Profile: Waterman’s Hundred Year Pen

(This page revised June 22, 2012)

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Waterman Advertisement, 1939 Magnifying glass
This Christmas double-truck (two-page) adver­tise­ment in The Saturday Evening Post introduced Waterman’s Hundred Year Pen, using the entire right page of the two-page spread to set out the new pen’s features.

Manufacturer logo From its introduction in the mid-1920s, celluloid was the primary material for pen bodies. But celluloid has a few deficiencies that show up over time: it is relatively unstable and can break, shrink, or become distorted. Materials technology continued to improve, and in 1936 DuPont began commercial production of a new acrylic resin, which it called Lucite®. L. E. Waterman — which had only a decade earlier unwillingly abandoned hard rubber in favor of celluloid and was not normally thought of as a forward-looking company — adopted the new material for its next-generation top-of-the-line model (and also its mid-line model, a nameless $5.00 pen that was soon to become the Commando); and on December 9, 1939, a two-page Christmas spread in The Saturday Evening Post introduced Waterman’s Hundred Year Pen, the world’s first Lucite pen.

In the adver­tise­ment, which featured not only the pens themselves but also a new logo for them (shown above), Waterman promoted the advanced features behind the pen’s name and its unprecedented guarantee — but does not admit what the amazing new material actually is:

Why the New Waterman’s
HUNDRED YEAR PEN
Can Be Guaranteed for a Century

Waterman’s new Hundred Year Pen is made of one of the most amazing materials ever to come out of a test tube. Time or use can never dim its jewel-like luster . . . and, because it is strong as steel, it can never break, warp, shrink or twist. Furthermore, our 55 years experience in quality pen making assures you that every writing feature of this new pen is the finest that can be made. No wonder the new Waterman’s Hundred Year Pen guarantees you a Century of writing satisfaction!

But the Hundred Year Pen was not just an old design warmed over in a new material. For its new model, Waterman called on the services of noted industrial designer John Vassos, whom the company glowingly described in a letter to dealers announcing the new pen as “a master designer — a man not only skilled in line and color but America‘s greatest authority on implements to fit the human hand.” The dramatic streamlined profile (U.S. Patent Nº D118,872 for the body and Nº D118,873 for the clip) was radically new, a complete break from the Art Deco stylings of the ’20s and ’30s. Shown here for contrast are the Vassos-designed Hundred Year Pen (upper) and an Ink-Vue (lower, introduced four years earlier, in mid-1935):

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen

(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.)

Because it was made of Lucite, the Hundred Year Pen could be transparent; and Waterman offered it in transparent Red, Green, and Blue as well as the more traditional opaque black (Jet). These transparent colors, more brilliant and durable than similar colors in celluloid, are the source of the phrase “jewel-like luster” in the pen’s advertising; you can see all four together in the adver­tise­ment above.

The Size Game

Although many of its competitors offered their pens in models of more than one size (e.g., the Parker Vacumatic Debutante, Major, and Maxima), Waterman chose initially not to do so with the Hundred Year Pen. The new model appeared on the world stage in only one size, as shown above (posted) and below (capped):

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A year after its introduction, the Hundred Year Pen received a slightly snappier name (100 Year Pen) and a facelift, losing a little length as its ends were truncated. (But the name change did not happen overnight. Pen caps continued to carry the Hundred Year Pen name; and nib imprints appear never to have changed.) The wrap-over clip became a rivet-secured washer clip — one that met military regulations, an important consideration as the U.S.A. moved toward war. The pen also became a family comprising three sizes: Ladies’, Standard, and De Luxe, offered in grooved or smooth versions:

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Ladies’ Hundred Year Pen in Transparent Red (priced at $8.50)
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Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Standard Hundred Year Pens in Transparent Green
(grooved) and Jet (smooth) (priced at $8.50)
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De Luxe Hundred Year Pen in Red (priced at $10.00)

The two larger sizes were men’s pens, and — in keeping with Waterman’s tradition of numbering nibs to indicate size — they were fitted with Nº 17 and Nº 18 nibs, respectively. (But many of these nibs, possibly the majority, do not include the numbers in their imprints.)

The Ladies’ model above shows what might be interpreted as the beginning of a trend; its bands are on the cap, not on the barrel. The De Luxe pen has retained the fourth barrel band. Finally, Waterman now has sufficient confidence in the material of which the pens are made that advertising now announces proudly that the pens are made of Lucite.

It became apparent that the U.S. would eventually be entering the fray in Europe and Asia, and Waterman seems to have anticipated the government’s impending regulation of Lucite as a critical war resource. Before the end of the Hundred Year Pen’s second year run, Waterman began reverting to celluloid. The smooth black Standard pen shown here has a Lucite cap with a celluloid barrel.

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Stepping Forward (Backward?) to a New Color Scheme

With a single band on its cap and no barrel bands, the third-year version of the 100 Year Pen appeared for the Christmas season in 1941 and completed the cap-band transition described in the preceding section. It also marked the completel disappearance of Lucite; celluloid had returned, exempting the 100 Year Pen’s body from materials restrictions when war finally came, and the 100 Year Pen now offered a choice between a fully opaque barrel or an opaque barrel with a clear end (colorless for Jet pens, amber for all others). The pen’s profile was now quite ordinary; the barrel regained something of a torpedo shape, but gone was the keg-like cap of the earlier years. Colors, too, were much subdued. Here is a third-year 100 Year Pen in Maroon, with an amber barrel end. The Maroon color is so dark that it appears almost black:

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Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The return to celluloid, seen in retrospect, was disastrous for the 100 Year Pen’s longevity. Nitrate celluloid is relatively unstable; it has a tendency to crystallize and disintegrate, especially where it is relatively thick in cross-section, and also to amber. This tendency appears inversely proportional to the amount of colorant in the material and is therefore the most pronounced in clear objects; for this reason, 100 Year Pens are virtually always found with their clear portions — if still present at all — in terrible condition. Thus, pens with surviving original amber or clear ends invariably show ambering. The pen illustrated above has had its barrel end replaced with a “prosthetic” fashioned from acrylic rod of the correct hue to match an original pen.

For the 1942 Christmas season, Waterman again truncated the barrel end, as it had done for 1940, and added transparency to the cap crown to match the barrel end. With the transparent portions now in colors that matched the barrel colors of the green and blue pens, the entire look was more unified. Maroon and brown (Amber) pens retained their amber ends, now mirrored on the cap as with the other colors. (This is a point of authenticity for the collector: 100 Year Pens with red ends may look pretty, but you can be certain that the ends are replacements. Waterman never made Maroon pens with red ends.) The blue 1942 Ladies’ pen and Jet 1942 De Luxe pen shown here have both had their barrel ends replaced:

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Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Interestingly, the colored pens of this generation are not truly opaque. The blue Ladies’ model shown above, when viewed with a bright light behind it, is a rich, deep transparent cobalt blue.

The last major version of the plastic-capped 100 Year Pen appeared in about 1943; it is like the ’42 pen but just a little more laid back. This is the look that followed the pen into the post-100 Year Pen era, after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission laid down strict (and unacceptable to Waterman) guidelines for product warranties. At that point, Waterman discontinued its long-term warranty and renamed the pen the Emblem Pen. Shown here are a late 100 Year Pen (upper) and an Emblem Pen (lower):

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Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Playing Games with Caps

The introduction of the Parker “51” caused a certain amount of scrambling among Parker’s competitors. One point of competition was the excellent clutched slip cap on the “51”. Waterman designed a similar clutched cap that it called the “Lock-Slip” cap, using a formed clutch ring instead of a machined one and shaping the cap’s spring fingers so that the ring would ride up and over a slight hump on each finger to “snap” into position. I have no reliable documentation on the date of this design, but it appeared on the Taperite in 1945. It also appears on a blue Canadian 100 Year Pen with a torpedo-shaped amber barrel end and an opaque cap crown, implying a 1941 date. (But stylistic features on pens made in Canada often lingered longer than they did on U.S.-made pens, so that the barrel shape doesn’t “guarantee” the early date.) Here are two slip-cap 100 Year Pens, the aforementioned Canadian pen with a plastic cap and a U.S.-made pen with a metal cap:

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Fountain pen Magnifying glass

To further muddy the waters of a 100 Year Pen timeline, these clutch-capped models appear to have been offered concurrently with threaded models. Somewhat less uncertain, however, is the date for the appearance of a threaded metal cap, first shown in 1943 advertising. The cap of the pen shown here bears the same “Stars and Stripes” motif that appeared a year later on the Taperite Stateleigh. This pen has a step in the barrel diameter to accommodate the additional thickness required by the threaded cap insert.

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Colors

The following table shows the colors Waterman chose for the Hundred Year Pen. There are two generations: first, the prewar pens made entirely of Lucite, and second, the wartime pens made — again — of celluloid, with or without transparent ends. The color names are taken from Waterman adver­tise­ments of the period.

One of the more interesting — and highly collectible — versions of the 100 Year Pen is not a design variant but rather a color. Waterman produced a Doctor’s Set, comprising a fountain pen, a mechanical pencil, and a thermometer case, in white celluloid.


Colors of the Lucite Hundred Year Pen
Color Name

Jet Jet
Transparent Red Transparent Red
Transparent Green Transparent Green
Transparent Blue Transparent Blue

Colors of the Celluloid 100 Year Pen
Color Name

Jet Jet
Jet with Clear End Jet with Clear End
White (Doctor's Pen White (Doctor’s Pen)
Maroon Maroon
Maroon with Amber End Maroon with Amber End(s)
Amber Amber
Amber with Amber End Amber with Amber End(s)
Green Green
Green with Amber End Green with Amber End (1941)
Green with Green End Green with Green Ends (1942)
Blue Blue
Blue with Amber End Blue with Amber End (1941)
Blue with Blue End Blue with Blue Ends (1942)


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