(This page revised June 22, 2012)
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|This Conklin Glider advertisement appeared in the January 19, 1946, issue of The Saturday Evening Post.|
When the failing Conklin Pen Company of Toledo, Ohio, fell prey to a Chicago syndicate consisting of A. J. Parrson, M. H. Jacobs and Max Horwitz, the company’s new owners concentrated their efforts on extracting the maximum dollar for the minimum investment. They sold the pens they had purchased and retooled to make cheaper pens — including the Endura, now reduced to a poor shadow of its former glory — that resembled their Toledo forebears but were not even close to the quality for which Conklin had been renowned in its previous incarnation.
There is one exception to that “not even close” quality statement: nibs. Until the supply ran out, many Chicago Conklin pens were fitted with a variety of high-quality 14K nibs that had come from Toledo. The highest-ranking Chicago models received “Cushon Point” nibs, the swan song of the Toledo company’s nib department. (Cheaper models got steel nibs.) Cushon Point nibs, even those produced in Chicago, are very good; they are firm but not nail-like, and they write smoothly and well.
Perhaps the best known of the Chicago Conklin models is the Glider. Designed to retail for $2.75 and placed at the top of the new Conklin lineup, the Glider was a typical third-tier pen: cheaply plated stamped-steel lever and clip, cheaply plated brass cap band, and crudely manufactured body parts. Despite their cheap manufacture, however, most Gliders were remarkably good writers because they bore Cushon Point nibs. Shown here are a blue Glider (upper) and, to make clear the resemblance to older models, a Toledo-made All-American (lower). Note how the Glider’s pointed cap crown contrasts with the more carefully finished rounded shape of the Toledo pen. This slightly more aggressive design (which is cheaper to produce) is a marker for Chicago pens.
As the photo shows, the Glider featured a partially transparent section to allow the user to track his ink supply. This section is somewhat roughly machined of celluloid, with the surface of its black portion dyed for opacity. (The machining quality of Chicago Conklin sections varies widely; some are fairly smooth while others show gouges and pitting from dull tooling.)
What is not obvious from the photos above is that the clips of the new Chicago pens no longer used the reliable center-pivoting spring-loaded design that had been a virtual trademark of Conklin production for decades. Instead, they are ordinary tab-mounted stampings with no real flexibility at all.
Similarly, the new cheap lever has a roughly rounded end instead of the circular finger tab that Toledo pens show. It also lacks the stamped Conklin and Crescent imprint of the older design, and it no longer has tabs projecting from the under side to lock it into position when it is closed. It relies, like most other cheap and inexpensive designs, on the spring tension of the J-bar pressure bar. The J-bar is a two-piece design with a blued steel J-shaped spring strip riveted to a flat pressure bar. This concession to quality gives more efficient filling than the more common one-piece stamping of brass that most cheap pens used.
The Glider appeared in two sizes, one of “standard” girth and a slender model that is about 0.040" (1 mm) smaller in diameter. The slender Glider shown here has a nib imprinted Conklin Chicago 14 KT U.S.A. This restored pen was in better-than-average condition for Gliders found in the wild.
Another aspect of the Glider that is not apparent in the photos is that the celluloid cap and barrel, although not made with the precision to be expected of a first-rate manufacturer, are actually quite solid. Unlike many of its competitors, Conklin did not opt for paper-thin celluloid sheet stock; as a result, these pens are remarkably sturdy. They are also rather attractive; the striated colors illustrated in the table below are remarkably brilliant when polished.
And Gliders, inexpensive when new, are still inexpensive — at least in the unrestored state. The most common visual defects are serious wear to the cheaply plated steel furniture and fading of the black dye on the ink-view section. Like most lever fillers, Gliders are easy and quick to put back into service; the major concern for the restorer is that the section might be glued into the barrel securely enough that it will break if excessive force is applied during removal.
Restored, even considering a fair degree of plating wear, a really sweet Glider can command a price commensurate with those of some Sheaffer Balance or Touchdown pens. The Glider is an easy entrée into a relatively small area of focus; 1940s Conklins are not widely sought after, and a complete set of Gliders would comprise fewer than a dozen pens. Rather pretty ones, at that. A Glider collection might lead to a broadened focus on Chicago Conklins in general. Among other interesting models is this steel-nibbed “military” syringe filler produced during World War II:
Conklin introduced a completely new range of colors for its Glider production. Early examples also appeared in some of the marbled colors that were available in the stock of raw materials brought from Toledo, but when that material ran out (sometime before the Post advertisement at the top of this page), the range morphed to the sparkling striated colors shown in the table below. Note that the color mixes for Red and Blue include a silvery gray, in much the same fashion as Sheaffer had done with its Rose Glow beginning in 1936. Depending on lot variations, the striations can be very narrow, like those in Rose Glow, or wider like those in Sheaffer’s other striated colors.
|Catalogued Glider Colors|
The New York Times, July 13, 1938
The Glider shown at the beginning of this article underwent a complete restoration to return it to near-new condition, including replating to factory standards (one layer of gold electroplated directly onto the base metal) and re-dyeing of its ink-view section.
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