Profile: Moore’s Non-Leakable Safety Pen

(This page revised March 16, 2016)

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This article is a revised and expanded version of one that first appeared in the August 2014 issue of PEN WORLD magazine.

Moore advertisement, 1909 Magnifying glass
This Non-Leakable ad­ver­tise­ment ap­peared in time for Christ­mas 1909, in the Amer­i­can Re­view of Re­views, Vol­ume 40.

Manufacturer logoIf your mind boggles at the term “non-leakable,” don’t worry. When violinist and music teacher Morris Woodbury Moore invented his eponymous pen in the 1890s, he might have called it Moore’s Leakproof Safety Pen — but the word “leakproof” hadn’t been invented yet and wouldn’t appear for another 30 years. Moore’s Non-Leakable Safety Pen has an interesting history, and while some fountain pen collectors aren’t familiar with it, all ought to know this classic.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Moore’s Non-Leakable No 10, BCHR
Moore product sheet Magnifying glass
The American News Com­pa­ny, which was a dis­trib­u­tor for Moore’s Non-Leak­able Safe­ty Pen, publ­ished this pro­duct sheet.

When Moore filed for patents on his retractable pen design in 1894, he had not come newly minted to the business of inventing fountain pens. His first two patents, for feed systems to improve flow control, are dated 1890 and 1891; and in 1893 he had assigned a patent for a slip-cap retractable pen to Joseph E. Chase and William D. Park. I’ve discovered no concrete evidence that any of these earlier patents resulted in the manufacture of actual pens, but the wording of the 1894 patent application (see below) suggests that they might have existed in more than just Moore’s fertile imagination.

U.S. Patents Nos 567,151 and 567,152 were both issued to Moore on September 8, 1896. The design, illustrated here by the drawings for No 567,152, described a ring of hard rubber placed around the barrel and connected to the back of the nib carrier rod by a transverse pin through slots in the barrel. Sliding this ring would extend and retract the nib. This ring design was one of Moore’s principal patent claims, inasmuch as it allowed the user to operate the nib without removing a blind cap from the back of the pen’s barrel as had been required by earlier pens that worked along the same general lines. Were the earlier pens in question built to the patent that Moore had assigned to Chase and Park in 1893?

US567152-1

Moore also specified cork for the packing material to seal the back of the barrel where the rod passed through it; his patent states that earlier retractable pens had used rubber for the packing but that the action with a rubber seal was stiff and that rubber’s inevitable deterioration over time would lead to an unreliable seal. Here, again, it is possible that he was referring to pens made to the patent that went to Chase and Park, in which he had specified “soft rubber or an equivalent compressible material” for the seal at the back end of the barrel. The 1896 patents might well have been an attempt to rectify deficiencies that had come to light when pens made to the earlier design were actually used.

Enter the American Fountain Pen Company

As is often the case, Moore supplied no working model when he applied for his patents. Also, being a musician, not a manufacturer, he had never produced any pens. The first production version of his pen appeared shortly after William F. Cushman, an optical salesman, and Walter F. Cushing, treasurer of the Boston, Massachusetts, stationery manufacturer Adams, Cushing & Foster, purchased the rights to the design. Cushman and Cushing quickly found it necessary to create a separate company to make the pens, and they founded the American Fountain Pen Company in 1899. The new company took up quarters in the upper floors of Adams, Cushing & Foster’s building at 168 Devonshire Street in Boston, and its downstairs neighbor became the national sales agency for Moore’s Non-Leakable Safety Pen. (By October 1914, American Fountain Pen had become so successful that Adams, Cushing & Foster purchased the company outright, continuing pen production without a change in the company’s name.) From the outset, pens were imprinted with the Moore’s Non-Leakable name while their nibs bore an imprint reading American Fountain Pen Co.

Moore product sheet Magnifying glass
This 1901 product sheet came di­rect­ly from Ad­ams, Cush­ing & Fos­ter. It shows the first-gen­era­tion shape de­scribed here.

As shown in the photos below, the first-generation Non-Leakable pen, while it is clearly based on Moore’s patents, shows the beneficial effects of a skillful engineering redesign. It also retains an interesting vestigial artifact from the original patents.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The basic function is the same as in Moore’s original design. Shortening the barrel and attaching the rod to the top hat–shaped plug that was formerly at the back of the barrel was an obvious improvement. It did away with some small parts — including the external sliding ring — and simplified the assembly of the pen while still allowing operability without the removal of a blind cap, the star feature of Moore’s patents. It created a new concern by exposing part of the rod, however, and the engineers solved that one by making the back end of the barrel into a sleeve that attaches to the top hat. Because the sleeve slides along the real barrel, they called it a slide. In the initial version of the pen, as you can see, the back half of the barrel was stepped down so that the diameter of the slide matched the diameter of the barrel when the nib was extended. Oddly, however, the improved design retained four slots in the slide. These slots served no useful function, but there they were — possibly just because they had been there in Morris Moore’s patent drawings. This design remained in production at least until mid-1901.

By 1903, the company’s engineers had concluded that the slots in the slide were unnecessary and had eliminated them along with the the step in the barrel’s diameter, thinning the barrel along its entire length to create a slimmer profile and giving the pen its now-familiar dumbbell shape.

The bane of retractable-pen users is the potential for crushing the nib if it’s not retracted when the pen is capped. Morris Moore didn’t do anything about this possibility, but the engineers who designed the production version of his pen at American Fountain Pen did. Inside the cap, they installed a pin (easily seen in the cutaway drawing below, which also shows the cap seal in detail) to push on the flat end of the nib carrier rod, retracting the nib into the barrel if the user attempted to cap the pen without having retracted the nib. Automatic retraction probably saved a good number of Moore’s nibs from being recycled. I know of no other retractables that included this feature.

nonleak_cap_seal

As with most pens of its day, Moore’s Non-Leakable Safety Pen came in many sizes, short and long, thin and thick, from midget to oversize, and in a broad range of trims. Short pens, grouped together at the right side of the product sheets above, were collectively named “Tourist”, with one extremely short model (not shown on the product sheets) called the Midget. The basic design is generally easy to identify by its shape when capped, resembling that of a long skinny dumbbell, with a thinner center and thicker ends. Shown here is a range of Non-Leakable pens:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Moore’s Non-Leakable No 2 “Tourist”, BHR with GF trim bands
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Moore’s Non-Leakable No 450, BCHR
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Moore’s Non-Leakable No 1, BCHR, “mint” stickered
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Moore’s Non-Leakable Midget, engraved gold-filled overlay
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Moore’s Non-Leakable No 2 “Tourist”, engraved gold-filled Pansy overlay
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Moore’s Non-Leakable No 2 “Tourist”, MHR

How It Works

The cross-sectional drawings below illustrate the incredibly simple internals of Moore’s retractable pen. The drawings show the pen capped with its nib retracted, and posted with the nib extended. Posting the cap on the back of the barrel gives the pen length and balance, and Moore’s Non-Leakable Safety Pen is actually a remarkably pleasant writer in the hand. Most Non-Leakables also have delightful flexible nibs.

nonleak_capped
nonleak

The key to making the pen leakproof was its screw cap. Inside the cap is a cylindrical projection that nestles like a cork stopper into a conical opening at the front end of the barrel. As illustrated in the partial cutaway earlier in this article, screwing the cap down forms an ink-tight seal at that point. Moore’s pen was the first fountain pen to which anyone had applied the term “non-leakable,” and its advertising made much of the fact that it could be carried in any pocket, at any angle, in complete safety, never disgorging even a drop of ink when it wasn’t supposed to do so. Both of the product sheets illustrated above contain the following text; note particularly points 2 and 3:

THE FOLLOWING CLAIMS FOR THESE PENS WE GUARANTEE:

  1. That the pen is filled without unscrewing the section or pulling out the pen, thus avoiding soiling the fingers with ink when filling.

  2. That the pen is drawn back into the barrel or reservoir after using, and when the cap is turned on is absolutely air and ink tight.

  3. That the barrel being air tight, the ink never thickens or dries up, and if the pen is not used for a year it writes just as readily the instant it touches the paper.

  4. That our “Tourist” or Military pen is the best pen made for travelers or military use.

  5. That we use nothing but the highest grade of gold pens.

  6. That any person can use this pen a lifetime and never soil their fingers with ink.

  7. That we use pure gum rubber, and the superior finish and lustre on our holders is very noticeable when compared with others made from common stock.

The design of Moore’s pen was so secure that every pen left the factory already filled and ready for use. As illustrated by the advertisements reproduced here, “It wont leak” and “Moore’s wont leak” (with the apostrophe missing from won’t) were oft-used promotional phrases for these pens.

When the nib is extended, a friction fit between the barrel and the collar holding the nib (as shown below) keeps the nib in its extended position and prevents leakage while the pen is in use. Other retractable pens of the time used a more complicated and costly helical cam to extend and retract the nib when a knob at the back end of the barrel was turned. It may be that their inventors didn’t trust the simple friction fit of Moore’s design, or possibly they just didn’t think of it.

nonleak_cap_seal
Moore advertisement Magnifying glass
This ad­ver­tise­ment ap­peared in the De­cem­ber 1917 is­sue of Out­ing Mag­a­zine.

It Makes Its Own Ink!

At some point before or during World War I, American Fountain Pen joined the ranks of companies making trench pens, or at least providing the ability for the troops in France, who were not permitted to carry bottled ink into combat, to write home. Offered for the paltry price of 15¢ was a vial of 30 “Inklets,” tablets that would make ink when mixed with water inside a pen. Shown to the right is an advertisement featuring a pen and a vial of Inklets along with instructions showing how simple it was to use the Inklets. Although not stated in the ad, it was obvious that this combination would be ideal for military use; in the case of Outing, however, the target audience were outdoorsmen and campers, who would also not want to carry bottled ink.

The Aftermath

The American Fountain Pen Company acquired some valuable new talent when Wahl-Eversharp bought out the Boston Fountain Pen Company in 1917. Not all of Boston’s people went to Chicago, and most of those who stayed behind, including George Brandt, one of Boston founder Charles Brandt’s two sons, went to work for American. The newly enlarged company renamed itself to become the Moore Pen Company and soon thereafter began manufacturing The Moore Pen, a lever filler styled generally along Boston lines, alongside Moore’s Non-Leakable Safety Pen, which remained in the company’s catalog until well into the 1920s. Non-Leakable pens made after the newly named company had exhausted its stock of American-imprinted nibs were fitted with nibs imprinted with the Moore name.

Moore himself had no affiliation with American. Unencumbered by any sort of exclusive agreement, he went on to patent more pens — but not for American. In 1907, he became the general manager of the Atlantis Fountain Pen Company of Everett, Massachusetts, newly incorporated to manufacture what it described as Moore’s “New No-Leak” Fountain Pen. In that year, he received two patents that he assigned to Atlantis. Three more patents ensued in 1909, 1912 and 1917, all of which went to the Samuel Ward Manufacturing Company of Boston. As with Moore’s 1891 and 1893 patents, I’ve uncovered no evidence that any of these patents matured into actual products, but, if so, it seems almost unimportant. The patents from 1896, which certainly did bear fruit, resulted in some of the best pens of the time.


Notes:
  1. This one ad in Outing Magazine is the only instance of advertising I have found showing Inklets with a Moore’s pen. Inklets were advertised separately in the early 1920s, but they were then being offered by the General Eclipse Company of Danielson, Connecticut. I think it likely that the 1917 advertisement was a one-time coöperative effort by Moore and General Eclipse.

  2. On July 23, 1908, Judge Francis C. Lowell, in Circuit Court D of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, heard a lawsuit filed by William F. Cushman against the Atlantis Fountain Pen Company, alleging patent infringement and unfair competition. Judge Lowell issued a preliminary injunction to restrain the patent infringement but denied the motion to enjoin unfair competition for “want of jurisdiction.”

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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