(This page revised November 27, 2017)
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|This 1946 Moore advertisement, from The Saturday Evening Post, might just be the goofiest pen ad ever. Who, looking at the boy’s eyes, could actually think that’s the look of love?|
The War was over, people were buying again, and the Parker “51” was the target. It was 1946, and the Moore Pen Company of Boston introduced what was destined to be its last high-quality fountain pen. The brainchild of Charles K. Lovejoy, the $8.75 Moore Finger tip Pen, Model 96-B (U.S. Patent No D140,697) was an innovative pen designed to compete with the streamlined “51”. It was a decent, smooth-writing pen, but not at first. Out of the gate, it was plagued with an uneven flow and a tendency to stop cold, problems that Moore and other companies had solved years earlier in pens of more orthodox design. Moore worked out the kinks, and Finger tip pens made after the first few months did indeed perform much better, albeit never so well as the ordinary Moore pens that had preceded the Finger tip’s introduction. Shown here is a first-year Finger tip in Sunset Red.
But you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, and the damage had been done. The Finger tip remained in the catalog for five years, but it never sold well, and it did not appear in Moore’s 1951 lineup. (It’s also possible, however, that the pen’s cold reception was due to changing fashion.) By the time of the Finger tip’s retirement, Moore had revamped the rest of its line. No longer making lever-fillers of good quality, it tried instead to get by with a mediocre squeeze-filler called the Specialist. Five years later, in 1956, the company closed its doors.
Aft of the barrel threads, the Finger tip was an ordinary lever-filler. Its cap, too, was relatively ordinary despite the remarkably clean look of its partially inset wrap-over gold-filled clip and the lateral “stacked coin” grooving adjacent to the band. What made the pen special was its gripping section and nib (U.S. Patents Nos D140,696 and 2,432,112). Seemingly intended to out-“51” the “51”, the section is a bullet-shaped shell of brightly brushed stainless steel. The nib (U.S. Patent No D140,695) is inset flush with the shell’s surface, giving the pen a futuristic look. (Fischler and Schneider’s Fountain Pens and Pencils, the Golden Age of Writing Instruments describes the Finger tip as a “Buck Rogers-like, spaceship-shaped pen.”)
Filling the entire shell, excepting only the space immediately below the nib, is a core of hard rubber. Within that hard rubber core‘s bore is an unorthodox feed arrangement. The feed itself has a single square channel, more like a deep ditch, running from its back end, which is exposed to the sac, all the way forward to the end of the feed, which is itself a little shorter than the hard rubber core inside the shell. The actual ink channel, so to speak, is a strip of 14K gold formed into a long U-channel and inserted into the ditch. Near its front end, the gold channel bends upward toward the under surface of the nib, where it curves downward again to lie along that surface until it reaches the end of the feed. The feed is not a tight fit in the section’s bore. Instead, it can slide relatively freely to allow for adjustment, and it is secured in place by a film of wax.
The Finger Tip’s matching pencil, model number 6-B, was a $5.00 cap-actuated expel-only repeater that was styled as a perfect match to the pen. Packaging for the set was remarkably inexpensive but also quite elegant in appearance; it was a simple clear box made entirely of the thin plastic sheet usually associated with the cover for a box of greeting cards. The pen and pencil were secured to a tray made of the same material, below which were the warranty and instruction papers. When it was new, the box looked almost like a block of crystal holding the pen and pencil. The 996-B set shown below was priced at $12.50.
The unusual feed was the source of the pen’s initial unreliability. The gold insert was not shaped well to encourage capillary action, and when the nib was lifted away from it by the user’s writing pressure, the feed simply could not maintain flow. The Moore engineering department’s solution to this problem lay in redesigning the nib’s dynamics.
In early production, Finger tip nibs had a single heart-shaped breather hole, as shown by the image to the left above. Although the nib was designed to be fairly stiff, the slit length yet allowed sufficient flexibility that the nib could lift far enough to interrupt the flow. The engineers shortened the nib’s slit to slightly more than half its original length, ending it with a smaller round breather hole that distributed stress to prevent the nib from cracking. The original breather hole remained where it was, creating an odd appearance. The effect of this redesign, which appears not to have been patented, was to make the nib much stiffer, so that it could no longer lift from the feed under normal use.
The ’46 Finger tip drove onto the scene with exactly one model, the plastic-capped version described above. It came in eight colors, six solid hues injection molded in a cellulosic resin and two striated patterns made of celluloid, as shown in the table at the end of this article. The striated pen shown here is in Seaspray Pearl. With the two striated colors in its lineup, the Finger tip was among the last celluloid fountain pen models made in the U.S.A. before the current revival.
At some point during the Finger tip’s product life, Moore introduced a smaller model. This pen, also priced at $8.75, seems to have been called the Starlight. It was fitted with a metal slip cap and was very close to the size of a Parker “51” when posted. The cap, which has the same grooved design as the plastic cap and was available in polished stainless steel or gold-plated brass, is somewhat bullet shaped, with a distinct derby protruding from the crown. The nib and section are significantly shorter than those of the original version, and on some examples the section echoes the lateral grooving from the cap. The fact that the Starlight appears to have been offered only in the six solid colors suggests that Moore’s celluloid production ended either before or at the time of its introduction. Shown here is a Vintage Wine Starlight with a gold-plated cap.
The Moore Pen Company, founded in 1899 to make safety pens to Morris Moore’s ingenious patent, became in the 1920s a me-too company, with a product that was high in quality but unimaginative in design. After two decades of being just one of the pack, the company tried with the Finger tip to take the lead with something radically new. The real tragedy is that instead of achieving the popularity that it probably merited, the pen foundered, going down in history merely as a blunder. Today, half a century later, it is relatively uncommon, and Moore collectors consider it highly desirable for its uniqueness. And they wonder: if the Finger tip had been a success, would Moore still have gone under?
A Note on Orthography
This article refers to the pen as the Finger tip (two words). Most modern sources call it the Fingertip (one word). The pen’s distinctive logo and some of the company’s documentation suggest that the apparent intent was that the name be two words. The typewritten instruction sheet shown here is one rarely seen instance of Moore’s use of the two-word form.
But the pen‘s printed instruction sheet and the body text in the advertisement at the top this page show the name as a single word. Which form is correct? We will likely never know. Either way, it’s an interesting and enjoyable pen.
The following table shows the colors of the Finger tip. Several of these colors are prone to shift with time and exposure to light; e.g., Eiderdown White yellows, and Sunset Red fades toward orange.
|The Colors of the Finger tip|
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