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March 2004: Taking a Second Look at Wearever Pens

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Since the inception of this column, I’ve trumpeted second- and third-tier pens for what they mean to the hobby: Great starter pens for newcomers, and pens that — I’m certain of this — will be in demand in the not-too-distant future.

Second- and third-tier pens might be inexpensive today, available for a few bucks each, but they’re in the process of appreciating in value because what collectors now consider “the classics” are getting priced out of reach for us veterans, let alone new hobbyists.

That is why, I say to reader D. W. Lively, I would be pleased to talk about Wearevers this month.

Parker, Conway Stewart, Moore, and Sheaffer didn’t hold a monopoly on beautiful marbled celluloid pens. Wearevers held their own in side-by-side beauty contests, and they crushed the competitors in price — then and now. Extra Fine Points

“I am rather new to collecting fountain pens,” Lively wrote me recently. “I too hold a passion for the pens from the ’40s and ’50s. I loved your article on the Esterbrooks. It's good to see someone with a voice for the ‘little guy.’ I have found another line that I can find basically zero information on: Wearevers.”

In an article published in the winter 2000 PENnant, the late Frank Dubiel explained that Wearever began making pens in the ’teens, right before World War I. The company was launched by David Kahn, Inc., of North Bergen, New Jersey, and by the end of the 1950s was the largest fountain pen company, period.

By the mid-’60s, the ballpoint had taken over in the hearts and shirt pockets of American writers, and Wearever’s grip on the pen market slowly loosened until finally the company was sold to Dixon in the 1980s. That firm still uses the Wearever brand to advertise its ballpoints.

At first, Dubiel wrote, Wearever’s pens lacked quality. But they gradually improved to the point where, in the 1940s, they were “quite reliable… long-lived and well made for their price.”

Dubiel notes that a constant throughout Wearever’s history—at least until the cartridge pens of the 1950s, in which design took a back seat to utility and economy—was the attractiveness of the pens. And that’s what drew Lively to Wearever as well.

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Indeed, thanks to a lot of about 15 Wearever pens our good friend Bob Risser sent us to test-drive for this article, we can confirm that Dubiel was dead-on. These steel-nibbed beauties look great, when restored and cleaned up rivaling the celluloid color, clarity, and overall aesthetic standards set by the Moore, Parker, Conway Stewart, and Sheaffer lines of the day.

I’ll put in words what most collectors think about Wearevers but might be afraid to express when looking through a fellow hobbyist’s assortment of Wearevers: The nibs, mostly, stink. Some stainless or gold-plated nibs native to these pens can be rehabilitated by a nib pro such as Richard or John Mottishaw, but I’m with Lively and Risser, who don’t hesitate to drop in a modern steel or gold Pelikan nib or a gold Sheaffer classic #3 when their Wearevers look as gorgeous as this ivory marble piece:

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“Yes, I know these guys were low-end drugstore countertop sellers, equipped with less than great nibs,” Lively says. “I generally switch them out for an open Sheaffer Feathertouch nib in various sizes, but there is something about the Wearever Deluxe in the striped pattern…”

He’s talking about the Deluxe 100, a pen that looks and feels like a Parkette in the hand, and again, in fit, finish, and artistic merit of the celluloid, ranks right up there with the Waterman’s of the day. Except for the nib. It writes sort of like an Esterbrook, yet for most people who appreciate Wearevers, this is the company’s Hundred Year Pen, or Doric, or Oversized Vac.

The Deluxe 100 does feel substantial yet light and nimble to write with, and only those in the pen hobby would be able to tell it’s not as highline as its more expensive contemporaries.

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Lively and Risser understand this very well. They are part of a new breed of collector who can thoughtfully appreciate what those (including me) who came before them couldn’t: A good, solid Chevrolet pen that looked like the Cadillacs of its day.

So many of us are us blinded to the beauties of Wearevers because of our brand snobbery. If it’s not Parker, Sheaffer, Waterman, Conklin, Wahl, or a handful of other important brands, we don’t even want to discuss it (try Googling out the history of Wearever, and you’ll be able to confirm that).

Part of the reason is that most of us haven’t come in contact with the fine celluloid pieces made by Wearever. Instead we know the marque through the less-desirable junkers it cranked out by the tens of millions.

If I had a quarter for every time I thought I’d spotted a decent Sheaffer or Parker pen at a flea market and after the guy running the stall whips it out from under glass it turns out to be a Wearever knockoff with a nib resembling a wad of crumpled aluminum foil, why… I’d be able to buy that oversized Vacumatic at least a couple of times. The name “Wearever” is pretty much a harbinger of disappointment to most collectors because we find them en route to looking for other things.

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Because of this, for at least the next few years, guys like Lively and Risser will have the pick of what’s out there, grabbing up the wonderful upper-echelon Wearevers that aren’t corroded, bent, nibless, or sporting chipped or cracked parts.

As for me, checking out Risser’s creme-de-la-Wearever-creme is a cure for blindness to these pens’ charms. The scales are falling from my eyes. I want to get in on the Deluxe 100s before the slow-but-never-stupid dealers are hawking nice ones at pen show tables for $150 a pop.

cover Further Reading: Pens and Pencils, A Collector’s Handbook, by Regina Martini

Martini’s book is one of relatively few that devote more than a picture and a sneer to Wearevers. Nice color photography, good variety, pricing info (out of date, of course). The book has a lot going for it anyway, it was just sweet to see the Wearevers there, too.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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