June 30, 2014

Einstein’s Fountain Pen

[Posted on L&P on June 19, 2006.]
        Have you ever seen a picture of Einstein’s fountain pen?  This has been brought up before many times on the various pen message boards.  Someone or other will periodically post the picture of Einstein with what looks like a late Pelikan 100N, either in his hand, or in his breast pocket.  But there is another pen, an earlier one mentioned in the Leiden University website, although the link to the pen is dead.  Paul Ehrenfest invited Einstein to become special professor at Leiden University, and they became close intellectual friends.  As a token of their friendship, Einstein gave Ehrenfest the fountain pen that he had used to write down his research on general relativity between 1912 and 1921.  The pen is now preserved in the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden.  Here’s the correct link to the museum webpage with a picture of the pen.  The museum’s website is in Dutch, but you can see a picture of the pen there, and it looks like a Waterman’s #20-series pen, an eyedropper pen with a long, tapered cap, perhaps a Waterman’s #22 or #24 pen.  Einstein also kept the distinctive Waterman’s blue box in which the pen came, which is why we can now tell the brand name of the pen from the tiny picture.  And what looks like an unusual cap band is actually a slip-on, sliding, accommodation clip.  There is also a news item about the pen from Mar 6, 2009, again in Dutch, in this Youtube video.  You can see the pen at the 1:39 mark.
        If you use Google Translator to render the text of the museum website into English, you get some funny results.  When I originally found the site and used the translator on it on June 19 2006, it took the line, “Maar Einstein wilde Max Planck niet voor het hoofd stoten en bleef in Berlijn”, and turned it into, “But Einstein not wanted Max Planck for the head bump and remained in Berlin”, and if you do the translation now it becomes, “But Einstein did Max Planck do not offend and remained in Berlin”.  It sounds like Max Planck was prone to metaphorically head butting his intellectual opponents, but I think that the gist of it is that, “Einstein did not want to bump heads with Max Planck and remained in Berlin”.  But now that statement gets smoothed out a bit too much by Google translator, imputing
to Einstein an uncertain deference that is not there in the original Dutch by implying that “Einstein did not want to offend Max Planck and remained in Berlin”.  He just didn’t want to bump heads with the conventional Max Planck and was avoiding confrontation, not deferring to him.
       Most people know that Einstein was working as a patent office clerk while he made his earliest discoveries concerning light and gravity and relativity. But did you know that, later on, he actually held a few US patents, some along with Leo Szilard as co-inventor?  Take a look at US patents 1,781,541 and 2,058,562.  Now, it would be the icing on the cake if any of those patents were for writing instruments, or if they were at least writing-instrument related, but that would be too much to hope for.  These two are for a refrigeration system and a camera, respectively.  Between 1929 and 1961, Szilard also received fourteen US patents for nuclear processes, some of them with Enrico Fermi as co-inventor.  That’s like a character in a movie saying, “Hello, my name is
Lenin, and this is Stalin, and this is Trotsky”.
        However, most of this early 20th century technology and science was invented and designed and written up and drawn up with fountain pens, just as most of Newton’s work on gravity was written up with an italic quill.  It gives their mathematical equations and handwriting a beautiful ductus, that uninterrupted flow of calligraphy that makes it look all of a piece.  That’s what writing a lot will do for your handwriting.  Improving your handwriting is like trying to get directions to Carnegie Hall. 
If you ask how to get to Carnegie Hall, any New Yorker will tell you all it takes is “Practice, practice, practice”.

George Kovalenko.


Addendum, Nov 25, 2015, on the 100th anniversary of the general theory of relativity.
      The PBS program Nova just aired a docudrama titled
“Inside Einstein’s Mind” on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the general theory of relativity.  There are many shots of the actor in the role of Einstein writing with a fountain pen, but as usual, they got the fountain pen all wrong.  And it was so easy to get it right.  All they had to do was to visit the Leiden University and the Boerhaave Museum websites, in the links above.  But they didn’t do their research.  And what modern pen did they use instead?  Who cares.  It’s wrong.
      PBS also repeated the Nova episode
Einstein’s Big Idea”, originally aired on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the special theory of relativity of 1905.  And what writing instrument did they use there?  A wooden pencil, equally wrong.  He used a pen.

June 21, 2014

Some Obscure Waterman’s Designs

, two-part thimble caps & finger guards.

        I can’t believe that Waterman’s actually came up with this pen, let alone produced it.  It’s a pen with two caps, or a two-part cap, or a cap-within-a-cap, depending upon how you look at it.  The idea is to keep your fingers clean by having a secondary, internal cap that keeps the hands clean by “preventing ink from getting…into contact with the fingers”.  The above picture is from the article titled “Waterman’s Thimble Cap” in Geyer’s Stationer,
July 27, 1905, p.20.  This link should work for those of you in the US, at least.  For the rest of us, it will work if we have an IP address blocker such as TunnelBear.
        There were a few precursor patents for two-part, thimble caps.  Here’s one from 1899, patent no. 631,824, but it’s not the one for the above pen.  Patent nos. 682,574 and 682,575 are a couple of other very likely candidates with very complex multi-part caps, but again, they’re not the ones.  There’s even this Waterman’s patent, 698,882 from 1902 with a cap-completely-within-a-cap, although it’s not the one, either.  But if you look closely at the cap in the above picture you’ll just barely be able to make out the patent date Oct 20, 1903 for patent no. 742,036.  It showed up in the above article, though not in any advertisements that I could find, but an example of the pen has been found and appears in the Waterman book by Max Davis & Gary Lehrer, on p.23.
        This pen must have inspired Waterman’s to come up with and market the device in these articles in the American Stationer,
Sept 26, 1908, p.14, and Bookseller and Stationer, Nov 1908, p.47, yet another thimble sleeve to cover the inky section tip, and the sometimes leaky joint between the section and the barrel.  I found one about 15 years ago in red mottled hard rubber that also worked quite well on straight pens, or penholders without a grip.  It almost makes a regular Waterman’s eyedropper into a “Waterman’s Zaner-Bloser” pen.

George Kovalenko.


June 19, 2014

Some Pen Research Leads

, for someone else to follow up on.

        There’s a trove of old records in Boston.  The Dunn Archive at Harvard is one of the resources cited in the book Writing History, the history of A. T. Cross Pencil Co.  Evidently it contains some information on early nib makers and their affiliations with fountain pen manufacturers.  I don’t know whether it’s at the Widener or at the Baker Business Library.  The Baker, however, does have the record book containing the meeting minutes of the Board of Executives of the Crocker Pen Co., and even more fascinating, the scrapbooks of the Thomas Groom Stationers.  Groom was an old-time Boston stationer going back to the late 19th Century and an early Waterman’s dealer.  The company kept scrapbooks up to the 1930’s of all its advertising in all the Boston newspapers.  They cut the ads from the newspaper and pasted them into these huge scrapbooks in chronological order and annotated each ad.  It’s a treasure trove of Waterman advertising and may help with refining dates of some models and colors.

        Just the records at Harvard would be enough, but there are also the court records and the original case files for the “Waterman v. Lockwood” and “Waterman v. Johnson” suits in the Circuit Court of Massachusetts.  There are also the records at the Medford Historical Society regarding Walter Cushing, a patent and trademark depository library at the Boston Public Library, and the Bostonian Society.  And at the Massachusetts Historical Society they have the pen that Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.
        There’s an even bigger trove in New York City in the NY Public Library, the Museum of the City of New York, the Columbia University, the New York University, the CCNY, and the legal records centre.  The copies of the various newspapers are at the NY Public Library, and perhaps some of them reported on Norman Thomas’s speeches about Frank D. Waterman during the 1925 mayoral campaign, speeches attacking Waterman for breaking up the Nib Makers’ Guild after he took over Aikin-Lambert.  The company incorporation papers reside in Albany in the State Commerce office, but they may not have kept all the records.  For convenience, the state keeps some records in New York City, so that information commonly needed there doesn’t require a trek up to Albany each time a court case or merger or other action requires its review.
        The best treasure trove of all, however, is the archive of the H. P. & E. Day Hard Rubber Co. from Seymour, Connecticut, housed at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Conn.  The contact people at the Dodd Center are Tom Wilsted and Laura Katz-Smith.  In particular, take a look at the ledger books.  Literally everybody east of the Allegheny Mountains and south of the Massachusetts border got their hard rubber parts from Day Rubber.  John Holland, John Foley, William S. Hicks, Mabie Todd, Aikin Lambert, Leroy S. Fairchild, Edward Todd, Paul E. Wirt, Lewis E. Waterman, Francis Cashel Brown, and Warren N. Lancaster are all in those ledgers.  The folders are also full of original contracts and notes signed by Alonzo T. Cross, Frank C. Brown, Paul E. Wirt, Frank D. Waterman, William I. Ferris, and others.  The file containing patents includes nothing but pen patents and does not contain the patents for Ripple hard rubber.  There’s a nothing at all on hard rubber, or processes for modifying vulcanized rubber.  Day had a division in Ravenna, Ohio, but those records aren’t in the UConn archive.  The Ohio plant, however, may have supplied Conklin and a bunch of the Chicago pen companies.
        The independent audits of the L. E. Waterman’s Ideal Pen Co. for 1948, 1951, and 1953 are there.  By 1951, every member of company management was over 65, and the factory supervisor was 75.  The 1948 report is absolutely scathing about Frank D. Waterman, Jr.’s management.  The report shows the company losing money since 1926.  The 1951 and 1953 reports are by a different auditing firm, and are written in much more indirect language, but draw the same conclusions, except that those reports show no losses before the end of 1929.  According to the 1951 audit, Waterman’s went from being the predominant pen maker in the world in 1920 to the lowest ranking penmaker.  The percentages of sales of the big four quality fountain penmakers were ranked as follows in 1951.  Parker 45%, Sheaffer 40%, Eversharp 9%, and Waterman 6%.  That was very bad news for Waterman’s, and it made the takeover by BIC inevitable.
        And who was behind the Signature Company that owned all the patents for Waterman’s Signagraph?  Incidentally, it did not go out of business until the 1980’s.  There’s a reference to the Signagraph in the Scientific American, in an article titled “The Inventor In The Office”, in the Oct 29, 1910 issue, pp.344-346.  So far, the only overt connection to Waterman’s is that they made the proprietary pens for the Signagraph, but they must have had other financial and managerial connections to the company, too.

George Kovalenko.


June 16, 2014

Vintage Pen Repair Tools, Again

, my first message board series.

[Posted on L&P on May 27, June 1, 4, Sept 25, Oct 23, 2005, Sept 5, 2007, and Jan 30, 2012.]

I just noticed that “The Wayback Machine” in the Internet Archive somehow managed to preserve my first series of messages on the Lion & Pen message board in 2005.  All the titles in the list of messages in the “Pens Past” forum on Lion & Pen up to Apr 25, 2012 are preserved in Wayback, although only a few of the titles are linked to the actual messages.  Also, if the message thread is longer than 20 posts, then the links to the succeeding pages are also dead.

But fortunately, 2 out of
6 of the threads in the “Vintage Pen Repair Tools” series are archived at the following links.  What’s funny is that the message board colors vary and fluctuate according to when the messages were archived, sometimes years apart, even though they were all composed about the same time, and placed on the message board within days of one another.
Vintage Pen Repair Tools, 1
Vintage Pen Repair Tools, 2-dead link, pic 1, pic  2.
Vintage Pen Repair Tools, 3-dead link, pic 1.
Vintage Pen Repair Tools, 4 
Vintage Pen Repair Tools, 5-dead link, pic 1.
Vintage Pen Repair Tools, 6-dead link, pic 1, pic  2.
Vintage Pen Repair Shop, 7-dead link, now in another blog post.
A seventh message about “A Vintage Pen Repair Shop” that I found in my city was archived, but the URL in the archive is a dead link.  Another one that does survive in the archive is the thread with the Francis Cashel Brown biographies.  I also updated the link for Lion & Pen in the “Vintage Links” on the right-hand side of my home page.
George Kovalenko.


June 13, 2014

Alan Turing’s Fountain Pen

  , and fingerprint.

        Alan Turing was the mathematician, cryptologist, and computational specialist who in 1936 created the concept of a computer in a thought experiment that he called a “universal machine”, now known as a “Turing machine”.  He also cracked the German’s Enigma code, and as Larry Kramer’s HBO movie and play The Normal Heart puts it, he was “responsible for [the Allies] winning the Second World War”.
        But while reading Andrew Hodges’s biography of Turing, Alan Turing: The Enigma (The Centenary Edition), partially available on Google Books as
a preview edition, my sister found the quote below from a letter that Turing wrote when he was 11 years old, and knowing of my interest in pens, she sent the reference on to me.  So his young, inventive mind was also briefly turned toward inventing his own fountain pen.  Too bad the “diagram” in his youthful letter is not (see third addendum) reproduced, but from the description in the letter, it sounds like a bulb filler such as the one in this patent, but in the patent, you “scweeze” the “squishy end” marked “A”.
        Not bad for a kid of eleven.

George Kovalenko.


Addendum, Nov 28, 2014.
        Also take a look at this exchange on about the “Research Fountain Pen”, which he was given as a present on his 12th birthday.  It is also referred to on pp. 37, 67, and 137 in the above-mentioned book.

Addendum, Dec 1, 2014.
        Stephen Hull just sent me the following references.  A few of these Research Fountain Pens showed up a few years ago at the Midland Pen Show in the UK.  They were exhibited on the table of the Birmingham Pen Trades Heritage Association by Larry Hanks and may now be on view in the BPTHA’s  “Pen Room”.  And for those of you who still read books and magazines, Larry also wrote a 3-page article about the Research pens in the Writing Equipment Society Journal, no. 76, Summer 2006.

Addendum, May 23, 2016.
        Stefano Rodighiero in Bologna just sent me the link to a digital image of the letter with the
crude diagram of the pen, included as part of the Turing Digital Archive.  Another thing that is not reproduced in the transcription of the letter is the fact that the handwritten letter is dated as “Easter, April 1”, but then the word “Easter” is scratched out and the parenthetic phrase “(fools day)” is written beneath it.  So I wonder whether the pen and letter were an April Fool’s prank, or whether he was amusing himself with his invention to relieve the boredom on a holiday weekend.  Also not reproduced is the varying darkness of the ink.  The ink is at times thick and dark and saturated, especially on page 2, and at other times thin and grey and watery, on page 1, so he was having trouble with the feed in his pen.  And because the ink is watery at times, it helps to reveal the type of nib that he was using.  It was a fine, flexible, sharp nib, as evidenced by the sharply scored lines on the borders of the broad, wishy-washy, grey down-strokes.  It’s the dead-giveaway signature of a flexible fine point, and it’s quite possibly a steel nib intended for a dip pen rather than for a fountain pen.  The sharp points spread under pressure and score the surface of the paper and make it absorb more ink.  See Albert S. Osborn’s Questioned Documents (1929), a book on forensic handwriting analysis.  And because he was a young kid who was either impatient, or inexperienced with the long drying time of the wet ink, he smeared some of the letters and got ink on his fingers, and left at least one clear fingerprint! and a few indistinct smudges.  That’s what a handwritten letter, complete with smudges and a fingerprint, does.  It makes it more personal.

June 11, 2014

My Favorite Scribble Sheet

        Whenever I write with a fountain pen, I try to keep the writing surface of the paper clean by placing another sheet of paper over it, a surface upon which I can rest my hand as I write.  The bottom part of the writing surface can get soiled with skin oils by the time you get to it, and that can interfere with the transfer of ink to the paper.  I sometimes use these covering sheets to scribble and doodle upon, or to take notes, or to clean trapped fibers from the nib of the pen.  Hence, I refer to them as “Scribble Sheets”.  Sometimes after they have been filled with notes and scribbles, I can’t bear to throw them away because they are delightful, little calligraphic gems, albeit minor ones.  This is one of my favorites because I somehow managed to maintain the calligraphic ductus of the writing throughout the piece, and over such a long period of time, and in four directions.  You can turn it around on either side, or upside down, and it still looks good.  It’s executed mostly with Waterman’s Washable Blue in different states of concentration and dehydration in the pen, but there are also some other colors thrown in for contrast and visual effect.  You can also see the yellowing of the paper from the soiling caused by too much touching with oily fingertips.  It started off as a discarded title page from a computer print out, and some disorganized scribbles and notes centered around the upside down title, but it quickly evolved into a symmetrical doodle with rectilinear and parallel and perpendicular sides.  It was all done with my favourite numbers and letters and scribbles that I use when testing a new nib, or fountain pen, or ink, or paper.  I didn’t measure anything, and did it all by eye, and it was finished when I ran out of paper on all four sides at exactly the same time.  Here is the holograph text.


George Kovalenko.


June 09, 2014

A Pen Collecting Timeline

, the first three decades of pen collecting.

[Posted on L&P on Aug 28, 2008.]

        In August 2008, after rereading my back issues of Pen Fancier’s Magazine, I drew up a parallel-bar graph, or timeline of the major pen-collecting activities of the previous 30 years.  [See below.]  The way I saw it, pen collecting had gone through three distinct phases, or generations, or decades, or waves of activity.  The first decade was 1977-87, the second 1987-97, the third 1997-2007, and the fourth started in 2007.  We are now past the end of the third, and there are signs of what’s to come in the fourth.
         The first wave started with Cliff Lawrence’s Pen Fancier’s Club, but there were a few disparate and disconnected early collectors around the world before that.  They just didn’t know about each other, yet.  There were people like Masa Sunami, Phillip Poole, Dick Johnson, Cliff & Judy Lawrence, and a few others.  But this generation consists of those few collectors who collected the pen information, and wrote the first pen books, and started the first pen shows.  In 1977, the first four unofficial PFC newsletters were sent out, but the first official Pen Fancier’s Newsletter wasn’t published until 1978.  It became the Pen Fancier’s Magazine in 1982, and it lasted until 1998, but its influence still continues to this day.  Cliff Lawrence was the first American to write a book on pen collecting, but there were also books in Japan by Umeda and Tamagawa.  More books by the Lawrences, and other books by Glen Bowen, Nakazono, and Andy Lambrou came along later in the 1980s.  This was also the era of the first pen shows sponsored by the PFC, and then later by the Chicago pen collectors, Michael Fultz, Don Lavin, and Daniel Zazove, and by Phillip Poole and the Writing Equipment Society in England.  The Southern California Pen Collectors Club was started up in 1985 by Bob Tefft, Peter Amis, Fred Krinke, Tony Davis, and Boris Rice, and in 1991 its name was changed to the Pen Collectors of America, and its newsletter became The Pennant.
        The second wave started late in 1987 with the publication of Pen World as a vintage pen magazine, but in the next wave this magazine ended up turning into a modern pen promotional vehicle to serve the Limited-Edition market.  There were also other magazines such as Pens Plus, Plumes, Penna, Canetas, and Le Stylographe from other countries.  This generation consists of all those collectors who came out of the woodwork, and attended all the proliferating pen shows, and networked, and started the first informational pen websites, and pen forums, and pen message boards.  It was a time when the pen repairing business had its resurgence, and people like Jack Price, Arthur Twydle, John Mottishaw, Terry Koch, and Lynn Sorgatz flourished, and Frank Dubiel published his seminal book.  Pen craftsmen and pen turners started to alter existing pens and making their own creations.  Michael Fultz, Brad Torelli, and Paul Rossi were some of the first.  If you didn’t like the pens that were out there, you made your own.  The AOL and Compuserve message boards came along first in the early 1990s, but they were soon replaced by alt.collecting.pens-pencils, The Zoss List, The Ink Spot, and Penlovers.  Kim Paludan, Vince Fatica, and Tony Fischier’s pen websites were the first ones in 1995, but David Nishimura’s came along soon after in 1997.  Some of this is outlined in this thread on FPN before L&P had started up, FPN topic 2009, “How long have you been online doing pen research?”.
        The third wave was heralded by Bill Riepl’s online magazine Stylophiles in 1998.  Its later, short-lived print incarnation came along in 2003-4.  Pen World, formerly a vintage pen magazine, turned exclusively into a modern pen magazine in competition with Stylus magazine at about the same time that the latter appeared.  It was a period that was dominated by the online auction sites such as Ebay, started in 1995, but it didn’t catch on with pen collectors till about 1997-8, and Penbid, in 1999.  Many pen-show attendees contracted the Ebayola virus and stopped going to pen shows, and disappeared into the black hole of the Internet.  The USPTO, EPO, and Google patent websites went online, and started a wave of scholarly research.  It is the period when the current pen message boards and informational websites were started, sites such as Pentrace, Fountain Pen Network, Lion & Pen, and many others.  This generation consists of all the hack amateur newbies on the scene, and every know-nothing Tom, Dick, and Mary who flooded the Chatter forums, but it was also the period when serious pen research and serious informational websites and forums blossomed.  Here’s a typical statement from one of those newbies.  “I dabbled with fountain pens more than once over the years until 1998, when I meandered too close to the maelstrom and was finally irretrievably sucked in.  My relatively small collection comprises 24 vintage pens and 3 modern models.”  They usually think they are the only ones out there collecting pens, until they discover one another online, and they know nothing of the previous two generations.  They build up a small collection, but when the first financial crisis comes along, they crash, and try to cash it all in.  The serious pen researchers, however, are usually holdovers from and participants in the previous two generations.  They have done all the reading of the books and magazines and have discovered their common heritage with other members of the previous two generations, and now they are going on to write their own serious articles, like those in The Pennant and the WES Journal, and on Penbid and Lion & Pen, and to publish their own books, like those by David Shepherd, Daniel Zazove, David Moak, Max Davis, Gary Lehrer, and oh yes, yours truly, and to create their own websites, and to retain and expand old ones.
        But what’s to come in the fourth wave?  Probably for a little while there will be a bit more of the same.  The new collectors will ask their same old questions, and the old timers will get tired of replying with their serious answers.  But the most popular message boards are falling victim of their own success.  It’s almost impossible to find the pertinent information in their bloated archives because every collector can weigh in on any and every subject with his or her own same old opinions, or ask the same old questions over and over again without first checking the archives.  Or else they inflate the archives with their pointless chatter, their casual, throwaway remarks.  All the substantive information gets lost in the chattering chaff because no one takes the time to blow the chaff away, or to try to stop the chaff from accumulating.  The other side of “a bit more of the same” would also be that some of those new collectors will look into the pen history they all have in common and find out where they have come from, and they will become the future historians and researchers and authors.  And if the rest continue to enjoy what they are doing at their own levels, doing what makes them happy, then that’s fine, too.
        Here’s the timeline, which makes all of this more visual, I hope.  The straw-colored lines show no activity, and the blue lines represent the blossoming of activity.  Did I leave anything or anyone out?  Please feel free to add to the list.  If you are offended by any of this, I will apologize, but only after you have done all the reading as well.  Get all the books, and all the back issues of the magazines, and do your homework first, then we will talk.  And try to read the books in chronological sequence, by publication date.  Follow the progression of information and disinformation, and see how some of them plagiarize and propagate earlier errors because they didn’t do their own independent, primary research.  It’s a real eye opener.  And if you’re still offended, then I’ll take it back...maybe.

Early Collectors, pre-1977
Pen Fanciers, 1977, 1978-1993, 1993-1998
Pen Shows, 1979-2010
Writing Equipment Society, 1981-2010
Pen Collectors Of America, 1985-2010
Pen World Magazine, 1987-2010
AOL Compuserve Boards, 1991-1995
alt.collecting.pens-pencils, 1993-2010
Bruce Harrison’s The Ink Spot, 1994-1999
The Zoss List, 1994-2010
Penlovers, 1995-2002
USPTO Patents, 1996-2010
Ebay, 1996-2010
Stylophiles, 1998-2010
Pentrace, 2000-2010
Stylus Magazine, 2003-2010
Fountain Pen Network, 2004-2010
Lion & Pen, 2005-2010
EPO Google Patents, 2006-2010

      George Kovalenko.