Profile: Waterman’s Commando

(This page revised September 9, 2012)

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Commando Advertisement, 1942 Magnifying glass
This Waterman adver­tise­ment from the May 9, 1942, issue of The Saturday Evening Post fea­tures the Commando.

Manufacturer logo In 1940, about a year before the United States entered World War II, Waterman began to restyle its product line, doing away with the out-of-date Art Deco look and featuring a new, robust, modern silhouette. The Hundred Year Pen was first, and all the company’s other models followed. The most dramatic change was a new military-style clip that was inexpensive, easy to install (with a rivet through the top of the cap), and strong. When the U.S. entered the war in late 1941, Waterman’s line offered models ranging from the Hundred Year Pen at the top down to the relatively plain Model 352, with a price tag of $3.50, with the Model 515, priced at $5.00, filling the middle of the range.

The 515 is the one that interests us here. Its maiden appearance saw it clothed in the same amazing new material (Lucite®) that Waterman had introduced a year earlier for the Hundred Year Pen. Shown here is a blue Lucite $5.00 pen:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

(If there is a magnifying-glass symbol (Magnifying glass) next to an image, click the magnifying glass to view a zoomed version for more detail.)

Patriotic fervor reached unheard-of heights as Americans went to war to defeat the Axis. Marketing people, never slow to jump on a fast-moving train, boarded this one and set their sights on things military. Waterman, with the 515, was in the perfect position to capitalize on the trend; and very early after America’s entry into the war, the Lucite pen appeared under the Commando name. The “new” pen immediately began appearing in advertising; a Saturday Evening Post adver­tise­ment (not the one shown above here) features a Lucite Commando over the following copy:

Military men prefer Waterman’s — because all Waterman’s have top military clips — and the Inquaduct feed for instant writing. This is the great Commando ‘built to take it and never fail.’ Blue, Jet, Maroon or Amber, $5

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Soon thereafter, Waterman reverted the Commando to celluloid, and by far the greater portion of Commando production was in celluloid. Most extant Commandos are celluloid, like the black example above.

Waterman was renowned for its nibs, and even at the bottom of its line nibs were excellent. The Commando was fitted with a large Nº 5 nib in the customer’s choice of point style, and Waterman didn’t take any shortcuts — these are superb nibs, and Waterman’s pens are well balanced and light in weight. Collectors who use their pens will find the Commando a delight.

Waterman produced the Commando in men’s and ladies’ sizes, with a solid body color or with a clear or translucent barrel end. With such a limited range of styles and only four basic colors, a complete Commando collection isn’t beyond the means of most collectors.

Of passing interest to history-minded collectors is the Commando’s short life span. The end of World War II brought a desire to put away the things of war, and the Commando didn’t survive long; by 1946, Waterman had discontinued it as a named model.

The Downside to Collecting Commandos

As with celluloid Hundred Year Pens, Taperites, and other contemporaneous Waterman models, clear-ended Commando barrels are almost always found with their ends crystallized, often — as illustrated by the Maroon Commando shown here — with nothing remaining except the “plug” that fits into the open end of the colored barrel segment. Also, the sections in some Commandos can deform badly under the stress of the press-fitted nib and feed. The pen here is shown as it actually exists today and with its end “restored” in Photoshop to illustrate the original appearance.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

But even a pen with a damaged barrel can be an excellent user. Posted, the Commando shown above becomes an attractive and excellent-writing pen — and there are restorers who can restore the end of a Commando using clear acrylic, which gives an excellent result although not one that is identical to the appearance of the original celluloid.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Colors

The following table shows the colors Waterman chose for the Commando. Because the U.S.A. was in the middle of World War II and because the Commando’s marketing encouraged home-front purchase for military officers serving overseas, the company limited the Commando’s colors to only four, all of which are relatively dark — but there’s no Olive Drab, a color that was of course officially military but was, well, drab. Blue and Burgundy Commandos tend to be darker today than they were originally due to age-related discoloration.


Colors of the 515 and the Lucite Commando
Color Name

Jet Jet
Maroon Maroon (transparent)
Amber Army Amber (transparent?)
Blue Navy Blue (transparent)

Colors of the Celluloid Commando
Color Name

Jet Jet
Jet with Clear End Jet with Clear End
Maroon Maroon
Maroon with Red End Maroon with Red End
Amber Amber
Amber with Amber End Amber with Amber End
Blue Blue
Blue with Blue End Blue with Blue End


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