Profile: The Ingersoll Dollar Pen

(This page revised June 8, 2017)

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Ingersoll advertisement, 1929 Magnifying glass
This bright and cheery 1929 ad­ver­tise­ment il­lus­trates the full range of Ingersoll’s Bake­lite pens.

manufacturer logo The Robert H. Ingersoll Watch Company’s 1921 failure, after nearly 30 years of selling “dollar watches,” left both Robert and his brother and partner Charles out of work. Three years later, with his own eponymous Charles H. Ingersoll Dollar Pen Company, located in Newark, New Jersey, Charles remixed the “dollar” concept to make fountain pens that sold for a dollar. His first products were metal-bodied fountain pens whose best feature was a 14K gold nib of good quality. As shown by the upper pen below, some of these pens had screw caps; but the more common variety, like the two lower pens here, had a less costly but less reliable bayonet-type cap closure. The bayonet was also more difficult to use because it required the user to line the cap up perfectly with a small bump on the barrel in order to seat the cap before turning it slightly.

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

Metal

The three pens above, long and short clip-type models and a ringtop, illustrate the Dollar Pen’s odd metal gripping section. Like the pen’s barrel, the section is a tube, necked down to a more grippable diameter. To hold the nib and feed in place, a hard rubber section was force-fitted into the metal tube. The pen was then assembled by force-fitting the section into the barrel. The fit of these parts was made so tight, exerting such great tensile stress on the outer of the two fitted parts, that today many of these pens show cracks where the metal has split in both the section and the barrel. There also exists a small percentage of metal Dollar Pens with conventional hard rubber sections, as illustrated below; these pens have escaped the crack problem.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

ClipCharles Ingersoll was serious about offering good value for the customer’s dollar, and the clip that his non-ringtop metal pens bore is a testament to thoughtful design. As shown to the left, although it is technically a Z-clip, the clip does not simply stop at the ball; instead, it continues back upward to the Z-bend, terminating in what is effectively a second ball near the shoulder. This second clip ball offered additional security to keep the pen in the user's pocket.

Filler buttonRegardless of the cap, clip, or section design, these pens all used a remarkably cheap adaptation of the sac-wringing twist filler, in which the distal end of the tubular sac was secured to a simple cylindrical hard rubber plug. (The proximal end was secured to the section in the usual way.) The plug had a hole drilled partway through it, and a knob for turning that had started out life as a decorative upholstery tack was forced into the plug through a corresponding hole in the end of the barrel, as shown to the right. Ingersoll used whatever tacks it could get at any given moment; I have seen at least four different knob designs.

To provide a smoother action, in some pens Ingersoll added a small conical washer (shaped like a broad, slightly flattened bell) as shown in the sketch below.

Washer under knob

This washer added cost, however. Ingersoll soon eliminated it by the simple expedient of making the barrel’s end conical, giving the same results without the extra part.

There were three surface finishes available: two chasing designs (checkerboard, illustrated by the middle of the three pens at the top of this article, and a repeating chevron design, illustrated by the bottom pen at the top and the first pen shown in this section) and a parallel-line “milleraies” pattern, illustrated by the upper pen at the top of this article and the partial photographs in this section.

Not Metal

In about 1927, right around the time when Ingersoll was moving down the road from Newark to East Orange, and while continuing to produce metal pens, Ingersoll took a brief fling with celluloid, producing some attractive designs, but the company found that the celluloid tubing was not adequately sturdy when it was as thin as needed to make the dollar price point while still using a gold nib. Shown here are men’s and ladies’ celluloid Dollar Pens in Chinese red:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
ingersoll_rt Magnifying glass

There were also models for $1.50 and $2.00 that included gold-plated furniture and screw-off blind caps to conceal the upholstery-tack knob, improving the pen’s overall appearance. Shown here are $2.00 oversize pens in Jade Green and black with a white cap-crown trim band. Note the blind cap in the upper photo of the black pen and the exposed knob in the middle black pen photo:

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

Filler knobThe next generation was made of Bakelite, which Ingersoll called “imperishable Bakelite” on its introduction in 1928, later changing the marketspeak to “unbreakable composition.” Rather than invest in a Bakelite manufacturing facility, Ingersoll bought already-molded parts from the Boonton Molding Company, located in Boonton, New Jersey. These pens came in four colors, and the Bakelite was reinforced with a filler material that rendered it opaque as well as strong enough to do the job. The pens also featured a real design improvement, in the form of a cast-metal threaded knob (illustrated to the left) that worked like A. A. Waterman’s and was marked with arrows showing which direction to turn to fill or empty the pen. Shown here is a black Bakelite Dollar Pen:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The Bakelite range featured upper-line models as well. The new filler knob design did away with the need for a blind cap, and all models had the exposed cast knob.

Conclusions?

Because Ingersoll pens are largely overlooked by today’s collectors, they offer the possibility for a fascinating niche collection. In general, celluloid and Bakelite models are easy to restore, not significantly more difficult than an ordinary lever-filler. Many of the metal pens, because of the cracks that have resulted from the basic design, are irreparable for actual use; but if you prefer to collect display specimens, there is a lot of variety out there at reasonable prices — probably not a dollar, but still quite affordable.

Ingersoll Colors

I do not have an authoritative list of the colors Ingersoll used for its celluloid pens; the colors shown in the table here are those that I have verified. Names are notional; I have no reference for them. The table also shows the four colors in which Bakelite pens appeared; names are taken from the 1929 advertisement at the top of this page. The Cardinal Red color is an educated guess derived from the ad and an Olive Green pen.


The Colors of Ingersoll Celluloid Pens
Color Name (Notional; no reference available)

Black Black
Chinese Red Chinese Red
Mahogany Mahogany
Jade Green Jade Green

The Colors of Ingersoll Bakelite Pens
Color Name

Black Black
Cardinal Red Cardinal Red
Mahogany Mahogany
Olive Green Olive Green


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.

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