I find the history of Unique to be very opaque. I don’t really know when the company began making pens but by the 1930s – perhaps the 1920s – they were making black chased hard rubber pens of decent quality. They seem to have had considerable success in the 50s, judging by the number of pens around today but by the end of that decade it’s likely that they were feeling the pinch like the other fountain pen manufacturers.
Occasionally the clouds part and a brief glimmer of light gives us a view of Unique’s situation. This rather attractive red and black marbled pen was made in France. Perhaps it was cheaper to have the pens manufactured there than in the UK. It’s a well-made pen, machined from the rod rather than wrapped celluloid or the injection moulded plastic which was becoming ever more common at that time. At 12 cm capped it’s quite a small pen. It has a warranted English nib and the barrel is imprinted “Unique” and “Made in France.”
What is most interesting about this pen is that it is an accordion filler. The clear plastic plunger, when pressed, squeezes the concertina sac and when released ink is drawn up into the sac and the hollow plunger itself. A filling system related to the bulb filler, it is unique to France. It never caught on anywhere else. It is, I think, the most under-appreciated filling systems, being efficient, capacious and durable. These accordion sacs are made from some tough material, usually being perfectly usable today, nearly 60 years after they were made.
Unfortunately for Unique, this little pen didn’t catch on. Sales seem to have been poor and the pen is a rarity today.
Thanks to Peter G. for the photos and information.
13 thoughts on “An Accordion Filler Unique”
I believe this pen dates to around 1953 when Unique stopped their association with Union Pen (which had been their U.K. manufacturing arm up to that point). It was known as the “Mercury” and some of the pens carry this impression. It also retailed as a matching pen and pencil set for 20 shillings and 6d. It was most probably manufactured by Mallat and only for a couple of years . By 1955 Unique were moving towards the wholesale market and moulded plastic pens.
Thank you for the information, Peter.
Unique’s manufacturing facility was established around 1931/2. Prior to that they would have been produced by a third party, presumably the Union Pen Company being one of those. The relationship between Samuel Epstein, the Union Pen Company and Unique is still shrouded in mystery.
Unique didn’t stop their association with Union Pen but the ownership of Union Pen changed, becoming more directly controlled by Unique. Union Pen was listed as being at Raynes Park right up until the factory closed and Unique moved over the road
Thank you. You’ve filled in a lot of history for me.
Pilot of Japan also had a number of accordion fillers in the 60s. I have three and all the sacs were unusable. There’s a fellow in Taiwan who did (is doing?) a custom run of replacement sacs, but they’re not easy to get your hands on.
More information on Pilot filling systems can be found here: https://estilofilos.blogspot.com/2013/09/pilot-filling-systems-in-1960s.html
Thank you, Brian. All news to me!
Also accordion filler pens were produced on Soviet Union.
Thank you, Filip, I didn’t know that.
The background to the association between Samuel Epstein, Union Pen and Unique is detailed in my WES Journal article (November 110 Autumn 2017). Although non of the Epstein family were directors of Union Pen, all the directors of Union Pen were also directors of The Unique Pen Co. Ltd. In 1953 the surviving directors of Union Pen resigned from Unique following a dispute and they sold their shares in Unique to Samuel Epstein’s widow Rebecca. (The background to the dispute is detailed in Stephen Hull’s WES Journal Article No.88 Summer 2010). From that point Unique’s association with Union Pen was effectively severed and Unique started to source celluloid pens from France. In 1955 Peter Ralph Epstein (Samuel’s son) joined Unique and started to move the company away from retail and into the wholesale market with moulded plastic pens, pencils and ballpoints. Union Pen struggled on for a while but finally petitioned for winding up in 1959. Unique applied for voluntary winding up in 1984.
Very helpful, Peter. Thank you very much.
It is difficult to believe that Unique’s association with the Union Pen company was effectively severed in 1953 when they continued to sell Union produced pens up to 1955/6 (at least), shared accommodation and even their telephone number with them until Union was would up and Unique moved across the road to new premises
Stephen Hull was lucky enough to interview Peter Ralph Epstein back in 2010 and he wrote an interesting and informative article for the Wes Journal No. 88. In 1953 Unique turned down an order from F.W. Woolworth so that they could keep their regular retail customers supplied. Woolworth subsequently approached Union directly and offered to take their entire production at a higher price than Unique were paying. Union insisted on accepting the order but agreed to reserve limited production for Unique. The dispute resulted in the directors of Union being forced to sell their shares in Unique to Rebecca Epstein at face value. So although Unique continued to take some limited production from Union for a while longer the dispute meant that Unique proceeded to source its production elsewhere.
That’s an interesting piece of history.