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Fountain Pens During Its Heyday

fountain pen vintage

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49 replies to this topic

#1 Vunter

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 05:23

I've been watching some goulet Q&A videos and there are usually fun questions people ask.  It got me thinking about fountain pens during it's heyday, what brands did the average person seek out and also what would the typical person pay for said pen.  My knowledge on vintage pens is pretty limited so forgive me for being slightly naive on the subject.  I had originally thought the parker 51 was an "affordable" pen, but if it was sold between $10usd - $15usd and factoring inflation that would translate to around $175usd.  So I now tend to think then the parker 51 would have been a luxury purchase.  When fountain pens were the primary tool for writing I can't imagine the average person would have spent that much especially during a time when they were so readily available.  Or maybe the average person would have spent that much money on a pen in the same way today we spend hundreds of dollars on cellphones which I would argue is our primary tool. 

 

Forgive me if I'm making all sorts of sweeping conclusions.  I'm more or less curious what widely available fountain pens would cost back during their heyday and I'm also curious if there would have been hundreds and hundreds of brands. Also do you think people had many pens or do you think they had one reliable pen.  Even further do you think there were so many pens laying around that they would write with whatever is closest to them? 


Edited by Vunter, 01 February 2020 - 05:24.


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#2 pajaro

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 05:58

You are not too far off.  In the nineteen fifties and sixties my mother bought us Sheaffer school translucent cartridge pens, an ubiquitous writing tool of the times.  Grown ups might have had something a little better, say up to four or five dollars value.  Parker 51s and comparably expensive pens were a cut above, gift items or special occasion gift items.  Pens with sterling or gold caps were for the well to do, as were precious metal pens. 


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#3 Old Salt

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 07:23

Thought you might Get a kick out of this.  A brand new pen and pencil set with price tag.  This set is a P51 special (hoop style filler) with unobainium nib.  I date it between 1956-1960.  The price tag indicates $10. For the pen and $5 for the pencil.

 

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#4 Old Salt

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 07:29

The Parker 21 was a less expensive option.  I had a 21 in middle school which kept my fingers permanently ink stained.  But i loved that pen.   



#5 corniche

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 07:46

Hi Vunter,

FWIW, in the 1950's, Sheaffer offered a wide range of models ranging from around $3.95 to $35, (school pens were less).


Sean :)
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#6 The Blue Knight

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 07:53

Thought you might Get a kick out of this.  A brand new pen and pencil set with price tag.  This set is a P51 special (hoop style filler) with unobainium nib.  I date it between 1956-1960.  The price tag indicates $10. For the pen and $5 for the pencil.

 

 

What's a hoop style filler....



#7 corniche

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 08:35

 
What's a hoop style filler....


Hi Blue Knight,

Since it looks like Old Salt retired for the night; I'll tell you. :) Its a version of the aerometric filler where the pressure bar was exposed and wrapped around the bottom of the unit. It was seen on Demis, Specials and very early standard models.

Later standard models came with the enclosed aerometric filler that featured the black plastic cap on the end.

Hope this helps.


Sean :)
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#8 Old Salt

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 09:05

The P51 special had the same plyglass sac that was operated by squeezing the two sides of the metal hoop.  Works just fine.  Just not as fancy as the original  Mk l & mk ll with protective metal sac protector all around it, and gold nib.

Both styles are excellent writing pens.  The special can be had for a little less than a MK l or ll.

English P51’s continued on into the 60’s with the standard metal sac protector.  

The New Durofold made in New haven, England  was later produced exclusively with hoop style fillers. 

Unfortunately there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to the Parker 51 and New Duofold.  The pens were made in the US, Canada, Argentina, England and Norway under license.  They all put they’re own twist on the pens.  Sometimes different colors, nibs, date marks, and other things that make it difficult to date some of these. But, you can get close.  They’re all good.  Great dependable writers. The last couple years, I’ve been on the hunt for the Newhaven Duofold like the Burgundy one below.

 

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#9 Old Salt

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 09:20

Sorry for the delay.  Took me forever to put those pics together.😗. Here are a couple sites to start with if you’re interested in Parker Pens. 

http://parkerpens.net/

http://www.richardspens.com/

Ok, now i am going to bed.  Catch you guys tomorrow.

 



#10 Karmachanic

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 10:52

Thought you might Get a kick out of this.  A brand new pen and pencil set with price tag.  This set is a P51 special (hoop style filler) with unobainium nib.  I date it between 1956-1960.  The price tag indicates $10. For the pen and $5 for the pencil.

 

$131.00 today

https://www.dollarti...nt=15&year=1960


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#11 Estycollector

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 11:03

I've been watching some goulet Q&A videos and there are usually fun questions people ask.  It got me thinking about fountain pens during it's heyday, what brands did the average person seek out and also what would the typical person pay for said pen.  My knowledge on vintage pens is pretty limited so forgive me for being slightly naive on the subject.  I had originally thought the parker 51 was an "affordable" pen, but if it was sold between $10usd - $15usd and factoring inflation that would translate to around $175usd.  So I now tend to think then the parker 51 would have been a luxury purchase.  When fountain pens were the primary tool for writing I can't imagine the average person would have spent that much especially during a time when they were so readily available.  Or maybe the average person would have spent that much money on a pen in the same way today we spend hundreds of dollars on cellphones which I would argue is our primary tool. 

 

Forgive me if I'm making all sorts of sweeping conclusions.  I'm more or less curious what widely available fountain pens would cost back during their heyday and I'm also curious if there would have been hundreds and hundreds of brands. Also do you think people had many pens or do you think they had one reliable pen.  Even further do you think there were so many pens laying around that they would write with whatever is closest to them? 

 

I do think the ability to change out a nib according to the task at hand made Esterbrook a popular choice. The 1930's "dollar" pen, that sold for $1.50 I have read, made them affordable to most or many. http://www.esterbrook.net/bah.shtml

 

Sheaffer sought to tap into this market with their WASP Addipoint pen. http://richardspens....s/addipoint.htm

 

From recent post by those have forgotten more than I will ever know, Esterbrook was primarily a nib company. http://www.esterbrook.net/nibs.shtml

 

There may have been more companies that provided many nib offerings that I am not aware. 



#12 Addertooth

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 13:00

A fair comparison for that era would be watches.  The prices for pens varied from "everyman" market pens, which could be picked up for a buck to a buck and a half, to luxury items which were quite expensive. 

Much like how a three-piece suit was not complete without a pocket watch, a Pen was considered a normal part of the image as well.

In the early day of fountain pens, the typewriter had not yet been invented, and pretty much the only other option to send a unique message on paper was a pencil.

Printing presses certainly existed, but they were for sending the same message to hundreds or thousands of people.  You would not use a printing press to send a message to grandma.

Phones were not (yet) everywhere, so the written word was how many people kept in touch.  My Grandfather who lived in a rural area, did not get a "party line" phone until the mid 1960s.

 

This made fountain pens a functional and important daily item in the lives of the consumer.  This made penmanship equally important.  Think of all the handwritten letters from WW1 and WW2 which were written.  For the soldier, he could not find a working phone, and the typewriter which did exist in WW2 was impractical to carry around.  His pen was his line for communications.  An explosion of pens were purchased for soldiers of those era, which gave them the ability to communicate back home, and re-assure his parents or wife that he was still alive.  

 

Things did not really start to change until actual working ballpoint pens came into the market, and phones in every home became the norm (starting in the 1950s).

 

For the original poster, I suggest he Google the advertisements for all the brand of pens (example: "waterman ads"), many of which included the price for their pens.  

Those old ads are a picture window into both the pens, and society of that era.  They show the accepted role for men, women, and children of their era as well. 


Edited by Addertooth, 01 February 2020 - 13:03.


#13 hbdk

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 13:02

There were no fountain pens in my home when I was a kid in the 60'ies - my parents were rather trendy and fountain pens were old school ;)

 

On the desk of my mother's boss (he was the county auditor) was a black FP - in use daily - most likely a Parker Victory.

 

My grandfather (who passed away 1964) used dip pens - a fountain pen would have been an unnecessary luxury. I have a faint recollection of his desk with 2 dip pens and 2 ink wells. His rocker blotter is on my desk and in frequent use.

 

My girlfriend's grandfather, in spite of being a CEO, used a simple Parker 17 for many years. He would later get a Montblanc FP and pencil set, but it was most likely a gift for a round birthday or anniversary.


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#14 Parker51

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 14:41

The typewriter was invented in 1843. The qwerty keyboard was introduced in 1878. Mark Twain in the 1870s used a typewriter and later became an endorser of the Conklin Fountain Pen.
The fountain pen was invented in 1827, but the first practical one was invented in 1884 by Waterman.
Typewriters, even portable ones were a common device by both WW1 and WW2, but not practical for a soldier to carry. Company clerks used them in the militaries of the technologically advanced combatants. There are photographs of large numbers of typists working for militaries during this period. When away from the front a soldier who knew how to type might have been able to access a typewriter, possibly the same for a sailor on a ship.
Telephones were invented in 1876. They were extensively used by technologically advanced militaries both in WW1 and WW2. By WW2 they were common enough that long distance calls by soldiers not at the front could occasionally made to there homes, but such calls were rare. There was a long distance call center set up in NYC by Bell Telephone to facilitate this for soldiers and sailors on leave. Telegrams were a bit more common, but also rare, due to their high cost. Letters were most common and were written in pen or pencil. Special ink was made so that letters could be microfilmed and the microfilm could be sent by courier to and from the front, ship, or military facility. Letters that arrived either at home or the front, or on the ship often would,actually be photographic prints of microfilm.
Yes, in the early days of fountain pens typewriters were not invented, but fountain pens were also not used in the early days, dip pens were. Steel dip pens in holders were the common writing tool, or pencils. Even after Fountain Pens were invented and eventually became practical and eventually cheaper copies were made, Pencils were more commonly used, both mechanical pencils and wood pencils. As early as the US Civil War Pencils were the tool of choice, with as example Abraham Lincoln having wrote the Gettysburg Address with a pencil. Fountain Pens only became common in the years before WW1.
In regard to when phones became common in homes, that varied by Country as well as within each country, but irrespective of that, long distance calls were expensive up until only a couple of decades ago. 40 years ago they were expensive enough that I wrote letters rather than made calls and I had a phone in my dorm room, which was a new thing. Before the 70s there was typically one phone on a dorm floor and in the 30s through early 50s a few in a phone bank near the entrance of the dorms near the check in desks,
In regard to common phones in houses, I would date that to the 1920s in the non-rural parts of the US. It was not so much a lack of technology rather a lack of money to lease said technology, yes, lease it as it was not for sale in the US initially, only leasing.

Edited by Parker51, 01 February 2020 - 14:49.


#15 Bibliophage

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 22:20

To put things in perspective, from the 30's through the 50's, there was less 'stuff' out there to buy.   Food, clothes, shelter, and entertainment.   Watches were classified as clothing, pens were clothing or entertainment.  

 

My mother bought a very expensive cartridge pen in the 1950's, because she was working as a stenographer and wanted something tha would last.  (Sheaffer gold plated, Targa, maybe?)  She then went on to use that pen for 20 some years of active work. 

 

So, you'd buy a cheap pen if you knew that you had a higher risk of losing it, or you had a very tight budget.  If you knew it was going to be used heavily, you'd get a more durable, expensive one.  At least at that point, the money costs with pens (and watches) were pretty much spot on between cost and value for money.    It wasn't until the 70's that we starting having more junk to buy, and it exploded by the 90's. 



#16 corniche

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 22:53

My mother bought a very expensive cartridge pen in the 1950's, because she was working as a stenographer and wanted something tha would last.  (Sheaffer gold plated, Targa, maybe?)  She then went on to use that pen for 20 some years of active work.


Hi Bibliophage,

Could not have been a Targa; that wasn't released until 1975. A gold Sheaffer cartridge pen from the 1950's is definitely a curiosity; I'm gonna check that out. Thanks for the riddle. :D

Sean :)
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#17 corniche

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Posted 01 February 2020 - 23:02

Perhaps the Lady Sheaffer, (that was a c/c pen);introduced in 1959; next to the PFM. Offered in gold filled designs ranging in price from $10-15.
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#18 sandy101

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Posted 02 February 2020 - 00:01

My grandparents had one fountain pen - a Parker Victory - which my grandfather probably got when he was stationed in Newhaven during WW2.

 

However, most of their surviving informal correspondance seemed to have been written in pencil. Fountain pen was reserved for signatures and formal documents. 

 

When ballpoints came along, pencil and biro seemed to be used in equal measure, and hte fountain pen was relegated to the drawer (the rubber sac was a goner when I found it).



#19 Parker51

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Posted 02 February 2020 - 01:33

To expand on what was said about consumer goods, but in a different direction, I have a 1939 Sears Catalog and it is full of wonderful consumer goods, so there was plenty to buy. What there wasn't was the money to buy them.
What seems lost in history is how poor even middle class people were in even wealthy nations in the first half of the twentieth century. Part of it was due to large families, but part of it was due to low wages.

This changed however. I remember my grandfather who was,born in 1917 saying he never thought he could afford to live in a house like he was able to buy in 1970 for $29,900, a large home on an acre in the suburbs. He sold a modest house in the Country for $17,000 that was paid for in order to buy the big ranch house. Two years later he bought a bigger cottage on a lake to replace the one he had purchased in the 1950s which was too small for the family. This is where my mother currently lives.

He was well paid, but not overly well paid as a part of the management of a modest newspaper. He owned and gave to me five Fountain Pens, four of which had been given to him as special presents (two were still stickered). He only ever used one of them, a Parker Vacumatic, never having replaced it, with the others dating back to the twenties and early thirties (a gold filled lucky curve being the oldest).



His pay went up as he was promoted, but also as the wages of the unionized workforce that he supervised. He started out as a young man of limited means who's father was a milkman living in a cramped house over lowing with siblings, with no automobile in the household, only the horse that pulled the milk wagon, to a married father of one, a veteran of WW 2, a home owner, life long Chrysler owner, cottage owner and ended up a retired suburbanite.

So, when you look at old pens, think of the former owners. If you have one in excellent condition, it was likely due to it being a present and having been stored as the owner used one other pen, carefully, saving it for the future.

And, for those who couldn't afford a high end pen, nor weren't given one, there were second and third tier pens, most of which did not survive as they were used, not saved, especially the very low end ones.

#20 Vunter

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Posted 02 February 2020 - 02:25

I appreciate everyone chiming in on their family histories and sharing this knowledge. I find these sort of discussions super interesting





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