(This page revised April 16, 2018)
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|This 1947 double-truck (two-page) advertisement for the Kimberly Pockette appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.|
In 1947, Eversharp, Inc., was in disarray. The Skyline fountain pen was dated, the Fifth Avenue fountain pen had failed in the marketplace and had been withdrawn, and the unreliable new CA ballpoint, introduced in December 1945 after having been upstaged two months earlier by Milton Reynolds’ International, was an unmitigated disaster that would, before the dust settled, come close to bankrupting the company with warranty claims.
Opportunity knocked, and Eversharp answered. In January 1945, Leo Mizis (who later changed his name to Leo Kimberly) had founded the Kimberly Corporation, of Culver City, California, and hired Hartley M. Sears to invent a ballpoint pen for Kimberly. Sears succeeded in producing a ballpoint that actually worked, and he and Clarence O. Schrader developed a process for manufacturing the ballpoint tips and a machine that did the job.
In May 1947, Sears and Schrader jumped ship to set up the Hartley Pen Company, Inc., and filed for a patent on their process and machine (U.S. Patent No 2,498,009). Soon thereafter, lawsuits were flying in every direction, including one that Kimberly filed against Hartley over the process and the machine, and another that Eversharp filed against both Kimberly and Hartley on grounds that they had infringed Eversharp’s patent rights by making ballpoints at all. (Eversharp had purchased the U.S. rights to László Bíró’s 1938 ballpoint design, U.S. Patent No 2,390,636.)
But Kimberly had a working pen (and a method of producing it) while Eversharp did not, and the enmity between the two companies was assuaged by Eversharp’s acquisition of sufficient interest in Kimberly that Kimberly became an exclusive Eversharp brand. Eversharp bought additional outstanding stock in 1955, acquiring outright ownership of Kimberly, and continued marketing ballpoint pens under the Kimberly name until Parker bought Eversharp two years later. Thus, it is not unreasonable to view the Kimberly as The Pen That Saved Eversharp.
Before coming under the Eversharp umbrella, Kimberly had already sold some 25,000 pens, including Pockettes and another model that appears not to have made it into the Eversharp line. Eversharp’s first Kimberly pen was the Pockette, a long/short pen that was only about 31∕2" long closed but opened out to about 5" when posted. The first Eversharp version came in only two trims: with a chrome-plated cap band, priced at $4.95, or with a 1∕20 12K gold-filled band, for $7.50. Both bands bore longitudinal lines in groups of four separated by spaces, with one space made larger to serve as an indicia.
The Kimberly design was actually quite sophisticated. In addition to the critical ballpoint refill itself, the pens also featured a small spring in the back end of the barrel that provided a gentle cushioning effect; when the writer pressed down, the refill retracted very slightly against the spring. The refill was relatively large in diameter and, being made of metal, had thin walls that allowed for a very large ink capacity. (Later, plastic refills appeared; this version had thicker walls, needed for strength but yielding only 55% of the original refill’s ink capacity.)
One advantage of the new plastic refills was the ability to provide a view of the ink supply, and black refills soon gave way to translucent ones. Ink technology advanced as well: in about 1953, Eversharp launched its new Inca Ink Kimberly refills. Advertising for the new refills featured the cartoon Inca Indians shown here. The thrust, in addition to the visible ink supply, was that the ancient Incas had developed the world’s brightest and most permanent colors — until Eversharp came along. Temple Blue Inca Ink was permanent on paper but supposedly washed easily off hands and clothing; Fire Red, Leaf Green, and Jungle Black were permanent everywhere.
Spruce It Up?
After introducing the Pockette, Eversharp gradually added several trim variations, extending the price range both downward and upward. Lower-priced models were less carefully finished; mold separation lines that were sanded and polished away on the high-end models were prominent on the cheaper pens. Shown here is a range of Pockettes in various trims from the top-line gold-filled model to the Pockette Jr. The aluminum-bodied pen is unusual in having a finger-type snap/slip cap clutch like that in the earlier Fifth Avenue. The Pockette Jr., at the bottom of the line, has a plastic clutch ring, and the mold separation line is still visible on its barrel (immediately adjacent to the cap lip in this photo). The middle of the range included cap bands with transverse milled decoration in the middle or only at the ends; with longitudinal grooves in groups as described above or broadly spaced in a continuous pattern except for the indicia; and with no decoration at all. Note that the gold-filled pen shown here has a plastic clutch ring. Is this a Frankenpen, or did Eversharp make it that way?
There was even a promotional version of the Pockette, obviously at the very bottom of the line, with a plastic clutch ring and a plastic cap band. The pens shown here, made for a 1958 Lions convention held in Chicago and for a now-defunct merchant in Lake City, Iowa (featuring Lake City High School’s 1958 football schedule), tell us that the Kimberly Pockette continued in production, at least as a promotional item, for some time after Eversharp became part of Parker.
Faced with increasing competition from new entries in the field as well as from established pan companies such as Sheaffer, Eversharp continued to expand the Kimberly line, and prices fell precipitously. Soon, the pens were being advertised not as Kimberly pens by Eversharp but rather as Eversharp pens, featuring the Kimberly refill. By 1949, Eversharp had grown the Kimberly line to include a full-length version, still a nonretractble pen with a cap. The longer pen naturally featured a refill that was twice as long as that in the Pockette, and Eversharp advertised the pen based on its increased writing capacity. This pen, called the Reporter, had a plastic clutch ring and a “gleaming gold-colored” cap, and it sold for $1.00.
By 1953, the Reporter bad lost its metal cap in favor of plastic with a narrow metal band and had received a new name: the Star Reporter (emphasized by a small hot-stamped gold star on the barrel). Its price was still $1.00. The Kimberly Pockette had become the Kim (also priced at $1.00 and featuring the same narrow band and star), and there were now two completely new models, the Retractable ($1.49) and the De Luxe Retractable ($2.50).
The retractables extended with a push of a cap-top button and retracted with a push on the clip’s , a convenient feature given that clipping the pen into a pocket was likely to raise the clip ball enough to trip retraction.
The De Luxe Retractable featured a gold-plated metal shell covering the button and a broad gold-plated metal cap band that gave it an appearance reminiscent of the World War II-era Sheaffer “TRIUMPH” pens and their competitors. Color choices, too, were much reduced, as shown by the Later Colors section in the table at the end of this article.
The resolution of this section’s title comes in the form of the pen pictured below, the Fisher Space Pen (U.S. Patent No 3,285,228, by Paul C. Fisher). Offered in myriad variations — even including models that use real rifle cartridge cases for their caps — the Space Pen is eminently pocketable. It’s not a Kimberly, but the fact that hundreds of millions of Space Pens have been sold since their introduction in the 1960s is ample evidence that the long/short concept, pioneered by Leo Mizis more than half a century ago, still offers practicality and charm.
But Is It Good for Anything?
For collectors who like to use their pens, the Kimberly Pockette and Reporter are a couple of the best users out there. Among other benefits, the Pockette’s long/short configuration makes it an ideal pen to carry in a pants pocket or a purse. While original refills are unlikely still to be good, it is easy to modify these pens to accept a modern refill. Several of the pens illustrated have been fitted with various types of modern refills.
Colors for Her and for Him — at Least for a While
Early Kimberly advertising was very strongly slanted toward the gender divide. Rather than offering a single range of colors that could appeal to everyone, Eversharp cut a sharp line between women and men, creating a bright palette for women and a much more restrained (and smaller) palette for men. The color names listed in the women’s and men’s sections of the table are taken from a double-page advertisement from 1947, featuring both women’s and men’s colors, and a single-page ad from 1948, showing women’s colors only. The years in parentheses indicate which ad or ads a given color name came from. But by the ’50s, all the fancy colors were gone, replaced by plainer hues with plainer names. The later colors are taken from a 1953 advertisement.
One known color is not shown here. A single Pockette pen is known to exist with a perfectly transparent gripping section. This pen has a black barrel and a black cap, and it is fitted with a band that is narrower than the one illustrated on the green pen above.
|“Feminine High-Style Colors”|
|Black (1947 and 1948)|
|White (1947); Snow White (1948)|
|Scarlet Velvet (1947; Lacquer Red (1948)|
|Petal Pink (1948)|
|Sunset Yellow (1948)|
|Emerald Satin (1947); Emerald Green (1948)|
|Royal Blue Gabardine (1947); Royal Blue (1948)|
|Purple Chiffon (1947); discontinued in 1948|
The aluminum-bodied pen, the Pockette Jr., and the Reporter in this article have been fitted with Paper Mate refills. The only external clue to the replacement is that slightly more of the tip is visible than would have been visible with an original refill. Using a Paper Mate refill is a somewhat poetic solution, given that as of this writing both Parker (which bought Eversharp) and Paper Mate are parts of the Sanford division of Newell Rubbermaid.
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 Kimberly collector Harry Shubin, who kindly lent the majority of the pens pictured in this article.