Pitman’s Pens (1)

If you put “Pitman’s” into the search box at the upper right of this page you’ll see what I had to say previously about the general history of these pens. In general terms there is not much more to say except that for most of their long production these were decent pens. Their manufacturer remains a mystery. It may have been several companies over the years.

So down to the particular: starting at the top of the photograph that Paul Stirling kindly provided, this is a black hard rubber pen. As with the next two pens, it has the mid-cap clip, a style made popular by De La Rue in the 1920s. It has a noticeably short lever. It has a “Fono” nib and the barrel imprint is “Pitman’s Fono” followed by a small lower case ‘s’ – it may be that this indicates shorthand, but considering that all the Pitman’s pens were for that purpose, maybe not.

The next one also has the ball-end clip. It is also black hard rubber. It has a warranted 14 carat nib. This is a longer pen than the first one, with a longish lever and a slight taper to the barrel end.

The third pen is in handsome mottled hard rubber and it’s the prince of this group, a long pen with a box lever. While I wouldn’t say that any of these pens were “built to a price” this is a high quality eye-catching pen. The mid-cap clip has a diamond end, replacing the previous ball end.

The fourth pen is celluloid. It’s shorter than the previous two and has a rather plain clip. It has a medium/broad cap band and a straight lever. This is the “Pitman’s Fono Deluxe.” The barrel end is rounded unlike the flat profiles of the earlier three. Again, the nib is warranted and the feed is of the comb type with a central channel, reminiscent of Waterman feeds.

The final example is quite a short pen at 12.7 cm. The ball ended clip is once again used but like the fourth pen it is in the more usual position at the top of the cap held by a screw. It is once again a “Pitman’s Fono.” There is no cap ring.

What about dates for these pens? I’m working from photos and haven’t handled the pens but I’ll take a crack at dating. Some among you may be better informed and I’d love to hear your opinions. I would put the first pen in Paul Stirling’s photo as late 1920s. The next two are mid-30s pens, I would guess. The fourth pen with its long lever, broad cap ring and more conventional clip is probably late 40s and pen number five looks like a 50s pen to me.

Who made these pens? There are clues but they may be red herrings. De La Rue popularised the clip in the middle of the cap and they also used the box lever. Wyvern made a handsome box lever too. It should be borne in mind, however, that Pitman would probably have a detailed specification that they issued to their contractor or contractors. All pen manufacturers could make a pen to any design. Just because a pen is reminiscent of a De La Rue, a Swan or a Wyvern does not mean that the pen was made by any of those companies. This makes me long for documentary evidence.

We can never be sure that any nib is original which adds to the debate about whether Pitman’s shorthand system required flexible or firm nibs.

I am grateful to Paul Stirling for his kindness in providing me with photos. If you wish to read further about Pitman pens, there is an excellent, intelligent discussion in the Fountain Pen Board. The search feature will find it.

There is more to come on this subject but it was too much for one blog post. I’ll follow-up with more photos and discussion in a day or two.


More Gold-Filled Swans

An addendum to my last post on the subject of gold-filled Swans.  There’s a rare split-lever version about which I wrote recently and a very handsome smooth Leverless.

Many thanks to Paul L for his excellent photos.

A Gold-Filled Swan

If you look back through my blog you will see that I have written several times about the gold-filled overlay Swans. They are not uncommon as they were ideal gifts for all sorts of occasions: birthdays, Christmas, graduation, retirement. For that reason they often appear with interesting personalisations. Some are plain, others have beautiful engine-turned patterns.

Though so far as I am aware no identifying number was assigned to gold-filled pens the pen under the overlay was recognisable. The Safety Screw Cap eyedropper filler was used up to the mid-twenties, thereafter gold-filled pens were based on the SF2, the Swan Minor 2 and smaller ring-top versions.

I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) that before World War II all these overlay pens were made in the USA. Despite the companies in USA and Britain being separate stand-alone entities a relationship remained.

This example is in very good condition and the presence of its original box adds to its appeal and value. I would date it to the late twenties or early thirties and it’s based on the SF2. As an aside, all the gold-filled pens I have seen seem to have had No 2 nibs. There may be bigger ones but they have not come my way. The pen has the usual stepped clip, a handsome feature, and the large ball end sets the clip off well. The engine chasing is enough to draw you in, in appreciation of the pattern.

Several years ago I used to buy these gold-filled pens for around £40 – £60, believe it or not! Since then their price has rocketed and I don’t believe I could afford one now. That’s a pity because I believe this is one of those instances where price has exceeded value. Years ago I was selling them to customers who had every intention of using them – they’re often great writers – but at today’s prices I think they are likely to be collectors’ pens.

I’m delighted to have the chance to feature this delightful gold-filled pen, to add to my previous posts about them. Many thanks to Paul Stirling for the photographs of his lovely pen.

The Mystery Of Jacob

I have written with fountain pens all my days and rare is the pen I haven’t enjoyed. Sometimes the basics need to be done, a failing of ink-flow amended or a nib adjusted, either to correct misaligned tines or in need of a little work with abrasives. That done, almost every pen suits me but some suit me better than others.

I have written about this pen before. It is known as Jacob because of its many colours. It’s a Frankenpen but all the parts come from Parker. I have made no adjustments of any kind and it suits my hand to perfection. Parker always made good nibs, often inflexible but perfectly made for the job of laying ink on paper. By all appearances this is an ordinary Parker nib, probably from the 1930s. I have examined it under a x20 loupe and it looks perfectly ordinary, yet it is not. It suits my hand as no other pen has ever done. My writing is better with this pen than it usually is. It feels as if the nib is an oblique, which I like, but it is not. There is some inexplicable mystery about this pen: why it should be so perfect for me.

Perhaps I have been fortunate enough to inherit the benefit of the original owner’ s use of the pen, gradually polishing and wearing the nib into this shape, so satisfying for me. After all, the pen is around ninety years old and probably saw much use during that time.

I often say that I love a mystery and in truth the mysteries I like best are the ones that have no clever resolution but leave me with a puzzle I can continue to mull over. Jacob is the best pen I have ever had. I don’t really care why, I am just glad that it is so.

A Sterling Silver Split-Lever Swan

This beautiful sterling silver Swan is not just a joy to behold; it’s historic.

To set the scene, Sheaffer did its best to cut other companies out of the self filler market. Their patent was quite conclusive and they had an array of sharp-toothed lawyers waiting to pounce on anyone who infringed it.

In response, Waterman came up with the box lever. Conklin produced the Crescent filler. Parker went for the button filler and Swan patented the split lever filler.

Swan’s self filler appears to have been developed by Felix Reisenberg, a freelance inventor. The application was filed in 1918. Though it is a little complicated the split lever presses down on the pressure bar in such a way as to deflate the sac completely. It is therefore more efficient than the J-bars used by Mabie Todd at a later date.

The fact that this is a decidedly uncommon pen indicates that the split lever Swan was not around for long. Looking at it, I would think it might have been expensive to make. It was replaced by Swan’s long lever which was just as efficient and perhaps more satisfying in use.

We are left with an elegant, slender, patterned relic of that time of great ingenuity and inventiveness. All of these early filling systems worked well. All were carefully crafted to avoid Sheaffer’s patent while providing the fountain pen user with a good, easy method of pen filling.

Many thanks once again to Paul L for entrusting me with his beautiful, rare and valuable pen.

The Parker Harlequin

It was unfortunate that Parker made their best low-cost pen ever just when fountain pens were falling out of fashion.

The Parker 45 held its market share remarkably well but by 1979 Parker felt that they had to do something to interest buyers, hence the introduction of the Harlequin (Parker Harlequin 80 to give it its Sunday name). A beautifully patterned pen, it came in two basic styles, the circlet or the shield. Initially these patterns were offered in grey or black. Later other colours were introduced. Parker ran into production difficulties with the Harlequin and within a few years it was discontinued.

This fine example is in the black shield pattern. All Harlequins are sought after, the black ones more than the grey, I’m told. Colours are especially collectable but they are very rare. This pen still has its original case which allows the pen to be propped up for display.

For the sake of Parker’s profits it’s a pity that the Harlequin didn’t work out in the longer term but being comparatively uncommon and appearing in several versions makes it a collector’s pen.

Though I’m no collector I do have a fondness for the Harlequin. Parker produced something very special in this pen and it did so at an economical price

Many thanks to Paul L. for the excellent photographs of his pen.

Parker 17 Open Nib

What was Parker aiming for when they brought out the 17? It was a lower-priced pen, not quite a school pen but one that filled a niche where quality was desired at a lower price. The hooded nib harks back to the highly esteemed Parker 51.

The earliest, open-nibbed Parker 17 was only two years in production and has become quite uncommon. Such a simple change as exposing the nib – a very different nib – changes the pen dramatically and probably appeals to a different person from the buyer of the hooded nib version.

One thing that makes it really stand out from other pens of the period is that many of these open nibs are flexible, some extremely so. Perhaps this was from a simple intent on Parker’s part to keep the cost down by using thinner gold but it gives the present-day writer a much sought-after flex nib that will lay down a very variable line.

Not all of these nibs are quite so flexible and some are quite firm but the proportion that do flex is quite high, giving the buyer a good chance of getting a pen with a very variable line. Even those that are not particularly flexible – or even quite firm – are splendid writers. The somewhat angular nib that hints at the Parker 75 is one of the best of its time.

What of the rest of the pen? It’s an aerometric filler. I think it’s an elegant design in either form but that falls within the field of personal preference. The cap fits firmly and is appealing with its broad cap band. Though the hood can crack on either version this failing is not all that prevalent.

In some respects it’s a forgotten gem of Parker’s production but I feel that it is a pen that deserves more notice.