(This page revised August 20, 2019)
|This very early Doric advertisement appeared in the September 12, 1931, issue of The Saturday Evening Post.|
The year was 1931. Blocky was out. Art Deco was in. Two years earlier, Sheaffer’s Balance had set the pen world on its ear, and manufacturers were still trying to catch up. The Wahl Company had made a foray into streamlined pens with a torpedo-shaped model that must have been a deliberate copy of the Balance. Reputedly, that effort was quickly quashed; a slightly less streamlined version did not fare well, and the company finally landed on an elegantly tapered design that it named Equi-Poised (a term derived from equipoise, a balance of forces, and defined in Equi-Poised advertising as “Equally Balanced”) to emphasize its ergonomic qualities. These three pens are shown here:
As elegant as the Equi-Poised was, it may not have been quite au courant enough for the era’s rapidly changing tastes. Wahl’s designers went back to the drawing board (or maybe they just never got up after creating the Equi-Poised) and in 1931 introduced a pen featuring one of the most authentic and most recognizable Art Deco visions ever created for a writing instrument: the fabulous Eversharp Doric, whose faceted design (by Robert Back, U.S. Patent No D81,742) still turns heads more than 80 years after its appearance. (Note that the advent of the Doric did not signal the demise of the Equi-Poised. The older design continued to appear in the Wahl catalog as late as 1937.) Shown below is an Oversize Gold Seal Doric in the rare and desirable Burma Pearl color As was usual for first-tier American gray pens during the 1930s, this Doric was fitted with white-metal furniture:
The Doric’s 12-sided body tapers at both ends, finishing in flattened pyramidal crowns. The faceted Art Deco lever and roller clip and pierced cap band produce a clean, unified whole that has inspired numerous copies and tributes, including the long-lived Omas Paragon (12 sided) and the modern Bexley Americana (8 sided). The Paragon, of which a contemporaneous example is shown below for comparison, may have preceded the Doric; this is a question that is still subject to debate.
In the early 1930s, life was speeding up; the world was shrinking as safe and comfortable air travel became a reality for those who could afford it. Capitalizing on the glamour of the new age, Wahl introduced the Doric with colors named for five exotic destinations: Jet Black, Burma Pearl, Cathay Pearl, Kashmir Pearl, and Morocco Pearl. (See the table at the end of this article for color chips.) The unfortunate aspect of these lovely hues is that celluloid’s longevity is directly proportional to the depth of color and the curing time during the material’s manufacture as well as inversely proportional to the thickness of the part. In consequence, many Dorics are found with damage due to decomposition; their ends crystalize and eventually fragment, and the lighter colors — most of all Cathay Pearl — deteriorate most rapidly. Here is a Cathay Pearl vest-pocket Gold Seal Doric that shows serious crystallization of its cap and barrel ends.
(This pen is in my personal collection, and I fuse new cracks as I find them in an attempt to extend the pen’s life. I also keep the pen in a chemically treated pouch that retards decomposition.)
The standard-size Doric below, a Popular Doric in Emerald, sits in the middle of the range of sizes. (There were also ladies’ pens in clasp and ringtop versions, a “junior” Gold Seal version with a roller clip, and a midget purse pen with a clasp.) It also illustrates the slightly reduced trim level of the Doric’s non-Gold Seal version. Like the Cathay Pearl pen above, this Doric has an adjustable Personal-Point nib; but many of the lesser Dorics have ordinary nibs.
For the Doric, the Wahl Company implemented several features that were unique to its pens, not just redrawn designs of things everyone else was doing. Mentioned above is the company’s ingenious “nine points in one” adjustable nib (U.S. Patent No 1,980,159, invented by Robert Back and introduced in 1932), which has a small slider that can be positioned in one of nine notches (illustrated to the right). With the slider moved toward the section, the nib is quite flexible. As the slider is moved notch by notch toward the tip of the nib, the nib becomes progressively firmer. With the slider all the way out, the nib is a rigid (manifold) nib. Wahl advertised this feature with the catchphrase, “The Pen with Nine Points in One.”
People were still concerned about pens that could leak in the user’s pocket or purse, a concern that must have been exacerbated as more and more people took to the air in the flood of new commercial airplanes such as the Douglas DC-3. In about 1935, Wahl created a clever shutoff device that it called the Safety Ink Shut-Off (Albert H. Stenersen’s U.S. Patent No 2,142,532, shown to the left). When the user capped the pen, the inner cap closed the shutoff by pressing on the metal tab indicated by the arrow in the illustration. Sadly, the device worked as designed but was found not to live up to its inflated advertising claims. When the pen was capped, although the shut-off did block leakage from the reservoir, it left ink in the feed, and that ink could — and did, under certain conditions — end up all over the inside of the cap and, subsequently, on the user's hands. On June 27, 1939, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission served Wahl with an order to cease and desist from advertising the Safety Ink Shut-Off. Unable to advertise it, the company voluntarily withdrew the device from production.
Where pretty much everybody made their visible-ink-supply lever fillers with partially transparent sections, Wahl in 1939 went its own way and made a transparent band in the barrel just aft of the threads. This allowed the company to use a hard rubber section, which is technically better than the celluloid sections that other companies used, but it meant that there had to be a way to attach the sac to the section far enough behind the barrel threads. To do this, Wahl added a screw-threaded clear celluloid extension to the back of the section, and cemented the sac to the back end of that extra bit. When the pen is assembled, the celluloid extension extends past the clear window in the barrel so that the user sees the ink supply through two thicknesses of celluloid. This version of the lever filler went under the marketing name “Lever-Vac.”
This design actually works very well, and it also allowed Wahl to implement a capillary drainage device in the sections of Dorics with Personal-Point nibs. In pens with non-removable nibs, the company drilled a hole in the back of the feed and inserted a small strip of celluloid formed into a J shape so that the curved end touched the sac wall to provide a path for ink to flow out of the section when the pen was being carried. (This concept had been pioneered 40 years earlier by Parker’s Lucky Curve feed but, with the proliferation of the comb feed, had been discarded by Parker before the introduction of the Doric.) The removable Personal-Point posed an obstacle to the inclusion of the celluloid drainage strip, but clever engineers split the straight end of the part and fused the two split points to the sides of the celluloid section extension. This adapted strip, which can be seen in the photo above as a dark stripe running lengthwise through the transparent area along the pen’s centerline, allowed removal of the Personal-Point nib unit.
A problem that exists wherever there is tensile stress on a pen part is the potential for cracking. The celluloid pens of most manufacturers (notably Sheaffer) were notorious for cap-lip cracks caused by posting the cap on a tapered barrel. Adding a cap band, although it was a decorative feature, was originally intended as a measure to prevent these cracks from occurring. But the history of innovation is the history of a competition between engineers and users, and cap lips continued to crack as users posted their caps more firmly. A stronger solution, one that had been used decoratively on companies’ more expensive pens, was a band that extended all the way to the cap lip. In 1936, Wahl redesigned the Gold Seal Doric with just such a band, decorated with triangular cutouts, that solved the problem. Pens fitted with the new band, the Safety Ink Shut-Off, and the Adjustable Point were given the Airliner name. (The company did not even imply that the new band was intended to address the cracking issue; that would have been to admit that the older design had been defective. What did make its way into the new version’s advertising was the fact that the new band was perfect for adjusting the slider on an Adjustable Point nib!)
At the same time, the company did away with its roller clip, fitting all Dorics with the rollerless clip design that had appeared on the vest-pocket Gold Seal pen (as a clasp) and on lower-priced Dorics. The new clip was also re-engineered to attach to the cap in a different way, making it much less costly to manufacture. A new, updated set of colors topped off the redesign.
With the second generation, Wahl also introduced a plunger-filling version of the Doric. The plunger filler (U.S. Patent No 2,142,531) was operationally identical to Sheaffer’s Vacuum-Fil, but it differed slightly in design and did not infringe on Sheaffer’s patent. Wahl called its design the “One-Shot” vacuum filler. Although it worked the same as Sheaffer’s version, the Wahl version was somewhat more elegant in appearance, with its blind-cap threads arranged so that the visible boss at the back of the barrel was threaded on the inside and thus more visually appealing. Some models, as shown by the pen above, featured a metal “thimble” covering the boss for additional elegance and durability. And, for further visual appeal, Wahl used an attractively reticulated pattern for its transparent barrel areas.
The Doric’s first-generation colors were relatively standard for the 1930s: greens, a burgundy, black and a gray. But they were treated in unusual ways; Cathay, for instance, was a lovely green swirl instead of the more usual “chunks and chips” of the time. Also, while Wahl used chrome-plated furniture on gray pens as Parker and Sheaffer were doing, it also applied chrome-plated furniture to Cathay; this use of white-metal trim on green was unique among the first tier’s top-line models.
The second-generation Doric brought with it a new range of colors. Some of the colors are similar to earlier ones, with a golden brown replacing the lighter green of Cathay Pearl and the burgundy of Morocco Pearl brightening to a wine color; but there are also some completely new colors, including a blue. The new palette for the Airliner comprised a set of “chunks and chips” colors, attractively treated with parallel narrow striations in their chunks. (Wahl referred to them as “Shell” colors.) The material was produced as a tube wound helically from a strip, with the striations in the various chunks aligned randomly so as to effectively conceal the helical nature of the fabrication (U.S. Patent No 2,151,548, by the peripatetic Robert Back).
There are some strikingly different colors, e.g., Bronze & Green, that appear only on lower-priced models. I have given notional names to some of these colors (marked with an asterisk). The color range shown here for the Doric Junior and Popular Doric lines is far from complete! I will add images to this page as I see the pens and photograph them.
Color names in the following table are taken from period Wahl catalogs. 3D highlighting added with a computer.
|Original Doric Colors (1931–1935)|
|Doric Airliner Colors (1935-End of Life)|
|Silver & Black Shell|
|Wine Red Shell|
|Gold & Silver Shell|
|Silver Green Shell|
|Silver Blue Shell|
|Doric Junior/Popular Doric Colors (1935-End of Life)|
|Green Oyster Pearl & Black|
|Bronze & Green|
“In the Matter of The Wahl Company, Docket 3836.” Federal Trade Commission Decisions: Findings, Orders, and Stipulations June 1, 1939, to November 30, 1939, vol. 29, United States Government Printing Office, 1940, pp. 1228–1236.
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. Some of the information here was kindly provided by Syd “The Wahlnut” Saperstein.