Profile: Waterman’s X-Pen

(This page revised June 22, 2012)

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Manufacturer logoManufacturer logoIn 1956 the Parker Pen Company shocked the world, or at least certain portions of it, with the introduction of the revolutionary capillary-filling Parker 61. Here was a pen that you didn’t even need to fill; it filled itself! In a society that was increasingly leisure oriented, the 61’s simplicity and ease of use were certain to resonate with the buying public.

The U.S.A.-based L. E. Waterman company had ceased manufacture in 1954, relying on English and French subsidiaries for its products. By 1956 Waterman was in its death throes, but the company saw in the 61 an opportunity to revitalize itself. Waterman engineers immediately began work on a capillary pen. By discarding Parker’s design requirement that the exterior of the pen not be exposed directly to ink in the bottle, they came up with a design that was internally much less complicated than Parker’s. To fill the pen, you merely immersed its nib end in ink for a minute or so, so that the pen did not need to be disassembled at all for filling. (And, given that the Teflon coating on the 61’s capillary cell did not actually shed every trace of the ink when you removed the pen from the bottle — you still needed to wipe the cell clean with a tissue — there was some question as to the actual benefit of the Parker design.) Development proceeded rapidly, Jif-Waterman in France was contracted to do the manufacturing, and in 1957 Waterman’s X-Pen appeared on the market.

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(If there is a magnifying-glass symbol (Magnifying glass) next to a pen, click the magnifying glass to view a zoomed version for more detail.)

Styling and Models

Although some of Waterman’s newer models, especially the revolutionary C/F of 1953, were introducing the dramatically slender styling of the 1950s to the company’s pens, the X-Pen’s internal design required more space than would be available in a pen that was fashionably thin. So Waterman fell back on its old reliable 1940s styling for the X-Pen, creating a fatter body that allowed sufficient room for the very simple and inexpensive capillary system the engineers had developed. As a result, the X-Pen bore a strong similarity to the Taperite, which had premièred 12 years earlier, in 1945. The cap/clutch design, in fact, is the same Lock-Slip design used for the Taperite and other ’40s pens.

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Taperite Stateleigh, c. 1945

As expected, Waterman did not limit the X-Pen to a single model or style as illustrated by the Mark III pen at the beginning of this article. The top of the line featured gold-filled caps, while Astralite and Lumaloy (stainless steel and aluminum) caps populated the middle of the range, and at the bottom there were X-pens with plastic caps.

The Super X-Pen and its economy-level companion, the Wat, are later models; the Super X-Pen has a very solid chrome-plated brass cap and a barrel-end tassie. These later pens feature a version of the finger-style cap clutch that Parker created for the 61.

Illustrated here are are some representative X-Pen models. (“Mark” designations used in this article are mine, based on my guess as to the chronology of the pen’s development.)

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Ladies’ X-Pen Mark I (Astralite cap)
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X-Pen Mark II (plastic cap)
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X-Pen Mark III (gold-filled cap; also seen above)

Earlier X-Pen models with metal caps had riveted clips as shown above. Plastic-capped models had tab-mounted clips, and later metal-capped versions had slot- or tab-mounted clips as illustrated by the X-pen Junior and the Super X-Pen and Wat:

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X-Pen Junior (gold-washed aluminum cap), slot-mounted clip
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Super X-Pen (chrome-plated brass cap), tab-mounted clip
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Wat (chrome-plated brass cap), tab-mounted clip

The Guts of the Thing

X-Pen nibThere are at least four distinct versions of the X-Pen’s interior design. Basic to all is a small nib (illustrated to the right) that fits into a curved slot at the nose of the section (shown to the left, inverted to show the underside).X-Pen section There is no feed. Instead, a wick (made of capillary material similar to blotter paper) runs along the top surface of the nib and is folded down inside the section so that it will come into contact with the filler medium. To encourage ink to flow from the wick toward the nib slit, the top surface of the nib features a series of chevron-shaped capillary fissures. As Waterman began cutting costs later, these fissures disappeared, and their presence or absence (as listed in the table below) is one of the features that help to date an individual pen.

To fill the X-Pen, you immerse the nib end of the pen in ink and leave it there for a couple of minutes. (The pen does not fill as rapidly as a Parker 61.) When you remove the pen from the ink, you must shake it down gently into a sink or a waste cart; a little excess ink collects in the area adjacent to the nib, and the pen will throw a large blot if this ink is not expelled. The initial fill of a pen that is brand new or newly refurbished can take 15 minutes or longer.

The capillary filler medium consists of loosely woven fabric similar in texture to muslin. The arrangement of the fabric, also described in the table below, is a second dating feature. The earliest X-Pen version uses a rolled-up length of fabric inserted into the section from the back, mated with a “stack” of circular fabric punchings filling the barrel. The pen is cemented together to prevent inadvertent disassembly. The X-Pen demonstrator shown here lays the entire design open to view:

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X-Pen demonstrator

Later, Waterman replaced this remarkably simple but not remarkably reliable design with a long tubular “cartridge” of polyethylene plastic containing a rolled-up length of fabric. Forced into the section, this unit brings the fabric into contact with the wick; when the barrel is assembled into place, the cartridge and its contained fabric extend almost the entire length of the barrel. Pens of this design are usually not cemented; it is therefore possible to fill these pens by unscrewing the barrel and immersing the cartridge in ink, in the same manner as with a Parker 61. The X-Pen’s polyethylene cartridge sheds ink nearly as well as Parker’s more costly Teflon-coated metal cell casing.

The following table lists the identifying differences between the various X-Pen versions.


  Mark I Mark II Mark III X-Pen Junior Super X-Pen
Wat

Barrel Joint Left-hand thread Slip fit, glued Left-hand thread Left-hand thread Right-hand thread
Filler Design Stacked muslin
punchings in barrel,
rolled muslin in
section
Stacked muslin
punchings in barrel,
rolled muslin in
section
Poly tube, rolled
muslin
Poly tube, rolled
muslin
Poly tube, rolled
muslin
Nib Style Chevron fissures Chevron fissures Chevron fissures Plain Plain

The Ultimate X-Pen?

The final advance in the X-Pen’s development didn’t come from Waterman’s engineers. Rather, it came from Platignum, a British company known for pens of relatively low quality and price. Platignum licensed the X-Pen technology from Waterman and then made a small improvement by adding a separate plastic part under the nib, where a feed would normally be. This extra part carries the nib and has molded into it two small tabs that engage the slots in the nib’s sides. These tabs take the place of fixed tabs in the X-Pen’s nib slot; the nib and “feed,” along with the wick, are slid into the pen as a unit from the front, making assembly easier and eliminating the high risk of damage to the tabs as the nib slides into position.

Like the Super X-Pen, the Platignum 100 uses a two-finger cap clutch. The pen’s barrel trim ring is machined from stainless steel like the clutch ring on a Parker “51”. Also following the Super X-Pen’s lead, the 100 has a metal tassie on the end of the barrel. The 100 is actually more attractive in appearance and — except for its steel nib — better in overall quality than the earlier models of the X-Pen itself.

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Platignum 100

Colors

The following table shows the colors Waterman chose for the X-Pen. I am not yet certain that these are all the colors in which the various versions appeared.


Colors of the X-Pen
Color Name

Black Black
Gray Gray
Brown Brown
Burgundy Burgundy
Red Red
Green Green
Teal Teal (Super X-Pen and Wat)


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. I want to thank Susan Wirth, who was kind enough to sell me the Platignum 100 shown here, and Gary Lehrer, who lent several pens including the demonstrator and Super X-Pen.

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