Profile: The Security Pen

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Security Advertisement, 1952 Magnifying glass
This dense double-truck (two-page) advertisement ap­peared in the No­vem­ber 1923 issue of Popular Me­chan­ics Magazine.

Manufacturer logoDuring the early 20th century the use of checks, by both businesses and individuals, skyrocketed. When a way to transmit money becomes more popular, that increase in popularity is quickly followed by a rise in the ways in which certain types of people will try to acquire the money without having to work for it. As check fraud ran rampant, inventors rose to the occasion, and check protectors became a common office accessory.

In its most basic form, a check protector features a roller set with sharp teeth or blades to cut a series of holes or short lines in a piece of paper. Behind the roller is a felt pad, loaded with red stamp-pad ink. When rolled over the payee’s name and written-out value on a check, the roller cuts the paper and impregnates the cuts with the red ink in a pattern like the one shown below.

This renders the check no longer subject to alteration because any attempt to alter it will cause the ink (either the original ink or the red ink) to spread into the paper fibers and make the alteration attempt obvious.

Check protector marking

Setting Up in Business

John H. Kritikson was quick to see the potential in offering a handy check protector that a private individual could carry and use. In 1919, he and his brother George founded the Securograph Pen Company in Terre Haute, Indiana. They soon moved to Chicago, setting up at 122 West Illinois Street as Kritikson Bros Inc. (In the spring of 1923 they moved to larger facilities at 910 West Jackson Boulevard.) Purchasing the rights to a check protector designed by Stanley E. Peters (U.S. Patent Nº 1,480,690), they began manufacturing pens bearing Peters’ device and branded Security. Illustrated to the left is the Peters check protector on a Security pen.

Security deviceJohn Kritikson’s inventive genius and entrepreneurial skill yielded a series of patents that went together to create a pen of very high quality that was actually very practical to use. Security pens bore Kritikson’s own elegant spring-loaded clip (U.S. Patent Nº 1,339,359) and twist mechanism (U.S. Patent Nº 1,482,568). Although it had a screw-threaded knob at the distal end of the barrel, Kritikson’s twist filler was a solid mechanical mechanism, not simply a copy of the sac-wringing fillers used by A. A. Waterman, Ingersoll, and in later years even Sheaffer (in a sub-branded VACUUM-FIL model of the 1930s). Turning the knob counterclockwise pulled on one arm of a bellcrank, pushing a pressure bar into the sac to squeeze it; turning the knob clockwise reversed the motion, allowing the sac to fill. Shown here is a long Security Nº 300:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The upper photo shows the pen capped, with its filler knob unscrewed and the slip-on check protector cap removed to expose the check protector. The pen is also rotated to show the shape of the clip. The clip pivots at its middle, and the spring is concealed within the cylindrical part that enters the cap at the top of the clip.

Very soon after moving to 910 West Jackson Boulevard (by the summer of 1923, as dated by advertising in Popular Mechanics and Popular Science), the Kritiksons reincorporated as the Security Pen Corporation, with John as president. At this time, they also expanded into the building next door at 900 West Jackson Boulevard.

A Range of Sizes

When Kritikson Bros. began advertising, the company’s offering included the following models:


Model Price

200 $3.00
300 $3.50
400 $4.00
500 $4.50
600 $5.00

Pens were offered in two lengths, called simply Short and Long, and with a surprising range of nibs: Fine, Medium, Coarse (broad), Medium Stub, Broad Stub, Steno (extra fine), and Posting (extra extra fine). All nib sizes were available in flexible or firm (called “stiff”) versions. There were also ladies’ models, at least in some sizes; a 1923 advertisement shows a Nº 300A ringtop, priced at $4.00 (50¢ more than the men’s 300, a difference probably accounted for by the extra cost of a threaded check protector cap). A long Nº 300 is shown above; here is a short Nº 600:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

At about the time the Kritiksons reincorporated as the Security Pen Company, the model lineup changed a little. The differences appeared in September 1923 advertising:


Model Price

300 $3.50
400 $4.00
600 $5.00
800 “Giant” $7.00

Initially, the Giant was made of red mottled hard rubber; all other models were black. The Giant was further distinguished by a gold band around its check protector cap. At some point, the company expanded the use of mottled hard rubber to models other than the Giant and also offered Giants in black, as shown by this c. 1928 pen with an ivory-colored translucent casein check protector cap:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Security Advertisement, 1952 Magnifying glass

Someone at Security eventually twigged to the fact that some of the people who wrote checks already had pens and would therefore not be potential customers unless something was done to suit their needs. The solution was simple: offer the check protector without the pen, and by 1928 (probably much earlier) that is exactly what the Kritiksons did. They reached back into their earlier days to rekindle the Securograph name, and as illustrated by the 1928 advertisement to the right, the “amazing” lipstick-sized Securograph Check Protector, retailing for $1.50, was born. The end cap with the ring mount covered the check protector itself, and the opposite end cap screwed off to reveal a small “toothpaste tube” of red ink inside the body of the fob. The robin’s-egg blue end caps on the fob below, as with the colored check protector caps on pens, were made of casein.

Check protector Magnifying glass

The obvious corollary to the preceding paragraph is that there were people who might buy a Security pen but didn’t want the check protector. The company obliged them, too, producing pens without the protector. (These pens still featured Kritikson’s twist filler.)

Movin’ On

Sometime before the beginning of 1928, the Kritiksons moved their company to Mt. Carmel, Illinois, and set up operations in two separate facilities, at 316 Fifth Street and 335 Tenth Street. Mt. Carmel was apparently busily renumbering its street addresses at that time; in the span of four months’ advertising, Security Pen’s addresses changed three times, to 416 Fifth Street and 435 Tenth Street, then 516 Fifth Street and 535 Tenth Street, and settling finally into a single address at 635 Tenth Street.

Death and Rebirth

The Security Pen Corporation failed in 1929; the date of its demise, sometime before Black Tuesday, indicates that it was already tottering when the stock market crashed. But the Kritiksons were not ready to give up. They revived the company under its earlier Securograph name and relocated it back to Indiana, this time in Oakland City, where they subcontracted assembly work to students at nearby Lincoln College. Production continued into the early 1930s; by then, the pens were made of celluloid, and the last models were more streamlined but still somewhat blocky overall. Shown here is a pre-streamlining Security Nº 500 in “Duofold Orange” celluloid with black ends — apparently, the Kritiksons were among the myriad pen makers wanting to capitalize on the popularity of Parker’s iconic red pen. (Note that the “bling” factor of the extra band has been extended down-line from the Giant). By the time this pen was made, the threaded check protector cap had become standard on men’s as well as ladies’ pens.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Decline

Times change. Well before 1930, virtually all the major pen makers had switched from hard rubber to the more durable celluloid. As late as 1929, the Kritiksons were still using hard rubber. Their failure to change with the times might have rung the death knell for the Kritiksons’ penmaking efforts (as it almost did for Waterman’s); even though they eventually started using celluloid, it was probably too late. Some of the pens were remarkably beautiful, however, as illustrated by these two examples. The black pen, a late-model Giant, has a screw-capped check protector; the Jade Green pen has none. Interestingly, John Kritikson’s original spring-loaded clip survived unchanged to the end.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

In Conclusion

Security pens are exciting, interesting, and — even today — eminently usable. Repair can be difficult, however, as the filler mechanism is sometimes corroded so severely that it cannot be removed for cleaning without cracking the barrel. Also, the check protector is almost always frozen by the drying out of the red stamp-pad ink. It is generally best to leave the repair of a malfunctioning Security to an experienced restorer.


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