograph engraver to cut the letter shapes part of the way through the barrel wall and then pressing in letters produced for the purpose. See the patent drawing fragments below, in which the part numbered 14 is a thin strip or letter shape made of a metal that is harder than the inlay metal. The inlay (numbered 5) has an arcuate cross-section and is positioned as shown in Figure 4. As the inlay is pressed downward, the strip forces its edges to spread instead of cutting straight down into the plastic (Figure 2). The inlay’s sharp edges bite into the celluloid to lock the inlay firmly in place. On June 6, 1937, Chilton copyrighted an advertising phrase calling the Wing-flow the “only fountain pen actually inlaid permanently with gold initials.”
Chilton would personalize pens priced $5.00 or more, and pencils priced $2.50 or more, at no extra charge for up to three initials.
As shown in the catalog clipping above, the customer could specify whether the initials were to be arranged vertically or diagonally. (On $3.00 pens and $1.50 pencils, there was an additional $1.00 charge for personalization.) Note that the initials in the clipping spell out the words “It’s New.”
The ease with which inlay designs could be created and applied led Chilton to produce a dramatic, but still simple and dignified, treatment for the Wing-flow aspergillum (holy water sprinkler). The design featured large sterling silver crosses, laid one into the cap on the side opposite the clip and one into the barrel, as shown in the edited image to the left above. Another special inlay, more common today than the religious icon here, was commissioned in 1936 by the Diamond Crystal Salt company as it celebrated its 50th anniversary. The company gave its employees a special gift to commemorate the occasion. Each employee received a new Chilton Wing-flow in Maroon, with a special plaque on the back of the cap, as shown to the right (photo courtesy Rick Krantz).
In 1937, Chilton produced a specially inlaid Wing-Flow George VI Rex pen/pencil set in Maroon and in a light burgundy color called Coronation Red to commemorate the crowning of the new English king (Albert, Duke of York, who ascended the throne upon the abdication of his brother Edward VIII and took the name George VI to emphasize the continuity of the Windsors’ reign).
There were also 14K gold-filled Wing-flows.
The appearance of the Wing-flow is what sold it to most purchasers in the 1930s, but the pen’s remarkable nib (U.S. Patent No 2.089.449) was the feature that earned the Wing-flow a place in the fountain-pen “Technology Hall of Fame.” The Wing-flow nib (advertised as the ageless Point) has tabs (“wings”) on the sides of the body that wrap around the underside of the feed to clamp the nib and feed in the proper relationship. Once set up, a Wing-flow is very difficult to knock out of alignment.
Because the wings held it in position, the nib could be made from a thinner sheet of gold and still retain the required stiffness. The security provided by the wings also allowed Chilton to make the base of the nib narrower where it is hidden within the section, further reducing the amount of gold required. The net result was that the Wing-flow nib performed better and cost less than comparable ordinary nibs. Its design also offered great material for advertising copy. The basic Wing-flow design has been used by Parker, Montblanc, and other manufacturers since Chilton‘s patent expired, and it is still in use today on pens as diverse as the Pilot Vanishing Point and the Lamy Safari.
Chilton offered the Wing-flow with an excellent selection of nib grades. The following table describes the range as listed in the 1937 catalog. Special points cost 25¢ extra on pens priced below $5.00.
|Regular fine point, quite stiff.
|Regular fine point, quite flexible.
|Stiff point, between fine and medium.
|Stiff point, between medium and coarse.
|Regular medium point, quite flexible.
|A “fine” stub, for backhand writing.
|Regular broad flat point.
|FULL MANIFOLD SPECIAL
|Extra stiff and heavy for making carbon copies. makes a line similar to a lead pencil.
|Extra fine point, very stiff for bookkeeper posting work.
|Extra fine point but more flexible than POSTING SPECIAL.
|Extra fine point, very flexible for shading characters as used in Pitman and like systems of shorthand.
|For writing on the side of the point, right or left.
As was common at the time, Chilton offered the Wing-flow in several models varying in size and inlay design. Model numbers were imprinted at the back end of the barrel along with a letter indicating the inlay pattern. In the following table an x represents a single letter for yellow gold inlays or a doubled letter for white gold inlays. For example, a standard-size pen with inlay pattern “A” (the most common Wing-flow, shown at the beginning of this article) bore an imprint reading A5 or AA5.
|Oversize, inlaid with a standard pattern and personalized
|Oversize, inlaid with a standard pattern
|Standard girth, standard length, inlaid with a standard pattern and personalized
|Standard girth, standard length, inlaid with a standard pattern
|Like x5, but shorter length (ladies’ pen)
|Standard girth, standard length, personalized or with no inlay
|Like 5, but shorter length (ladies’ pen)
|Standard girth, standard length, no inlay
|Like 3, but shorter length (ladies’ pen)
Inlaid models were offered in four plain colors; Models 3 and 3S came in patterned colors. (See the color table at the end of this article.) Shown here is a Model 3S in Marine Pearl:
Some Wing-flows include a feature that was intended to keep a pen from becoming uncapped in the user’s pocket. Already in use on other models and called the “Lox-Top” (U.S. Patent No 2,102,044), this feature used a gripping section with four notches spaced around it. These notches are visible in the nib photograph above. A “tongue” is cut into the material of the cap (under the clip, where it will not show). This tongue is attached at the end nearest the clip ball and has a streamlined fin fastened to its upper surface. When the clip is slid over the edge of a pocket, the fabric pushes against the fin, applying pressure to bend the tongue inward so that its free end can engage with one of the notches in the section if the section begins to unscrew. When the tongue is engaged with a notch, the cap is locked onto the pen. A clever idea, the feature apparently did not work well in practice, and Lox-Top pens are frequently found with the tongue broken off.
Soon after introducing the Wing-flow, Chilton fell on hard times, and national advertising ceased as the company retrenched. In 1939, at the New York World’s Fair, Chilton introduced a new streamlined pen, minimalistic in design, called the Golden Quill; and the Wing-flow, with its passé Art Deco styling, disappeared from the catalog and, as existing stocks were sold, from stores. Today, all Chilton pens are uncommon. Some of the Wing-flow variants are exceedingly rare.
Given that the “color” of the inlaid Wing-flow was really to be found in its inlays, Chilton catalogued these models only in plain celluloid colors, as shown in the table below. Royal Blue is a deep midnight color, so dark that it can easily be mistaken for black unless viewed in direct sunlight.
But because it is known that Chilton offered these pens in only four colors, there is a question: why are there five colors in the table? Maroon appears by name in the 1937 Wing-flow catalog, while Coronation Red does not. Both Maroon and Coronation Red appear in a series of Wing-flow advertisements drawn by Dr. Seuss, but never together in a single ad. My best surmise is that Chilton changed from Maroon to Coronation Red in mid-1937 (probably after using Coronation Red for the George VI Rex special edition): most of the advertisements listing Coronation Red are Christmas ads, while none of those listing Maroon is a Christmas ad.
In contrast to the plain colors of the inlaid pens, Models 3 and 3S came in brighter, more eye-catching colors. In keeping with the common practice of the time, Gray Pearl was set with a chrome-plated clip; other colors had gold-filled clips. The yellow color with red veins is sometimes identified in modern literature as “Chartreuse”; but the official Chilton color name, taken from catalogs of the 1930s, was Carnelian. The Peacock name seems a little incongruous; the material is black with small flecks and faint swirls of white, turquoise, and burnt sienna.
Color names (except Coronation Red) are as listed in the 1937 catalog.
|Colors of the Inlaid Wing-flow
|Colors of the Non-Inlaid Wing-flow
|Black and Pearl
The idea itself was not new with Chilton; Walter Sheaffer received U.S. Patent No 1,064,098 in 1913 for a similar design that used a coil spring buried in the cap instead of Chilton’s leaf spring.
Chilton might have assigned certain inlay patterns to specific pen sizes; patterns “B” and “R” are known only on standard-size pens, “K” is known only on ladies’ pens, and “N” and “O” are known only on oversize pens. It is also possible that pens not following these general rules have simply not been found by collectors.
As of this writing, no pens are known to exist with inlays in pattern “S.”
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 Hirsch Davis, who provided valuable information on inlay pattern codes and lent sample pens for several of the color chips, and to Rick Krantz, who provided much of the information on sizes/models and colors.