Ink-Vue Silver Ray.jpg

Watermans Ink


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This very early Ink-Vue ad­ver­tise­ment ap­peared dur­ing the 1934 Christ­mas sea­son.

One of the simplest and most reliable filling systems to come out of the early 20th century was the bulb filler, patented in 1903 by George W. Perks and Frederick C. Thacker (U.S. Patent No 723, 726). Huston Taylor patented an improved design in 1905 (U.S. Patent No 802, 668) and assigned his patent to Aikin Lambert. Over the next 30 years, in characteristic fashion, inventors on every side complicated the system by plastering hardware onto the pen to hide the bulb from the user’s fingers.

Out of the Gate

One of those Rube Goldberg contraptions emerged from the L. E. Waterman factory in late 1934, just barely in time for the Christmas season. Although it appears to be a lever-filler, Waterman’s Ink-Vue, Model 84, is actually a bulb-filler variant. It was Waterman’s answer to the success of the Parker Vacumatic, whose see-through barrel looked cool and gave the user a really good view of the ink supply. The Ink-Vue was decked out in a striking pattern of crisscrossed pearlescent strips with black between (U.S. Patent No D96, 914). On the barrel, the areas between were transparent to provide a full-length view of the ink reservoir. The pen was priced at $5.00. Initially, there were two colors: Emerald-Ray (shown below) and Silver-Ray. At each end of the pen was an inlaid gold- or chrome-plated coined brass Globe medallion: at the cap crown the medallion read Waterman’s, and at the distal end of the barrel it read Ideal. Shown to the left is the cap-crown medallion from the pen below.

Manufacturer logo

In what was then an intensely competitive business, Waterman’s advertising drew a bullseye on the Vacumatic without naming it by pointing out that the Ink-Vue had “No parts to unscrew and get lost" and “No springs or pistons to break.” The Ink-Vue embodied a filler designed by Gabriel Larsen (U.S. Patent No 2, 068, 419). In what was the blind cap on an ordinary bulb-filler, Larsen mounted a lever and a pressure bar. As with Waterman’s ordinary lever fillers, the pressure bar was secured to the lever by channels along its sides, in which rode small tabs protruding outward from the sides of the lever. The lever’s sides extended into the space inside the blind cap. See the drawing fragment to the left, from Larsen's patent (color added to make the principal parts easier to recognize). Each time the lever (pink) is opened and closed, the sac (brown) inflates itself to draw some ink into the pen through the breather tube and expels some air as the lever closes and squeezes it. About half a dozen cycles are sufficient to fill the pen. As the drawing shows, the lever pivots at the end closest to the distal end of the barrel; it opens “backwards.”

When the lever was closed, it was under pressure from the sac that it was squeezing. As with other Waterman levers, there was no pressure-bar spring; the lever was held closed by the friction of an interference fit between two small holes on the sides of the lever and corresponding bumps on the sides of the lever box. As the bumps became worn through use of the filler, the sac’s pressure could overcome the resistance of the closure, and it was readily conceivable that buyers might soon find their pens’ levers popping open unexpectedly.

Cap crown medallionAround the First Turn

Waterman quickly recognized the potential problem, and even before the Ink-Vue appeared on the market, Larsen had redesigned the lever. It was now a two-piece jointed lever that pivoted in the middle. Raising the exposed end (pink) to a right angle engaged the other end (green), and pushing the lever further drove the pressure bar (blue) into the sac. This design had the advantage that the sac was relaxed when the lever was closed, thereby relieving the pressure that could otherwise pop the lever open. The drawing to the right, from U.S. Patent No 2, 087, 672, for which Larsen filed in April of 1935, shows the lever in the extreme open position, compressing the sac as far as possible. (The drawing shows the lever opening in the “normal” direction, but when the product appeared in stores, the lever had been flipped. Like the first version, it opened toward the distal end of the barrel.) Within about six months of the Ink-Vue’s introduction, Waterman rushed the tweaked version (which I will call Type 1 for its having been the first widely sold model) into production; consequently very few of the first version (Type 0) were sold. Today, Type 0 pens are very rare and highly collectible. To add to the confusion, the Type 1 patent was actually filed nearly four months before that for the Type 0 but was issued six months after it. It may be that at that point, Waterman filed the Type 0 patent only to protect itself from potential copies by competitors.

With the introduction of the Type 1 pen with its “Double Action Lever, ” Waterman gained another advertising point against the Vacumatic because the Type 1’s lever did not eject ink when it was closed, as did the Vacumatic’s Lockdown filler (and as the Type 0’s lever did). At some point, probably as a phase-in with the introduction of the Type 1 version, the Globe emblem inlaid into the cap crown gave way to a less costly plain celluloid crown design, stepped in Art Deco style, as shown by the Emerald-Ray pen above. The changeover certainly happened very early in the Ink-Vue’s product life; the pen shown in the late 1934 advertisement at the top of this article has a stepped cap crown.

As was only sensible, Waterman applied what it already had in terms of technology to the Ink-Vue, including the Tip-Fill feed (U.S. Patent No 1, 882, 644, issued in 1932) and the keyhole nib created in 1927 for the No 5 “Ripple” pen. Some Ink-Vue pens are found with color-coded nibs, but others (probably made later) have no color codes.

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