Profile: The Chilton Golden Quill

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Chilton Golden Quill advertisement, 1935 Magnifying glass
This stunning art poster for the 1939 New York World’s Fair featured the fair’s sig­na­ture exhibit, the Trylon and Perisphere.

Manufacturer logoFour years after the introduction of its elegant Wing-flow pen, the Chilton Pen Company had again fallen on hard times. The year was 1939. Gone was the Wing-flow’s nationwide advertising, and the company had just moved from Long Island City, New York, to Summit, New Jersey, the suburb in which it would make its last stand in the quest for long-term success.

“Mohawk” crest

1939 was the year of the New York World’s Fair, billed as the largest world exposition since the Great War. Themed “The World of Tomorrow,” the exposition featured exhibits from 33 countries, showcasing the most modern and up-to-date arts, sciences, and technologies, and how they would transform life as it was expected to be lived in decades to come. Along with other purveyors of the Good Life, Chilton was there to display its newest pen model. It should be noted that by the time the fair closed for the season on October 31, Europe had been at war for two months, but most Americans chose to remain blissfully unaware of the calamity that was inexorably bearing down upon them.

The Pen

Chilton’s proprietary technique for inlaying metal decoration into the body of a celluloid pen (U.S. Patent No 2,152,161) had met with success on the Wing-flow, and the company applied it, in a much more restrained form, to a new streamlined pen that received the name Golden Quill.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Abandoning the passé Art Deco styling of the Wing-flow for a minimalist modern look that some writers of the time decried as “dull design,” Chilton decorated the Golden Quill with feather-like incisions along the edges of the spring loaded “Rocker” clip and also on the edges of an inlaid oval feather-shaped indicia on the back of the cap. A delicate crest, reminiscent of a “Mohawk” haircut, wrapped over the cap crown, and there was no cap band. The nib, made in the Wing-flow style like its predecessor, bore a new imprint in the shape of a feather. Nowhere on the pen did the Chilton name — or any other writing — appear.

One feature Chilton retained in the Golden Quill was the clever suction-type filling system (U.S. Patent No 1,528,379). This system, introduced in the late 1920s, features a blind cap connected to a tube that slides within the barrel. When the blind cap is pulled to extend the tube, air flows into the barrel through a hole in the blind cap; covering the hole and pressing the blind cap down compresses the air in the barrel, squeezing the sac. At the end of the downstroke, uncovering the hole allows air to escape; the sac expands to its normal shape, drawing ink in as it does so.

The Variants

Toward the end of the Wing-flow’s product life, shortly before the Golden Quill was released, Chilton engineers developed a new feed with a partially cut-away “tail” that extended farther back into the section. This feed might have been intended to better encourage ink flow, or it might simply have been to allow a better view of the ink supply in the partially transparent section that they also introduced at about the same time (U.S. Patent No 1,917,185, originally developed to allow a self-colored section without the shrinkage problems associated with an all-celluloid section. Some examples of the Golden Quill have the partially transparent section (shown below); other examples (shown above) lack this feature. The elongated cutaway feed appears in pens of both types.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

As was common at the time, Chilton offered the Golden Quill in more than one size. There were two versions of the standard-sized model, differing in length by about 14"; the pen body was the same for both sizes, the only difference being the length of the cap. The Ebony Black pen immediately above has a long cap, and the Maroon pen shown at the top of the page has a short cap. These two versions may have been intended to be men’s and ladies’ models.

There were also oversize Golden Quills, similarly fitted with longer and shorter caps. Oversize pens were both larger in diameter and slightly longer than the standard versions. Oversize pens were fitted with either the standard Golden Quill nib or an oversize nib that was identical to the standard nib but significantly larger; it is not known whether the two different nib sizes were offered as an choice for the purchaser or were made at different times. Here are a pair of oversize Maroon pens, one with the standard nib and the other with the oversize nib:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

These two pens also provide a side-by-side comparison of the two different cap lengths.

Chilton had offered earlier models with an excellent selection of nib grades. Whether that broad range of choices remained available for the Golden Quill is doubtful given the general atmosphere of cutting back.

Chilton jobbed Golden Quills to other companies for sale; at least one example exists of a pen-and-pencil set with blue barrels and black caps, with the pencil’s nozzle imprinted MONTGOMERY WARD.

The Quick Fade

Within about two years of the Golden Quill’s introduction, Chilton was done for. In 1940, the company introduced a new low-line steel-nibbed pen called the Chiltonian, and when that last-gasp ploy failed to reverse the downward trend, Chilton filed for bankruptcy. Remaining stocks of pens were sold off through a mail-order house. When the supply of Golden Quill nibs ran out, the seller assembled the last few Golden Quills using Chiltonian nibs. As illustrated by the Royal Blue pen below, Golden Quills are known to exist without the “Mohawk” crest, without the inlaid indicia on the cap, and without either. These pens do not have cutouts where the missing parts would be installed, suggesting that their caps were fabricated after supplies of the trim parts had been exhausted. (It is not impossible that these pens were earlier steps in the evolution of the model, although I consider this possibility unlikely.)

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

As things ground to a halt, Chilton was madly putting together any parts available; the Royal Blue pen above has a black blind cap, and examples are known of pens with Maroon barrels and Royal Blue blind caps as illustrated below. There is no evidence to suggest that these pens were part of a normal, panic-free production run.

Fountain pen

Golden Quills are now rare and considered by Chilton aficionados to be highly collectible.

The Colors

Along with other cutbacks in features, the Golden Quill’s color palette was restricted to only the same four colors with which the Wing-flow had been introduced in 1935. Royal Blue, however, was no longer the almost-black midnight color that had been used for the Wing-flow; although still dark, it was much more distinctly blue than the earlier color.

Color names are as listed in the 1937 Chilton catalog.


Colors of the Golden Quill
Color Name

Ebony Black Ebony Black
Bright Red Bright Red
Maroon Maroon
Royal Blue Royal Blue

Notes:
  1. The grim prospect of a new world war had crept closer before the fair reopened in April 1940 for its second and final season; among other indications of things to come was the absence of the Soviet Union’s pavilion, which over the winter was packed up and taken home. The space it had occupied was now an empty lot called “The American Commons.” In recognition of the war in Europe, the fair’s theme was changed to “For Peace and Freedom.”


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. My thanks to Rick Krantz, who provided some of the information on variants, and to Hirsch Davis, who added further information and lent some of the pens for photography.

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