Prints & Cards
by Jim Mamoulides 3/17/03 - Updated 7/4/05
The Pen For The Artist In You
It arrived in a bag of pens I bought. A six and three quarter inch stick with a big squeeze bulb on one end and a bright red, silver ringed cap on the other. A huge clothespin clip near the bulb, which I guess meant that was the "top" and the red end cap covered the "business end" of the pen. What exactly is this thing?
The barrel is metal, as is the cap, and is stamped, "VAPORITE BRUSH PEN - MLPS MINN", clearly indicating that something very odd was going on in the cold winters of the northern heartland.
I can honestly say that I did quite a bit of searching and reading trying to find out about this strange beastie, to no avail. The small snippets of box and photos of a very few examples, including a jar of ink indicate that the Vaporite Brush Pen, likely made by Time Saving Specialties of Minneapolis, Minnesota, if the ink bottle is any indication, was intended as a kind of early refillable felt tip, a more crude design than the much better Esterbrook Flo-Master refillable felt tip marker, which Esterbrook acquired in 1953 as part of their purchase of Cushman & Denison. The Flo-Master, introduced it in 1951, also had easily exchanged replacement tips in multiple sizes.
A Pen For John Henry, Not John Hancock
Unscrewing the cap reveals a brass cone with fiber protruding from the center, the "brush" part, I surmised. The cone screws in and out giving some mild variation to the thickness of the fiber brush, evidently allowing for some adjustment of the width of the line the pen can write. In practice, there's not wide range of adjustment, basically really broad to really, really broad.
The Vaporite Brush Pen is a "classic" bulb filler, though certainly not in a way one would usually expect, where the bulb is usually not external nor part of the design statement. The bulb is quite rigid, obviously made so as to not be easily depressed and accidentally spill ink. This is a very heavy-duty pen, made for writing really big, bold statements.
The Vaporite Brush Pen is quite easy to fill and use. One subtle difference in use between it and other fountain pens is that the instructions explicitly tell the user to fully expel all excess ink from the pen after filling. The brush will hold a large amount of ink, but it may bleed if excessively wet. I didn't notice this in using the pen, but considering the wick action of the brush, it makes sense.
I don't see these in stores today, so my guess is the felt tip eventually pushed aside this behemoth of a pen. It may have been made anywhere from the 1920s to the 1950s, but I would call it successful only in the sense of practicality. I've only ever seen three, and they were all like this one. My guess is that these were passed over and tossed, like many of the early ballpoints from the 1940s. If research or readers turn up more information, I'll update and demystify this pen.
Felt Magic Inside!
Ron Tucker contacted me because he found one of these funky pens and wanted to know, "Have you established any kind of value for this pen?" He was interested in the pen and also in its design and functionality, but the pen he had found was missing the bulb. During our email conversation, he related some interesting information about the inner workings of the pen, and how it stores and feeds ink.
Ron put "a drinking straw into the upper hole, ( a tight fit ) [and] a felt piece of absorbent material came out. This is the ink holder. It is split lengthwise and 3-4" long. . . . The gray piece of felt is 3/8" x 4' in length, and about 1/16" thick, curled like a burrito to fit snugly inside the barrel." Ron's discovery shows that the barrel is not just a big hollow vessel as in an early eyedropper, but that the Vaporite designer wanted to have flow control of the ink and had decided that a long barrel-length wick would serve as the perfect feed to the felt tip, and also keep it wet when not in use.
Great detective work, Ron!
Durable is the word that came to mind when I was trying to think of a way to describe the construction of the Vaporite Brush Pen. It's heavy-duty, without being heavy. It looks more like a tire gauge than a pen. Certainly something a mechanic could carry and not be able to beat up badly, though what is that mechanic going to write on? Tires? It simply does not compare to anything else I have. I once owned an all-chrome plated Esterbrook felt tip that seemed to have the same design intent, but was much more "pen-like" than this tool.
It's very long at 6 3/4" inches capped. Posting is out, considering the bulb constitutes the end of the barrel. Just put the cap in your pocket while you make like Zorro. If you decide to holster this thing, it actually sits fairly low in a deep pocket because the metal clothespin clip is very high on the end of the barrel. Once seated, you could go to a limbo marathon, lose all your change and other pens, but this one's not going anywhere until you tell it to.
It fills very easily. Remove the cap, dip the brush in ink, and squeeze the bulb several times and wipe. There's no way to know how full the barrel gets, but flushing jets out a lot of liquid.
There is nothing in your pen case that can beat the Vaporite Brush Pen for line width. Think pre-school Crayon size lines and you're thinking too small. Astronauts will be able to read your mail. From space.
How does it write? Smooth? Well, that's really hard to say. Squishy might be better.
Will the Vaporite Brush Pen sneak into your rotation and become your everyday user? Maybe if you're Akebono. The pen does what it was made to do - write really big letters and stuff, and that's the extent of its ability. The pen world's blunt instrument. If huge is your passion, this is your pen!
Thanks to Ron Tucker for reporting on the inner workings of the Vaporite Brush pen. Thanks to Andy Evans of Andy's Pens for supplying the instruction sheet.
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Last Update 7/4/05