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Art Deco Metal Pens 1921-1929
by Jim Mamoulides 6/16/02 - Updated 1/12/04
Wahl Enters the Fountain Pen Business
Having had great success with its Eversharp mechanical pencil business, acquired in 1915, the Wahl Adding Machine Company began to consider entering the very crowded fountain pen market. Parker, Sheaffer and Conklin were the leaders in the self-filling pen business, which was still a developing market with many players, and was less than twenty years old. The move into fountain pens was probably a natural one for Wahl, considering that the Eversharp pencil was so popular that the public began to refer to mechanical pencils in general as "Eversharps". Certainly the Wahl company could capitalize on this to launch a self-filling pen business.
Instead of developing a pen in-house, Wahl took the same approach to the fountain pen market that proved successful with the Eversharp purchase to enter the mechanical pencil business: acquisition and assimilation. Wahl sought to purchase an established high quality manufacturer and in 1917 bought the Boston Fountain Pen Company. In so doing, Wahl bought established patents in filler, feed and clip design that enabled them to enter the market immediately using the Tempoint brand name.
The Introduction of the Wahl Pen
With the Eversharp and Tempoint brands, Wahl quickly broke into the top tier of writing instrument manufacturers. By 1921, Wahl had decided to re-brand under its company name and launched the Wahl Pen, as well as emphasize the Wahl name with the flagship Eversharp pencil brand. Advertisements from the early 1920s strongly emphasize the Eversharp brand, as the pencils outsold the pens nearly ten to one. Many of the earliest advertisements would have tag lines like "Eversharp, Matched by Wahl Pen" (1922) and "The New Eversharp and Wahl Pen" (1925). Much of the advertisement copy from 1921 through 1926 led with description and advantages of the Eversharp pencil, its jewelry quality construction and appointments, and its mechanical superiority to other brands, with the pen following as the ideal "companion".
Probably in order to protect the Eversharp brand, advertisements in the mid 1920s began to emphasize the Wahl name, with "Wahl Eversharp", often with Eversharp in larger and all-capitalized letters, becoming the common logo. By 1927, advertisements began to say "Wahl - Eversharp Pens and Pencils", finally a move to bring the Eversharp brand over all Wahl writing instruments and strengthening the pen brand with the household name of the pencil. Eventually, by the 1930s, the Wahl name itself would be de-emphasized and only the Eversharp name, the strongest brand would be used.
The Wahl Art Deco Pens
The first of the Wahl self-filling pens, introduced in 1921, were of all metal construction, rather than metal overlaid onto hard rubber as with many competitive pens. In some advertisements, Wahl even called out the pen as the "Wahl All Metal Fountain Pen." Wahl had a lot of experience with mass production manufacturing making metal pencils with the Eversharp line and this experience, along with the knowledge acquired with the Boston Fountain Pen Company would prove a good combination. Wahl advertised the advantages of its metal pens as more lightweight and yet stronger, even "wear proof" and "unbreakable", than typical competitive hard rubber overlay pens, and having greater ink capacity, as the sac could be larger given the extra space inside the thin walled metal barrel.
Wahl Eversharp pens from all periods are noted for having exceptionally smooth nibs, and this must have been a selling point as many advertisements claim "an Ivory-smooth point."
The pens, like the pencil, were offered in a number of highly decorated styles, which was very popular in the 1920s. Most of the patterns are cut into the metal with an engraving machine, or "engine turned" as catalog and advertisement text states. All patterns had a blank space, or cartouche, for personalized engraving. Many examples found today are jeweler engraved.
Wahl offered the pens in choices of gold-fill, sterling silver, solid gold and combinations. Early pens and pencil sets were packaged in a gift box that had the Wahl name or "Wahl Products" and Eversharp and Wahl Pen on and inside the box, drawing a distinction between the pen and pencil. Pencils, called "Eversharps" in early advertisements, were offered for US $1.00 to $45.00 and Wahl Pens were offered for US $5.00 to $55.00, with matching sets from US $6.50 to $100.00, depending on finish and material.
The pens were made in a number of numbered sizes, with #6 being the largest clip pen. Later the model sizes appear listed as simply "short", "medium", and "long". Smaller ladies ringtop pens were also made. In the 1929 catalog two ladies sizes are shown, a "short" model and a "midget" model. Example prices from 1929 for gold filled pens, by model, include: US $8.00 for the "long" clip pen, US $6.00 for the "short" ladies' model ringtop pen, and US $5.00 for the "midget" ladies' model ringtop pen. By 1929, the all metal pens were offered with the new Personal Point Interchangeable nib system.
Wahl also made hard rubber pens alongside their all metal pens, and offered some of the same patterns, chased into the hard rubber, including the Grecian Border and Chevron patterns, which translate well. Wahl was late to the plastic pen age. When Sheaffer and Parker began to introduce plastic pens in the mid 1920s, Wahl stuck with hard rubber, holding out until 1929, with the introduction of the Personal Point line.
There simply is nothing like picking up a vintage art deco pen. The ornate detailing in the metal will have you turning the pen in your hand and running your fingers along the cap and barrel. What's also striking is comparing one of these to a hand engraved pen from a few years earlier. These are finely made, but machine made, manufactured pens. One sees a lot of similarities in the modern Yard-O-Led pens, which look like they never left this era, or in the Montegrappa all-sterling silver pens, such as the Eleganza. What's different is how lightweight the Wahl pens are.
The four pens that I reviewed are rather normal sized closed and surprisingly large when posted. The largest, the #6 Grecian Border pattern, is 5 1/8 inches long capped, but an amazing 6 3/4 inches posted. The #6 is the largest of the Wahl pens. The #4 Console is 5 inches long capped, and 6 1/2 inches posted. The ladies ringtop pens are both about 3 5/8 inches long capped, and nearly double to 5 1/8 inches posted. The caps on all the pens post very firmly on the end of the barrels, but not particularly deep, which explains the added length posted.
I dip tested the #4 Console and the Colonnade ladies ringtop pens for writing tests. Both of these pens have medium / broad nibs with the classic Wahl smoothness and both are quite flexible. One can write with a lot of flair and expression with these pens, and I must admit that the decoration of each makes me want to do signatures!
All of the pens have short levers with a round tab, which facilitates easy filling. The front mounted clips have a good amount of spring and grip, and are mounted low enough on the cap where the pen will poke its head out of your pocket. The ringtops are so tiny that I can see how they are intended as a pendant jewelry item that also happens to write.
These are really fine examples with few problems, but one should be aware that thin metal pens from this period have a propensity to arrive with dings. The gold fill tends to hold up well, but the weak spots for brassing problems are going to be where metal rubs metal, especially the base of the barrel where the cap posts and the base of the cap itself.
All of these pens are wonderfully detailed and show a high quality of manufacture and finishing. These were and are very well made pens.
Surprisingly, in my experience, Wahl all-metal pens from the 1920s tend to be less expensive than one might expect, less even than some competitive plastic pens. Perhaps the difference is these pens are more abundant, or were more "mass produced", or are simply less in demand. I don't know. I can say that they are extremely attractive, well made, and all proved to be excellent writers. Being lever fillers they should be restorable, and lacking rubber cores, they avoid problems common with overlays. Sitting down and writing with a beautiful Art Deco pen is a rare pleasure and should be savored. I did.
Thanks to Scott Miller For additional pen photos..
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Last Update 8/23/04