(This page revised March 10, 2013)
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A Quintessential Wartime Pen
|This Morrison advertising matchbook, which makes the Patriot set seem almost a necessity, appeared c. 1943.|
During World War II, people around the world learned to get along on less, giving up critical war resources such as steel, rubber, and gasoline so that their countries’ war efforts could go forward. The war had a profound effect on fountain pen manufacture. One of its most noticeable results in the area of writing instruments was the creation of the Morrison Patriot, born of war and designed to fan the flames of patriotism in its users. Despite the fact that the Patriot did not conform to military regulations and could not be carried in the breast pocket of a uniform, Patriot advertising (as exemplified by the matchbook cover shown to the right) suggested that Stateside civilians should purchase the pen as a gift for that lonely soldier or sailor who was fighting on the other side of the world.
The Patriot’s Roots
Before the war the Morrison Fountain Pen Company, of New York City, made lever-fillers at several price levels, none of them competing directly with the first-tier products of the Big Four. Here is an interesting prewar low-line Morrison; it’s a small pen, but it presents the essential design feature of the Patriot, the sloped cap crown that Morrison called the Cameo Top:
The earliest pens I’ve found that are actually marked “The Patriot” appear to have been made before the U.S. entered the war, or at least before the restrictions on materials went into effect. Here’s a lever-filling Patriot made before Morrison decided to use the Cameo Top design. Like many other pens of the years leading up to the War, it is modeled along the lines of Sheaffer’s Balance. Somewhat unusually, it’s made of chased celluloid, which Morrison had used for several black models during the 1930s. It originally had an untipped Morrison Nº 7 steel nib, the sign of a bottom-of-the-line model.
The Real Deal Arrives
In 1942, Morrison began producing the “real” Patriot, a Cameo Top pen fitted with a 14K gold nib and issued in versions to honor the Army, Navy, Army Air Forces, and Marines. (There are rumors of a Coast Guard Patriot, but I have never seen any credible reference to a “Coastie” Patriot.) Like their forebears, initial production pens were lever-fillers, as shown by this Army example:
Rationing of rubber articles began with tires in January 1942, and more severe restrictions were enacted later in the year. By October, Morrison could no longer get enough rubber sacs to make lever-fillers; to keep production going, Morrison’s engineers developed the syringe-filling Patriot. Considered on its own merits, the syringe-filling design is superior to the lever-filler in almost every respect, but Morrison shipped the first batch or two of these pens with a note apologizing that they were not lever-fillers!
Here are Army, Navy, Army Air Forces, and Marine Corps Patriots, presented in order of their rarity:
The Army and Navy pens shown here have gold nibs imprinted MORRISON 14 KT U.S.A. The Army Air Forces and Marine Corps pens have nibs imprinted 14K MADE IN U.S.A.
Each of these pens has the crest of its service, cast in sterling silver and gold plated, glued to the sloped Cameo Top cap crown. Some early emblems were enameled; the enameled Army emblem, for example, shows red, white, and blue in the Eagle’s shield. The big feature of these pens, however, is not the external design but the internal one. They’re syringe (“Post”) fillers, with the entire barrel screwing off to expose the filling unit — which Morrison’s instruction sheet calls the Visual Vacuum Filler.
The engineering behind the aesthetically pleasing syringe-filler design is obvious: the new filler design eliminated the metal lever and snap ring as well as the operations associated with cutting a lever slot and its associated snap-ring groove. Threading the section joint and gluing the filler’s reservoir to the sac nipple made the transition very easy and economical. Overall, re-engineering costs were held to an absolute minimum. Except for its two sliding seal gaskets (one of cork and one of waterproofed fiberboard), the filler unit itself is made entirely of celluloid.
The syringe-filling Patriot lived up to its name when it came to conserving critical war resources. Except for those two two gaskets and the metal parts, the entire pen — including even the section and feed — is made of celluloid.
Dressing It Down
Apparently it was felt that the crested Patriots were too flashy to be carried by some people; there were also crestless versions that were the same except for a slightly rounded flat-top cap design. Here is a crestless Navy Patriot with a MORRISON 14 KT U.S.A. nib:
Brothers in Arms
The U.S.A. did not fight World War II alone, and Morrison appears to have taken notice of that fact. Not only did the torpedo-shaped Patriot exist before the War, but the company also made a Cameo Top lever-filler honoring the Lend-Lease program under which America, still ostensibly neutral, declared itself the Arsenal of Democracy and shipped millions of tons of war matériel to the Allied belligerents (primarily Great Britain and, after the launching of Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa, the Soviet Union). The Lend-Lease pen, orange in color and fitted with a steel Morrison HARD IRIDIUM PEN nib, bore on its cap crown a full-color decal transfer showing the crossed flags of the United States and the United Kingdom. The Lend-Lease pen shown here has lost portions of its decal but is otherwise complete. Note that this pen bears neither the word “Patriot” nor the phrase “Cameo Top” in its barrel imprint.
Further, Morrison made at least one pen model on the syringe-filling Patriot chassis to honor our allies. Like the Lend-Lease pen above, it’s not marked as a Patriot, but it has the syringe-filler. The cap bears a hemispherical crown decorated with the Red, White, and Blue roundel of Britain’s Royal Air Force. This pen is fitted with an IRIDIUM TIPPED U.S.A. steel nib.
When Was It Made?
I have no documentation giving the exact production dates of the Patriot beyond its 1942 introduction, but the shape of the section appears to have a bearing on whether a given pen is early or late in the model’s lifetime. A smoothly streamlined section, like that on the small prewar lever-filler, the torpedo-shaped Patriot, and the Lend-Lease pen, appears on some Patriots; and my speculation is that these pens were made early and used existing tooling for the section. Following this line of reasoning, it seems that later pens reverted to the blockier 1920s-style section on all the pens shown here except those listed in this paragraph. This less streamlined section would be faster and less costly to manufacture.
Truth and Fiction
In recent years, the Internet has hosted an oft-repeated legend to the effect that the Patriot was made by a Japanese company:
A 1942 Military Fountain Pen manufactured by the Morrison Pen Company founded in 1918 as the Kikaku Seisakusyo company, the companys [sic] name was changed in 1933 to the Morrison Company. This fountain pen was made specifically to comply with the requirements of the United States Army.
I do not know the origin of this preposterous story. Japan’s Kikaku Seisakusyo company did change its name to Morison (with only one r) in 1933, and the company continued making pens of excellent quality for many years — but it didn’t make the Patriot. The Morrison Fountain Pen Company was founded in 1910, in New York City.
Also, as noted at the beginning of this article, the Patriot did not conform to military regulations, which required a military clip; it was made for, and sold to, civilians. Patriots were produced as pen/pencil sets priced at $6.25, and the $1.25 wartime excise tax raised the consumer’s cost to $7.50.
Marketing of the Patriot, as for other products, leaned heavily toward the idea that this pen was something you could buy to show your support for a friend or loved one in uniform. Seemingly recognizing that soldiers or sailors would have to carry their Patriots in their duffel bags or sea bags, Morrison packaged the sets with real leather pouch cases that would protect the pen and pencil while keeping them together. Shown here is a Marine Corps set with its pouch.
Collectible? Yes, but…
Patriots are not so common as they once were, but they are not so rare as to be out of reach for the average collector. The Army and Navy versions are far more common than the Army Air Forces and Marine Corps; the latter two are distinctly rare. More difficult than finding them, however, is getting them into working order. Restoration is possible, but the filling system was not designed to be reparable, and for this reason there are few restorers working today who handle the Patriot.
No secret was made of the Lend-Lease program, and the Germans objected strongly to it. America’s pseudo-neutral stance was a contributing factor in the torpedoing of the destroyer U.S.S. Reuben James on 31 October 1941, about a month before the U.S.’ official entry into the war.
At one time, this description appeared, identically worded, on several Web sites. I copied it from the Fountain Pen Emporium; but it has since disappeared from that site, as apparently the pen it advertised was sold.
The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative. 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 Tim Holl for the loan of his rare lever-filling Cameo Top Army Patriot.