Profile: Waterman’s Nº 7

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Waterman advertisement, 1929 Magnifying glass
This advertisement fea­tur­ing the “Ripple” Nº 7 ap­peared in the Sep­tem­ber 1929 issue of Good House­keeping Magazine.

Manufacturer logoOne of the factors that led to the eventual demise of the original L. E. Waterman Company was its reluctance to abandon the manufacture of hard rubber pens in the late 1920s. In 1924, Sheaffer had followed the lead of LeBoeuf, a small New England company that had begun selling celluloid pens four years earlier, and transitioned its production from hard rubber to celluloid. In 1925, Parker began the same transition. Waterman, however, was inextricably involved with (and later purchased) H. P. & E. Day, Inc., a hard rubber manufacturer located in Seymour, Connecticut, and was not yet ready to let go of hard rubber. When the company introduced its new Nº 7 model in 1927, the pen was made of hard rubber. But it wasn’t ordinary hard rubber; it was a beautiful two-tone material with the unique “Ripple” pattern that Waterman and Day had developed to replace Waterman’s four-year-old mottled (“woodgrain”) hard rubber.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

(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.)

What’s New Is Old, What‘s Old is New

The Nº 7, called the Number Seven in early advertising, was not really a new pen. It was actually a Nº 55 body fitted with a slightly larger nib that featured a remarkably attractive keyhole-shaped breather hole. Its big selling feature was a new “color” system for identifying the point styles of the new nibs. Fountain pen nib No longer was there the need to guess at point styles by eye; the color system made it almost a science. To make it even easier to identify the point style on a given pen, Waterman added a band of matching color to the cap. This innovation made it possible to identify one among several otherwise identical pens without uncapping any of them, a benefit that must have encouraged at least some purchasers to buy more than one Nº 7. (The pen shown above has a Purple nib and cap band.)

The photos below show second-generation Nº 7 pens with with Pink (upper) and Blue (lower) nibs. Second-generation pens were the same as the first generation except that the later version had gained a pair of narrow white bands outlining the cap’s color band (which could be difficult to see in poor light).

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The Nº 7 went on the market at a price of $7.00, with a selection of six different nib styles: Red, Green, Pink, Blue, Yellow, and Purple. The seeming incongruity of a Number Seven pen with only six nibs might have motivated Waterman’s introduction of a seventh nib, Brown. By the time of the 1929 Good Housekeeping ad shown above, Waterman advertising described the Nº 7 as “Everyman’s pen,” encouraging the reader to "Ask any dealer to show you all seven styles…" Before the end of the Nº 7’s product life three further colors (Grey, Black, and White) appeared.

The Nº 7 also gained a smaller companion; in 1928, Waterman introduced the Nº 5, priced at $5.00. Shown here is a Nº 5 with a Purple nib. (The cap’s color band is a modern replacement, lighter in color than the original.)

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Celluloid At Last

Color diskWaterman did see the handwriting on the wall, and sometime in 1929 the company introduced a a celluloid version of the popular Nº 94. Other celluloid models followed, among them the Nº 7. But while bright colors led the way for other models, the Nº 7 came in dramatic… Jet (black). On a Jet pen, that bright color band would have been out of place, so something else had to be done. Waterman relocated the color identifier, morphing it into a circular disk set into the distal end of the barrel (at right, a Yellow color disk). The pen also lost a little in size, shrinking from about 55/8" capped and a little over 7" posted to about 51/2" capped and a little over 61/2" posted. This is a Jet Nº 7 pen with a Red nib:

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The Nº 5 and Nº 94 also appeared at this time in Jet with barrel-end colored disks.

Once having made the leap and discovered that the Nº 7 hadn’t fallen off along the way, Waterman went ahead and treated the pen to new and exciting colors. When Emerald-Ray and Silver-Ray joined the Waterman palette, the Nº 7 (a little larger again, having grown to about 63/4" posted) was among the pens that wore them; but because the Nº 7 was at that time available only as a lever filler, it had no reason to be offered in the Ray version of Jet. The barrel-end color disk disappeared in this generation. Here is an Emerald-Ray Nº 7 with a Brown nib:

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Plus Ça Change…

Having lost its color-coded disk, the Nº 7 was ready for the next step in its loss of identity: the loss of its color-coded nib. In the latter half of the 1930s, Waterman began shipping Nº 7 pens fitted with nibs bearing the number 7 below the WATERMAN’S IDEAL imprint instead of color names above it.

By that time, however, Waterman had developed the eponymous Ink-Vue filler and a line of pens that used it. These pens came in the Ray colors and were marketed concurrently with the Ray-colored Nº 7 pens. It is not clear whether the Nº 7 appeared with the original Ink-Vue filler (U.S. Patent Nº 2,068,419, soon improved by 2,087,672); if it did, then when Copper-Ray was introduced, the formerly pointless Ray version of Jet probably also appeared on the Nº 7. But the original Ink-Vue filler design was expensive to manufacture. So in 1939 a new version appeared that was much more economical to make (U.S. Patent Nº 2,217,755) — and this one made it to the Nº 7. Sadly, the attractive colors on more “plebeian” models (e.g., the Nº 5116, illustrated below, upper) appear not to have been used on the Nº 7. The Nº 7 ( below, lower) had changed in size again; the tale of the tape now read about 51/8" capped and 615/16" posted. Interestingly, the cast clip on this last version of the now-venerable Nº 7 had made its first appearance a decade earlier, at the height of the Art Deco era, on the Patrician!

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Seventh Heaven

In comparison with many other Waterman models such as the 52, Waterman’s Nº 7 is relatively uncommon, and for many collectors it is almost a Holy Grail among pens. But most seem to concentrate on the “Ripple” pens, collecting as nearly full a set of nib colors as possible. (Although attempts have been made to pass off faked White nibs, no authenticated example is known to exist.) Few collectors opt to seek out all the variations of this iconic pen, yet there is much to appreciate in the various celluloid models, and much to challenge the collector. Assembling a type collection might be less expensive than gathering a set of nib colors — but it would not necessarily be less difficult.

Colors

The following table shows the colors in which I believe Waterman’s Nº 7 to have appeared.


Colors of Waterman’s Nº 7 (in Chronological Order)
Color Name

Ripple Red Ripple Red
Jet Jet
Emerald-Ray Emerald-Ray
Silver-Ray Silver-Ray
Copper-Ray Copper-Ray
Jet (Ray version) Jet (Ray version)


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