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(This page revised April 11, 2018)
Most collectors are drawn to oversize pens. But very big pens constituted a relatively small fraction of the total pen market in the first half of the 20th century; on the contrary, many more “undersize” pens were sold than oversize. These small pens included vest-pocket pens, ringtop ladies’ models, and very small novelty pens such as the Salz Peter Pan and the Eversharp Bantam, both shown here. The Red Brown Bantam shown here sports a semiflexible 14K nib.
The Bantam appeared in the early 1930s, probably about 1933, and lasted until 1940. Unlike most other models in its size class (about 33∕4" capped and 41∕2" posted), it was not merely a third-tier novelty pen. Made by one of America’s Big Four (first-tier) pen companies and imprinted MADE IN U.S.A. BY THE MAKERS OF EVERSHARP, it was a relatively high-quality pen, offered in a range of models and made to last and to be used in daily service. Wahl even described it in the company’s literature as THE BIG LITTLE PEN.
There were pocket Bantams with clips, desk-model Bantams with tapers, and Bantam mechanical pencils to match the pens. Wahl even produced the Bantam in a faceted version, in essence a Doric in miniature. This Burgundy Marbled Bantam desk pen is faceted, making it a “miniature Doric” 513∕32" in length. Shown with the Bantam, for comparison, is a slender 1920s Wahl desk pen 73∕4" long.
Since it was a “real” pen, the Bantam was, in some instances, fitted with a “real” nib, an iridium-tipped 14K Eversharp-imprint nib in the smallest size, No. 0. Many of these nibs even exhibit varying degrees of flex, and they can be remarkably good writers. But the early 1930s, with the Great Depression at its worst, were hard times, and not all Bantam buyers were able to afford even a small, moderately priced pen with a gold nib. Thus, Wahl also made Bantams with gold-plated untipped steel nibs that do not bear the Eversharp imprint. Here are gold and steel Bantam nibs. The gold Bantam nib (left) bears the Eversharp name; the steel nib says only 0 and MADE IN U.S.A.:
Although there exist lever-filling pens as small as the Bantam, the impracticality of such a design was not lost on Wahl’s engineers, and the Bantam was designed as a bulb filler. As shown here, the bulb was originally secured by a swaged aluminum ferrule. Most restored Bantams have ordinary sacs cut to length and shellacked without a ferrule:
This simple system offers a large ink capacity for the pen’s size. It is very reliable and inexpensive to manufacture, requiring no spring, pressure bar, or other extraneous parts.
If the Bantam has a serious weak point, that deficiency is the plating, especially on the steel clip. The thin gold plating, more like that on a third-tier pen than one of the first tier, wears quickly and exposes the underlying base metal to corrosion. Despite their relatively low value in today’s market, Bantams that are otherwise in very good condition may justify the cost of replating, especially if it is done as the original plating was, without any underplating. The work, if done properly, yields a remarkably attractive and unusual pen. The clip and cap band on this Blue Swirl Bantam have been replated:
Bantams offer the collector an excellent way to build a varied collection; they were produced in a remarkable variety of colors and patterns that drew from Wahl’s full range of celluloids. Some Bantams, like the Parker Vacumatic and Waterman’s Ink-Vue, have barrels that are partially transparent, with the Barber-Pole Striated pattern shown in the color table below or a reticulated (web) pattern as in the pen shown here. (This photo was taken with the pen illuminated to highlight the transparent barrel. The dark line running through the middle of the barrel is the breather tube.)
In addition to the variety of celluloids, Bantams also exist in versions with single, double, and triple cap bands. Shown here are the three variations.
In 1933 and 1934, Chicago hosted the “Century of Progress” world’s fair. Chicago being the Wahl Company’s home city, Wahl could hardly have chosen not to exhibit. Its booth was in Pavilion 4 of the General Exhibits Group, a series of five identical buildings along the western shore of the South Lagoon. This is Wahl’s listing in the fair’s guide book:
Among the more interesting and desirable Bantams are those whose single cap bands were imprinted to commemorate the fair and were sold as souvenirs:
The following table shows a representative sampling of the colors and patterns that were produced. This is by no means a complete list, and I welcome documentation for additional variations.
|Colors of the Bantam|
|Red Brown Barber-Pole Striated|
|Red Brown Swirl|
|Silver Veined Amber Marbled|
|Green Barber-Pole Striated|
|Dark Green Swirl|
|Light Green Swirl (Cathay)|
|Red Veined Green Marbled|
|Gray Barber-Pole Striated|
|Red Veined Gray Marbled|
I am very grateful to Greg McKinney, who lent me a potful of Bantams to photograph for additions to the color-chip palette shown here, and to Daniel Kirchheimer, who provided some of the more esoteric information.
The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information.