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.


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