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.