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.


22 thoughts on “Pitman’s Pens (1)

  1. Most interesting Deb, many thanks, and compliments to Paul Stirling on a splendid selection – I really like those “mid-cap ” clips and they remind me of a pen I should like to own but am unlikely to: the Onoto Mammoth, frequently equipped with such clips, and a pen that was truly “over-the-top”

  2. This is probably a question for Paul. I am intrigued how the lever on the top one works. It looks like it is barely longer than the barrel diameter and so how can it hinge and be long enough to squash the sac completely or does it have something clever inside to do that?

    The second one has the air of an Altura about it.

    The clip on the third one reminds me of an old Wyvern.

    The fourth looks a bit like a Waverley

    In any case it looks like they shopped around to get a good deal for their own brand pens. Not much loyalty. Does any body know why Fono? – it feels like it is short for something beginning Fo…. No… but I can’t think what it could be.

    1. I have always assumed that the word “Fono” might relate to Dictaphones, but how this relates to Pitman’s shorthand, I couldn’t guess!

      1. seem to recall that Deb has commented on the derivation of the name Fono before, so will leave the lady to repeat her previous comments:-)

        As to the lever, suddenly there is some embarrassment here. I’d previously informed Deb that the lever was the shortest I’d ever seen on a standard length f.p., but obviously complacency was at work, and I’d not looked carefully enough at the internal workings.
        In fact the lever is of normal length, but externally appears short, with the remainder hidden inside the barrel, and the lever anchors in a fairly standard fashion via a ring locked into a recessed groove encircling the interior of the barrel. As is common with this set up, there are two projecting lugs at the forward end of the lever, and these locate into a movable pressure bar which slides in both directions depending on the position of the lever.

        The non-visible part of the lever hides inside the barrel and obviously the configuration of the lever shows a bend where it enters the barrel, thence continuing straight again.

        However, despite my fairly newcomer status in the pen collecting world, to me this lever shape/configuration is unique (half in and half out almost) – though possibly some of you with more experience may be aware of other pens with the same unusual lever shape. Thanks to Simon for being picky which encouraged me to look with the torch – I’d spent so long digging out the sac I’d missed peering at the workings. So apologies to all for the confusion, and now look forward to being told this is a common set up:-):-)

      2. I don’t remember saying anything about the meaning of Fono. I don’t know what it means. If I did say anything the search feature will find it. I have a vague notion that it’s connected with “phonetics” or related Latinate words in the area of reducing language to its most easily recorded form.

    2. I would add that the lever on the top pen looks perfectly long enough to me: in fact it is longer than that fo the third pen. they would be easily long enough to operate a J-bar. I have a similar pen to the fourth one; it has the Waterman’s section that Deb mentions above.

    3. I very much agree with you Simon. They certainly shopped around when placing their orders. I would say that some of the batches were also made by Mabie Todd. The fourth pen was probably made by Burnham in the early ’50’s and the fifth I would ascribe to Mentmore or Langs in the mid ’30’s to 40’s. The last Pitman I have was definitely made by Waterman’s as it is the same design as their L2 of the 50′ & ’60’s, and is stamped ‘Made by Waterman’s’!

      1. Documentary evidence? that’s a bit harsh Deborah, particularly as you have said there isn’t any. We are just giving our opinions based on a photo of five capped pens.

        While you say ‘All pen manufacturers could make a pen to any design’ practice was that they didn’t. Why would they when they were producing down to a price? A Stephens and National Security look like a Lang’s, a De La Rue Chatsworth looks like a DLR while a Burnham Chatsworth looks like a Burnham, as does a third party Conway and Kingswoods look like a Unique. In the vast majority of cases third party pens were produced to a general spec, the Esterbrook Relief being the only exception I can think of. Most third party sellers stuck to one manufacturer while some, notably Pitman and John Bull tended to shop around. This is based on my observed variety of their pens, as exemplified above.

        As to Simon’s comments, you have expressed an interest in Altura pens, surely you have noticed the likeness? The fourth pen does look like a Waverley. Steve Hull told me that they were made by Burnham post war and I have no reason to question his expertise.

        The last pen is of typical Lang’s/ Mentmore design, but it could also have been manufactured by Mabie Todd (or Valentine). Much depends on the details of the pen that are not visible. Paul is of the opinion that MT made batches for Pitman and, having seen a number of pens, I agree. I don’t tend to question his expertise in that area any more than I asked him to provide documentary evidence that the split lever pens were only produced in 1919.

        Finally, while Pitman’s may have contracted a manufacturer to make a Waterman clone and stamp them ‘Made by Waterman’s’, on the balance of probability I think Waterman’s made them, but I cannot prove it.

        Thanks, I rather enjoyed researching Pitman Pens on FPB. It brought back memories and showed how our knowledge of the manufacturers has improved in only a few years.

      2. I’m not criticizing you and you’re welcome to your own opinion. I just refuse to accept resemblance as a sound reason for assigning a pen to a manufacturer. For me, it’s not good enough evidence. There’s nothing harsh about it, it’s just my opinion. There are some pens, like the Chatsworth that you mention, that are just rebadged pens from De La Rue’s own production and those I will accept. Others, with a more vague resemblance may look the way they do because the manufacturer was following the principal’s guide-lines and just happened to end up looking like some other pen so I can’t accept them. Ultimately, the most secure evidence is documentary and many of the pens in the latter category would need documentary evidence.

  3. Not sure how you’re viewing that top short lever Paul – in fact the length of lever that is visible on the first pen is only 13 mm – much shorter than the amounts of visible lever on the other four pens.

    1. My mistake! It is indeed short I have just had a look here and the shortest lever I can find on any pen I have is one of 3/4″ (19.1mm) on a Byers & Hayes Advertising pen (Gargoyle Marine Oils). Th
      is works very well. There is no spring: the pressure bar is flat and is simply returned by the sac.

  4. Deb – in your blog for 20th March 2012, you were reviewing ‘The Pitman’s Fono Deluxe’, and included brief reference to the origin of the name which you attributed as a reference to Isaac Pitman’s ‘fonotypy’ system – a rationalised method of spelling which he developed, apparently:-)

  5. thanks Deb:-) – it remains though a mystery quite why the (unknown) maker of that top pen designed a lever with such an unusually short visible length and odd design – the lever is anchored (via the ring) at the extreme forward end of the barrel slot. There may have been some perceived advantage, but whatever that was/is doesn’t appear obvious now.
    It would be good if someone is able to say they have another f.p. with this same design of lever.

    thanks to everyone for their contributions:-)

  6. sorry, meant to add …………… it’s an irony that as a male stenographer in the mid 1960, I never used a f.p. for Pitman’s shorthand !! – it was always an HB pencil, and some of the best writers did the same I recall.

  7. Further to the debate I have just received a pen similar/ the same? as the fourth pen and it is stamped Pitmans “Phono” on one side and Altura 760 on the other. Along with the very distinctive Watermans feeds found on other similar versions of this pen suggests that Altura produced pens for Pitmans around WW2 and that the contract was continued by Waterman’s after the war

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.