Profile: The J. G. Rider Fountain Pen

(This page revised February 13, 2013)

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Rider tin advertising sign, c. 1910 Magnifying glass
This tin-plated steel Rider advertising sign was created c. 1910. Advertisers had dis­cov­ered long before that sex sells: people would look at an ad with a pretty woman in it more readily than one with just a pretty pen; cf. Parker’s famous ad with a woman riding on a Parker pen.

Manufacturer logoDuring the first few decades of fountain pen devel­op­ment, inno­va­tion ran rampant as inventors tried to come up with the perfect pen. Part of the criteria for perfection, of course, was the filling system. Before self-filling pens became practical, and indeed for some time thereafter, the eyedropper filler (known then by the retronym “regular” fountain pen to distinguish it from the newfangled self-filling models) reigned supreme.

The most common eyedropper filler was very simple: the nib and feed were inserted into the gripping section, which in turn screwed into the barrel. To fill the pen, the user unscrewed the section and used an eyedropper (called the “filler”) to put ink into the barrel, afterward reinstalling the section. Despite its simplicity and the wide usage it achieved, this design was not without weaknesses. It turned out that if not screwed together firmly enough, the pen could leak at the section/barrel joint, soiling the user’s fingers. But if screwed together too firmly, the pen could be extremely difficult to open for refilling. And, because the material of the barrel and section was thinner at the joint, breakage was not unknown. Not everyone was satisfied with what was obviously a less than perfect solution.

Solving the Problem

Several inventors took steps to work around these deficiencies. Here are some of the ideas they came up with:

As you can see, none of these approaches furnished a complete and foolproof solution.

Square Peg, Square Hole: Enter Jay G. Rider

Jay G. Rider liked the jointless approach, but he attacked the problem in a way that circumvented the difficulties presented by his competitors’ jointless designs. He applied for a patent on his invention in 1901, and in 1903 he was rewarded by the issuance of U.S. Patent Nº 739,720. In Rider’s ingenious design, the nib stays put, keyed into the open end of the barrel and held by friction, while the feed can be removed alone. The feed, too, is keyed so that it fits perfectly into the square opening that holds the nib. It cannot go in wrong, and once in place it aligns itself perfectly. The patent drawing excerpts shown here illustrate the concept. (Figure 3 shows the essential geometry of the feed.)

Fountain pen design

The actual implementation of the design was essentially the same as the patent drawings illustrate; the principal difference is that in the production pens Rider set the square opening on its diagonal axis. (This change made for much easier manufacture.) Shown here is a BHR Nº 5 “Perfection” pen.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The obvious question is, “How do you get just the feed out?” The answer to that question, and in fact the key to the whole pen, is the oddly shaped clip (U.S. Patent Nº 919,244, issued in 1909). The Rider company made its clips from bicycle spokes. Look at Figure 2 above and at the side and bottom views (second and third below) of this somewhat later pen, a spiral mottled Nº 7 “My Master Pen”:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Note the notch cut into the underside of the feed. To remove the feed, engage the loop end of the clip with that notch, ease the feed out of the pen, and set the feed down on a tissue that you can later use to grasp the feed for reinsertion. No muss, no fuss! Here are top and side views of the feed from the Nº 5 pen above:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

This feed illustrates yet another solution for the nearly universal lack of buffering capacity possessed by early feeds. Ink trapped in the feed remained there when the pen was capped and put into the pocket, “lying in wait” to become a blot when the user next turned the pen nib downward to write with it. Parker’s Lucky Curve feed, the first design to address this problem with relative success, provided a capillary channel that contacted the reservoir wall so that the trapped ink could escape down into the reservoir. Without using a comb feed (patented in 1904 by August Eberstein for the Boston Fountain Pen Company), there was actually no other practical way to protect against that initial blot, and Rider copied the basic principle of Parker’s feed — but he appears to have done it without infringing on Parker’s patent. The patent drawings above do not illustrate the downward curve of the feed that accomplishes the “Lucky Curve” function. The question, then, is whether Rider added that feature during product development or deliberately omitted it from his 1901 patent application to avoid “giving away the store.”

The advantage of the Rider system is that it is possible to remove and reinstall the feed without touching it; there is little or no risk of getting ink on the fingers. Parker’s Jointless, on the other hand, is much more difficult to manipulate. The disadvantage of Rider’s design is the expense of the machining required to produce the feed; not only is the feed a very complex part, but it is also very precisely dimensioned so that it will fit perfectly into the pen.

As did virtually all significant pen manufacturers, Rider built its pens in different sizes and with different trim levels. The pen shown below is a Nº 2 “Perfection” pen in mottled hard rubber, with two broad repoussé bands. The portion of the barrel between the bands is delicately chased. This pen is actually a little longer than the fatter Nº 5 “Perfection” above. Its clip is a replacement made from coat hanger wire.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Examples are also known of Rider overlay pens, including a demonstration set executed on Rider bodies by George W. Heath & Co.; this set includes a sterling Snake overlay with emerald eyes.

In 1918, Jay G. Rider received U.S. Patent Nº 1,264,684 for a self-filling pen design. Rider developed this design, a pull filler (see patent drawing excerpt below), and Waterman built a prototype, possibly as a prelude to purchasing the rights to the design. No such arrangement was agreed upon, however. Rider built several more prototypes; but in the end, neither Waterman nor Rider’s own company put Rider’s self-filler design into production. The late L. Michael Fultz wrote about this filler in a 2001 article on the now-defunct Penbid.com Web site.

Fountain pen design
The Company and the Man

Apparently having worked for at least one other pen company (as a salesman for Waterman, according to the late L. Michael Fultz; or as a Parker factory worker, according to an unnamed source), Rider in 1905 founded his own company in Rockford, Illinois, to produce the “Perfection” pen. In 1907, he incorporated the company with $25,000 in capital; the other principals were H. A. Merlein, S. B. Atwood, and A. C. Horton. The subsequent history of the J. G. Rider Pen Company is obscure. Beginning in 1910, there is a 15-year gap in the annual filings of the Illinois corporation; its next filing, in 1925, states that it has ceased operation. Absent documentary evidence, it is reasonable to assume that by that date the company had transferred, or was in the process of transferring, its operations to Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Some Rider pens bear imprints indicating Ann Arbor manufacture.) It was operating in Illinois at least as late as mid-1919, however; the J. G. Rider Pen Company appears in the 1920 Illinois list of domestic and foreign corporations. The official dissolution of the Illinois corporation occurred in 1927.

Rider himself was living in Illinois at least until 1920; he and his family appear in the 1920 U.S. Census for Rockford. The 1930 U.S. Census indicates that he and his wife Lucie had moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan. The company was defunct by 1930, as Rider was in that year operating a pen shop called Rider’s Fountain Pens, located at 302 South State Street, with his daughter Roselle working as a saleslady. He does not appear in the 1940 census, but his shop was still in operation then. In 1946, it became Rider’s Hobby Shop, which grew to a 16-store franchise network and is still in operation as of this writing (but has retrenched to only three company-owned stores in Flint, Grand Rapids, and Ypsilanti). Rider himself appears in the 1939 Ann Arbor City Directory but is gone a year later.

Collectible? Yes, Indeed!

Rider pens are rare, and they are highly sought after by collectors of pens from the early years of the fountain pen. They are well made, and they are technologically interesting. Even today, they are eminently usable pens, although some collectors might consider them too valuable to be used. If you find one whose feed will not move easily, you should contact an experienced restorer, who has the tools and knowledge to free the feed without damage.

Notes:
  1. Rider’s occupation is listed as “Commercial Traveler” (traveling salesman) in the 1900 U.S. Census, lending credence to Fultz’ assertion.

  2. The American Stationer, Vol. LXII, Nº 5, New York, New York, August 3, 1907, p. 12.

  3. Certified List of Domestic and Foreign Corporations for the Year 1920, Illinois Office of the Secretary of State, July 1, 1919, p. 485.

  4. Polk’s Ann Arbor (Washtenaw County, Michigan) City Directory 1940 Including Ypsilanti, R. L. Polk & Co., Detroit, Michigan, 1939, p. 281.

  5. ibid. Roselle D. Rider, born in 1906, also appears in the 1910 and 1920 census records. Before the 1930 Census was enumerated, she had married a John M. Welch; but in the 1940 Ann Arbor City Directory she has resumed her birth name and is working as a saleslady at the Moore Maytag Company.


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 David Nishimura, who took the Eagle photographs for my use in this article.

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