(This page revised April 10, 2018)
|This 1943 Eversharp advertisement appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. The Fifth Avenue was priced at $12.50.|
When Parker introduced the “51” in 1941, the new pen’s streamlined styling touched off a game of catch-up. Soon other makers began marketing streamlined pens, and one of the prominent features they all wanted to incorporate was a hooded nib in emulation of the almost-invisible nib of the “51”. But in 1941 Eversharp had just introduced its Henry Dreyfuss-designed Skyline, with an open nib. Suddenly, the company was left scrambling for a more modern look. Designers went to work, perhaps a little hastily, adapting existing internal features into a new body. In late 1943, the “Fifth Avenue,” with a “business end” designed by George D. Cloutier (U.S. Patent No D137,860) and wrapped in a body by noted industrial designer Raymond Loewy (U.S. Patents Nos D137,866, D137,867, and D139,551), made its appearance. Priced at $12.50, exactly the same as the introductory-level “51”, the Fifth Avenue actually offered a “richer” user experience in some ways; the base-model cap, instead of Parker’s wartime base-model coin silver, was made of vermeil (gold over sterling silver). The pen was poorly conceived, however; instead of looking forward as it had done with the remarkably successful Skyline, Eversharp apparently looked backward and produced a design that was strikingly Art Deco in appearance. The pen shown below is a Dubonnet Red Eversharp Fifth Avenue (men’s size). To an eye attuned to Art Deco, it was an elegant design, well balanced and aesthetically pleasing — but Art Deco was passé, and the pen did not draw much enthusiasm from the buying public.
A more severe problem than the pen’s outdated appearance was its performance. Eversharp initially fitted the Fifth Avenue with the same breather-tube “Magic Feed” and nib that were used in the very successful Skyline. But the Fifth Avenue’s hooded design (shown at right, upper photo) meant that the entire length of the nib was clamped rigidly between the feed and the shell’s bore. The resulting pen, with a writing feel that was very “hard” and unforgiving, did not write as well as Eversharp customers had come to expect from their experience with the Skyline and other earlier models. The company hastily changed the design, reducing the diameter of the feed and fitting a new, smaller, nib to the revised feed (U.S. Patent No 2,398,521). To hold the nib and feed together, the engineers took their cue from the old Personal-Point nib unit and created a hard rubber sleeve whose outside diameter is about the same as that of the feed in a Skyline. The assembled unit (shown at left) was the correct size to fit into the shell, which also received a slight modification (at right, lower photo).
It also turned out that the Fifth Avenue’s cap did not seat as reliably as had been hoped. Very shortly after filing for the patents listed in the foregoing paragraphs, Cloutier submitted another application detailing an improved cap, and this design was awarded U.S. Patent No 2,419,483.
The redesigned Fifth Avenue, with a cap that seated more positively and a nib that could actually flex quite nicely, could be tuned to write well, but the necessary adjustment would have raised the production cost of the pen unacceptably. Thus, the effort was not entirely successful, and the Fifth Avenue survived on the market for less than two years.
During those two years, however, Eversharp rang a few changes on the design. Perhaps the best-known variation from the basic design was the “Sixty Four,” so named so named because a pen-and-pencil set was priced at $64.00. The pen alone, shown above, was $40.00.
A Note on Nomenclature
Both the Fifth Avenue and the Sixty Four were advertised with their names spelled out, not expressed as numbers (5th Avenue or 64).
The Sixty Four differed from the standard Fifth Avenue in having its cap and barrel-end trim made of solid 14K gold; the Fifth Avenue’s cap was 14K gold filled over sterling silver. To mark the difference, the designers made the cap and the barrel-end trim of the Sixty Four smooth. This provided an elegant contrast to the Fifth Avenue’s cap and trim, which were banded with the closely spaced lateral grooves that had proven successful on the gold-filled cap of the Skyline. The cap shown at left is from a Fifth Avenue; the one to the right is from a Sixty Four.
Eversharp also made a clever tie-in arrangement with a radio quiz program that was popular at that time, called Take It Or Leave It (better known as The $64 Question). The company sponsored the show and used that catch phrase in its advertising, as illustrated by the magazine ad on my Skyline profile page, but they also went further and produced some Sixty Fours with a question mark, straddled by the numbers 6 and 4 (like this: 6?4), engraved on the cap immediately below the clip and filled with black enamel to make them stand out. This might qualify as an early limited edition.
The pens were offered in a men’s model, about 5" long, and a ladies’ model, about 4". A third variation, dubbed the Stowaway, was intended to compete with compact pens such as Sheaffer’s new Tuckaway, which were shorter in length to fit into a lady’s purse. This diminutive clipless pen, about 4" long, had a very stubby barrel — unlike its cousin, the Skyline Demi, it was not simply a smaller copy of its standard-sized sibling.
At the beginning of the 1940s, plastics technology underwent a revolution as polystyrene plastics replaced celluloid. polystyrenes did not need to be machined and finished by hand; they could be molded with excellent quality and uniformity. But Eversharp’s use of those early polystyrenes for the Fifth Avenue and Sixty Four, advanced though it was, proves to have been less than advantageous for the pens’ longevity. Eversharp’s early polystyrene is notorious for shrinkage, discoloration, and deterioration; it is not uncommon today to find that a Fifth Avenue’s nib shell has shrunk so that it will not thread properly into the barrel. (These parts thread together, instead of using Eversharp’s usual press fit, in order to ensure that the filler lever aligns perfectly with the underside of the shell.) Similarly, a shell may show a crack that developed as it shrank around the nib assembly.
As noted above, the Fifth Avenue was not a particularly popular pen. At least some of its lack of appeal can almost certainly be attributed to its distinctive Art Deco appearance. But Eversharp actually had the opportunity to do a better job with the design. When Raymond Loewy designed the Fifth Avenue, he produced a design that did not include the strikingly angular gripping section/shell that the company took to market. Loewy’s concept, as shown by the prototype illustrated here, was an elegant and thoroughly timeless design. Had Eversharp not replaced his “business end” with George Cloutier’s design, the Fifth Avenue would very likely have done much better in the marketplace.
The Fifth Avenue and Sixty Four shared many of their colors with the contemporaneous Skyline. (Army Brown for the Fifth Avenue is much lighter than its Skyline namesake, and although I have not seen Marine Green catalogued for these pens I have actually seen a Marine Green Sixty Four.) But because Eversharp plastics discolored so readily, it is difficult to find a true representative sample of their original appearance. For example, the blue shown in the following color table is very dark, but I have also seen several slightly different shades, and I have a Skyline in a color near to Royal Blue. Was there one blue, or were there two or more? The names of the colors are taken from a 1943 advertisement.
|Colors of the Fifth Avenue and Sixty Four|
|Marine Green (not catalogued, known from extant pens)|
|Pearl Gray (Stowaway only)|
Army Brown, which has been likened to Parker’s Buckskin Beige, was the color of World War II U.S. Army officers’ dress uniform trousers, which were commonly called “Pinks” because of the very slight pinkish cast to the color. Contrast this color with the Army Brown that appeared on the contemporaneous Skyline; the latter was the color of the blouse (dress jacket) that went with Pinks at the beginning of the war. (The blouse color changed later to a deep green, creating the descriptive phrase “pinks and greens.”)
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