November 30, 2014
In Canada and the UK and its other colonies, the word “nib” was adopted early in the 1800s. But here’s an example, and it’s quite a late one, of the American resistance to the word “nib”. It’s from The American Stationer, Aug 31, 1912, p.30. It also talks about using the word “pen” for the whole writing instrument, the way we sometimes now call a fountain pen just a pen.
“WHAT IS A PEN?
“Pupils from public schools, both town and country, and also from the high school go into bookstores and ask for a “pen”, and almost invariably they want what we were taught to call a “penholder”, says the Newmarket Herald (Canada). And when they want what we were taught to call a “pen”, they ask for a “nib”.
“We almost began to suspect that possibly we did not know the names of these familiar articles, so we had recourse to Webster’s unabridged dictionary. We find the following definition given for “pen”: “An instrument used for writing with ink, formerly made of a reed, or of the quill of a goose or other bird, but now also of other materials, as of steel, gold, etc”. The definition for “penholder” is: “A handle for a pen”.
“The third definition given of “nib”, is “The points of a pen; also the pointed part of a pen; a short pen adapted for insertion in a holder”. This may be some justification for calling a pen a “nib,” but we find no authority whatever for calling a penholder a “pen”. In the catalogues of wholesale houses penholders are called “penholders” and not “pens,” and pens are called “pens” and not “nibs”. It would be well for teachers to instruct their pupils in the proper names of these everyday articles.”
More to come later.
November 29, 2014
[On Pentrace and Zoss in August 2007, there was some confused talk about oblique italic nibs.]
Andre Bouthillette, a pen user here in my city, said of an oblique italic nib, “It has a certain tilt”. But is there a tilt suitable for each hand, and which tilt is correct for which hand? Stanton posted on Pentrace in August 2007 about the book The Dangerous Book For Boys (2006) by Conn Iggulden & Hal Iggulden. In a chapter on “Grinding an Italic Nib”, the writers suggest that right-handers would prefer a right-foot oblique and left-handers a left-foot oblique. The authors also include pictures of four nibs with the caption, “Picture 1 shows a standard nib. Picture 2 would be best suited to a left-handed writer [an oblique nib with more material removed from the left tine]. Picture 3 [a straight italic, straight as opposed to tilted] is suitable for both, and Picture 4 is best suited for right-handers [an oblique nib with more material removed from the right tine]”. It’s an oblique stub, or rather an eased oblique italic. Stanton later added, “To clarify, or further obfuscate, I was under the impression that, generally speaking, lefties would prefer ‘Picture 4’, which I referred to as a ‘right-foot oblique’. As to terminology, I thought the utilization of ‘left-foot’ and ‘right-foot’ arose within the pen collecting community because of a lack of standardization among the industry. What one fountain pen manufacturer called a left oblique another might call a right oblique and another might call a reverse oblique”. Another anonymous poster wrote, “See what duelling this subject hath wrought? Left, right, left, right! It is a dangerous book!”.
There are still some pen collectors and users out there who insist that it is the opposite, right oblique equals left foot, and left oblique equals right foot, and they even try to justify their claims by saying that calligraphers use this convention. Well, Edward Johnston was a calligraphy expert, and he and most other calligraphers do not use this convention. For once and for all, right oblique equals right foot, and left oblique equals left foot. Perhaps a better way to put it is to say that the right oblique is cut like a back slash, like this \, and a left oblique is cut like a forward slash, like this /. The above picture from Johnston’s book Formal Penmanship (1971), p.71 [re-arranged], illustrates this rule. All this talk of left-hand and right-hand, and left-foot and right-foot is obfuscation and obscurantism.
Vivek Narayanan wrote that the usage “left oblique” for a nib for lefties is, however, still strongly present in pen collecting. “Johnston is clear enough to say ‘left-cut oblique’, but is left-cut meant for lefties, or for righties?” Later he added, “We are talking apples and oranges here. Johnston is discussing the obliqueness of nibs, and I am referring to the usage in some calligraphy manuals and some pen collectors saying ‘right oblique’ to refer to pens meant for righties, and ‘left oblique’ to refer to pens meant for lefties. Perhaps they should start using righty oblique and lefty oblique to refer to humans. ;-] I completely concur with Johnston’s terminology. His “cut” notation is identical to the “foot” notation. But show me where he says left cut oblique is meant for left-handed people and right cut obliques are meant for right-handed people”.
And I replied, “No, we are talking right foot and left foot here, not apples and oranges. Don’t change the metaphor. Anyone who wants to talk about italic or oblique nibs should first have to read both of Johnston’s classic works on calligraphy and lettering. Read them first, and then we’ll talk. Before you make demands of others to show you whether he says this or that about left-handed and right-handed writers, perhaps you should try to show us whether he says anything at all about this or that.
“Before I give my interpretation of the above image, let’s make one assumption. Since most people are right-handed, let’s assume that Johnston is talking about right-handed writers, and that the left-handed writer is the exception. So the square-cut and right-cut oblique nibs are both intended for right-handed writers. All this attention to left-cut and right-cut fails to mention what’s written beneath the nibs. The two on the right are meant for “Western” writing, and the nib on the left is said to be for “Eastern” writing. So the left-oblique is also meant to be used by the right-handed writer, but only to aid the writer in executing the reverse italic of Eastern scripts such as Hebrew and Arabic, with their narrow vertical strokes and broad horizontal strokes. I would add, and it is only my interpretation, until I get a chance to reread Johnston’s two works as well, that the left-cut oblique could also pass as a serviceable nib for the left-handed writer. Also to the same purpose, Charles Kitchens wrote on Zoss in August 2007 that, “Sheaffer made a No Nonsense calligraphy set for, as they put it, ‘the left-handed, or Arabic calligrapher’, meaning, of course, a right-handed Arabic calligrapher”.
By the way, between 1978 and 1990, I almost exclusively used a series of Osmiroid 65 fountain pens with Extra Fine Straight Italic interchangeable nib units. I wore out those cheap steel nibs every 9-12 months, and the fountain pens every few years, and almost every one of the nibs ended up worn down to a right-foot angle. When I replaced that pen with a black Parker Centennial Duofold, I chose a #77 Fine Reverse Oblique Italic, or Left Oblique Italic nib, which happens to have, you guessed it, a right-foot angle. And this is what I did with that pen. I turned it into a Limited Edition Frankenpen.
Rob Astyk wrote, “This information specifically applies to “The Western Hand”. The cut of the nib doesn’t equate with the handedness of the writer, but rather with the angle of attack of the pen on the paper, or the way the writer holds the pen, the type of script one is reproducing, and where you want to place thick and thin lines. The simplification ‘Left Oblique for right-handers, Right Oblique for left-handers’ is no less right or wrong than ‘Left Oblique for left-handers, Right Obliques for right-handers’ ”. Vivek countered that, “The discussion here is merely an academic exercise”. And Jim Kukula wrote, “To continue in the academic spirit, Tibetan script is also written left-to-right, and seems to like thicker horizontals, although it involves a fair amount of pen manipulation, that is, rotating the pen as one writes”.
All these things, the angle of attack, the way the writer holds the pen, the type of script, and pen manipulation, all predispose which nib should be used to get the desired effect. Handwriting of any type, whether Roman, Tibetan, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Copperplate, etc., involves the type of nib, the flow of the ink, the drag of the paper, and the angle at which the pen is held. Given that all those factors affect one’s handwriting, I still contend that a specific nib alone can improve a person’s handwriting, but it’s the height of folly to assert that handedness alone determines the suitability of a given nib for one’s hand.
Pen companies and nibmeisters can say whatever they want about handedness and “customary oblique nibs with tipping almost always being left obliques”, but that doesn’t necessarily make them right. Pens with those kinds of tipping will produce a reverse-italic script, not an italic script. Here are some extracts from Johnston’s two books on pen lettering. Johnston never refers to handedness in either of his penmanship books. He does refer to “the right shoulder”, though, but that’s as close as he gets. He just assumes that the writer is right-handed to start off with, but he does say these two things about the “slanted shaft” and the “formal pen”.
In Writing & Illuminating & Lettering, on p.65, re “Slanted Shafts”, he says, “Most people are accustomed to holding a pen slanted away from the right shoulder. The nib therefore is cut at an oblique angle to the shaft, so that, while the shaft is slanted, the edge of the nib is still parallel with the horizontal line of the paper, and will therefore produce a horizontal thin stroke and a vertical thick stroke.”
In Formal Penmanship, on pp.71-72, re “Formal Pens”, he says, “The whole value and force and worth-doing-ness of formal penmanship comes from the fact that it is the product of this special tool, the formal pen as above defined. I have ventured to distinguish these differently cut pens of figure I, as ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ pens, because square-cut and right-oblique nibs seem to me to have been chiefly used in the development of Western writing, and left-oblique nibs to have been used--perhaps exclusively--in the development of Eastern writing. The term ‘formal pen’ in this book will commonly mean a Western pen, with a broad nib that is either square-cut or one that has some degree of right-obliquity.”
Very few modern pen companies ask their buyers how they hold their pens in order to fine-tune the nib to their style of writing. Two companies that do this, however, are Sailor and the Nakaya Pen Co. in Japan, and all the others should take their cue from them and emulate this practice. Nobuyoshi Nagahara is the pensmith who customizes the nibs at Sailor, and Sadao Watanabe is the pensmith at Nakaya, the craftsman-made-pen division of Platinum. On Feb 17, 2003, “Robert Grossman” wrote on Zoss that there is a lot of variation in the ways that people hold their pens, and that there is nothing wrong or uncommon in this. He found this out when he took the opportunity to have a nib smoothed by Nagahara at a pen show. “He asked me to write something, and he watched how I held the pen. That explained everything. He could emulate the way I held it, find the sticking point, and eliminate it. He also solicits information along these lines in nib order forms, which seems like a mighty good idea to me. Again, there is no right or wrong in this regard, it is just necessary to know how you hold the pen when you write. Therefore, a nib could feel very smooth to one person, but feel a little scratchy to another. On examination, I bet there is no real disagreement. It’s just a matter of how you hold the pen. If you hold the pen differently, a different part of the nib glides across the paper. The same nib could be very smooth for one and be scratchy for another.”
Although it was quite common in the vintage pen era, it was a real eye-opener to see modern pen companies spending so much time trying to suit the pen to the customer’s needs. This is quite heartening to pen users and collectors, especially after hearing all the horror stories concerning Montblanc, which treats its pens like investments that shouldn’t be written with, and its customers like second-class citizens, if they expect their pens to actually write well. Some members of the pen community and pen manufacturers such as Parker and a few others were the ones responsible for the confusion in the terminology, with terms such as “reverse oblique”, and “right hand” and “left hand”.
If you look closely at the form of the tip of the nib and how it touches the paper, it becomes obvious that it’s all about “how you hold the pen”. And the customer is always right. There is no disagreement there. Well, that realization can also be used to shine a little light on the constantly recurring oblique nib controversy.
The oblique italic nib controversy goes back a long time. But how far back do you want to go? Maybe we should look at the patents. The controversy goes back at least as far as US patent no. 178,951, an “Improvement In Writing-Pens” issued on June 20, 1876. The patent is for oblique nibs “turned to left or right, according to the necessity of the writer”, but it is not about left-handed or right-handed nibs, nor is it about left-foot or right-foot. He is biased toward right-handed writers exclusively, and talks about how right-handed writers commonly hold the shaft of the penholder or fountain pen toward the left, and then he designs another nib in which “the arrangement of the nib is reversed” for the “writers who point the upper extremity of the pen holder or handle toward the right”. It is because of this interpretation of how people commonly hold a penholder that his nibs are slanted opposite to the way Johnston has them slanted in his drawing. We won’t get into whether his interpretation is right or wrong, but his idea of suiting the nib to the way the writer holds the penholder is correct. That’s what Johnston is referring to when he talks about the slant of the shaft.
And here’s one last quote from the past. This is from the Parker Duofold ad that introduced their new oblique nib, placed in The Saturday Evening Post, July 25, 1925, p.93. “The new Oblique|When held this way [with the pen shaft slanted to the left], it writes like this [wide down stroke, narrow side stroke].|Note the shading on the down strokes—accenting the thin curves top and bottom.|When held this way [with the pen shaft slanted to the right], it writes like this [narrow down stroke, wide side stroke].|Note here that the down strokes are slender, and the shading appears in the curves”. And if the tip of the nib were angled the other way, then everything in that statement would be reversed, mutatis mutandis, and it would all still be correct. What the ad is saying is that it all depends upon how you hold the fountain pen, something that we, today, seem to have forgotten. Even the modern Parker Pen Co., with its current nib designations, seems to have forgotten it.
It can almost be reduced to the rule that there is no rule. An oblique nib should be slanted down toward the direction that you’re writing. What Johnston calls a “Western Pen”, one meant for English and other scripts written with Roman letters, are written both right-handed and left-handed from left to right. What Johnston calls an “Eastern Pen”, one meant for Hebrew and Arabic and Oriental scripts, are written both right-handed and left-handed from right to left. That should cover everyone. It all depends upon how you hold the pen, and whatever works for you is okay. I hope the oblique is, now, a little less obscure.
November 27, 2014
Have you ever wondered where the term “straight pen” as a synonym for “penholder”, or “dip pen” originated? If you don’t have enough information, you just blunder about. But it all starts to become clear with a consideration of Copperplate script, or English round hand, which evolved into Platt R. Spencer’s version of the style, called Spencerian script, and the patents for writing instruments used for such scripts. The angled nib required for Spencerian script lead to penholders that would hold an ordinary steel nib at an angle. His son, Harvey A. Spencer, held two patents for such penholders along with co-patentee Robert S. Cutting. US patent no. 89,354 from Apr 27, 1869 was for a penholder “for holding the pen with a hinge-piece, to swing on a pivot in a slot”, so that the nib was held at an angle for Spencerian script, and patent no. 285,578 from Sept 25, 1883 was for another oblique-angle holder for Spencerian script. George W. Michael’s patent no. 346,670 from Aug 3, 1886 was also for an oblique penholder for Spencerian script. Harlow C. Clark’s patent no. 554,503 from Feb 11, 1896 was for a penholder with both left-and-right-handed oblique angle nib sockets for Spencerian. And Albert Jahn’s patent no. 878,004 from Feb 4, 1908 was for another Spencerian penholder, but with an ergonomic finger grip.
The angle nibs were already quite common, and could not be patented themselves, but Bartlett M. Worthington’s US design no. 7,205 from Feb 24, 1874 shows an example of a design for an angle nib for Spencerian script, made so “a more graceful aspect...is presented” to the writer while writing. Ignaz Bergmann’s patent no. 431,245 from July 1, 1890 was for a variation on the Spencerian-type crooked nib with an extra-thin, elastic portion in the angled shank. Albert Jahn’s patent no. 920,874 from May 4, 1909 was for another elbow-angled Spencerian nib that was also “cranked or angularly set off in regard to the shaft”.
It wasn’t long before fountain pens were also devised to suite the Spencerian writing style. James P. Hoyt & Ferdinand Bartram’s patent no. 325,211 from Aug 25, 1885 was for a fountain pen with a feed for normal nibs, but also one with a feed for a “crooked pen”, that is, a laterally shifted Spencerian nib and a “correspondingly crooked” s-curved feed to follow the nib. Percy E. Pierce’s patent no. 655,731 from Aug 14, 1900 was for a crooked fountain pen with a zigzag barrel at the nib end, so that the nib was offset obliquely for Spencerian, or Copperplate script. [See the illustration.] Felix L. Sturm’s patent no. 849,513 from Apr 9, 1907 was for a “Fountain-Pen Handle” with an awkward change of angle in the section, first upward and then back down. It had a zigzag “elbow connection” like the angled Spencerian nibs, but offset obliquely upward, “a construction that will be at once efficient and commodious”. But it was nothing of the kind, especially not the latter. It probably took a lot of pensmithship to master the pen.
And then along came William L. Gordon’s patent no. 904,059 from Nov 17, 1908 for a penholder with a nib socket that allowed the holder to be “adapted for use as either a straight or an oblique penholder”, that is, to hold the nib in line with, or at an angle to the holder. Since my childhood I have wondered where the term “straight pen” came from, and the above patent revealed its etymological source in one fell swoop. It’s a retronym that was created in response to, and in order to distinguish it from the term “oblique penholder”. It’s a straight pen as opposed to a crooked pen! And it all fits together and makes sense, now.
November 24, 2014
The illustration in this patent shows a double-ended nib, both a stubby italic and a long-pointed flex, all in one.
Italic writing originated in Renaissance Italy as the script used in the papal chancery for writing official Vatican correspondence and documents. The scribes found the Carolingian Minuscule script too cumbersome and slow, because the pen had to be lifted from the paper after each letter. They were looking for a truly cursive script where the pen needed to be lifted only at the end of a word. One could even tease the Caroline script by saying, “That’s not writing, that’s printing and lettering”. Italic script is by definition cursive, and this style of script came to be called “cancellaresca corsiva”, or the chancery cursive, but later it came to be known as “italic”, meaning “from Italy”. And by extension, the word “italic” also came to be applied to the type of nib that produced these distinctive shaded effects.
Well, I might be taking a “chancellorisk” by broaching the topic, but there has been some talk recently on the fountain pen collecting websites and message boards, a lot of positing about the putative distinction between italic nibs and stubs. They claim that a stub is inherently different from an italic, that a stub has an iridium tip or point with rounded edges and corners, so that it writes smoothly, as opposed to an italic with its sharp, chisel-pointed edge, which makes it more italicky and scratchy. So, let’s look at the patent record and see whether there is any merit to this modern claim, and whether there are any historic precedents for such a distinction.
Henry A. Walke received US patent no. 274,679 for a “Fountain-Pen” on Mar 27, 1883. This patent is not for a complete fountain pen, but the special nibs that are designed to work with the tubular feed of his earlier pen, US patent no. 235,396 from 1880. Fig. 5 in the 1883 patent, an illustration of “a stub-point pen”, shows exactly what was meant originally by a “stub” nib, and Fig. 7 shows a long-pointed shading nib. Now, here is the correct distinction, that between the stub-point and the long-point. I don’t think it’s possible to make this difference more graphic.
It has the look of a cut quill. One of the objectives stated in the specification is “to increase the elasticity of the ordinary stub-pen without making it a shading pen”. It makes it obvious that it refers to a nib with very short, shallow shoulders and stubby points, traditionally used for italic nibs, and that’s all. An italic nib gives shading to one’s handwriting without the on-off pressure required with a flexible nib. And a modern stub nib is just an italic nib that’s afraid of being too ethnic. In other words, it’s afraid of being a true chisel-point, so it gets a neb job. And what’s a “neb”? Simply “nose”, or “point”, or an archaic version of the word “nib”.
Frank H. Burdsall received US design no. 32,730 for a “Design For A Stub-Pen”, on May 29, 1900. The specification reads in part, “The leading or material feature of my design consists in... the abruptly-divergent concave curved point edges a”. That’s a perfect description, and the picture is a perfect illustration, of a stub nib. If you want to see a long-pointed nib that nicely contrasts with this illustration, take a look at US patent no. 506,853. The nib in the original illustration is a fine flex, but the nib could easily be worn down and altered into an italic flex.
Joseph L. Petit’s US patent no. 663,782 for “Metallic Pens”, Dec 11, 1900, is for a nib described as having a “narrow stem-like point” projecting abruptly from the main body of the nib, thus giving it “an elasticity more or less resembling that of the goose-quill”. Now, here is an extreme stub-italic nib, although it isn’t designated as such in the specification. It almost looks as if it were giving the finger to the whole stub-or-italic controversy.
And here are some more textual references. Abraham L. Baer’s US patent no. 704,691 from 1902 is for a fountain pen in which “any form of steel pen, sharply-pointed or stub-pointed, can be used”, which shows the original meaning of the word “stub”. Warren N. Lancaster’s 1906 US patent no. 816,344 for a “Fountain-Pen” was actually for a specific design for a feed, which “makes it perfectly feasible to use the ordinary long-point pen as well as a stub”, and again shows the original meaning of the word “stub”. The specification goes on to say, “It is my purpose to provide a feed for fountain-pens which will make it possible to use any style of pen, quantities of which are at present a drag on the market, because they cannot be utilized on any known form of fountain-pen, it being the custom almost exclusively to use the so-called ‘stub-pen’ ”. A stub nib is obviously one with short, stubby tines, the type most often used for italic nibs because they didn’t need to be flexy to yield shaded effects in writing. That’s all. Walter King’s “Penholder” from 1910, US patent no. 964,650, is said to be “arranged as to hold a plurality of nibs or pen-points... whereby the pen-man may have at hand with the one pen-holder, say, a sharp pointed pen and a stub pen”. That’s the only distinction that needs to be made, the one between a pointed, flexible nib and a rigid, stub-italic nib, not between stub and italic.
Nowhere in Edward Johnston’s Writing & Illuminating & Lettering does he ever mention a stub nib, let alone a stub nib as distinct from an italic. He does, however, make a distinction between a long nib and a short nib when he writes, “The pen may be made more pliant by scrapping it till it is thinner, or by cutting the ‘shoulder’ longer, or stiffer by cutting the nib back until the ‘shoulder’ is short”. He then goes on to say, “A gold pen is probably the best substitute for a quill, and if it were possible to have a sharp, ‘chisel-edged’ iridium tip on the gold nib, it would be an extremely convenient form of pen”. Johnston, in his Formal Penmanship, defines the italic nib as, “The typical nib...must be stiffly springy...a broad nib, sharp edged and sharp cornered”, but a nib with eased edge and rounded corners would do just as well. He goes on, “Such a nib in normal use will make its own thick and thin strokes naturally (without pressure)”. And among the list of “tools” used in penmanship, along with “all other instruments and substances used”, he includes “our hands”.
And what do the patents say about the stub-or-italic distinction? Zip, Nada, Rien, Nichts, Gornisht! I’m sick and tired of this totally specious modern distinction between stub and italic, this recent construct that has no basis whatsoever in fact, this modern fiction created out of ignorance of the real past, the true past. There is no historic record of any pen company having these two separate nibs, one called an “italic” and another called a “stub”, both at the same time. Take two classic pens, for example. The May 24, 1922 ad for the Duofold in the Chicago Tribune offers the pen with five different nibs, among them a “Stub”, but no nib called an “Italic”, because the stub is an italic. In the Duofold ad in the Saturday Evening Post, Aug 22, 1925, the stub is said to be a nib that “gives a hand distinctive character and interest—shaded, bold, and free”. The Waterman’s No. 7 pen was offered with color-coded nibs, and the “Blue” one was at first called a “Blunt—An improved stub...[that] makes thick or thin characteristic stub strokes as desired”, and later it was called solely a “Stub”. There is simply no basis in historic fact for this modern claim. You can posit all you want, but that doesn’t make it so. “Do not posit! Either it is, or it is not. There is no posit.” So don’t be a mumpsimus.
Now, there is this notion of the “etymological fallacy”, which says that it’s a fallacy to think that the “true” meaning of a word is its historically “original” meaning, but I say that it’s a fallacy to say that the “true” meaning of a word is not based on its historically “original” meaning. Actually, all the different meanings of a word are there together in a dictionary definition. You just choose the one that suits your purposes, and you might not like some of the other meanings. In fact, the true meaning of a word encompasses all its meanings. This isn’t exactly forensic linguistics, which is all about looking for the smoking gun in a text, but it is etymological diagnostics, or diagnosis of problems in etymology. I guess that makes me a sumpsimus.
If you still want to retain the distinction between stub and italic in the modern sense, then at least don’t use an old, established word for a new, arriviste concept. Don’t call it a “stub”, but rather a “blunted italic”, or a “rounded italic”, or an “eased italic”. Anyone who wants to keep making the distinction between stub and italic, go ahead and dig your grave, but dig it deep, so that this modern misconception will stay buried this time. Quick, give me a wooden stake! No, the big stake! I want it to stay dead this time. It’s not that we have on the one hand a stub, and on the other an italic. A stub is an italic, and an italic is a stub. You’ll notice that the title of this piece is not “Stub Or Italic”. This type of nib is both. It’s a “stub-and-italic”!
[This article was first posted in 1999 on Bruce Marshall’s website. It was also posted a little later on Richard Binder’s website, but somehow the crucial sentence with the “m” word got cut out of the text, so I am posting this here to restore it.]
November 22, 2014
, and the Esterbrook Duograph combo.
[Posted on L&P on Jan 26 and Jan 30, 2012.]
If you like combos, here’s an early one, the Founcil combo featured in an article in American Stationer, Aug 22, 1908, p.13. And here’s the trademark for the word “Founcil”, 71,461, said to be used since November 1907 by Frederick R. Wells who was doing business at 103 Halsey St., Brooklyn, N. Y. It’s probably an eyedropper-filled combo. And even though there is no “t” in the spelling of the name, the “t” is not exactly silent. It’s implied, and it’s still partially there in the pronunciation of the name, sort of like the Swan “Fountpen”. Well, it’s a “Fountpencil”. Also check out these two threads on FPN, one, and two.
Has anyone ever heard of an Esterbrook combo? And do you want to know more about the “Founcil” combo? Well, here’s the “Founcil” smoking gun. I ran across the above article from Am. Stat., Sept 25, 1909, p.28, about the Esterbrook “Duograph” made by the Esterbrook Duograph and Specialty Co. headed principally by Richard Esterbrook and, get this, by Frederick R. Wells, called “the inventor”. This is the same Wells who received the trademark for the above-mentioned “Founcil”. So the “Founcil” and the “Duograph” are one and the same! I’m also going to go out on a limb and say that these two combos, really just one combo under two different names, are the “first” ones of their type. And by that I mean that they are the ones that really got the ball rolling and started the onslaught of imitators that ended up in the classic combos of the late 1920s, combos such as Gilliam’s “Dubel Servis”, and Schnell’s “Penselpen”. There are earlier ones, most notably the all-metal, glass-cartridge Eagle combo with a wooden pencil holder, but this is the first one that really looks like a modern hard-rubber, or plastic combo with a mechanical pencil. And the Founcil-Duograph was followed by a slew of imitators including Eagle’s black hard rubber combo, but this combo started it all. As I said below, at this late stage in the game, there is still some new, obscure stuff out there just waiting to be found.
November 21, 2014
[Posted on L&P on Jan 1, 2008.]
Here’s an article from The Busy Man’s Magazine, January 1909, p.152. It’s titled “The Fountain Pen Industry in Canada”, written by Edward J. Kastner, the manager of the Canadian branch, but it’s really about the new Waterman’s factory in Canada, not the whole fountain pen industry in Canada. The magazine was the predecessor to the modern MacLean’s Magazine, a magazine similar to Time, or Newsweek, but earlier it took a format more like that of Saturday Evening Post, or Life. The word “employes”, which appears four times in the article, is not a mis-spelling. It’s just an old-fashioned spelling of the word “employees” that isn’t recognized by spell checker any more. Check out the picture in this ad from the August 1910 issue of The Busy Man’s Magazine, p.1, for examples of the “large variety of sizes and styles” of “Personal Pen Points” made by Waterman’s at the time.
I first wrote about this picture in the first post in my first thread on L&P on May 27, 2005, “Repair Tools 1”,
also found in this article on my blog, but I didn’t find copies of the ad until Sept 5, 2007,
and again on Jan 30, 2012 in this version from The American Stationer, Apr 16, 1910, p.1.
Someone really should collect all these early Waterman’s ads and publish them in a book, or on a USB memory stick.
The Fountain Pen Industry in Canada
“The starting of the large Waterman’s Ideal plant in St. Lambert marks the growth and development, in Canada, of an Industry which is of personal interest to us all. Of all the arts and inventions with which man has enriched the world none has proved as serviceable as the art of writing. A visit to the new Waterman plant is convincing of the undertaking of this firm to so prepare its output as to make it of such a degree of fineness as to equal perfection, and afford a most perfect and complete pocket writing instrument. Thus, the art of writing, in the present age, has become one without the many inconveniences of the past. It is learned that the enormous capacity of the new Waterman factory, as described hereinafter, is so arranged that the increasing demands of the public, through the trade of Canada, may be always promptly supplied. An idea of the necessary preparation to insure this is conveyed through the output of this firm’s United States factory, which, in 1906, was called upon to supply, for the year, Waterman’s Ideals to the enormous extent of $2,500,000 in value.
“The new Canadian factory is a three-storey and basement building, 85 x 150 feet, with approximately 25,000 square feet of floor space, constructed entirely of reinforced concrete, is absolutely fireproof throughout, and so built that there is practically no vibration whatever from the action of the machinery. All modern appliances have been installed. The ceilings are high, the ventilation is exceptionally well regulated, and even the most remote corners require none other than the natural light, which the construction and arrangement of the building permits during the working day.
“The power is electricity, generated by the plant and controlled from a switchboard. The present capacity is 150 horse-power for immediate use, although an additional 150 horsepower is provided for. The boilers are fitted with the modern Parson’s Improved Blower System. The engine is one of the latest and best types, and the exhaust steam from the engine heats the entire building. The generators are of the 65 kilowatt type, alternating current, and the connecting motors used throughout are the alternating current type.
“A trip through the building is convincing of the enormous preparation necessary to the starting of this plant, which commenced operation on December lst  with a small force of skilled employes, although it is estimated that the capacity of the working force of the complete plant is in excess of 400 employes. The first pen manufactured in the new factory is planned to be presented to the Premier, Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The planning and installation of the complete equipment and starting of the new Waterman plant is under the direct management of William I. Ferris, Vice-president of the Company, John Seiler being the Superintendent in charge of the works.
“On the first floor of the building is the office of the Superintendent of Manufacture, in addition to the Rubber Department, with a capacity for 125 employes. In this department is received the finest grade of Para rubber, from the South American forests, where it is selected by Waterman representatives. The conversion of the crude rubber into the four simple parts of the finished pen requires 130 careful operations, most all of which are executed on modern machinery of special type.
“On the second floor is the Smelting Room, where the gold metal is melted and placed in a crucible, which stands over a furnace that heats it to a temperature of 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit. Here is added an alloy of silver and copper bringing the gold down to 14 kt., the correct standard of fineness required for writing purposes. Ingots are then formed of a size about one inch in thickness.
“These are then passed to the Gold Pen Manufacturing Department on the same floor, which has a capacity for 150 mechanics. The production of Gold Pens requires well-skilled help, most of whom it will be found have devoted a lifetime to this art. Each gold pen passes through about eighty operations, and is finally tempered, and, in this same department, tipped with iridium, which renders the pen point stronger and more durable than any other metal ever mined. It is said that in this department are made gold pens of such a large variety of sizes and styles that the exact requirements of every style of handwriting can be fulfilled.
“On the third floor are departments for the assembling of the parts, the chasing or engraving of the rubber holders, and the mounting with gold and silver. The working capacity of this floor, in these departments, is 100 employes, and each of the operations, or handlings, through which the pen here passes, is as technical and careful as those of the formation departments. The five parts, when carefully assembled to fit to an infinitesimal fraction of an inch, are submitted to trained hands—experts in the use of the pen—to test the quality of workmanship submitted to them. The pens before leaving this department receive the trade mark of the manufacturers, which is the permanent guarantee, and has built the enviable reputation connected for many years with Waterman’s Ideal Fountain Pen.
“The Canadian Headquarters of the manufacturers are located at No. 136 St. James Street, Montreal, with a large and active selling force under the management of the Secretary of the company.”
Olle Hjort posted this Waterman’s ad from 1907 to show what was happening on the different floors, but it needed to be turned upside down. The ad reads from top to bottom, opposite to the way the building floors are laid out in the article from 1st floor to 3rd. You can find more info on Waterman’s in Canada in the article by Joan Geschlecht and Peter Markman in Pen World, Vol. 13, No. 2, Nov/Dec 1999.
[Addendum, new pics added on Dec 29, 2015.]
Here are two vintage photographs owned by Derek Lepper showing the Waterman’s Montreal factory. He photographed them in their original frames, and kindly supplied me with copies and gave me permission to place them here. One shows the exterior of the factory in St. Lambert, Que., and the other one shows an interior shot of one of the factory assembly lines.
November 19, 2014
[Posted on L&P on Mar 2, 2012.]
It’s almost a general rule when doing research in The American Stationer, that if you’re looking for one thing, you’re bound to find something else as well, or instead, along the way. One of the unexpected bonuses that I found was a group of articles about a stationers’ baseball league in New York, some with pictures of the Waterman’s baseball teams. A whole world that I wasn’t aware of simply opened up before my eyes.
It started with an article titled “Baseball League”, June 8, 1907, p.20, with a proposition to organize a league in the New York stationery trade. There were five “teams already in the field”, and a game on June 1 between the Waterman’s team and the Stationers’ Association team was reported on. The score was 16 to 9 in Waterman’s favor. In the June 15, 1907, p.40, article a couple more games are reported on, with the Waterman’s team winning against the Metropolitan Bank team, 19 to 8. The June 22, 1907, p.20, article reports that the Waterman team won against the McMullen Advertising Agency, 4 to 0, and the June 29, 1907, p.12, article reports yet “Another Win for the Ideals” with a score of 31 to 3 against “The Tec’s” of the Technical Supply Co. With that score, perhaps the mercy rule should have kicked in, but the Waterman’s company was not known to show mercy.
Then an article on July 13, 1907, p.32, reported on a game between the Waterman’s New York team, “the pen shop boys”, and the Waterman’s Rubber Factory team in Seymour, Conn. “Last Saturday was an Ideal day”, it said, and “The Ideal baseball team, which has been walloping everything in sight in New York all season, was defeated by the Seymour team by a score of 10 to 7”. A party of 84 made the trip to Seymour in a special train car reserved for the company. Seymour, it said, was “where the team from the offices goes regularly once each year to get defeated”. There was “a good dinner, an excellent supper, good speeches, and a brand of good fellowship which will not be forgotten”. Some of the “mottoes” on the banners in the hall where the supper was served included variations of some of the sayings from The Pen Prophet. One of them was, “It is easier to make a mark around the world in New York than to get around the bases in Seymour”. In another article about that baseball game on Aug 10, 1907, pp.21-22, the two Waterman’s teams are called “The Ideals” and “The Rubbers”. Nice names! The article also includes, as it says, “excellent pictures of both teams”. That article goes on to say that, “Baseball has been a matter of more than ordinary interest among the stationary houses this season”, and “It looks like a league and a hot race for a pennant next season”.
Early the next year, on Jan 11, 1908, p.40, an article says that, “Efforts are being made to organize a stationers’ baseball league in New York this season”. An article on Jan 25, 1908, p.8, reports that, “A meeting of those interested in organizing a stationer’s league is called for February 6 at 173 Broadway”, the Waterman’s “Pen Corner”. Also an article titled “Interest in Baseball Growing” appears on Feb 29, 1908, p.30, but then we see nothing else in Am. Stat. about the New York league for the rest of the year.
It’s the same in 1909, no news about baseball in N. Y., but then some articles about bowling teams and a bowling league start showing up instead. The only two articles about the N. Y. baseball league all year appear on June 19, 1909, p.8, and Aug 7, 1909, p.12. The second of these mentions an upcoming game between the two Waterman’s teams, and “a silver mounted cup for [which they] will play”. The trophy was “generously offered by Frank D. Waterman”, but this time the game was to be played at Jersey City on August 28, and “half of the New York trade [was expected] to be present”. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t find any reports in Am. Stat. of the game in 1909, but then early in 1910 a photo with the title “Waterman Baseball Trophy” appeared all by itself with no accompanying article, on Feb 19, 1910, p.14. Under the title there is also one short line that reads, “The body is made of vulcanized rubber, the same material used in the Ideals”. It’s a Waterman’s black hard rubber and silver filigree cup, made the same way they made their pens, and probably made in one of their shops or factories. That means that they probably also made the filigree. If you look closely, you can just make out the name of the first recipient of the trophy, “1909 Seymour Team 9-6”. Has anyone ever seen the actual Cup, and does anyone know of The Cup’s whereabouts?
The only two articles on baseball in 1910 appeared on July 9, 1910, p.32, and July 16, 1910, p.21. The first of these articles announced the annual “Waterman Outing” and second baseball game, again to be held in Seymour, Conn. It also mentions the “handsome trophy made from fountain pen rubber, decorated with chased silver filigree, which was won last year by the Connecticut ball players”. The second article reports on the outing and the game. Three private cars were chartered to transport 170 employees from the N. Y. office, “170 happy members of the Waterman Family”. This time, however, the city team won by a score of 9 to 0. The trophy is described as “a handsome cup made from rubber used in the famous Ideals. It stands nearly three feet high and is covered with delicate filigree silver”. The article is accompanied by the following photo of “The Winning Waterman Team”, The Ideals.
I found nothing more in Am. Stat. about the Waterman’s baseball teams except the report on “The Waterman Outing” and baseball game on June 27, 1914, reported on in the July 4, 1914 issue, pp.3-4, also the occasion of the presentation of the giant key in the shape of a pen to F. D. Waterman. The penmakers played against the Delford Athletic Club and won by a score of 3 to 1, but there are no pictures of the teams, just pictures of the officials and directors. There was also no mention of the Waterman’s trophy, although there was room on the cup to list the annual winners at least up to 1914. Perhaps WWI, which began on July 28, 1914, put an end to all their fun, or perhaps the other pen and stationery companies, or the other sports leagues complained about all this one-sided attention paid by Am. Stat. to the Waterman’s company baseball teams, and the straw broke the camel’s back. But in the meantime, they documented those teams, and they got to print that picture of “The Cup”, and I’m certainly glad they did.
Olle Hjort asked whether some of the team members might possibly be identified. Could the manager of the Seymour team, he wondered, be Charles Nichols who received patent 726,561, and might Liddell on right field be the same as Robert C. Liddell who held patent 1,762,104? We might never know for sure, but I think he’s right about those names. And that was the whole point of this article. It’s not the baseball that’s important, it’s the guys. They’re all penmakers, or somehow else involved with running a penmaking company. And that Cup, which is a bit of a masterpiece, might have been made by some of them. It’s too bad that they didn’t include at least the initials of the men, let alone their full given names. Since I found these photos, I have found the given names or initials of a few of the men in other articles and ads in Am. Stat. Mortimer “Mort” L. O’Connell, W. H. Kernan, and Robert C. Liddell all appear and are named in the Waterman’s ad on Dec 25, 1909, p.1, which has pictures of twelve of the company’s directors.
It’s nice to put a face to a name.
P.S. By the way, here’s the Parker baseball team, and the Weis baseball team. And here’s a Lewis Hine photo of a 1908 baseball team composed mainly of glass bottle factory boys.
[Addendum, added on Nov 4, 2015.
Since I first posted this, I found a few more references to the Waterman’s baseball team in American Stationer. The article “The Waterman Ball Tossers” on Aug 25, 1906, p.16, tells of the forthcoming game in Seymour, Conn., between the team from the office and gold pen factory and the team from the rubber factory. And the article “‘Ideal’ Ball Game” on Sept 1, 1906, p.26, reports that the score was 5 to 3 for the rubber team, and that the ceremonial first pitch was hit with a bat shaped like a Waterman’s Ideal fountain pen. There is no photo, but all the players are listed by surname. Another article titled “Ideal Ball Tossers” on May 18, 1907, p.13, relates that a baseball team is being “organized among the employes of the L. E. Waterman Company”, and that the team “is looking for other teams who can be led to the slaughter”, and “is searching for victims so they can get into practice” to take on the rubber team again after their defeat the year before. The article simply titled “Baseball” tells us that the 1907 game “was a sequel”, and the score was 10 to 7 for the rubber team even though The Ideals “had been walloping everything in sight in New York all the season”. And “Every employe who had a wife [or girlfriend] took her along”. The game was held again at Seymour, where it was said “the team from the offices goes regularly once each year to get defeated”. One of the mottoes in the supper hall was, “It is easier to make a mark around the world in New York than to get around the bases in Seymour”. The article “Waterman Ball Game” on Sept 4, 1909, p.8, calls the game that year “the third annual baseball game”, so that proves that there was, indeed, no game in 1908. And again the rubber team won. This time they won by a score of 10 to 6, which “earned for them the loving cup”. That’s what the trophy pictured above was called, but the actual score recorded on the cup was “9-6”. Also, more than 1,500 invited guests attended. And then two items appeared on Sept 20, 1913, p.30. One item was a photograph without an accompanying article, but the caption said that it was another Waterman baseball game, this time in St. Lambert, Que., Canada, a “game between the New York [and] Montreal teams”. On the same page, however, was an article titled “New York Stationers’ Bowling League Forming”. The inaugural meeting was held at the office of the L. E. Waterman Co., and the person listed as the one to contact for “information concerning this league” was Mort O’Connell, “care of” the Waterman’s company. This was the guy who played in almost all of the baseball games, and who was instrumental in forming the New York baseball league. Perhaps the Baseball League was replaced with a Bowling League. Perhaps they got old, and ran out of steam, and started a bowling team. And perhaps the baseball players had become old tossers.
There is one more article, on June 20, 1914, p.5, but it is only an announcement of the upcoming 1914 game, the one in which the Ideals finally beat the Delford team by a score of 3 to 1, and one of the other “attractions” was to be “a special fat man’s race”.]
November 18, 2014
[Posted on L&P on July 18, and July 27, 2012.]
Parker got an introductory advertising article in the magazine called The Office as early as July 1891, p.viii. His pen was at first produced as an overfeed, a pen where “the supply of ink is furnished at the top of the pen instead of underneath”. That must have really rattled the chains of Wirt’s bulldogs. Here’s another early Parker ad, and another version of an ad with a “Pen is mightier than the sword” theme. And again the patriotic event that is the occasion of the ad is the signing of the Treaty of Paris at the end of the Spanish–American War, and the annexation of Hawaii and Puerto Rico, and the so-called “liberation” of Cuba. The ad is for the “Jointless” pen, ca.1898-99, and look where the jingoistic pen is this time. It’s in the place of the scabbard, of all things. That’s like saying, “The pen is a sword”. Or, “The penis is a sword”.
Here’s another Parker “Jointless” ad from Christmas 1898. This ad was originally posted on Zoss by Steve Nelson in December 2007 as part of his “Twelve Days of Xmas” series, one ad per day for 12 days. This one was on day 2. There are b&w versions of the ad that are cropped versions of the color ad, and from the telltale cropping at the bottom of the color ad, there may have been another even larger version of the color ad. There are versions with the ad-line “No Old Style Nozzle” just at the bottom edge of the ad. By the way, Parker stopped using that “old style nozzle”, the one with an overfeed, in order to get away from Wirt’s bulldogs. It looks like the Parker pen boxes are orange, and it also looks like the pens are being made, not at the North Pole, but at Janesville, Wis., which seems to be right under Santa’s armpit. The train takes the pens from there to an east-coast port city, probably New York, and from there the sailboat takes them around the world. I wonder how much of the illustration is missing at the bottom.
Here’s a b&w version of the ad with exactly the same image, but with different ad copy below it. And here’s one of the cropped versions to which I was referring. It was posted by Tsachi Mitsenmacher on Pentrace on Sept 1, 2011. He said he found it in an 1898 issue of The Ladies’ Home Journal. The text that was below the train in the color image was moved up into the clouds in the cropped version. That’s why I say the line “No Old Style Nozzle” is cropped off at the bottom of the color ad and your b&w image. Even the color ad, not just the b&w versions, are cropped. I wonder what the whole picture looked like. They probably cropped the ad to suit the various sizes of the ad spaces in the different magazines in which they advertised, and we will find out what the whole picture looked like only if they used this image in a full-page ad. But in the meantime, here are some possibilities that I photoshopped.
These versions show just the image portion of the b&w ad, but altered at the bottom to put back the possibly excluded content. And the blank space would just be filled in with an extension of the background-globe imagery. The first image shows the line that I think is missing from the bottom of the image, “No Old Style Nozzle”. The missing line is a bit long and might overlap the cowcatcher on the front of the train, so they may have split it into two lines. The overlap might not have mattered, if the letters were orange like the letters at the top, but the dark letters are a problem against a dark background. They may not have included the word “Perfection” in the full ad, but if they did, the ad would have been a little taller, yet, and the two ads would have looked like these, depending upon whether they split that long line, or not.
Otherwise, the only other consideration is at the bottom left. There’s a little elf carrying an orange box under his arm who is cropped a bit. The elf in the boat at the right isn’t cropped, and isn’t an issue, and I don’t think there’s anything else below him, but we’ll have to wait and see. I think the first version is the most likely candidate because that missing line and the elf at the left are the only things necessary to complete the cropped image. But again, we’ll have to wait. By the way, did you notice the two words in the bottom left corner of Tsachi’s ad? They’re not there in the other ads, and I can’t quite make them out, but they may be the name of the illustrator who painted the picture, or the graphic designer, or ad agency that created the whole ad.
November 17, 2014
, another obscure Waterman’s pen.
It did show up in the following advertisements, though not in any articles that I could find. The American Stationer, Mar 26, 1910, p.39, Apr 2, 1910, p.1, Apr 16, 1910, p.1, May 14, 1910, p.1, and Bookseller & Stationer, May 1910, p.4, June 1910, p.4, and July 1910, p.4. Surely it must have appeared in some issues of The Pen Prophet from that period. It might appear in a Waterman’s catalogue from mid-1910, if one were ever to be found.
It was the 5-month wonder. It came and went even faster than the thimble pen, the sleeve filler, and the pump filler. It wasn’t jointless, though. It had a joint at the barrel tip, which was underneath the cap when the cap was posted, and it probably leaked like the proverbial sieve because it didn’t have the double seal of the A. A. Waterman middle joint pen, thus “insuring an absolutely tight union”. The 1899 A. A. Waterman patent with its “inner union independent of the outer joint” “insured an ink-tight joint”. The joint also had to be “sufficiently removed” from the suction and friction of the slip cap “to avoid disturbance of the joint when the cap [was] being removed or replaced”. The Waterman’s Jointless pen might also have been in conflict with Eagle’s so-called jointless patent pen from 1898, which also had a barrel-end joint.
Now, this is truly a case where “it is not in any official Waterman catalogues, and most significantly, no such pens have, to my knowledge, ever turned up”. At this late stage in the game, there is still some new, obscure stuff out there just waiting to be found.
P.S. Take a look at this other Waterman’s jointless pen.