(This page revised April 8, 2017)
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The 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 Parentage
The Morrison Fountain Pen Company, founded in 1910, is probably best known today for the overlay hard rubber pens that it produced in the 1920s. In the latter part of the 1930s, the Black Beauty (U.S. Patent No D124,609, shown below, issued on January 14, 1941) and other models like it, made of chased celluloid and fitted with Morrison No 7 untipped steel nibs, became the company’s signature products.
Sometime around 1940, there emerged a new model called the Star Series. The Star Series pens were single-color models, distinguished by a cap crown that appeared to be slashed at an angle, with a piece of a different color filling the cut-off end. The inserted piece was elliptical; whether someone at Morrison wanted to emulate a cameo and designed it that way or realized after the design was proposed that its shape resembled that of a cameo, the result was that "Cameo Top" became a Morrison trademark, and Cameo Top pens flowed from the company’s factory until some time after World War II. Shown here are two vest-pocket-sized Star Series pens, an NOS example in Chinese Yellow and an example in black. Both have tipped steel nibs; the gold plating on the black pens’s nib is completely worn away.
The Patriot’s Beginnings
The earliest pens I’ve found that are actually marked “The Patriot” probably appeared with the onset of World War II in 1939. The lever-filling ladies’ and men’s Patriots shown here match the design of a mid-1930s model that had appeared before Morrison introduced the Cameo Top design. That pen, the uppermost of the three shown here, appears to have been made in black only. Like many other pens of the 1930s, this design is modeled along the general lines of Sheaffer’s Balance. Like the Black Beauty and other models of its time, these pens are made of chased celluloid. The larger pens shown here originally had untipped Morrison No 7 steel nibs, the sign of a bottom-line model. For lack of a better designation, I refer to this design as the “Protopatriot.”
The Real Deal Arrives
In 1941, Morrison began producing the “real” Patriot, a Cameo Top pen issued in versions to honor the Army, Navy, Air Corps, and Marines. (There are rumors of a Coast Guard Patriot, but I have never seen any credible reference to a “Coastie” version.) That the Air Corps model was named as it was, despite the fact that the Army Air Corps had become the Army Air Forces in June 1941, suggests that Morrison had already begun producing these pens several months before the U.S. entered World War II, and the existence of several steel-nibbed versions of the Patriot, including an Army pen that is part of a pen/pencil set, confirms that possibility. Like their forebears, initial production pens were lever-fillers, as shown by these Army examples in the standard and small sizes:
Restrictions on the use of iron and steel began in January 1942, and pen manufacturers responded by removing steel from their pens wherever reasonable. Some manufacturers that had been making pens with steel nibs — including Morrison — suddenly began producing the same models with 14K gold nibs instead of steel. The vast majority of Patriots have gold nibs.
Rationing of rubber articles began with tires in January 1942, but the restrictions were not serious, and Morrison continued to produce lever-filling pens (now fitted with gold nibs). When further restrictions on rubber were enacted in October 1942, however, the company 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 at least some of these pens with an apologetic note explaining that they were a wartime exigency.
Here are Army, Navy, Air Corps, 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 Air Corps and Marine Corps pens have nibs imprinted 14K MADE IN U.S.A.
All four of the pens uillustrated above are syringe (“Post”) fillers, with the entire barrel screwing off to expose the filling unit — which Morrison’s instruction sheet calls the Visual Vacuum Filler. Each 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. See Rogues’ Gallery, later in this article, for clear photos of the cap-crown emblems on these pens.
The engineering behind the aesthetically pleasing syringe-filler design is obvious: the new filler design eliminated the metal lever, snap ring, and pressure bar as well as the operations associated with cutting the lever slot and 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 a waterproof clay-impregnated material colored red), the filler unit itself is made entirely of celluloid. (The filler illustrated above has had its seals replaced with O-rings.)
The syringe-filling Patriot lived up to its name when it came to conserving critical war resources. Initially, its filler reduced rubber consumption, and when further restrictions on rubber were enacted in October 1942, Morrison replaced the hard rubber section and feed with black celluloid. Except for the filler’s two gaskets and the necessary metal parts, the entire pen was at that point made of celluloid. Thus, syringe-filling pens with hard rubber sections can probably be dated to the first three quarters of 1942. Further identifying characteristics of early syringe fillers, illustrated below, are the presence of steel nibs and the design of the plunger shaft, which has no screw-threaded knob but instead is just necked to provide a decorative finger hold.
On the Home Front
Recognition for American mothers was an important aspect of patriotism. Women whose sons or daughters were in the service were encouraged to join the national Blue Star Mothers organization (conceived by U.S. Army Captain George Humphrey Maines and founded in Flint, Michigan, in February 1942) and display Blue Star Mothers placards in their home windows. There were also pins and ribbons decorated with the Blue Star Mothers design, a blue five-pointed star on a white background, enclosed in a red rectangular border. Morrison got in on the act by producing a Blue Star Mothers “Victory” pen whose cap crown emblem superimposed the design over a large letter V. The pen shown here appears to have been fitted with chrome-plated furniture. The cap crown emblem, as with other Patriots, is silver, in this case enhanced with intarsia enameling.
Morrison also made Patriots to honor the American Legion, a patriotic veterans’ organization chartered by Congress in 1919, with a mission of service to veterans, servicemembers, and communities.
Dressing It Down
Apparently it was felt that the crested Patriots were too flashy to be carried by some people. To sell to thes people, Morrison produced crestless versions that were the same as the crested versions except for a slightly rounded flat-top cap design to replace the crested Cameo Top. Crestless pens in Olive Drab had black cap crowns, and crestless black pens were made with black or Olive Drab cap crowns, possibly at different times. Here is a crestless Navy Patriot with a MORRISON 14 KT U.S.A. nib:
As illustrated below, the crestless Patriot also appeared in colors more oriented to civilian use: burgundy, battleship gray, and midnight blue. These pens, although physically identical to the crestless black and Olive Drab pens, are not marked “The Patriot”.
The lower of the two gray pens illustrated here is something of an oddity. Instead of the usual cap crown that was made in the same color as the cap body and blended to create a seamless surface, this pen has a clear domed cap crown with black beneath, and the clear part projects slightly. (See the photos below; note that the clear part in the domed-design pen has begun to crystallize.) This design might have been intended to provide a place for a water-slide decal crest or other decoration. I know of no other examples of this variant; all the other gray pens I have seen were made to the standard design.
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 Morrison No 7 untipped steel nib, bore on its cap crown a water-slide decal transfer showing the crossed flags of the United States and the United Kingdom encircled by the words FREEDOM OF DEMOCRACY. The Lend-Lease pen shown here is in “mint” condition, with its original store-display sticker. The matching pencil has only a U.S. flag on the cap crown.
The next pen is a Patriot-marked Cameo Top version with a plain white face. This pen once had a water-slide decal on the crown; it may have been a Lend-Lease pen, identical to the orange one shown above except for the colors of the celluloid.
Further, Morrison made at least one pen model on both lever-filling and syringe-filling Patriot chassis to honor our allies. Some of these pens are marked as Patriots, while others are not. The cap bears a Black Beauty-style hemispherical crown decorated with the Red, White, and Blue roundel of Britain’s Royal Air Force. The syringe-filling pen shown here is fitted with an IRIDIUM TIPPED U.S.A. steel nib. The earlier lever-filler has an untipped steel nib. The untipped variety appears to have been more common before Morrison switched to gold.
The RAF pen also appeared in a black version, perhaps as a tip of the hat to the Royal Air Force’s night-bombing squadrons. This version was made in both men’s (clip-style) and ladies’ (ringtop) versions; the ringtop pen shown here is chased:
There was also a Patriot with the same exact black-banded white hemispherical crown that had been used earlier on the Black Beauty model. This version might have been a “quick and dirty” way to honor the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, but this is only conjecture, as the FAA’s roundel, like that of the RAF, actually had a blue border, not black, with a red disk in the center of the white circle. The red disk was removed when the Royal Navy deployed to the Pacific in 1944, but that was several years after the lever-filling pen shown here was made.
The Patriot shown below has a plain Cameo-Top plaque made of gold-plated brasss instead of any identifiable crest. Absent any documentation of this form, I think it was probably intended as a pen on which the owner’s initials could be engraved in a more elegant fashion than just placing them on the barrel.
After the War
In many areas of American life, the things of war disappeared very quickly after the end of World War II. One thing that did not disappear immediately was the Patriot. I have no information on when Patriot production finally stopped, but the pen shown here is a Navy Patriot that was unquestionably made after the war. It shows that Morrison returned to the lever-filler while also doing some restyling. The cap-crown emblem is now a water-slide decal like the Lend-Lease version, the section and the distal end of the barrel are streamlined, and the partially hooded nib — steel again — is smaller than that on an open-nibbed Patriot. The non-Patriot version of this design, named the Monitor, came with a blank brass Cameo Top plaque like the one shown immediately above except that the Monitor’s plaque was inset into the cap rather than simply glued onto a flat surface.
Here are clear photos of the cap-crown emblems on all the Cameo Top and hemispherical Patriot variants discussed in this article.
Blue Star Mothers
Royal Air Force (OD)
Royal Air Force (Black)
Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy
Plain Cameo-Top Plaque
When Was It Made?
I have no documentation giving the production dates of the Patriot, but there are possible clues to the approximate time when a given pen was made. During its production life, the Patriot underwent several more or less subtle changes in its appearance, as listed here:
The most obvious changes are the grand design revisions: the early transition from the torpedo-shaped pen to the Cameo Top design and the postwar streamlining of the pen body’s ends.
Wartime Patriots exist with two section shapes: a smoothly curved shape that also appears on all the prewar versions (below, upper), and a blockier shape that harks back to the 1920s (below, lower). Pens with the smoother section were made using existing prewar tooling, and the blockier section appeared either when that tooling wore out and was replaced or when the company decided to cut costs. (The blocky section would be faster and less costly to manufacture.)
Two filling systems were used: the lever-filler and the “Visible Vacuum” syringe-filler. Restrictions on the use of rubber were in place from October 1942 until the end of the war. Therefore, a lever-filling Patriot must have been made before the restrictions went into effect or after they were lifted, while a syringe-filler was made between the enactment of the restrictions and their lifting.
Cap bands appear in two widths. The wider band is approximately 0.0904" (2.29 mm) wide, and the narrower one is approximately 0.050" (1.27 mm) wide. The wider band appears only on pens with lever fillers or streamlined sections, suggesting that Morrison at some point reduced the width of the band to save brass (which was, like steel, a restricted material). Morrison probably remained with brass, rather than switching to cheap mild steel as some other manufacturers did, because brass is much more easily swaged into a groove on the cap. The wider band reappeared after the war.
Two different clip designs appear on Patriots: the ordinary Morrison clip of the time (below, upper) and a somewhat more solid-looking Art Deco design that was apparently used only during the war (below, lower). After the war, Morrison reverted to the ordinary clip.
As many as four different nibs appear to have been used: MORRISON-imprinted untipped steel (on the Lend-Lease and torpedo-shaped pens shown here), tipped steel (on the Royal Air Force pen shown here), and 14K gold with two different imprints (one including the MORRISON name and one without it). Prewar pens appear to have had steel nibs, with gold becoming available as a result of wartime restrictions on the use of steel. After the war, untipped steel returned. The tipped steel nib on the RAF pen may be a retrofit; I have another RAF pen with a MORRISON-imprinted untipped steel nib.
In addition to the variants listed above, there are further differences that do not contribute information suggestive of dates. Listed here are those that I have seen.
Olive Drab pens (Army, Air Corps, and Marines) appeared with barrel ends in both Olive Drab and black:
OD, OD barrel end
OD, black barrel end
Most Patriots were made with plain barrel ends, but some examples have three concentric grooves in the barrel end. The American Legion pen shown on this page has a grooved end.
Flat barrel end
Grooved barrel end
As shown in the two preceding list items, most Patriots were made with flat barrel ends. An unknown number of examples, almost certainly very few, have a chamfer at the edge of the otherwise plain flat barrel.
The Logo — or Lack Thereof
As noted earlier, crestless Patriots in the civilian-oriented colors do not have the Patriot logo (illustrated to the right) imprinted on their barrels. It might be reasonable to assume that any Patriot-style pen without the logo must have started life as a crestless model and that if it now has a crested cap, it must be a marriage. This assumption, however is not valid. I have seen an Army set with a silkscreened imprint reading CHICAGO HERALD-AMERICAN on both pieces, with the pen (but not the pencil) lacking the Patriot logo; and I acquired the Marine Corps pen shown in this article as part of a brand new set, still wrapped in the original cellophane, with both the pen and the pencil lacking the logo. The existence of these sets is irrefutable proof that although such a pen could be a marriage, it could equally well have been factory production.
Made for the U.S. Military?
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.
Aside from the ridiculous idea that a Japanese company would be making pens for the U.S. military in 1942, there are actually solid facts to disprove this preposterous tale:
The Kikaku Seisakusyo company, located in Nagoya, Japan, did change its name to Morison (with only one r — see the company logo to the left) in 1933, and the company continued making pens for many years — but it didn’t make the Patriot. As noted earlier in this article, the Morrison Fountain Pen Company was founded in 1910, in New York City. Its logo, shown to the right, appears on all of the pens shown in this article. The letters LM are the initials of Louis Morrison.
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. Crested Patriots were produced as pen/pencil sets priced at $6.25, and the 20% wartime excise tax ($1.25) raised the consumer’s cost to $7.50. Crestless Patriots were 25¢ less.
Marketing of the Patriot, as for many 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 as service sets, with real leather pouch cases that would protect the pen and pencil while keeping them together. Shown here is a Marine Corps service set with its pouch.
Collectible? Yes, but…
Patriots are not so common as they once were, but with some exceptions they are not so hard to obtain as to be out of reach for the average collector. The Army and Navy versions are far more common than the Air Corps and Marine Corps; the latter two are rather rare, while other versions are similarly uncommon. Perhaps 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.
Adding to the annoyance and difficulty of proper restoration is the fact that most Patriot caps have shrunk enough to make the cap bands loose, sometimes so loose that they can be worked off easily or even fall off of their own accord. Although these pens’ cap bands can be resecured with various adhesives or crack fillers, the proper repair is to swage the cap band until it again fits into the groove in the cap. This process is neither easy nor free of risk to the cap band itself.
Morrison used the “Air Corps” name throughout the war despite the fact that the U.S. Army Air Corps had in June 1941 been officially renamed the U.S. Army Air Forces.
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 German submarine U-552’s torpedoing of the destroyer USS Reuben James on 31 October 1941, about a month before America’s official entry into the war.
The Fleet Air Arm’s removal of the red center from its roundel paralleled an earlier change in the U.S. Army Air Forces’ insignia. When America entered the war, its planes bore the insignia shown here. It was thought that in the heat of battle, the red disk in the center of the star was being mistaken for the Japanese Hinomaru (日の丸 , circle of the sun, known to fighting Americans as the “meatball”), and by May 1942 it had been removed from all U.S. aircraft serving in the Pacific.
The Herald-American was a Hearst newspaper, published under that name from August 26, 1939 to April 5, 1953. Prior to that period, it was called the Herald-Examiner, and it subsequently became the Chicago American.
At one time, this description appeared, identically worded, on several Web sites. I copied it from the now-defunct Fountain Pen Emporium site; but it disappeared from that site before the site was taken down.
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 lever-filling crested Army Patriot and for contributing some of the information in this profile.