While the history of pens in the 19th and 20th century usually follows the story of their internal technology—how dip pens evolved to “safety” fountain pens with leak-proof reservoirs—the outsides of pens show off the ways in which materials such as sterling silver have decorated vintage writing instruments. From Waterman eyedroppers to Wahl Eversharp Skylines, sterling silver has been a favorite material for pen manufacturers, both as a shiny accent to contrast with a pen’s celluloid barrel or cap (perhaps as a pocket clip or decorative band), or as the covering of the entire pen itself.
Some of the most popular silversmithing techniques used by pen designers include repoussé, in which a design is hammered into a piece of silver from behind, and chasing, which achieves a similar relief effect by hammering from the opposite direction. Engraving is similar to chasing inasmuch as the visible surface of the silver is worked by the craftsman, except that small amounts of surface material are removed through the engraving process. Other pens proudly show off their hammer marks, like metalwork produced during the Arts & Crafts era.
Piercing silver to create a filigree design is perhaps the most recognizable pen-decoration technique. In this exacting and time-consuming process, voids are cut into a piece of silver, which may also be engraved or chased. The voids reveal the surface underneath, which is often a hard black plastic to set off the bright silver that partially covers it. Filigrees range from floral motifs to paisleys to snakes, which sometimes get three-dimensional as serpent pocket clips with jeweled eyes.
Interviews & Articles
My interest in silver started when I was a child. One of my earliest memories was opening either my mother or father’s jewelry box… [more]
In 1908, three guys in Hamburg, Germany, founded what would become Montblanc. In the beginning it was known as the Simplo Filler P… [more]
When I got my first job out of college, I did what a lot of people do: I ran out and bought myself a Montblanc pen and fountain pe… [more]
How did I get started collecting Arts and Crafts silver? My wife and I had been collecting Arts and Crafts items as far back as I … [more]
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Silver Marks Encyclopedia
Silver at the Victoria and Albert
The Gilbert Collection
Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj
Clubs & Associations
- London Pen Club
- Pen Collectors of America
- Society of American Silversmiths
- The Writing Equipment Society (UK)