Waterman’s Nib Color Code

(This page revised April 29, 2017)

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Waterman's No. 7 Advertisement, 1927 Magnifying glass

This adver­tise­ment from the November 1927 issue of Scientific American Magazine shows the No 7 “Ripple” pens with the original six nib colors.

Manufacturer logoIn 1927, L. E. Waterman began to abandon its Standard Numbering System for describing pen models. The company had been producing pens of red rippled hard rubber since 1926, calling them “Ripple” models; but those pens had all borne numbers that fitted into the system. Not only did the new No 7 and No 5 "Ripple" models break free of the system, but their nibs also lacked the usual numbers that would indicate size. Instead, these pens brought with them a new system designed to make the consumer’s nib choices easier and more appealing.

The nib coding system for the No 5 and No 7 initially offered six distinct types of nibs, with each type assigned a “color.” (Note, however, that Waterman continued to sell other pen models with numbered nibs for at least 20 years more.) The pens themselves also acquired the same colors, in the form of a colored hard rubber band inset near the cap crown. (The use of different pen body color markings also offered the potential for selling more new pens, as purchasers might find it appealing to have two or more pens whose nibs could be identified without the need to uncap the pens.)

Waterman’s advertising, as shown to the right, played up the ease and surety with which the customer could select exactly the right point:

PICK YOUR PEN POINT BY COLOR

We have solved the problem of pen point selection. The color of the band on the holder tells the whole story. You can now select with confidence exactly the pen point best writing requires.

A fine, broad, stub, flexible or stiff point may now be selected at a glance. You can’t go wrong.

Shown here are a “Blue” No 7 pen and a “Pink” No 5. The No 7’s nib is to the left of the table below; note the elegant “keyhole” breather hole:

Fountain pen
Fountain pen

(These pens are second-generation models; early production lacked the narrow white bands adjacent to the color band.) The flared cap crown on the No 5 is an unusual and very attractive touch. ( No 5 lent by Beth Hilgartner.)

Waterman figured out soon after introducing the new pens and color-coded nibs that having a pen called the Number Seven with only six nib colors was poor marketing strategy, and in fairly short order a seventh nib appeared. Later, the company added more colors, until the final tally stood at ten, as shown in the following table. The nibs appear in the table in what I believe to have been their order of appearance.

Fountain pen nib

Color Description Characteristics

 Red 
Standard Medium length, medium point, semiflexible
 Green 
Rigid Medium manifold, corresponding to a Gregg nib (but broader); popular among stenographers
 Purple 
Stiff; Fine Stiff (firm) fine designed for pressureless writing; a good accounting nib
 Pink
Flexible; Fine Long fine flexible, designed to shade at any angle; suitable for Pitman shorthand — also described as a “Bookkeeper” (posting) nib
 Blue 
Blunt Short ”Improved Stub,” popular with rapid writers; very slight right-foot oblique
 Yellow
Rounded Firm medium-broad, spherical tip designed for left-handed writers
 Brown 
Flexible; Fine Medium-length nib, not quite as flexible as the Pink
 Grey 
Oblique Left-foot oblique, with a short slit; softly springy
 Black 
Ultra-flexible; Fine “Wet noodle” fine, like the Pink but more flexible
 White
Coarse Firm broad

Notes:
  1. Waterman’s description lists the Yellow as firm, but I have seen as many flexible or semiflexible Yellow nibs as firm ones.  Return to text

  2. Some sources state that the Black was exactly the same as the Pink, just repackaged (apparently with the intent of making it less “sissified”).  Return to text

  3. “Coarse” is a vintage term for the tip style we know today as broad, and such a nib would probably have been firm but not rigid. Neither any advertising showing the White nor any authenticated example of the White is known to exist. That there was a White nib is virtually certain, however; there exist color-coded Waterman pen display trays with slots labeled for the White.  Return to text


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