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In 1935, a very bad year to start a company, Joseph Wustman started the Camel Pen Company to produce pens that made their own ink when you filled them with water. At the back end of the barrel, built into the button filling mechanism, was a replaceable cartridge that contained an ink pellet. Unlike the ink pellets for trench pens of World War I, the Camel’s pellet was intended to be good for many fillings, up to a year’s worth. Concept: Good. Execution: Not so good. The pen’s writing was thin and watery immediately after a filling, and thick and muddy at the end of a fill. Camel was out of business before the end of 1938. The pens were well made, though, and they work very nicely as ordinary button fillers. I’ve replaced the untipped steel nib in my Camel with a nib that is a very close match except that it is tipped. At 4" capped and 5" posted, this pen is a good size for me.
When Walter Sheaffer’s lever filler burst on the market, it was pretty obvious to many pen makers that this was the way of the future. The only problem was that the design was patented. Various designs soon appeared that circumvented the unfortunately restrictive specifications of the Sheaffer patent, but they were all just copies of the technology. The Snapfil, made by the General Manufacturing Company, was an attempt at actual enhancement. The lever pivots at the “wrong end,” the end closest to the interestingly tapered back end of the barrel. When you raise the lever, a small lever similar to the pawl on a ratchet folds open, and when you then press the lever down this pawl pushes on the pressure bar to collapse the sac. As you continue to push, the pressure you exert overcomes the friction holding the pawl against the pressure bar, and the pawl folds back under the lever, allowing the lever to close with a distinct Snap! sound.
My first Snapfil pen, made sometime shortly after 1918, is 6" capped and 5" uncapped. The chain and lyre clasp attached to the cap show that this pen was intended to be clipped to a man’s vest and swagged into the vest pocket or to a woman’s broad belt and thrust into the waistband of her shirtwaist skirt, and it would never have been used with the cap posted. This pen has a really sweet wet-noodle XXF nib.
At 5" capped and 7" posted, my Snapfil Sr. is a big pen. It’s not a giant, but it is larger than the famous Waterman’s Ideal No 7. The smooth black hard rubber, with subtle splotches of red running through, it is very attractive while still being dignified. This pen has a seriously firm nib; but this huge hunk of gold is a delightful medium.
In 1906, Waterman began offering fountain pens fitted with a relatively elegant filling system invented by William I. Ferris (U.S. Patent No 950,817). The new filler employed the usual sac and pressure bar, with an opening in the side of the barrel to provide access to the pressure bar. A sleeve covered the opening, and to expose the filler the user slid the sleeve toward the back end of the barrel. My earliest sleeve filler, a Waterman’s Ideal No 12SF, came from a huge parts buy, but the pen languished for about four years before I got around to putting it together. At 5" capped and 6" posted, this 12SF is a long pen, but its design means that it’s not really a fat one. And of course its moderately flexy No 2 fine stub isn’t all bad, either.
Coming pretty much out of nowhere, Henry R. Coit started a company to produce a sleeve filler he’d designed. That design appears to have been his only patent, but it was a good one! He called the pen Coit’s Ready Fill Fountain Pen, and it was one of the best sleeve fillers ever produced. The sleeve threads onto the barrel, so it can be installed and removed without tools. And it’s hexagonal, so that it keeps the pen from rolling away. (I don't understand why Mark Twain didn’t have a Ready Fill.) At 5" capped and 6" posted, this pen is a very comfortable user for me with its Coit’s Ready Fill Chicago imprinted flexible No 20 nib.
D. W. Beaumel, of New York City, was one of the big names in the early years of fountain pens. David Beaumel worked with Francis C. Brown for a while before setting out on his own. Among Beaumel’s own company’s pens is this lovely sleeve filler marked THE “RIVAL” but not identified as a Beaumel product. This is an elegant, lightweight pen, long and wonderful to use. Even the pressure bar is hard rubber. The pen is 5" capped and 6" posted.
Springfield, Massachusetts, has produced its share of excellent merchandise, its most famous export perhaps being the M1903 Springfield rifle that was the U.S. Army’s standard infantry arm from 1903 until 1936. Springfield also hosted the LeBoeuf pen company (1921-1933), which was the first volume producer of celluloid pens (c. 1920) and whose products gave up nothing to any of the Big Four in terms of quality. My LeBoeuf ringtop is a typical example of the company’s work, with solid, thick celluloid, a superb flexible nib, and — what is perhaps LeBoeuf’s trademark feature — a well-engineered sleeve filler that appeared in about 1930. The decorative band midway along the barrel marks the joint, from which the back end slides positively along a metal guide to click into its extended position. The two-part pressure bar allows for full compression of the sac to ensure a complete fill. This pen is fairly large as ringtops go; it’s 4" capped, and a perfectly sized 6" posted.
LeBoeuf’s split-barrel design was very elegant — but LeBoeuf wasnt the first to use it. Here’s a lovely BCHR Laughlin made about 15 years before the LeBoeuf above, and you can see that its filler is exactly the same in principle. The way the sleeve holds the back end of the barrel in place is different, but who’s counting? (Apparently, the U.S. Patent Office was, because they issued a patent on the LeBeouf version.) At 4" capped, 5" posted, it's a very small pen, but for all its small size it's a delight to write with. When I found it, it had a No 3 WARRANTED nib that was unfortunately only half tipped; the pen's current nib is a pleasing flexie from a Supremacy pen.
Actually, Laughlin wasn’t the first, either. Going back another decade or so, we find this August Johnson “GEM” Self-Filling pen. It’s rather longer, 5" capped and 6" posted. (Laughlin’s basic improvement was that he figured out a way to keep the sleeve on the pen; Johnson’s sleeve can slide all the way off.) It’s interesting that this pen’s section is flared as it would be for a pen with a screw cap, yet the pen has a slip cap. The nib is a Gem nib, but I’m not sure it’s the right one for the pen. I’ll be keeping my eyes open…
One of the simplest and most reliable self-filling pens of the early 20th century was The Automatic Self Filling Modern Fountain Pen, introduced by A. A. Waterman in 1903. It used a twist (“wringer”) filler (U.S. Patent No 744,642, issued to Harry W. Stone on November 17, 1903). To fill the pen, you “unscrew” a left-hand screw-threaded knob at the back end of the barrel to “wring out” the sac and then release it, allowing the sac to spring back to its relaxed state. To secure the filler, you screw the knob down a fraction of a turn until it seats.
Although not affiliated with L. E. Waterman, A. A. Waterman allegedly used “deceptive advertising tactics” that implied a connection; and in 1912 the company lost a lawsuit brought by its bigger competitor. Thereafter, A. A. Waterman pens had to bear as part of their imprints a disclaimer stating that there was no connection between the two companies. In a way, that was a shame, as it suggested that A. A. Waterman’s pens were inferior, but they are in fact every bit as good as, and in some cases better than, those of L. E. Waterman. The final version of the disclaimer reads not connected with the l. e. waterman company, and this legend is the one my A. A. Waterman bears. This pen, at 5" capped and 6" posted, is a little fatter and a little shorter than earlier production. It’s fitted with a delightful duo-point flexible medium-broad nib.
Few other manufacturers jumped on the twist-filler bandwagon; one that did was Chas. H. Ingersoll, of Newark, New Jersey. Designed to retail for $1.00, Ingersoll’s Dollar Pen is a low-line product, employing a downright cheap variant of the twist filler: the twist knob is a decorative upholstery tack that passes through the end of the barrel and is pressed into a hole in a piece of hard rubber rod onto which the back end of the sac is shellacked. It works, but it’s a little risky… The design of the pen is odd: the hard rubber section is force-fitted into a metal sleeve, and this metal-sheathed section is force-fitted into the barrel. The net result, more often than not, is that the metal part of the section or the barrel, or both, will have split from the tremendous tensile stress on them. A further oddity is that the company also made metal Dollar Pens with bayonet-mounting caps. Ingersoll touted the quality of its nibs, and this pen’s fine 14K Ingersoll nib is typically excellent. At 5" capped and 5" posted, the pen is a reasonable size, and I've restored it in a way that relieves the tension on the tubular metal parts.
I “discovered” Ingersoll pens some years back. As I was pawing through a junker lot I’d bought, I found a pen that needed a lot of help — including a new clip — and was surprised to learn from the printing on its cap crown that it had been made in East Orange, New Jersey. Ordinarily of only passing interest, this fact piqued my curiosity because my mother was born and raised in East Orange. I restored the pen, all except the clip that I didn’t have, and stored it safely away in my pen cabinet’s “Misc.” drawer. I know now that Ingersoll moved to East Orange sometime before 1928, after operating for many years in Newark. And now my East Orange Ingersoll has a clip, courtesy of a penless Ingersoll cap I found in a junk box at a pen show. At 4" capped and 6" posted, this is a nice average-size pen with the usual fine Ingersoll nib. It’s of better quality than the pen above; it is made of Bakelite, and its filler knob, instead of looking like an upholstery tack, is a nickel-plated casting with arrows showing which way to turn it — and it actually screws in and out like the knob on an A. A. Waterman.
One of the later twist fillers came out of Fort Madison, Iowa. Sheaffer, using its VACUUM-FIL sub-brand, marketed a twist filler that’s pretty — but it’s also a nightmare to resac because, unlike the A. A. Waterman and Ingersoll pens above, it provides no way to shellac both ends of the sac before assembly. You have to shellac one end, let it dry completely, then stretch the sac through the barrel and shellac the other end, hoping you won’t pull either end off in the process.
This VACUUM-FIL twist filler is a relatively average size for its time, 5" capped and 6" posted, with a slender girth. My pen has a WARRANTED stub in it; some day it’ll acquire a correct VACUUM-FIL-imprinted nib.