Friday, November 11, 2011

The Mythical Waterman Pencil of 1909

The L.E. Waterman company, as an American pen manufacturer, leaves a legacy of being a pioneer.  In fact, at dinner last night, one of my friends (a non-collector who is for lack of a better word "amused" that I not only collect pencils, but actually took the time to write a book about it) asked me, "Didn't Waterman invent the fountain pen?"

As a pencil manufacturer, however, Waterman wasn't exactly out in front of the pack.  While Sheaffer and Wahl had introduced pencils in 1917 and 1918, respectively (Wahl, of course, having acquired the rights to Charles Keeran's Ever Sharp design of 1913), Waterman didn't offer any pencils at all until 1919, and those weren't even made by Waterman.  As I explore in The Catalogue (pages 161 and 162), Waterman did not introduce a pencil of its own design until 1922.

Here is a fairly typical example of that first generation of original Waterman pencils, imprinted simply "Waterman's" at the top:

But wait a tick?  A closer look at this piece reveals something interesting:

Hold the phone!  If Waterman didn't introduce its own line of pencils until 1922, how is it that this pencil is marked on the clip with a 1909 patent date?  

When I found this piece, shortly after The Catalogue went to the printer, I nearly called and asked them to stop the presses, because I thought I'd missed something pretty substantial (well ok, I'll also admit I've always wanted to have one of those Hollywood moments when I'd get to yell "stop the presses!" but that's another story).

I rechecked my facts:  yep, there's the 1922 patent, and it's clearly this pencil.  Check.  Reread the Waterman catalogues prior to 1922, and there's no pencils in there.  Check.  I ran a search for patents issued on that date, and I found that no patents at all were issued on October 9, 1909.  What did I miss?

I started poking around and I ran across a posting George Kovalenko wrote for Lion and Pen (an online discussion forum) a few years back, in which he had indicated that the patent was actually issued on October 9, 1906 -- in Canada.    Wow.  A typo in the date and I wasn't even looking in the right country's records.  Thanks George -- I never would have found that.  View the L&P thread here.

Which brings us back to the original question:  did Waterman have a mechanical pencil in 1909?   William I. Ferris did receive Canadian patent number 101,470 on October 9, 1906 ----

for the clip.  Not for the pencil.

According to George, earlier Canadian clips had the date correct, but the later versions had the wrong date. Since, as we have now confirmed (whew) that pencils were not introduced by Waterman until 1922, all the Canadian examples with the clip have the incorrect 1909 patent date.

And so, with the mythical 1909 Waterman pencil laid to rest, I'm going to go feed my pet unicorn now.

1 comment:

Xander said...

Jon, do you have a link to that article which states the stamp is an error? I would love to read it. This is a very nice looking pencil, I would like to add one to my collection. What is the advance mechanism on this, twist the end?