PenHero 365: Empex Aqua Pen

by Jim Mamoulides, January 4, 2010

Empex Aqua Pen
Empex Aqua Pen fountain pen showing nib and cap detail

I like pens with interesting filling systems. Whenever I am out pen hunting, I will scoop up anything that has something other than a lever or cartridge fill system. It doesn't matter that many of these finds fall into the cheapie category. If it's off the beaten path, I'll snag it.

Empex Aqua Pen
Empex Aqua Pen fountain pen

This blue Empex Aqua Pen was in a cigar box in the upstairs of an antique shop in Maine. The box was full of cheapies, including a slew of Wearever Pennants. When I first noticed this one, the cheaply plated gold cap with radial lines and soft injection molded plastic barrel made me think it was a Sheaffer Fineline, and I already have plenty of them and I hate their cheap plating that goes foxy weird at the drop of a hat. I started to set it down but noticed the gold button on the end of the barrel, so I gave it a closer look. The clip said, "Aqua Pen." I pulled the cap off and saw a cheap plated semi hooded nib. Unscrewing the barrel revealed only a nipple on the end of the section. Nothing was inside. I almost left it there thinking it was a cheap cartridge pen, but the name bugged me. What the heck is an Aqua Pen? I decided to buy it.

Empex Aqua Pen
Empex Aqua Pen fountain pen

The blue Aqua Pen stayed in the cheap pen cases I use for "to be repaired" pens for a couple of years before I looked at it again. I try to organize these by brand and type periodically, as I send many of them off to be fixed, so I need to know which pens are up for the next round of trips to the pen spa. I pulled it out, looked it over carefully and decided to do a little research.

Empex Aqua Pen
Empex Aqua Pen fountain pen with barrel removed showing ink sac

Turns out the the Aqua Pen was a rip off of the c1959 Italian LUS Atomica Magica, a pen that used ink pellets and a special plunger type removable converter to mix them with water drawn into the pen. The LUS Atomica Magica was marketed as, "You fill it with water, it writes with ink!," and could also be used with cartridges. The Aqua Pen originally came with a replaceable clear cylindrical cartridge unit similar to the Sheaffer Skrip cartridges, though with a metal end. The cartridge has a pellet of ink at the end opposite the opening and was filled by inserting the nib into water, squeezing water into the cartridge and mixing it with the ink pellet. A Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Gimbel's newspaper advertisement from 1961 announces the, "The Amazing New Aqua Pen . . . Just Fill It with Water and it Instantly Writes wIth Ink!" Coincidence? Further research indicates that the pen was marketed as the Empex Aqua Pen, and was made in New York by the Rohill Company.

Empex Aqua Pen
Empex Aqua Pen fountain pen nib detail

Since I didn't have any amazing ink cartridges, I slipped an ink sac over the section nipple and squeezed in some already mixed ink I have that comes in convenient bottles.

The Aqua Pen is small, slender and light by today's standards, the 0.5 ounce pen being 5 1/8 inches long with the cap on and 5 3/8 inches with the cap posted on the end of the barrel. The tiny steel nib and trim are 14 karat gold plated, and its a pretty cheap job, as the plating is worn off all over the pen.

Empex Aqua Pen
Empex Aqua Pen fountain pen nib detail, side view

The surprise is the very nice and wet writing medium STUB nib. This is a really nice writing pen. I have actually picked this one up and used it on many occasions after I put the sac on it. I'm not sure if I like it because it was such a surprisingly nice writing pen, or the fact that the nib turned out to be a stub, but I do like using it! I'm not sure how long it will last, as the nib appears to have no tipping material, but looks like the ends of the tines are folded over, creating a tip bulge that does the same job, but will not be as hard or as long lasting.

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