November 25, 2015

Warren N. Lancaster on L. E. Waterman

  , and Hawkes and Madeheim, again.


[Posted on L&P on Aug 31, Sept 4, 5, 6, 2005, and Nov 1, 6, 2007.]
        Here’s an interesting article that adds another pen to the list of presidential pens on Ron Dutcher’s Kamakura Pens website, and adds an interesting footnote to David Nishimura’s article about Frank D. Waterman’s run for mayor of New York City, and also has an intriguing aside about H. P. & E. Day Rubber for Rob.  It’s from Time Magazine, Sept 28, 1925, in an article titled,

    In Manhattan, while Frank D. Waterman, nephew of L. E. Waterman, famed fountain pen maker, was being congratulated on having received the Republican nomination for Mayor, an old man sat in a vacant office on Madison Avenue staring at a fountain pen of antique design.  He, Warren N. Lancaster, onetime business rival of the famed Waterman, told reporters how luck had undone him.
    “That was a buster, that pen.  I called it the Idea, after a horse I owned.  Eugene Leigh, who brought that French horse over last year, trained him for me.
    “When I had a place at No. 212 Broadway I sent President Garfield a pen like that.  L. E. Waterman had a place a few doors down the street.  I used to get my rubber from H. P. & E. Day up at Seymour, Conn.  No one could make gutta percha like they could, on a big marble table, you know.  Well, one time Mr. Day said he couldn’t sell me any more rubber casings.  Said he’d made a contract with Waterman.  I put all my machinery on a boat and sailed it down to Baltimore.
    “I advertised on P. T. Barnum’s first circus program.
    “When they put up the Flatiron building, they flashed ‘The Lancaster Pen’ against it with a stereopticon machine.  Once I printed a Sunday paper to give away.
    “My wife and I traveled all over.  I introduced her to Mrs. Potter Palmer out in Chicago.
    “It all goes back to the Baltimore fire.”
    Old Mr. Lancaster pointed to a woodcut on a time-stained circular, which showed a Tennysonian gentleman with bushy brown whiskers, gold pince-nez.  “I looked like that once,” said he.  “It was always a fight.”
Driven out of New York by Waterman, he ended up in Baltimore, just in time to be undone by the great Baltimore fire of 1904.  That was his luck.

        David Nishimura wrote, “Great find, George.  Worth thinking about how much advertising expense back then went into ephemeral media.  We gauge penmakers’ promotional budgets by magazine ads even into the ’30s and ’40s, whereas by then serious money was being spent to advertise by radio.
        “I wonder, too, about how reliable Lancaster’s own reminiscences might have been.  Haven’t heard anything about an “Idea” pen before, and the Barnum program claim would put Lancaster’s activity pretty far back.  1871 was the founding of the “Greatest Show on Earth”.  And if he was still a player in 1902, the Flatiron Building date, why are so very few of his pens around?
        “Cliff Lawrence published a bit on Lancaster several years ago.  The most interesting thing was his illustration of an actual pen, which appeared very similar to the sort of pen we were discussing in the recent Johnson-Prince-Hawkes-Madeheim thread, complete with under-feed ink valve.  Also, I was on the trail of a large ventless nib marked something like “LANCASTER / F. P. Co.” a few years back.”

        And I wrote, “David, did that piece appear in the PFC magazine?  The illustration of an actual pen like the one in the recent Madeheim thread, complete with under-feed ink-shutoff valve is probably the same photo, or advertising cut that appears in his 1992 Official P.F.C. Pen Guide, on p.36, item A.  The date for the pen given there is 1855, but that’s definitely a typo for at least 1866, if we’re talking about Madeheim, and more probably 1885, if we’re talking about Lancaster.  I think it’s time to start calling it the Madeheim pen.  What makes it a Madeheim pen is the ink-shutoff valve.
        “And I agree about the “Idea” pen.  He seems confused about what he’s saying.  He seems to be talking about one of his earliest eyedropper pens from the 1880s, but the horse wasn’t trained until “last year”, meaning 1924.  Maybe it was the other way round, and he named the horse after the pen.”

        David Nishimura wrote, “Yes, it’s in the PFC magazine.  June and October 1988 are the PFM Lancaster references.  The former has a
bio & trademark, a 1926 ad, and his obituary.  The latter has illustrations of pens supposedly from 1893 and 1855, and pages from the 1917 catalog.  And it is indeed the same picture.  I believe, from comparison with other similar images, that it is an nth generation photocopy of one of Lawrence’s own photos of an actual pen.
        “In all fairness, what he’s saying in the Time article appears to have been a transcription of a spoken interview, and what is more, it is clear that Lancaster was referring to a different horse trained by the same man who had trained the namesake horse way back when.
        “Nonetheless, one would be hard pressed to come up with a more stupid name than “Idea”.  Would the smaller version be a “Notion”, and the oversize a “Concept”?  Anyone who in that era would come up with such a name and not pause, scratch his head, and immediately tack on the final “L” was clearly destined for less-than-great things.”

        Rob Astyk wrote, “Or [maybe he couldn’t tack on the “L” because “Ideal” was already taken, and] perhaps that was the “Idea” all along.  Just like the “Waterson” and “Shaffner” pens in the 1930s, Lancaster was not above trying to cadge a bit of business from his competition.
        “Interestingly, the information supplied by Lancaster’s grandson seems to indicate that he started out in Baltimore and moved to New York, rather than the other way around as implied in the “Luck” piece.
        “Also, if Lancaster was primarily a contractor for large firms such as the Federal government and J. P. Morgan Co. that may explain why there are so few Lancaster pens in circulation today.”

        [The claim to factories in Boston, New York, and Baltimore is correct, but he started out in Boston and New York, then Washington, then moved to Boston in a joint venture with Colonial, then moved to Baltimore with the machinery he got from the dissolution of Colonial, just in time for the great Baltimore fire, and then finally moved to New York.]

        David Nishimura wrote, “Unfortunately, the first page from the October 1988 Lancaster coverage bears all the telltale signs of a Lawrence paste-up job, so we don’t know what this page actually looked like.  Cliff Lawrence would cut up original catalogues so as to fit everything into the magazine’s format, and no, he didn’t always cut up photocopies, as evidenced by a butchered, ex-PFC, A. A. Waterman catalog up for sale a while back [on Ebay].
        “Note the fold marks on the images of the two early pens, and how they do not line up.  Note too that the catalog foreword claims manufacture beginning in 1879, but the image of what appears to be a Protean is dated to 1855.  This would appear to be a bit of misdirection, since the image is not labeled as a Lancaster pen!
        “As for Lancaster being a copycat, at least later on, just look at his trumpeting of the Modern Automatic pen, what would appear to be a clear infringement on A. A. Waterman’s trademarks, unless he were making or selling under license.  And on the second page, note the “IDEA” in a star logo.  Somehow I don’t think this goes back to before Waterman, especially given the nature of Lancaster’s trademark of 1882.  The illustrated pens bearing the “IDEA” imprint also carry a date of 1893.  Odd, since it doesn’t appear to be a regular patent date because only the year is imprinted, and the company apparently had a good claim to an earlier foundation date.
        “Finally, the list of pens for sale at the end of the issue shows the cone-cap desk pen illustrated at the beginning of the catalog paste-up selling at $650.”

        And I wrote, “David, I know what you mean about the telltale signs of a Lawrence paste-up job.  That butchered, ex-PFC, A. A. Waterman catalog on Ebay around 1999 was sold by Judy Lawrence, and was bought by Jim Heusinger.  He and I talked about it at a pen show, and Jim said many of the pen images had been cut out of it, and it looked like a child had been playing cutouts with the thing.  There’s another one for the “Hall Of Shame”.
        “The images of the two early pens with the fold marks on them are the same ones that appear in the PFC 1992 guide, but in a different relationship again.  And although the catalog foreword claims that manufacture began in 1879, the write-up in the June issue that Rob supplied gives that date as 1876.  I think the 1879 date is closer to being correct.
        “Now that you mention it, the same image of the pen with the logo with “IDEA” in a star also appears in the 1992 pen guide.  I remember seeing it a while ago but needed to have my memory jogged.  Maybe Lancaster was just rubbing it into Waterman’s face with his use of the “Idea” imprint.  It’s also just another one of the many hyperbolic names for pens, and exaggerated claims as to their abilities, names such as Acme, Climax, Eternal, Eveready, Forever, Genius, Ideal, King, Leader, Matchless, Modern, Neverbreak, Optima, Perfect, Premiere, Protean, Queen, Regent, Regina, Rex, Royal, Ultima, Unbreakable, Universal, Victory, Wearever, and Zenith, etc.  It’s a long-standing tradition in penmaking.”

        Dave Johannsen wrote, “[Looking at the patents in the 1880s, it’s interesting to see] just how many inventors were smitten with the idea of a valved feed.  In addition to the Madeheim pen, valved-feed patents were awarded to H. A. Walke, 1880 & 1883, Anson T. Cross, 1886, A. J. Kletzker, 1881, and W. B. Greene, 1880.  One wonders just how many of these ideas ever made it into produced fountain pens.  Probably not all that many.

        “The photo of the pen with the ink valve in the Lawrence article is captioned patented in 1855. Now, Newell Prince was awarded two patents in 1855, and poking around Google Patents didn’t turn up anything else that seemed even remotely plausible.  So, it’s possible that the pen in question is actually a Prince pen, Protean or otherwise.”

        And I wrote, “The earliest reference I have been able to find to Lancaster is his 1882 trademark, so I doubt that he had anything to do with Prince, who was active in pens in the 1850s and 60s.  And as for the two Newell Prince patents from 1855, you have to remember that neither of those patents had a valved feed.  That was Madeheim’s innovation.”

        “My guess, and it’s only an opinion, is that either Hawkes, or someone else started selling the Prince pen and took over his patent rights, and then later got licenses for, or otherwise acquired the Madeheim and Hawkes patents, and incorporated all those features into Prince’s pens.  So the Prince pens with shut-off valves are not simply Prince pens, but rather amalgams of a few different pen designs.  And that pen in the Lawrences’ book is probably one of these later Prince pens. Perhaps Lancaster made that type of pen in its last days in the 1880s, or sold it as an agent.”

George Kovalenko.