September 12, 2015

The Waterman’s color nibs

  , and the illusive “White” nib.


[Posted on Zoss on Jan 9, 2001, on Pentrace on Jan 9, 2005, on FPN on Apr 29, 2005, and on L&P on June 7, 2005.]
        Bruce W. posted a message on Pentrace on Apr 26, 2005, asking for a more complete guide or chart explaining the different Waterman’s color nibs.  EP posted a reply, “We need an archive for info like this, which comes up periodically”.  Well, there had been an earlier thread on Pentrace on Jan 9, 2005, about this same, recurrent topic in which Wayne reposted a message of mine that had originally been posted years ago on Zoss.  I posted that message on Zoss on Jan 9, 2001, after a tray like the one above, with the infamous “White” nib, appeared on Ebay sometime around August 2000.  I thought that the message was lost forever.  It was posted during one of the outages at eScribe, the Zoss archive, and it didn’t get saved.  Thanks to Wayne, it was resurrected from oblivion.  I reposted it on FPN on Apr 29, 2005, and a revised and expanded version of it on L&P on June 7, 2005, and now I am reposting it here to preserve it in this archive.

        In response to the thread on Zoss in 2001, Thierry Nguyen wrote, “There were more than seven nib colors.  In fact, I know of nine, listed here with the corresponding original Waterman descriptions, more or less in order of rarity—please don’t argue about that. ;-)

Red - Standard (medium flexibility)

Green - Rigid
Pink - Flexible Fine
Purple - Stiff Fine
Yellow - Rounded (ball shape)

Brown - Fine
Blue - Blunt (improved stub)

Grey - Oblique
Black - Flexible Medium
        “I’ve seen all these colors mentioned in contemporary Waterman ads, but never all of them in one ad.  Also, the Black one appeared only in a French Waterman ad.  Regarding the mythical White nib, I’ve only heard of it.  I’ve not yet met anybody that has seen one for real, but Lavin or Fultz could perhaps tell us more on the subject”.

        And I wrote, “A 1927 brochure in the Fischler-Schneider “Blue Book” shows the six basic colors, and gives the following descriptions.

    Red, Standard Point, for home and general use, med. flex.
    Green, Rigid Point, the salesman’s friend, for manifolding.
    Pink, Flex Fine Point, for stenographers, for shading.
    Purple, Stiff Fine Point, for accountants, for small writing.
    Blue, Blunt Point, for rapid writers, a broad point.
    Yellow, Rounded Point, an unusual pen point, for left-handed writers.
        “A circa 1928-9 Waterman’s brochure titled “Ripple-Rubber” lists the above basic six colors, but with the added description of “Stub” to the Blue nib, and a seventh color, “Grey, Oblique, for those who hold the pen at an angle or between the [index and middle] fingers”.
        “The Waterman’s #7 pen tray from circa 1929 to early 1930s that appeared on Ebay in August 2000 has the basic six colors, eliminates the Grey nib, and then adds three new colors for a total of nine.  It also changes some of the descriptions and designations.  The plastic tray would have held at least two pens of every color, and had the color in raised letters along one side of the tray and the corresponding designations in raised letters along the other side.  In order from one end to the other, these are the colors.

    Purple, Accountant.
    Pink, Bookkeeper.
    Black, Stenographer.
    Brown, Fine Flex.
    Green, Med. Firm.
    Red, Med. Flex.
    Blue, Stub.
    White, Coarse.
    Yellow, Left Handed.
        “The Pink is changed from Stenographer to Bookkeeper.  The Black becomes the new Stenographer nib.  The Brown is redesignated as Fine Flex, or the shading nib.  And the White is the Coarse, or Broad nib.  So, at any one time there were at most nine different colored nibs, but if one were to count the total of the colors, it would be ten.  It’s not as simple as it seems at first, but anyone trying to collect all the different colors will also have to be able to discriminate, no pun intended, between all the different colors and their corresponding designations at the different periods that they were issued.  Even the basic six colors aren’t stable, and with the redesignations of some of the other colors, the sum total of different pens required to fill out a complete set of #7s might be something like eleven, or twelve, depending upon whether the Blunt is the equivalent of a Stub, or a Broad nib.
        “And then there are the #7s with thin white bands above and below the color bands, and the #7s without the thin white bands. And then also there are the black plastic #7s.  There are also some very late transitional Canadian #7s.  These were made of red ripple hard rubber, but during the time when the black plastic pens were already in production.  They had a later style of clip, a narrower cap band, and nibs with round holes instead of the keyhole-shaped holes.  Also, the nibs were not embossed with the color names, but were instead embossed with the number “7” at the base near the section.  They were probably just using up old leftover stockpiles of ripple rod stock.  As it is with most other matters concerning pens, it’s not a simple matter.
        “I hope that this complicates things sufficiently.”

        Wim posted that he had seen “several pictures of some of these rare specimens on PenTrace”, adding, “They do exist”.
        And I wrote, “Pictures of a Waterman #7 Ripple pen with a single White colour band with a White nib?!!!  Wim, you had better be able to back that up with a picture, because I don’t think there ever was a white-nibbed Ripple #7.  Waterman may have made the White nib only on the Jet Black #7 pen, the one with the color discs on the end of the barrel.  As far as I know, no White-nibbed pens have shown up anywhere so far, not on Pentrace, nor any place else.  I’d like to see one, though.”

        Rob Astyk wrote that he thought the number of color nibs in production at any given time was still up for debate.  “I think that, after the first six appeared, the other four appeared quickly and permanently.  The BLACK and WHITE nibs were available as late as 1946 as is shown in an ad from that year.  The GREY oblique nib was also available at that time, as is proved by a pair of desk pens in my collection, but we just don’t see it in the ads.  I have written a piece about the Waterman color nibs for Stylophiles On-Line, and Ron Dutcher’s website,, titled
“Pens For Particular Hands, The Waterman Color Nibs”.
        “Those Waterman’s #7 Ripple trays are hard to find.  The advertising emphasized #7 nibs, 7 colors, 7 dollars, and the trays were set up for 7 pens.  But while most 7-slot trays had the first 7 colors, additional trays substituted GREY, BLACK, or WHITE for the BROWN.  Another “Color” pen tray, one that I believe to be for an early to mid-1940s display case, holds nine pens, one of each color except GREY.
        “George has introduced me to Brazilian collector Wilmes Teixeira who has at least one red ripple pen with a nib with the RED color imprint and a round breather hole.  The existence of that nib quite possibly moves the nib imprints into the 1940s.  Wilmes also feels that the WHITE nib is rare because it was a late afterthought.  He doesn’t feel that the WHITE nib appeared when the other nine colors did.  In defense of that argument, the only hard evidence we have for the WHITE nib is a series of later pen trays.  Also, Waterman started off with only six colors in 1927, and probably only expanded on the concept once somebody in advertising convinced them of the wisdom of having a #7 pen with a #7 nib priced at $7 and with 7 “colors”.  I think that the jury is still out on when the WHITE nib appeared.  Hopefully it will be settled one day when a WHITE #7 nib appears, either in a Ripple pen, or a Jet plastic one, or both.”

        David Nishimura wrote, “I have never seen a “White” nib, nor have I heard of any being spotted in my circle of acquaintances.  I’ve had a few “Black” nibbed 7s and have seen a couple more.  “Brown” is, in comparison, relatively common.”

        Rob Astyk wrote, “The WHITE nib is a conundrum.  I doubted that it existed for a while but there have now been 2 or 3 Waterman pen trays that have appeared that show “Coarse” as a “WHITE” nib.  We have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the trays.  We also know that Waterman advertised nibs by color as late as the mid-1940s.  All the trays marked with a space for pens with WHITE nibs come from the late-1930s or early-1940s.  These facts lead to a debate over when the WHITE nib appeared.  If it is a late addition to the nib color line, then it may never have appeared in a Ripple 7 version at all.  There may be dozens of WHITE nibs in collections, but masquerading as “Broad” nibs sold out of a tray that identified them at “White”, and which was the only identifier that they ever had as such.

        “We know that Waterman originally advertised the #7 pen with 6 nib colors at $7.  Someone then had a brainstorm and added a 7th color, probably BROWN.  I tend to think that Waterman added all the colors at this point, including WHITE, to cover the 10 most popular nib styles.  There are GREY and BLACK Red Ripple 7s, but the absence of any known WHITE nibs on a Red Ripple pen doesn’t do much for my theory.

        “Odd things keep turning up.  One day we will find a Ripple with white band, or a black 7 with white dot and nib, or we won’t.  There are plenty of collections lurking in safe deposit boxes, or in homes of collectors who are very quiet about their interests.  I have hope that one day some such collection will yield an example.  If none ever does, we will have to fall back on the theory that WHITE is a late addition that was never marked except on the edges of some trays.  But after the Pompeian Brown Duofold, I’m being a little circumspect in those pens whose existence I deny.”

        Rob Astyk wrote, “On June 11, 2007 Richard Binder posted a message on Pentrace titled “Miracles still do happen, as demonstrated by the Waterman’s No. 7 I got at Raleigh”.  In that message he shows photos of a Waterman Red Ripple 7 that probably has a replacement cap from a Waterman 55 without a color-band.  Without a color-band we can’t be entirely sure what the pen looked like originally, but this Waterman 7 has a
WHITE nib.  To my knowledge this is the first WHITE nib of which we have had public notice.  Because Binder got the pen from Susan Wirth, we have no need to doubt the bona fides of the nib.

        “The appearance of a WHITE nib in a Ripple 7 would go a long way toward resolving the issue of whether the GREY, WHITE and BLACK nibs appeared early, or late.  We’d then have to say that those three least Common colors probably came into the line shortly after the initial 1927 introduction of the pen.  We know that the initial advertising for the Waterman 7 showed only six nib colors.  The seventh color appeared within a year of the 7’s introduction.  I think that we are not stretching things too far to propose the hypothesis that the last four nib colors happened, if not all at once, at about the same time that the BROWN nib became the seventh color.

        “We may not be able to definitively state that the WHITE nib was in the Waterman line no later than the end of 1928, but I think that we can say that it was a part of the Waterman line long before the 1930s.  In any case, we now have empirical evidence of a Waterman WHITE color nib ending the debate over the question of its existence at all.”

        Ron Dutcher wrote that he “wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this White nib was some kind of hoax”.  Rob Astyk wrote, “I had some questions about this photo, too, but I was willing to give Richard the benefit of the doubt.  On the other hand, this prompted the thought that I should have verified this story with Susan Wirth.  I consider Susan a friend and an unimpeachable source.  It was largely because she had been marshalled into his story that I had been willing to give it credence.  While I’m inclined to accept that he’s found a genuine WHITE nib, I can see some issues that might have made Ron question the photo.  The word “WHITE” on the nib pictured seems a little off centre and a little crude.  I think the deficits in the photo are a function of the third-rate photography but even looking closely I had some doubts.”

        David Nishimura wrote, “Richard Binder is not spreading this info as a prank.  Nonetheless, I would very much like to get a better look at the nib in question.  The picture isn’t very good, but it looks as if the imprint is very worn, or polished away from its middle on up, with the “WHITE” rather stronger.  Could be that the “WHITE” was impressed more deeply and this is just wear.  One might also wonder, however, if someone might have polished off the original color designation and put in the “WHITE” in its place.  I’m sure Susan Wirth would never do this, nor knowingly resell a faked-up pen, but I don’t know whether she’d be as much on guard for such shenanigans as someone such as myself and others here.”

        Rob Astyk wrote, “I corresponded by email with Susan Wirth and spoke with her on the phone last evening.  As Susan relates it, the story goes as follows.

        “Some time ago a very charming and urbane collector at a show charmed Susan into a trade, in fact two trades, one of which involved the pen in question.  This collector didn’t realize that he’d traded away his Waterman 7 WHITE until some days after the show.  He then wrote to Susan requesting a return of the pen.  Unfortunately, Susan had already offered it to another of her regular customers.  That person already had the pen in his possession.  She explained the situation, at which point the original owner acknowledged that the pen was lost to him.

        “In the meantime, the collector who’d bought the 7 in question decided that the nib was “too smooth” for him, as if such a thing were possible.  He appeared at the Raleigh Show earlier this month and wanted to return the pen.  Susan suggested that he take the pen over to Richard Binder to tweak the nib so that it suited him better.  Evidently this customer was a bit on the volatile side and didn’t wait his turn with Richard.  He protested to Susan who asked that he give the pen to her and she would take it to Binder for adjustment.

        “The next day Susan did take the nib to Binder’s table.  He began to work on the nib but quickly stopped as it dawned on him that he had in his hand what may be the rarest 20th Century Waterman nib.  Since the other customer was dissatisfied with the nib to begin with, Susan worked out a mutually satisfactory trade for the return of the pen and an appropriate deal that made Richard the owner.

        “The provenance seems to only strengthen the case for this being the only publicly known example of a genuine Waterman WHITE nib.  I say “publicly known” because it is entirely possible that other WHITE nibs may exist in private collections of which we know nothing.  The collector who originally owned this pen is evidently not a person who is likely to have faked the nib, or who would have been easily taken in by a fake.  In fact, the original owner of the pen and I exchanged emails at the time he owned that pen, nearly two years ago, on the subject of the WHITE nib.  At that time he was convinced that the WHITE nib didn’t appear until the 1930s, that it never appeared in Ripple 7s, and that the breather hole would be round rather than keyhole shaped.  He was very staunch in his position that the BLACK and WHITE nibs did not appear until sometime in the 1930s, or even the 1940s.

        “Anyway, I think that we are now certain that there is a genuine WHITE nib.  I also must congratulate Richard Binder for recognizing that he had something in his hands that should not be tampered with.  It shows a great deal of intelligence and responsibility on his part.”

        John Chapman wrote on Feb 12, 2008, “One thing needs to be mentioned, and it is an error that we have not gotten to this earlier.  The White nib found by Richard Binder and Susan Wirth, etc., turned out to have been a hoax.  Richard compared notes with John Mottishaw, who worked on that nib some years ago.  When John worked on it, it did not have the White imprint.  So somebody added the imprint after the fact.  Richard posted his retraction on Pentrace and FPN a few weeks after finding the nib.  So the search for a White nib goes on.”

   George Kovalenko.