Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"So Great the Vogue"

The L.E. Waterman Company hated pencils.  The company resisted producing them longer than any of the other members of the Big Four fraternity, even claiming in one instance that writing with a pencil might even irreparably ruin one’s penmanship.

Aikin Lambert, which had been manufacturing nibs for Waterman since almost the beginning of the latter’s rise, also made pencils.  As Aikin Lambert’s biggest customer became more influential, by 1914 it had become a Waterman subsidiary.  That’s why Aikin Lambert pencils from the teens sport riveted clips using Ferris’ 1905 patent – the same clip, with a little curl on the end, as that used on Waterman’s pens.

By 1919, Waterman was starting to feel the pinch of competition from newcomers Sheaffer and Wahl Eversharp, which had come literally out of nowhere to claim a significant market share thanks, in part, to the pencils they offered to accompany their pens.  The company’s catalog from 1919 is the first I know of in which Waterman offered pen and pencil sets – but the company made it clear that it was Aikin Lambert which made the lowly pencil part of the duo (this page is from the Pen Collectors of America’s online reference library):


David Nishimura wrote a great article about the development of Waterman's first pencils, the direct link to which is http://vintagepensblog.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-first-waterman-pencils.html. in which he provides citations to the first glimmers of Waterman's pencil production, beginning with hints in late 1921 and culminating with an announcement of the company's new pencil lines for general release in late 1922.  What I believe were the earliest pencils were those nicknamed "left-handed pencils" -- the mechanism can be advanced either by the cap or by the nose, so while the cap advances the lead the way you would expect, the nose operates the mechanism in reverse; turning the nose to the right advances it, rather than to the left.  Here's what they look like:





The "left handed Watermans" appear to have been quickly abandoned, for reasons which further research will hopefully reveal.

The next readily available resource documenting Waterman's pencil offerings as of this writing is the company's 1925 catalog at the PCA's online library, which indicates that even three years after Waterman's pencils were introduced, the company only doing so almost against its will:


“It is because there is so strong a vogue today for pens and pencils that match that we make a pencil to match every pen we make.”   Now that’s salesmanship: we’re offering pencils because you want them, not because we want to.  Nearly all the pencils offered by Waterman after the abandonment of the "left handed Watermans" until the introduction of the Patrician in 1929 were built the same way, as illustrated in the 1925 catalog:


Yeah, sorry about the ugly watermark . . . don’t get me started.   .Anyway . . .

The design for the pencil was patented by Gabriel Larsen, his first patent for Waterman, applied for on May 17, 1922 and issued as number 1,511,225 on October 14, 1924:


At my old Mechanical Pencil Museum website, I commented back in 2009 that I thought Larsen’s pencil entered production in 1923, but I don’t know where I got that.  Suffice to say that it was probably introduced sometime after May, 1922, given the large number of surviving examples marked “patent applied for.”

Waterman had a thin model pencil (the 21), a thin short model (the 21V, for “vest pocket”), and a fat model (number 25) advertised in the 1925 catalog.  (The model 26 checking pencils were also offered – they were discussed here at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2013/07/does-26-round-up-to-94.html).  This page illustrated the big boys:


Each of these were referred to as the model 0725N, meaning it was a model 25 with gold filled trim (the “07" trim code) and a narrow band (that’s the “N”); I’ll give you a full rundown on the model numbering system for Waterman pencils later.  These are the most commonly encountered Waterman oversized pencils, which makes sense since the catalog indicated that they were supposed to match the whole line of 018 series pens.

Note three things about this page, which are important to the rest of this article: (1) this was after Larsen’s patent was issued in 1924; (2) note the “clip-cap” clips; and (3) note the metal tips on the end.  Now let’s compare these to the ones I’ve had in my collection for years:


Note the metal tips and the same thin bands, but there’s something different here:


These clips say only “Waterman’s,” – no clip-caps here – and all three are marked “Pat. Appl For,” suggesting pre-1924 production (before the catalog was published).   Recently my friend Joe Nemecek offered to me one of his duplicates, a cardinal example:


I almost passed on this one – I already have one, I thought – but then I compared it to the one in my collection, and I noticed some subtle differences:


There’s no metal tip on the one Joe offered up:


And this one has a Clip-Cap and an imprint sporting the 1924 patent date instead of patent applied for:


So that’s four examples, none of which match what’s shown in the 1925 catalog.  I do have this fifth one, though:


Metal tip, clip cap:


And a 1924 patent date:


That’s a dead ringer for what the catalog shows – one out of five.

If Waterman was consistent in how they put these together, and if parts were not used with patent applied for imprints after the patent was issued in 1924, my working theory is that the Model 25 was introduced (sometime before 1924) with plain Waterman’s clips and metal tips on the nose cone.  In late 1924, just as Larsen’s patent was issued and the barrel imprints were changed to reflect the October, 1924 patent date, Waterman added the Clip-Cap clips to the pencils and then, after the catalog was published, Waterman dropped the metal tip.

If that’s true, that is exactly backwards from how I always thought the model 25s developed.

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