Profile: Waterman’s Patrician

(This page revised December 22, 2012)

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Waterman advertisement, 1930 Magnifying glass
This 1930 Waterman ad­ver­tise­ment prob­ab­ly ap­peared in The Sat­ur­day Eve­ning Post or Col­lier’s Mag­a­zine.

Manufacturer logoThis Christmas there is something NEW — Waterman’s Patrician, a fountain pen so fine, so beautiful, that it is really a piece of personal jewelry.

Thus ran the introductory line of a Waterman advertisement in late 1929. The Patrician, priced at $10.00 (or $15.00 with a matching pencil), was without question an elegant pen, but it wasn’t particularly new. Still featuring Waterman’s archaic Spoon feed, it had no new technology inside, and its slightly rounded flat-top design wasn’t particularly advanced — especially when compared with that of Sheaffer’s radically streamlined Balance,Medallion introduced at the same time as the Patrician. What made the Patrician such a great pen was its construction quality: it required more than 300 handcrafted operations and was produced in relatively small numbers, not on a high-speed assembly line.

The Patrician was Waterman’s first pen to receive a model name instead of a number (although it could be argued that the Nº 5 and Nº 7 should by rights be the first named models because they were the first to deviate from the Standard Numbering System as it was regularized in 1917).

From the Globe medallion set into the distal end of the barrel to the pierced band and the stylized pocket clip, the Patrician’s styling (U.S. Patents Nos D81,246, D81,248, D84,641, and 1,863,061) was high Art Deco. Even the venerable lever received a restyling to look more modern. As befitted a flagship offering, the Patrician’s nib was huge. The exposed portion of the nib is the same size as the exposed portion of the Nº 8 nib used in the Nº 58, and because the Patrician is smaller than the Nº 58, the nib actually looks outsized. None of L. E. Waterman’s subsequent models, not even the De Luxe Hundred Year Pen, featured a nib this large.

The Patrician was offered initially in four colors: Nacre, Jet, Emerald, and Turquoise. Shown here is a very early production Jet Patrician.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Because of its close association with H. P. & E. Day, a hard rubber company, Waterman was slow to switch from hard rubber to celluloid. The Patrician was the first Waterman pen to appear in celluloid, but the company had not yet given up completely on hard rubber. Early Jet (black) Patricians, including the one shown above, were made of hard rubber. Waterman completed the changeover fairly quickly for the Patrician, and most Jet Patricians are made of celluloid. (But the gripping section, the cap lip, and the end caps of both the barrel and the cap remained hard rubber.) Other models soon followed in celluloid.

Keeping It New

To keep the buying public buying, a product needs continual updating, a concept known as Dynamic Obsolescence. The easiest way to update a product is to offer it in new colors that will, with luck, draw more customers. In 1930, Waterman added Onyx to the Patrician’s color palette, with something that none of the other colors had: hard rubber parts made of brick-red material instead of black. The pen illustrated here shows an unfortunate problem with the Onyx celluloid (and indeed with many other light-colored translucent celluloids): a tendency to discolor, in some cases severely. A further problem, which cannot be seen here, is the extreme fragility of the red hard rubber parts; they break much more easily than the black parts on other Patricians. For these reasons, Onyx Patricians with good color and undamaged hard rubber parts are rare and highly prized.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

In about 1933, possibly to ensure that last year’s pen looked like last year’s pen, Waterman discontinued making the Onyx Patrician with gold-filled furniture, replacing that version with one featuring chrome-plated furniture.

In 1932 came the final new color, Moss-Agate. Arguably the most attractive hue in the Patrician’s palette, Moss-Agate also appeared on the Lady Patricia, introduced the previous year to provide a top-line model deemed suitable for the daintiness of a lady. Furthermore, it was copied by other manufacturers, including Inkograph and Sheaffer. (Sheaffer, however, used it only on sub-branded models.)

Fountain pen and mechanical pencil
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The Lady Patricia, although it was designed for women, has one of the best “military” clips ever designed. Interestingly, however, with its stepped clip and embossed cap band, it bears no family resemblance to the Patrician beyond Waterman’s ubiquitous boxed lever and the fact that both models have cap lips of hard rubber.

For bank presidents and other really “important” people, Waterman offered the Patrician in Jet with solid 14K gold furniture. To distinguish it visually, this version featured an engraved band, as shown in the catalog image to the left, instead of the regular model’s pierced band. Today, however, perhaps the most collectible Patrician color is Turquoise, as shown by this pen:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Getting the Point

Initially, the Patrician featured five point styles, from extra fine to stub. By 1934, the range had expanded to include all seven of the styles covered by the nib color code introduced in 1927. (But Patricians did not bear color names in their nib imprints as did the Nº 5 and Nº 7.) Further, Waterman could fit a Patrician with any of its specialty styles, such as music or artists’ points, or broad or extra-broad styles.

Almost a Victim of Infant Mortality, Yet It Lives On

Because its design really was relatively antiquated, the Patrician did not survive long. It was not present in Waterman’s 1936 catalog or the 1936 “School” number (Vol. XXXIII, Nº 1) of the Pen Prophet, Waterman’s house organ, but it did appear in that year’s “Christmas” number (Vol. XXXIII, Nº 3), probably in an effort to clear out existing stocks. Today, with its rarity and beauty, it is among the most collectible of Waterman’s pen models — so much so that from 1992 to 1994 Waterman produced a “Patrician” version of its popular Man 100 model, as shown here.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

And because there are actually so few variants of the Patrician, it poses very little difficulty for the completist collector — unless you’re not able to lay out the four-figure prices being asked for good collector-grade pens.

Colors

The following table shows the Patrician’s range of colors.


Colors of Waterman’s Patrician
Color Name (Year of Introduction)

Black Jet (1929)
Emerald Emerald (1929)
Nacre Nacre (1929)
Turquoise Turquoise (1929)
Onyx Onyx (1930)
Moss-Agate Moss-Agate (1932)


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