Friday, August 24, 2012

A New Discovery Thanks to an Old Book

When I saw Lee Chait at the Triangle Pen Show in Raleigh, Lee had a problem. Actually, he had several hundred pages of problems. Lee had a pile of old books on pens on his table that he really didn’t feel like hauling home with him. Most were from the early 1990s – not antique, but not filled with the state-of-the-art information that research by the pen community, coupled with the power of the internet, have added to the knowledge pool over the last two decades.

Still, I love reading the old books written in the days before authors thought they knew everything, when all they could do is take a stab at putting out there everything they knew. And besides, often times people put stuff out there in those early books, whether it be a picture or a bit of information, that we have collectively forgotten about.

Needless to say, as the show wore on and Sunday packup loomed, Lee’s price got better and better, until it reached the point of irresistability, and I bought the whole stack. I’ve had at least one of those books by my side ever since then, poring over one thing or another.

One of the books I got from Lee – a classic by most standards, is Fischler and Schneider’s Fountain Pens and Pencils: the Golden Age of Writing Instruments from 1990. There’s a lot of great information in that book, and it’s loaded with pictures, including a fantastic picture at the end of the owners of Fountain Pen Hospital, complete with Miami Vice hair and dressed in scrubs, preparing to do "surgery" on a few pens laying in a surgical tray!

I’ve been lazily thumbing through that book, casually admiring all of the ultra-rare pens that just seem to have disappeared over the last few years, wondering what it must have been like to go to an antiques show or flea market and actually see some of them once in a while.

And then I saw something in an online auction that rang a bell somewhere in my head. I went back to Fischler and Schneider, looked more closely at one of their pictures, and I wondered . . . could it be?

The lot contained about ten pencils, most of which were your common dollar-bin fare. Towards the bottom of the picture was a coral Carter’s pencil, but the tip looked a little messed up. The seller didn’t seem to know beans about pencils, other than what he or she could read on the clips, but one of the names in the description was "Waterman" and that name certainly didn’t fit anything else in the group. So I bid, and I think I now owe Lee Chait a drink, or maybe something from Lord & Taylor, because if it hadn’t been for that old book he sold me, I wouldn’t have known what this is:

If you’re thinking "that looks like a Patrician," you’re on the right track. Fischler and Schneider have the matching pen for this pictured on page 73 of their book, and they refer to it as a "transitional Patrician," made in 1928 during the days when Waterman realized they needed to revamp their product line, but before they had completely settled on what the Patrician would look like.

They indicated that only a handful of these transitional pens had surfaced, and all of them were in jade, just like this one. But they didn’t say anything about a matching pencil!

These have the earlier riveted Waterman clip, complete with the Waterman globe, and the beginnings of the more tapered profile that would be more pronounced on the Patrician:

The top, while slightly tapered, is flat and plain on the top, but the imprint on the barrel matches the later Patricians, rather than the earlier Ripples:

David Nishimura posted a nice article and picture of the pen at his website ( He quotes the Fischler and Schneider reference I’d seen, but suggests that "proto-Patrician" might be a more accurate nomiker for these, if they came before the Patricians rather than being a transition between two Patrician models. I tend to agree, but there’s no question that these are a wonderful example of Waterman’s transition from the stodgy flattops to the more graceful Patricians.

Here’s a shot of four Waterman pencils, from the top, a flattop black hard rubber pencil from 1927 or 1928, today’s proto-Patrician, a bandless Patrician from 1929 or 1930 (referred to as a "first year" Patrician), and the later banded Patrician:

There’s no question in my mind that if I hadn’t just read Fischler and Schneider’s book, this one would have slipped right past me . . .I wouldn’t even have known to look for David’s article, and I wouldn’t be telling you today that a proto-Patrician pencil ever existed. So, even though twenty years later my sentiments may be a little late, I’ve just got to tell Fischler and Schneider now . . .

Thank you!

Editor's note:  In David Nishimura's article, he presents evidence suggesting that the "proto-Patrician" is actually a "closeout Patrician" made from leftover parts at the end of the Patrician's production run.  At the time this article was originally published, I wasn't convinced, but I have since received new information that proves David is correct.  See my later article on this subject, "With Apologies to Mr. Nishimura," published on February 8, 2013.

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