Fountain pens as we know them were first introduced in 1884 by the L. E. Waterman Pen Company in New York. These first fountain pens were designed to continuously feed the ink via a channel to the nib – rather than the antiquated way of dipping the nib into an ink well. These first pens were a huge success and were produced in not only hard rubber but also silver and gold.
Today, collecting fountain pens is one of the top collectibles. However, rather than trying to collect every pen made, most collectors have chosen to focus on one manufacturer or one style of pen. And with the major fountain pen manufacturers having produced more than one million pens a year between 1910 to the 1940’s, there are a lot of pens to choose from.
L.E. Waterman (1884 – Present)
With Waterman being the premier fountain pen manufacturer (in our opinion), it’s not hard to understand why that in the very early 1900’s they were selling over one thousand pens a day. They continued to expand their market by introducing plastic pens in 1928-38 (the Patrician) and a ‘large men’s pen’. The ‘large men’s pen’ is one of the most highly sought after – and the hardest to find.
Waterman used various numbering systems to describe their pens. There is not enough space here to go into this, however, if you want to learn more about this system you can purchase Illustrated Guide to Antique Writing Instruments .
The Waterman Company also devised nine (9) different ways ¹ to make filling the pen with ink easier and cleaner. These methods were:
- Eyedropper Filler (1884-1928)
- Pump Filling No. 1 (1899)
- Pump Filling No. 2 (1903-1926)
- Safety Pen (1907-1940’s)
- Sleeve Filler (1910-1915)
- Coin Filler (1913-1914)
- Lever Filler (1915-1955)
- Cartridge Filler (1936-Present)
- Ink-Vue-Filler (1935-1940)
Parker Pen Company (1888-Present)
This pen company did not see a steady increase in sales until 1898 when the development of the ‘Lucky Curve’ pen (so named because the ink feed was curved against the side of the barrel channeling ink back into the reservoir) was developed and widely advertised. The introduction of the Duofold pen in late 1921 – guaranteed for 25 years – also added to the company’s success. The orange lacquer colored ‘Big Red’ Duofold pen was a change from the traditional ‘big men’s’ black pen and as such was an instant success.
Parker is known for its plastic pens (late 1926) called Permanite. New colors were for the plastic Duofolds were debuted. The eight colors used are listed below with the year they were introduced in parentheses.
- Orange (1921)
- Black (1922)
- Green jade (1926)
- Lapis Blue & Mandrin Yellow (1927)
- Moderne Black & Pearl (1928)
- Moderne Green & Pearl (1930)
- Burgundy Red & Black (1930)
Other colors you may find are Sea Green Pearl Marble, Chocolate Pearl marble and Red Pearl marble. Production of the Duofolds was stopped in 1932.
The Parker Pen Company continued to produce the aforementioned pens and in 1933 introduced the Vacuum Filler pen (Vacumatic). This pen remained in production from 1933 until 1948. This was followed by the Parker 51 introduced in 1941. This pen is known for changing the look and style of all fountain pens to come resulting in Parker Pen Company achieving production of over a million pens a year beginning in 1946.
Other Pen Companies
Other pen companies – some more notable than others – were produced by the following companies. In addition to their dates of production being given in parentheses, we’ve bolded the companies whose pens are more highly sought after.
- Sheaffer Pen Company (1913 – Present)
- Wahl-Eversharp Pen Company (1914 – 1957)
- Swan Pen: Mabie Todd & Co. (1843-1939)
- Montblanc (1908-Present)
- Crocker Pen (1902-1931)
- Chilton Pen (1923-1941)
- Eagle Pencil (and Pen) Company (1860-Present)
- Conklin Pen Company (1898-1947)
- The Moore Pen Company (1896-19560
- The American Fountain Pen Co. (1899-1917)
- A.A. Waterman Pen Co (1897-1920)
- John Holland Pen Co. (1841-1950)
- Dunn Pen Company (1921-1924)
- Houston Pen Company (1911-1924)
- The Lincoln Pen Co. (1895-1906)
- Carter Pen Co. (1926-1931)
- Aikin Lambert Pen co (1864-1932)
- Paul E. Wirt Fountain Pen Co. (1878-1930)
And of course, there were numerous smaller companies who manufactured fountain pens to be sold through catalogues or regionally. You’ll find these do not have the demand or the quality of those manufactured by the larger pen companies.
How to Value a Fountain Pen
When buying fountain pens there are several things to consider. These are:
Overall Condition – This is the most important consideration. You do not want to purchase a damaged pen unless you want it for parts. Look for damage to the cap, barrel, and nib. Damage such as this can result in losing up to 75% of the pen’s value.
Working Condition – Buy in working condition if possible. While pens can be cleaned and returned to working order, most collectors would opt out of this since it is possible the pen may be broken or damaged during the process.
Color – A colored pen is typically worth more than a black pen. However, check the color for quality. Color should be crisp and rich with no bleeding of colors when more than one color is used. And, you do not want a pen where the ink has leaked and stained the barrel.
Size – Most collectors are interested in the larger pens, while lady’s pens have remained less desirable.
Pen Sizes for closed pens:
Standard: 5-1/4′ (13.4 cm) to 5-1/2″ (14cm)
Men’s: Over 5-1/2″ (14cm)
Original Parts – when buying fountain pens you want one that is original to maintain the value. This is very important when buying Parker Duofolds as there are different variations to production years – and some pen stores would change the nibs and feeds out when making repairs.
Rightly so, fountain pen collectors are some of the most discriminating buyers due to the fact that they want the best quality, original parts (including case if available), and are willing to pay for what they want. If you are just starting out collecting fountain pens consider buying the best fountain pen your budget will allow. However, remember a damaged or pieced together pen where parts are not original will not increase in value, so you may be better off to wait until you find exactly what you want and can afford.
(1) The Illustrated Guide to Antique Writing Instruments by Stuart Schneider & George Fischler