January 2012: Ten Things I Learned from Fischler & Schneider’s Golden Age

Extra Fine Points Index  ]


BY DON FLUCKINGER • Welcome to 2012. A U.S. presidential election year. We leave a couple de facto wars in the rearview mirror, and thank goodness team owners and players in both the NFL and NBA ended their childish lockouts and got back to doing what they do best — entertaining us on TV because in this economy, we sure as heck can’t afford to go watch them play in person.

If holiday credit card bills are crimping your fountain pen budget, why not get a book this month to satisfy your jones? Extra Fine Points

Speaking of the economy — like I do almost every month — if holiday credit card bills are crimping your fountain pen budget, why not get a book this month to satisfy your jones?

One you gotta have if you don’t already is George Fischler and Stuart Schneider’s Fountain Pens and Pencils: The Golden Age of Writing Instruments. Seems like I learn something new every time I crack it open. Here are the 10 latest:

  1. The original Waterman Ideal pen’s rise to fame was helped in no small part by its guarantee: if you didn’t like it, you got your money back.

  2. It also was promoted heavily back then through the viral-marketing precursor to YouTube and Facebook, the Victorian Trade Card.

  3. Fountain pen “Lifetime” guarantees were deemed unrealistic by the Federal Trade Commission in 1946, and Waterman (and other pen companies) changed these to mean “as long as you own the pen.”

  4. Waterman’s first plastic pen was…wait for it…the Patrician. Except for the original black Patricians, which were hard rubber.

    Fountain pen
  5. George S. Parker was educated as a telegraph operator, and taught it by trade. The fountain pen thing was a sideline he first took on to make some extra income.

    Fountain pen
  6. Back at the turn of the 20th century, a fountain pen was a status symbol — it told the world that its owner could read, and therefore was educated.

  7. Big Reds originally sold for $7.00.

    Fountain pen
  8. Sheaffer advertisement, 1947

    Mabie Todd’s Swan pen came with a matching sterling silver pencil they called the Fyne Poynt, which sounds sort of like an album an obscure 1970s British prog-rock band might make — if the musicians also happened to be writing instrument fetishists like you and me.

    Fountain pen
  9. Sheaffer merchants took on the free personalization — gold-stamping of the owner’s initials — into Lifetime pens as a defense mechanism: Company policy dictated that merchants could mail broken pens that were personalized back to the mothership in Fort Madison, Iowa for repair…instead of having to pull a replacement out of dealer stock and therefore have one fewer to sell until reinforcements arrived.

  10. While I should have known this already — or not, one can’t memorize everything, this is why we have reference books — Sheaffer’s first foray into the world of ballpoints was the Stratowriter in 1947. (The ad to the right lists prices from $5.00 to $67.50!) Should have known this, because Richard has already posted one in his collection.


cover Further Reading: Fountain Pens and Pencils : The Golden Age of Writing Instruments, by George Fischler and Stuart Schneider
 
New, this book costs $63.00, but used copies are floating around Amazon for significantly less. Enjoy!

Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the Biddersedge.com collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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