The Oldest Surviving Waterman?

[Stylus, Aug/Sep 2007, pp. 70-71]


For most pen collectors, an early Waterman would be one predating 1902, with the narrow three-fissure feed and a two-line imprint with no globe logo.  Much scarcer, however, are pens with the horseshoe-vent nib, and scarcer yet, those with the very early two-step section.  By the time we get to the earliest imprint recorded in print – on a single line, “WATERMAN’S “IDEAL” FOUNTAIN PEN NEW YORK”, with the patent dates imprinted circumferentially near the end of the barrel – we are down to a mere handful of survivors.

Yet a still earlier imprint exists, on a pen that may be the earliest Waterman extant.  It is similar to the imprint noted above, but the part running around the barrel end reads “PAT. APPD FOR”.  This indicates a production date somewhere between June 20, 1883 and February 12, 1884 – the date Lewis E. Waterman submitted his first pen patent application, and the date he was awarded his first pen patent (note that these involve two separate applications and patents, 293,545 and 307,735, since the first application to be approved was the second submitted).

Although this pen is faded and worn and its imprints are faint, it retains its original box which closely resembles contemporary dip pen boxes, complete with pivoting hook closure.  Unfortunately, there is no nib.  Early Watermans, however, did not always use Waterman-marked nibs, and upon request were even fitted with steel dip nibs (“pens”, in the usage of the time).  In a Waterman catalog of c. 1892 (reprints available through the PCA Reference Library), for example,  the holder – what we would call the pen – is described as follows: "It takes gold or steel [nibs] of the ordinary straight forms, and your favorite [nib] (among these) can be fitted."  The next paragraph notes how steel nibs will rust, and how they must be removed from the holder at the end of each day's work.  Although the catalogs stop mentioning non-Waterman nibs by around 1897, as late as 1902 one reads in "Waterman Ideal Salesmanship":  ". . . we do not sell a gold [nib] alone. . . .  When the [nib] is to be furnished to us we will sell the holder at the list price and fit it to the [nib] without extra charge." 


Even more detail about the fitting of different nibs is found on a very early Waterman flyer, labeled Circular No. 7, datable between March and November of 1884.  A table on its reverse shows which holders could be fitted with which gold nibs.  Our pen would appear to correspond to the flyer’s No. 1 holder, the “Ladies’ size” – priced at $3.50 with nib and $2.25 without, and capable of carrying either a #4 Waterman or Fairchild nib or a #3 Aikin Lambert nib.  Its case would have run an additional 50 cents.


Copyright © 2006 David Nishimura. All rights reserved