March 14, 2014

The Waterman’s Creation Myth


A real ink blot on a page in the magazine System, July 1922, p.5.

        To begin, the relationships between various early penmakers, what I liked to call the “wars” between them, were not well documented and were lost to us, or so it seemed, until the various online digitization projects came along.  Now, with all those obscure texts and unexpected sources coming available to us, again, we are living in a golden age of research, and some of that lost history is now being rediscovered.
        I would like to commend George Rimakis and Daniel Kirchheimer for their excellent recounting of their new discoveries about the Waterman’s creation myth, the origins of the Waterman pen company, and the origins of the Waterman pen in the Frank Holland pen.  Way to go, guys. Anyone who has already read their piece might want to go back and revisit it because they have revised and expanded it a few times since the original announcement of their monograph in January.  What started off as 33 pages grew to 47, and is now 60 pages long.
        You should also read David Nishimura’s articles and blog entries about L. E. Waterman’s early pens and ads, and the early origins of his family.
        I’m glad that someone has at long last found that November 1884 Waterman’s ad in Century magazine.  Have the two of you also found all the subsequent Century ads?  Someone really should collect all of them.
       The two of you are also very lucky to have found the F. Holland ad in American Bookseller, Apr 2, 1883, p.267.  I say it’s a fortunate find because that particular volume is incomplete and all scrambled up.  Parts of the volume are missing, and others are completely out of order.  Who knows what else might be missing, but you can rest assured that there are no other F. Holland ads because the index of ads in that volume lists only one ad, Vol. 14, 1883.
      There is, however, one more reference to the F. Holland pen company in that volume.  In fact, it’s in the same issue as the ad.  On p.259, there is a short paragraph about the “Holland Automatic Fountain Penholder”.  At first glance it seems that this might be the name of a pen made by a different company, but that awkward name is just a product of a time when the fountain pen was still in its infancy, and the terminology hadn’t been standardized, yet.  But this recommendation also says that the pen is “advertised in” the same issue, and the only Holland ad in that issue is the one on p.267.  It also goes on to say that it “has been used for several months by many business men”, and seeing as this ad appears in the April 1883 issue, it is conceivable that the first F. Holland pen may have been produced in late 1882, depending upon your interpretation of the phrase “several months”.
      There is also a very interesting early Waterman’s ad in the next volume, in the super-long Christmas Issue of the magazine, Nov 15, 1884, p.656.

          The sad thing is that this volume of American Bookseller also suffers from the same problem of being scrambled and incomplete, and this time there is a loss of two other Waterman’s ads.  The index for Vol. 16, 1884 lists ads on pp.656, 695, and 731, but the first ad is the only one that appears in the digitized version of this volume of the magazine.  The only consolation is that the same ad is probably repeated, but we’ll never know until someone finds those other two ads.  The ads are indexed under “Ideal Pen Company”.
        The most tantalizing line in the ad is, “The Fairchild Ready Writer is the only other Fountain Pen that uses the Waterman patents by permission”.  I have never seen that line in any other early Waterman’s ads, and I don’t know whether this is general knowledge amongst Waterman’s pen collectors and researchers, but it was certainly news to me.  It was probably part of a license agreement with one of the suppliers of their first gold nibs, but that “permission” probably disappeared quickly after the Waterman pen started to catch on.  The ad also goes on to mention that, already in November 1884, their pens came with 5 sizes of gold nibs, and that they would send out an “illustrated circular, testimonials, and price list”.
        As I read these various texts it struck me that there was one more Waterman myth that needed debunking, and that was whether Waterman actually made the first feed for his pen himself.  There is nothing in his background to hint at a mechanical aptitude, or any machining skills.  That’s not to say that he couldn’t have come up with the idea for the two-fissure feed, but only that he probably didn’t make any of them.  Someone else made them for L. E., but who might that person be?
        I would like to thank Dan DeMaio on Pentalk for the heads up on the 1887 Wirt legal brief being auctioned on Ebay by Jonathan Steinberg.  In his auction listing, Jonathan parenthetically mentions F. C. Brown as the possible producer of Waterman’s first feeds.  But in 1883, Brown wasn’t even producing his own pens, yet, so he probably wasn’t the one who made Waterman’s feeds.  The first Caw’s stylographs were made for Brown by Lapham & Bogart, as were their first “Dashaway” fountain pens.
        I wish that Ron Dutcher would finally publish his long-promised, and still-forthcoming book on all the different fountain pens that Mark Twain used, The Pens That Made Mark Twain, because he has a lot to contribute on the topics at hand.  He has information on a certain pattern and model maker who worked in hard rubber and brass, and was probably the person who was contracted to make the first feeds for Waterman.  I am not at liberty to say more than that, but he is one really strong candidate for the maker of Waterman’s first feeds.  I searched for him on and found that he listed himself during that fateful year of the Frank Holland pen as a maker of stylographic pens.  Ron really should read George & Daniel’s long article.

 Addendum, added on July 27, 2015.
        Since I first posted this, the scrambled volume of American Bookseller has been cleaned up and the complete version has been placed online.  That means that the two missing Waterman’s Ideal ads on
Dec 1, 1884, p.695 and Dec 15, 1884, p.731 are now online, at last.  They are shorter than the first ad, with fewer testimonials, but they both repeat the Fairchild reference.

George Kovalenko.