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(This page revised December 9, 2014)
|This Postal advertisement probably appeared in The Saturday Evening Post or Collier’s Magazine.|
Beginning in about 1925, the Postal Pen Company, Inc., of New York City produced the Postal Reservoir Pen and sold it exclusively by mail order. Offered as only two models (one for men and one for women) and priced at $2.50, the Postal Pen was a flat-top pen fitted with a bulb filler. Using the entire barrel as the reservoir gave the pen a huge ink capacity for a self-filler. Postal made the barrel of transparent celluloid to give the user a view of the remaining ink supply and touted its product as “The Pen That Says ‘Fill Me Up’ When Empty.” Because of Postal’s use of it, the simple and reliable bulb filler has become known as the Postal filler; but Postal was not the first to use the basic concept, which was patented in 1903 by George W. Perks and Frederick C. Thacker (U.S. Patent No 723,726). Huston Taylor patented an improved design in 1905 (U.S. Patent No 802,668) and assigned his patent to Aikin Lambert.
Selling its pens only by mail order allowed Postal to offer a pen of high quality at a remarkably low price by eliminating the costs associated with distributors, agents, and retailers; and the company was not slow to point this out in its advertising. To encourage business, Postal operated a clever “send no money now” marketing system that looks like, but was not, a pyramid scheme. To order a pen, a purchaser sent a magazine coupon to Postal, and he paid for the pen when he received it. With his pen, the purchaser also received five post cards that he could sell to friends for 50¢ each. By mailing in one of these post cards, the person who had bought it could buy his own pen for $2.00. By selling all five of his post cards, the original purchaser could earn back the price of his pen. With this scheme, every purchaser was a potential salesmen, and advertising touted the pen as “The Pen With Over 100,000 Salesmen.”
|Men’s and Ladies’ Postal Pens|
This is the cap imprint on
the men’s Postal Pen above.
The November 23, 1920, patent date in the cap imprint refers to a portion of Charles Dunn’s design for a pump-filling pen (U.S. Patent No 1,359,880); the breather tube in a Postal pen is mounted in the same manner as in Dunn’s design, and Postal licensed that feature. (The only other patent issued on that date that might apply was for A. C. Rader’s feed; but Postal licensed its feed design from Julius Schnell (U.S. Patent No 1,357,083), and that patent’s date (October 26, 1920) is imprinted on Postal feeds.)
The Model T Ford was the most ubiquitous automobile in America when the Postal Pen hit the market, and Postal appears almost to have limited colors to the Model T’s “any color you like, so long as it’s black” range. Examples are known to exist in other colors (as shown in the table below), but the vast majority of Postal Pens were black. All have celluloid caps and blind caps.
|Ladies’ Postal Pen|
(The Jade Green ladies’ pen shown here is shorter than the black one above; but I have no documentation indicating that more than one size was catalogued.)
Postal may have found that mail-only sales weren’t enough; or it might have been simply that there was excess production capacity that needed an outlet. Whatever the reason, the company also produced pens under the Bonded and Transo brands (and perhaps others) for sale through ordinary retail outlets. These pens were physically identical to their Postal counterparts and may also have appeared in the same range of colors. (Even the cap imprints were the same except for the substitution of the alternate brand names for the Postal name.) Shown below is a men’s Bonded pen in woodgrain:
|Men’s Bonded Pen (with “repair” on cap above clip)|
The fascination of Postal Pens lies in the way in which they were sold, and in their fragile barrels. (Clear celluloid can become terribly brittle with age.) Although the pens shown here are in perfect condition, many Postals show networks of cracks in their barrels and would almost certainly “explode” if a repairer attempted to disassemble them. Because of issues like this, Postal Pens are extremely rare, and examples in collector — or even good user — condition are highly desirable.
If you have only one model of pen to sell, you soon run out of potential purchasers; not everyone wants a Model T. Postal extended its market in three ways; as described above, the company offered a relatively limited range of colors, and it sold essentially identical pens through retail channels. The third way was to add an actual new model, called the Postal Deluxe, to the line. The Postal Deluxe featured strongly pattered celluloids and different metal trim such as double narrow cap bands. Some Deluxe colors made it to the company’s retail lines, too; shown here is a Bonded Deluxe in Bronze and Black:
|Men’s Bonded Deluxe Pen (from the collection of Denise Harris)|
Interestingly, this Bonded Deluxe pen bears a Postal-imprinted nib. Like the nib in the Bonded pen above, this one is a No 3, smaller than the nib in a Postal Senior; using a smaller nib in a sub-brand model was a common way to reduce the cost.
The following table shows the Postal Pen colors that I have personally seen.
|Colors of the Postal Reservoir Pen|
|Bronze & Black (Deluxe models only)|
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.