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Profile: The Wahl Pen

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]


Wahl Advertisement, 1925 Magnifying glass
This elegant Wahl-Ever­sharp ad­ver­tise­ment in the De­cem­ber 1925 issue of Pictorial Review fea­tures a charm­ing scene of win­ter and says, “THE GIFT OF WORDS / How wel­come are the words that car­ry friend­ship!… You will find them here ready to hand in this lit­tle gift that holds so much the greater Gift.”

LogoIn 1915, the ten-year-old Wahl Adding Machine Company purchased a controlling interest in Keeran & Company, makers of the Eversharp pencil (U.S. Patent No 1,130,741). A year later, Wahl entered the writing instruments business for itself through a predatory purchase of Keeran’s company, which had by then been renamed the Eversharp Pencil Company. Wahl began selling fountain pens in 1917, when it purchased most of the assets of the Boston Fountain Pen Company. Within a year the Wahl Adding Machine Company was reborn as the Wahl Company, having along the way divested itself of Charles R. Keeran, who had stayed on as sales manager. In 1919, the Wahl Company sold its adding machine business to the Remington Typewriter Company.

Precursors

The Boston Fountain Pen Company’s assets included several important patents for features of pens, including an efficient comb feed (U.S. Patent No 750,271), an inner cap fixed in position inside a screw-threaded outer cap (U.S. Patent No 764,227), and a reliable lever filler. Boston had produced a range of high-quality hard rubber pens, both plain and chased, with and without metal overlays; shown here is a sterling overlay Boston pen:

fountain pen filler Magnifying glass

Wahl’s first pens were merely rebranded Boston designs in hard rubber. In 1918, the Wahl Company acquired the short-lived Tempoint Pen Company of New York and, having determined that the Tempoint Pen had no mechanical superiority over its competitors, marketed the pen by touting its broad range of “Tempered Point” nibs: “Backhand or sloping, light hand or heavy, dash-away or meditative, however you write there’s the very Tempoint Pen for you…” A chart (U.S. Patent No 1,351,564, by Wilfred E. Gerry) was devised to show a variety of nibs and the type of signature for which each was best suited, and for a couple of years Wahl marketed pens under the Wahl-Tempoint brand. The BCHR eyedropper-filling pen shown below was made by Tempoint before the company’s acquisition by Wahl:

fountain pen filler Magnifying glass

The Real Thing Appears

In 1921 the hard-rubber Wahl Fountain Pen appeared. Based largely on distinctive features of Tempoint designs, it was elegant and easily recognizable as not being a product of any of the then-current Big Four (Conklin, Parker, Waterman, and the rapidly rising Sheaffer). Shown here is an early BCHR Wahl Pen No 73 with rick-rack chasing. Note the long, elegant Tempoint-like silhouette (with a Boston-style treatment of the No 73’s cap lip), and the roller clip (U.S. Patent No 1,116,078) also adopted from the Tempoint Pen. (Note that roller clips were not fitted to smaller or lower-line models.)

Patent drawing
fountain pen filler Magnifying glass

One of the non-Tempoint design elements that appeared on the Wahl Fountain Pen was a sturdy and attractive lever as illustrated on the No 73 Wahl Pen above. This lever, with a distinct “break” or hump midway along its length, came from the Boston Fountain Pen Company; it is also visible on the sterling silver Boston pen at the top of this page. The filling mechanism Wahl used, however, was not the patented mechanism (U.S. Patent No 1,209,978, by David J. La France) that had belonged to Boston (and was used on at least some Wahl-Tempoint pens). Instead, Wahl used a mechanism, to be discussed later, that was designed by John C. Wahl, the founder of the company.

Except for its being a roller type, the clip used on the hard rubber Wahl Pen models was a standard Z-clip, secured in much the usual way by the inner cap. For military-clip models, which Wahl called “Soldier Clip” models, there was not sufficient space above the clip to secure it in the standard fashion, and for those pens Wahl used a clip patented by one of its engineers, Arthur F. Poole (U.S. Patent No 1,490,231). Poole’s clip, illustrated in the patent drawing to the left, looked ordinary to the viewer, but instead of being bent upward, the tab securing it was bent downward. A ring was machined inside the cap to serve as the inner-cap seal, and the inner cap was made correspondingly shorter and machined integrally with the cap crown, much like the inner cap on a Parker Duofold except that it was not threaded. The inner cap was flattened along the side where the clip’s tab would lie, and a small notch in the top edge of the cap allowed for passage of the clip.

Also in 1921, The Wahl Company’s All-Metal Pen appeared. It was not the first all-metal pen on the market, but it was an innovative implementation. Based on John C. Wahl’s U.S. Patent No 1,490,686, the design was touted as having a greatly increased ink capacity due to the thinness of the metal barrel wall as compared to that of a hard rubber wall. Shown here is a No 653C All-Metal Pen, a sterling silver model in the Colonial pattern with a metal-sheathed section (U.S. Patent No 1,567,823 for the section). As shown by the Nos 652C and 321DW farther down the page, not all models had their sections overlaid with metal like that on this pen:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The pen above exhibits the principal features of Wahl’s patent. (For a more complete exposition, see the patent.)

Nibs: the Tempoint Heritage

After Wahl had settled on selling the Tempoint Pen by emphasizing the variety of its nibs, nibs became a central point in the company’s advertising. Various models of the Wahl Pen were provided with nibs in sizes 0, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, in seventeen different point styles. Shown here are a No 216AGW Midget with a No 0 nib and a No 652C with a No 5 nib:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Wahl Pen Nib Sizes and Point Styles
Nib Size
Point Style Description 0 2 3 4 5 6

Fine Long fine points for light pressure and thin lines
Medium Ordinary writing (the most popular nib style)
Coarse Broad nib; heavy lines in all directions
Stub Heavy lines on push and pull strokes, fine lines on cross strokes
Half Stub Like Stub, but narrower
Right Oblique Angled for writers who rotate their pens counterclockwise, usually right-handed writers or left-handed overwriters
Left Oblique Angled for writers who rotate their pens clockwise, usually left-handed underwriters
Stenographer Fine flexible nib, for Pitman shorthand
Bookkeeper Fine firm nib
Posting Short stiff nib for bookkeepers and accountants
Manifold Short rigid nib for making carbon copies
Falcon Fine Long flexible fine nib
Falcon Medium Long flexible medium nib
Falcon Coarse Long flexible broad nib
Ball Point Turned-up nib with spherical tip for writing at all angles
Signature Fine Heavy, firm nib with a large tipping pellet
Signature Medium Like Signature Fine, but broader

As was common at that time, both oblique styles were italics. Falcon nibs were more flexible than their non-Falcon equivalent

In 1929, to answer the inconvenience and expense its dealers incurred by stocking pens with all the possible nib styles, Wahl introduced the Personal-Point Pen, a nominally standard Wahl Fountain Pen except that it featured an interchangeable nib (U.S. Patent No 1.787,406, issued to Donald D. Mungen and Robert Back). Shown here is a Lapis Wahl Pen Personal Point with a separate nib unit:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Only fourteen nib styles were offered in the Personal-Point system, most of them continuations of the earlier styles but some of them new, such as broad manifold and signature styles. Nib units were not available for sale to the public; the intent was that the customer would choose a pen and then test the dealer’s set of nib demonstrator pens. The dealer would then install the customer’s desired nib unit into the chosen pen. As with the roller clip, the Personal-Point system was offered on upper-line models. The system did, nonetheless, reduce the massive inventory that a dealer would need to stock of the higher-priced pens on which it was fitted, thereby reducing his mandatory investment in costly stock of which some would likely move very slowly.

Decorative Surface Treatments

All of the metal pens illustrated in this article are embellished with decorative surface patterns. This form of decoration was common from well before the turn of the 20th century until about the mid-1930s. It was executed on hard rubber pens by chasing and on metal pens by roll engraving. Most commonly recognized today is the extensive variety of All-Metal Pen models, which Wahl made in solid gold, gold-filled, sterling silver, and silver-filled versions. (Not every pattern was available in all sizes and materials) To further broaden the buyer’s range of selections, solid gold and gold-filled models were offered in yellow and green gold versions. On the other hand, if catalogs are reliable evidence, there were relatively few silver-filled models. (The 1928 catalog shows silver-plated pencils but no silver-plated or -filled pens.) Here is a No 321DW silver-filled ringtop:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Hard rubber Wahl Fountain Pens were also patterned, and in some cases, patterns were shared between metal and hard rubber, as shown by the RCHR No 826RRC and the gold-filled No 656A immediately below, both in the Grecian Border pattern (a variety of a motif that is widely used in the decorative arts, called Greek Key):

fountain pen filler Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The following table lists and describes the patterns Wahl used. Two-tone patterns were worked in gold over silver. The Years in Use column reflects only fountain pens; several of the designs were used on pencils for one or more years before being applied to pens. (Some of the patterns are difficult to make out at the scale of these chips; click any pattern chip in the table to view a zoomed version for more detail.)


Wahl Pen Decorative Patterns
Pattern Name Years in Use Description

Chancellor Chancellor 1924 only Panels of straight lines interrupted by diamond shapes, divided by narrower plain panels (image created from catalog illustration)
Unique Check 1921–1929 See Unique
Checkerboard Checkerboard 1924–1926 Alternating pattern of three short lines and plain metal arranged as a checkerboard
Colonial Colonial 1921–1927 Very fine, closely spaced longitudinal parallel lines running the length of the pen, with plain bands at ends
Colonnade Colonnade 1928-1929 Longitudinal slots machined into, but not through, the metal surface, with the faux slots painted black
Console Console 1928 only (called “Wedding Bells” by some collectors) Groups of two longitudinal lines, divided by alternating plain panels and panels with a motif of bells and flowers
Dart Dart 1922–1927 Groups of three longitudinal lines bridged by chevrons in pairs with a longer space between pairs
Diamond Diamond 1921–1926 Longitudinal lines interrupted by diamonds (image created from catalog illustration)
Grecian Border Grecian Border 1921–1929 A Greek Key design
Hanlin Hanlin 1921–1924 Groups of longitudinal lines interrupted by scrolls and plain panels, sometimes done as a bicolored pattern; mixed machine and hand engraving
Lakeside Lakeside 1928–1929 Panels of a wave pattern overlaid with tinted enamel, divided by narrower plain panels
Niagara Niagara 1927 only (called “Brain” or “Coral” by some collectors) Panels of silver with a pattern resembling the appearance of brain coral, divided by narrower plain gold panels
Plain Plain 1921–1929 Highly polished with no textural elements
Ribbon Ribbon 1921 only Repeating pattern of four straight lines separated by space for one line
Ring Colonial Ring Colonial 1928–1929 Very fine, closely spaced longitudinal parallel lines running the length of the pen but interrupted periodically by sets of triple rings that are filled with black lacquer, with plain bands at ends
Ripple Ripple 1922–1925 Zigzag longitudinal lines offset so as to create a triangular wave pattern
Unique Unique 1921–1929 (renamed Check in 1922) Groups of three longitudinal lines bridged by a continuous run of chevrons, divided by plain surface; mistakenly identified by some modern sources as Dart
Wave Wave 1925–1926 Panels of straight lines with small cross-panels grouped to create a series of two waves, divided by narrower plain panels (image created from catalog illustration)
Wedgewood Wedgewood 1927–1928 Alternating wide and narrow panels of silver with a Ripple pattern, divided by narrower plain gold panels
ZigZag ZigZag 1921–1924 Groups of nine zigzag longitudinal lines opposed by one line zigzagging in the other direction to create rows of triangular or diamond-shaped areas

Given the broad variety of patterns, discussion is bound to arise as to which is the most attractive. There is no objective answer to such a question, but there is one that stands out for its uniqueness: Console. Unlike all the other patterns, Console was combined with a mottled hard rubber section to create a harmonious, and distinct, appearance. Shown here is a No 4215A Console pen:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

As did Parker, Waterman, et al., with their overlay models, Wahl offered hand-engraved All-Metal Pens. The sterling silver No 648C pen below features a hand-engraved Vines pattern:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Other Trim Tricks

Patent drawingIn the middle of the 1920s, hard rubber began to become less desirable as technology’s nod went to celluloid. Most pen companies chose not to use chasing on the new, colorful celluloid pens. Wahl was among that group, and it worked out other ways to decorate its pens. The obvious solution, to add more (and more decorative) bands, culminated in the roll-engraved design on the cap bands of the Decoband series, some of the most elegantly beautiful pens ever made, pens like the oversize Bronze-Green Personal-Point shown here:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Tulip clipIn 1924, Wahl came up with a remarkably attractive clip design, Robert G. Pilkington’s 1924 U.S. Patent No 1,507,622. The key feature of the patent was that the clip was soldered to a metal crown cap fitted to the top of the pen’s cap. The patent drawings (see Figure 1, to the left) did not portend any great shakes in the appearance department; but by widening the tab at the top to provide a more robust mounting, the designers created the “Tulip Clip,” one of the prettiest cap-crown designs of the Golden Age (to the right). Shown below is a No 62PRC Tulip-Clip pen in Coral:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Although the world was switching to celluloid well before 1930, Wahl continued to sell hard rubber pens alongside its new celluloid models at least into the beginning of the 1930s. One of the last vestiges of hard rubber in the Wahl stable was its woodgrain mottled hard rubber. This material, called Rosewood, was a virtually perfect blend of the two colors, easily the prettiest of all the woodgrain rubber pens. Here are two Rosewood pens, a No 637W ringtop and a No 727RSC Gregg stenographer’s pen (with an emblem bearing the Gregg logo embedded in the cap crown):

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Successors

At the beginning of the 1930s, all the major pen companies were scrambling to modernize the looks of their products. Sheaffer had scooped the market with its Balance in 1929, Parker was running second with a very slight streamlining of the Duofold, and Conklin’s Endura and Waterman’s Patrician were bringing up the rear. Where was the Wahl Company in all of this? After a couple of short-lived tries in the late 1920s to introduce a streamlined pen (below, top and second), Wahl hit its stride in 1930 with the Equi-Poised (below, third), not streamlined like the Balance but nonetheless one of the most aesthetically pleasing pens of the time.

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

A year later, the classic Doric (above, bottom) made its appearance, and the Wahl Company’s place in the Big Four, ousting Conklin from that select group, was secure.

Notes:
  1. Of Wahl’s treatment of Keeran, “shoddy” is far too kind a word. See A Tale of Two Pencils: Keeran’s Eversharp & Hayakawa’s Ever-Ready Sharp, by David Nishimura.

  2. The “right oblique” was a left-foot oblique, the “left oblique” a right-foot. (See Nibs: The Basics.)

  3. For the Personal-Point series they were called simply “flexible.”

  4. Wahl catalogs of the 1920s call this color either Bronze-Green or Bronze and Green. It was renamed Brazilian Green for the Equi-Poised, and that is the name by which most modern collectors know it.


The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. My thanks to Lisa ands Brian Anderson, who lent several of the rarer examples for photography. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information.

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