by Jim Mamoulides, June 8, 2002
The First Successful American Piston Filler
Conklin introduced the Nozac, for no sac, the first USA made twist or piston filling pen in 1931, two years after Pelikan introduced the first successful piston filler, the Pelikan 100, in Germany. The Nozac held the ink in a chamber in the top half of the barrel, with the bottom half containing the piston fill mechanism. The pen operates by twisting a cap on the barrel end to push the piston to the top end of the barrel, expelling any ink in the barrel, and fills by reverse twisting, using a vacuum to draw ink into the pen body. The piston is attached to a non-ending screw that twisting the end cap advances and retracts it. Conklin likened this filling method in advertising to winding a watch. Unlike the Pelikan twist fill mechanism, Nozac mechanisms have some reputation for being fragile and vintage Nozacs often will need servicing before being put into use.
A Collection of 1930s Conklin Streamline Pens
The Nozac followed the new streamlined Symetrik, introduced in 1930 in response to the successful Sheaffer Balance line, and was designed by Louis Vavrik. Conklin initially called all of their streamlined pens Symetriks, as part of the Endura line, and advertised them side by side with the flattop Endura pens. Once the line was quickly moved to all streamline pens, Conklin started calling the lever-fill pens Symetriks and the twist-fill pens Nozacs, although in practice, and on imprints, this rule was not always followed. Examples of early streamline Conklins can be found imprinted Endura Symetrik, Endura Symetrik Nozac and Nozac Symetrik as well as simply Symetrik and Nozac.
The earliest Nozac actually went by the name "Endura-Graph". An advertisement from 1931 is headlined, "Announcing The Conklin Endura-Graph...A New Type Of Fountain Pen." It shows a streamlined pen with the inlaid Crescent above the clip and has an inset illustration showing the turning knob, which works like "winding a watch." The use of the Endura name, as with the earliest Symetriks, was to tie the new streamline pens to the preceding top-of-the-line Endura flat top pens. A late 1930 advertisement shows streamline and non-streamline pens together, to make that point and tie the transition.
Conklin skated through the Depression on precarious financials, so getting product out the door was far more important than strict adherence to model standards. Throughout the 1930s, until the company was sold to a Chicago company in 1938, there was no consistent pattern by model in material use, imprints or design, so variations in detail have been noted across all pen lines. Lever fill pens marked Nozac and twist fill pens marked Symetrik have been documented. Although Im dating the Nozac through 1938, which was the last year of official production, its possible to find pens that may have been scraped together after Conklin was sold and even some imprinted Chicago. I have certainly seen Chicago Symetriks, which were no doubt made with Toledo parts.
A Broad Range Of Sizes And Styles
Over the life of the model as many as four different sizes were offered, with the most common being a standard size pen at 5 inches in length and an oversize. A "vest pocket" Nozac at about 4 1/2 inches was the smallest model. The pens were offered in a price range of US $6.00 to $10.00, competitive with other brands, and with very large matching pencils and were also offered as desk pens. Nozacs were advertised as having more ink capacity than competing brands. Early model Nozacs were round pens, like the Symetriks, and typically came fitted with the same Conklin Toledo nibs. Some early higher end Nozacs may be found with two-tone platinum masked nibs, an obvious play to compete with Sheaffer. Parker was sued by Sheaffer for offering a two-tone nib on the streamline Duofold and dropped it, Conklin, in a much worse cash position, may have dropped theirs to avoid costly legal defense.
Conklin Nozac Word Gauge Advertisement 1935
Conklin introduced the Word Gauge feature in 1932 to further differentiate the large ink capacity of their pens. By giving the user a visible ink supply and a gauge to read it by, an estimate could be made on how long the ink would continue to write before the pen needed to be refilled. Considering that competitive pens were using sacs and opaque barrels, and that visualated sections had not yet been introduced, this was a big selling point.
Conklin Nozac Word Gauge Pen with Three Cap Bands and Two-Tone Nib c1933
Word Gauge Nozacs have a completely clear upper half of the barrel marked in a scale to 5,000 (5M) or 7,000 (7M) words (each thousand marked with an M) indicating the number of words that the remaining ink could write. Caps have two or three narrow cap bands, and higher line pens have a gold crescent inlay, which in the earliest pens (possibly only 1931) will be above the clip and in later pens below the clip. The clip is spring loaded and similar to the earlier Endura clip. The 7M pen is the oversize Nozac, and the 5M is the standard size. Word Gauge pens came in black and marbled colors: green / black veined, red / black, and red / silver. Later Word Gauge pens also can be found with faceted caps and barrels with a single wide cap band with a bead at each edge, probably not earlier than 1935. Generally, twist fill caps are black on these pens.
Conklin Nozac Pen Line Green c1934
Conklin introduced its first faceted Nozac pen, later called the Pen Line, probably in 1934. The pen cap and barrel has fourteen facets, no Word Gauge, and a plain single wide cap band with a bead on each edge. The plastic cap and barrel is made from a laminate that has surprising depth, straight lines alternating plain and patterned bands in gold (or brown), gray, green, burgundy and black. The upper half of the barrel is windowed so the ink level can be seen. The twist fill cap on faceted pens usually matches the plastic of the body of the pen. By the time this pen was produced, Conklin had streamlined the clip, now engraved "Conklin".
Conklin introduced what many collectors consider the most striking models of the Nozac, the herringbone plastic Chevron and V-Line pens in late 1936 or early 1937. The Chevron was the top of the line Nozac with a twelve facet cap and body, in either of the larger 5M or 7M Word Gauge sizes. The Chevron pen has the windowed top half of the barrel, a single wide cap band with a chevron pattern, and came in bright colors: a red and silver combination, green, gray (almost a silver), and black herringbone laminate plastic. The red and silver Chevron pen is one of the most prized of all Nozacs.
The V-Line Nozac was the second-line pen behind the Chevron, and although the herringbone pattern is very similar to the Chevron, it is much more muted. The V-Line is a fourteen facet plastic body with no Word Gauge, plain single wide cap band with a bead on each edge (all like the Pen Line), and was made in blue, red, green, gray, and black, with black.
Conklin Nozac Green Stripe c1937
The "General Line" Nozac was a much plainer pen. These can be found with striped plastic windowed barrels, chrome trim and plain single wide cap bands. Window chambered pens were made with clear laminate strips running the length of the pen so the ink level could be seen, a similar construction to the laminate of the striped Parker Vacumatic. These are round pens and have black twist fill caps. I've seen these in red, brown and green stripes, with matching pencils, as well as matching Symetrik lever-fill pens.
Detail of Conklin Nozac Cushon Point Nib
Later model Nozacs typically came fitted with good writing Cushon Point 14 karat nibs, continuing Conklins play on spelling. These same nibs can be found on the first Chicago Conklin, the Glider, probably the last quality pen made with the Conklin brand.
A common criticism of Cushon Point pens is the nibs tend to be very wet and sometimes tend to buzz on paper, spraying ink on the paper. A good adjustment of the nib can correct this. Another common problem is the plastic of the faceted pens tends to lend itself to cap lip cracks.
A Conklin Green Stripe Collection: Nozac, Symetrik and Pencil c1937
Nozacs can be tricky to repair. The twist fill cap on many pens does not remove. The barrel and section are prone to cracking when the section is removed. Pens with see-through barrels tend to amber and can be tough to clean out. The twist fill mechanism is not as robust as Pelikan mechanisms from the same period, and if damaged, may not be repairable.
Nozacs are not commonplace pens. Compared to contemporary Sheaffer Balance or Parker Vacumatic pens, they are relatively rare. Of the models, the hardest to find will be the Chevron line, followed by the V-Line pens. Excellent to mint pens command heady prices, among the highest of all-plastic pens.
The Nozac was remade in a limited edition issue by the new Conklin Pen Company in 2000. The pen came in twelve faceted marbled blue / tortoise and red / blue with a modern "power-piston" filling system and an oversize vented 18 karat nib. The pen was offered in an edition of 898 in each color with the Conklin clip and cap band in sterling silver for US $750.00 or in an edition of 198 in each color with 18 karat gold clip and trim for US $1,450.
Of the Conklin Nozacs shown in this article, I chose the green Pen Line and the green striped "General Line" Nozacs to try out. Both pens are fitted with smooth and moderately flexible medium Cushon Point nibs. Each pen is about 5 1/4 inches long capped and 6 1/8 inches posted. They both post reasonably securely on the end of the barrel, but not tightly enough for vigorous writing. The spring loaded clip is a nice touch, working like a clothespin, and its position on the cap makes the pen ride high in the pocket.
Conklin Nozac Pen Line Green c1934
The pen takes more work to fill than a contemporary lever or vacumatic pen. Twist and twist until the plunger is at the top of the barrel, dip, and twist and twist until the pen slowly sucks up the ink. The windowed barrel gives a similar view to the ink as some later Sheaffer Vacuum-Fill pens, but you will find yourself holding the pen up to a bright light to check it. The Cushon Point nib inks the paper on contact with wet, smooth strokes, but they are both prone to a little chatter. One has been adjusted and stays calm most of the time. The other really wants to twang. Guess that one needs a trip.
The Pen Line pen's plastic is really attractive and has great depth. Light bounces off the facets in interesting ways. If this pen was a brighter color it would sparkle. The gold plating and detailing of the pen is first rate. It's not overly heavy nor light. It feels worth its price. The green stripe Nozac is definitely duller and must be made from a cheaper plastic. I've seen a number of these and they are prone to fade. Even a good polishing yields a fairly dull pen. The trim is bright, but doesn't say much. This is obviously the lower line model.
Given that Nozacs in general aren't plentiful, I can't say run out an buy the General Line pens like the green stripe one here. They just aren't as nice as any other version of the Nozac. Of the faceted pens, the Pen Line is probably the easiest to find and price out similar to Sheaffer PFM IIIs. Word Gauge Nozacs mostly show up in green marble that almost has a "camouflage" or leaf look. An acquired taste for me! The V-Line pens are pricey and have the same high quality look and feel as the Pen Line for substantially more money. Save your pennies for a Chevron pen. They compete with some of the most expensive plastic pens.
Nozacs are going to present some problems unless you buy one already restored. Beware the non-working piston filler. If it doesn't turn at all or doesn't advance, you may be in for an expensive repair or it may not be repairable. Make sure you know who to send it to before you run out an pluck one from eBay. The clips can have the classic Conklin spring corrosion problem. If it's sprung, it may be a problem to fix. Watch for cracks in the cap lip. For that matter, be careful posting the cap. The nib may need some adjustment or smoothing to write well.
With all those negatives, don't despair! A restored, well adjusted Nozac is a great writer. They hold a lot of ink and the faceted pens feel great in the hand. If your budget is limited, try to find a restored user grade pen and have fun with it!