April 22, 2015
Button Fillers, and Twist Fillers
, and the duo-fold filler.
[Posted on L&P on Feb 6-14, 2006.]
No, I don’t want to revisit the old saw that the Parker “Duofold” was named after the ability
of this button filler to double as an eyedropper pen, if the bladder were to break, and after the removal of the button-filling mechanism. The origin of the name has already been well covered by Tim Barker’s article on the Lion&Pen homepage, and on Pentrace. What I want to revisit here is the issue of the dual-filling capabilities of certain pens.
Usually a pen fits into one of two categories, the two major “families” that I propose in my article on “Taxonomy” on the Lion&Pen homepage, and in this blog. Either a pen fills directly into the barrel, as the eyedropper and piston fillers do, or it fills into something inside the barrel, as the bladder and cartridge pens do. But rarely a pen of the second type, one of the black sheep from the second family, can be adapted as an eyedropper from the first family of pens. That turns these pens into crossover fillers. In fact, I have had to revise my taxonomy because of this. This filler is now a new fourth type of subgroup in the “Hybrids and Eccentrics” group in the first family. So what are the origins of this dual-purpose filler? Both Tim Barker and Frank Dubiel have said that they have seen this dual-filling feature advertized in Parker’s ads in the later 1910s, during World War I. No one has actually placed an image of one of these ads online yet, to my knowledge, but it would be interesting to find out when the first of these ads appeared. My guess would be that it would date to sometime near the end of the war, the ink-tablet pen era, when the US officially joined the rest of the Allies, just in time to participate in and to help spread the great flu of 1917-18.
How about the US patents? Do they have any clues? The first twist filler, Moseley’s British patent from 1859, does not allow for this dual-filling provision. And all of the ten, or so, US twist-filler patents, most dating to the period 1902-06, cannot be adapted in this way, because all the joints in these pens still have slip joints. The twist filler patent used by A. A. Waterman, US patent no. 744,642, was never meant to have an ink-tight barrel, but was merely meant to encase and protect an ink-tight bladder. Even the first button filler from 1903, US patent no. 730,783, still had slip joints. The Davidson button filler from 1905, US patent no. 787,152, the one that Parker adapted for its own use in the 1910s, finally is the first one to introduce threads throughout, but it doesn’t mention the dual-filling capability. Parker didn’t apply for any new button-filler patents throughout this period, until they came out with the Duofold. But both of
the Duofold-era, button-filler-variant patents are too late to be of importance here, Tebbel’s US patent no. 1,484,683 being filed in 1921, and US patent no. 1,486,246 filed in 1922, and both patents being issued in 1924.
But why, you might ask, did I bring in the twist fillers at all? The reason is that there is one very interesting and late twist filler patent filed in 1919 and issued in 1920. US patent no. 1,341,850 is for a twist filler with threaded joints throughout, and there are some very curious lines in the specification that concern us here. I have cleaned up the grammar and punctuation a little to make them more readable, but you can find the original texts in the specification. The first slightly-altered quote is from lines 70 to 75 on page 1, “A further object of my invention is to provide a construction, which, in the event that the rubber ink-container fails as a self-filler, permits the pen to be readily converted into an eyedrop-filler”. And again on page 2, lines 29 to 33, “It will be seen that should the [ink] tube for any reason become inoperative, it may be easily removed, leaving the pen in every way unimpaired for use as an ordinary eyedrop-filler fountain pen”. When I saw those two lines, it just gladdened my pen researcher’s heart! The closest that any button filler patent comes to this is the Tebbel patent. In lines 12 to 16 on page 3 of the specification, it says, “Upon removal of [the] pen section, the ink-sack-collapsing mechanism may be inserted or removed as an entirety, or as a unit, into or from the barrel through the front or pen-section end”. But it stops just short of suggesting that the pen could then be used as an eyedropper.
So let’s give the benefit of the doubt to Parker, pending the arrival of some images of the relevant ads. Let’s say that they were the first to offer this dual-filling capability, and let’s rechristen it the duo-fold filler, or the duo-filler, in honor of the Duofold, which started the ball rolling in this whole discussion, even though it was never intended to be used in this way, and never named after this extra feature. The beautiful orange hard rubber of the Duofold could easily have been discolored from the inadvertent spillage of ink. It’s one thing to promote the conversion of a black hard rubber button filler in the field of battle, but it’s another thing to desecrate and disfigure the pristine color of a RHR Duofold, when the pen could so easily have been fixed by any pensmith in any pen repair shop at the time. I don’t mean to imply that RHR would stain from the inside out, but rather, that it is prone to surface staining on the outside from spillage during filling, and from inky fingertips and spattered ink drops during furious writing, and from transfer from leakage inside the cap, and from the infamous and ubiquitous leakage through the threads of a screw joint. In fact, RHR pens can end up looking like Japanese Negoro lacquerware. I do know for a fact that Parker produced an eyedropper Lady Duofold with a blunt RHR end and no sign of ever having had a button filler. The pen was on exhibit at the visit to the Parker archives in May 1991. Apparently a Senior version of this pen also exists. It was sold on Ebay a year or two ago, but I didn’t save the pictures in time before they were removed from the listing. If someone has saved the images, please let me know.
David Nishimura posted that he did not “recall having seen a pre-Duofold Parker ad touting the convertibility of a button-filler into an eyedropper”, but both he and I forgot seeing the ads in Cliff & Judy Lawrence’s book, An Illustrated Pen History. Thanks to Tim Barker for pointing out the following two images of Parker ads from 1916 and 1917, p.92, fig. 219, and p.95, fig. 227. Both David and I, and almost everyone else who saw that book, saw those ads, or maybe we even saw the original ads from the magazines, but they didn’t register, or we didn’t read the complete ad copy in the same way that Tim did. Those ads were hiding in plain sight. Tim went on to say, “Their book is really just a compendium of ads in chronological order, but still very useful. The ads are, indeed, from the late teens, according to the Lawrences’ dates. Of interest is the fact that the focus seems to be on the lack of barrel holes in these button filling models, thus making their use as eyedropper filling pens possible. I think a very important point to remember is the fine balance that must be struck in all marketing campaigns between the public’s fascination with new gadgetry and its tendency toward comfort with the ‘tried and true’. Parker, more than any other maker, seems to have been driven by this marketing balance, that is, the company was always developing new ideas and models, but it was also very slow to take old models out of production. In this case, they were advertising the new button filling gimmick while also reassuring their conservative customers that the pen would still work the ‘old fashioned’ way. By its reference to ‘holes in the barrel’, I think Parker was differentiating its product, for those fearing leaks, from the new Sheaffer lever, Conklin’s crescent, and Waterman’s press and other fillers, all with their slotted barrels”.
And thank goodness that Cliff and Judy Lawrence printed those ads in their book. There they are again, the Lawrences. Wherever you look, their names are being mentioned. They are present at the start of pen research in the US, and they are still here. You included the Conklin crescent filler in the list in your last sentence. Well, the Lawrences’ book also has a 1915 Parker ad on p.90 that makes a big deal of the fact that the “barrel is perfectly smooth [and] free from projections or openings in the side”. Before the US entered the war, Parker’s ads were aimed against their competitors, not yet at their new target audience, all the soldiers across the ocean. And Tim added that, “This Parker ad text is also self-referential, since it applies to their own early, Conklin-inspired “hump” filler”. Yeah, they really shot themselves in the foot with that ad line. That line about not being “smooth” and free from a “hole-in-the-wall” could also be a slur on such pens as the ungainly Moore safety eyedropper with its thimble, and all the finger-press fillers with the holes hidden under a sleeve, etc. Even the very simple and elegant blow filler, or even Parker’s pneuofold filler, US patent no. 1,801,635, were all vulnerable, with their air holes strategically placed at the ends of the barrels, right where the ink would drain out, if the bladder were to
break, and the pen were clipped upright in a shirt pocket.
Rob Astyk called Lewis Tebbel’s US patent no. 1,484,683 a paddle filler. His quaint name, “paddle filler”, is quite an accurate description of this patent, but this 1924 patent is really just a barrel-end-lever filler of a type already common in the US patents around 1917. Several of these patents were assigned to the Eagle Pencil Co. in the period from 1917-20, and the Tebbel patent was probably never put into production because it resembled these Eagle-assigned patents too closely. And besides, Parker already had the ever-serviceable button filler. One of the first patents of this type is the Crocker patent, US patent no. 1,212,744, the “Crocker Lever Filler”, although its paddle is perpendicular to the pressure bar. The next pen of this type is US patent no. 1,213,725, a patent assigned to Eagle.
I don’t think the Tebbel patent is of much consequence here, but to be absolutely thorough, there is another Tebbel patent of the barrel-end, paddle-lever type, US patent no. 1,554,386, this one filed on Feb 2, 1925, and finally issued on Sept 22, 1925, so it’s also a little too late to be of importance to the duo-filler issue. There is, however, an interesting statement near the beginning of the specifications. It reads, “This invention relates to improvements in self-filling fountain pens and has to do with the closed-barrel type”, thus stressing the fact that it was not a pen of the “hole-in-the-wall” type. The filling mechanism was said to be made of “rigid instead of resilient material”, that is, no springs were used to actuate the pressure bar, and the mechanism was solidly and permanently mounted inside the barrel. So by 1925, and well into the Duofold era,
the eyedropper-conversion feature was no longer an issue.
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