Founded in 1888 by Lewis Edson Waterman, the L.E. Waterman Pen Company was the gold standard for fountain pens until World War II, when its popularity waned.

When he first began selling his pens in a cigar shop at 136 Fulton Street in New York, Waterman routinely sold out of his supply of 36 pens, all he could make in a week. What drew Waterman’s customers to Waterman pens was the same thing that had caused this former insurance salesman to invent a better pen in the first place: the need for a reliable writing instrument.

Prior to Waterman, fountain pens were notoriously fickle devices. Purportedly, in 1883 Waterman was trying to close a deal with a client but was foiled by his faulty fountain pen, and lost the sale. Frustrated, he retreated to his brother’s farm in upstate New York, where he whittled a wooden wheel spoke until he had a pen that would work every time.

The secret was to combine the surface tension of the ink, which was not broken until the tip of the pen touched a writing surface, with hair-thin grooves that allowed air to circulate to the ink reservoir, thus ensuring a smooth and steady flow.

Waterman patented his invention in 1884, was selling 5,000 pens a year by 1888, and boasted sales of 1,000 pens a day the year he died in 1901. As it turned out, the company’s best years were still ahead. In 1905, the company became the first pen manufacturer to rivet a clip on its pen caps so that they could be easily carried right-side-up in a pocket.

Two years later, Waterman introduced a "safety" fountain pen that could be carried in any position, even upside down, without spilling any of its ink. Advertisements from the period show pens loose in a coat pocket, lest consumers miss the point.

At the same time, advances in the designs of the pens continued apace. A fat, oversize Waterman from 1910 seems to anticipate the ergonomic designs of writing instruments of toda...

The late teens and 1920s were glory years for Waterman. Its hard-rubber Ideal 52 was a mainstay of its product line. Mostly they came in black, but the 52s in the Ripple series from the mid-'20s resembled exotic woods. The 452 was another workhorse, with a silver overlay, often in a handsome basketweave pattern.

Unfortunately, Waterman chose tradition over innovation, and by the 1930s it was losing ground to competitors such as Sheaffer and Parker. Waterman’s expensive, top of the line pen, the Lady Patricia, was undeniably excellent and featured gorgeous celluloid bodies, but its high price depressed sales. By 1939, Waterman was swinging for the fences with its Hundred Year Pen, the first pen to use a new transparent material from Dupont called Lucite. It came in opaque black as well as transparent red, green, and blue, and was guaranteed for a century. The pens are still around, and highly collectible, but Waterman, alas, could not last through the following decade.

Key terms for Antique and Vintage Waterman Pens

Celluloid: The first thermoplastic, it was a less expensive alternative to ivory and saw wide use thanks to ability to be molded and shaped.

Lucite: A clear, hard acrylic material that is often used as an alternative to glass.

Nib: The piece of metal at the end of a fountain pen that delivers ink to a writing surface. Nibs are made from everything from stainless steel to gold but material alone does not necessarily dictate value: If a pen has a music nib on it (a wide nib specifically designed for a composer), it can double the price of that particular pen.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Parker51.com

Parker51.com

Ernesto Soler's extensive homage to one of the most popular pens ever produced, the Parker "51," introduced in 1941… [read review or visit site]

Penhero.com

Penhero.com

Jim Mamoulides' vintage and modern pen-cyclopedia. Start at the main gallery, featuring detailed articles (with pho… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Waterman 58 Ripple Rare Semi Flex #8 14k Gold Nib Fountain PenWaterman #42 Ripple Safety Pen 18kt Bands& 18kt Nib Excellent ConditionWaterman Red Ripple Combo...rare...worksWaterman Ink Vue Lady Patricia – Super FlexFlexible Nib, Wet Noodle, Waterman '52, As Found, UnrestoredWaterman Paris Expert Fountain Pen In Marine Amber W/ Ornate Case & ExtrasVintage Waterman's 515 Fountain Pen - Jet Black - Near Mint Condition - C1946 4.25" Blue & Gold Waterman Paris Fountain Pen W/ Leather CaseFine Antique Vintage Waterman Ideal Gold Fill Fountain PenScarce Large Waterman #58 Hard Rubber Fountain PenFrench Waterman Man 100 Linear Godron 925 Sterling Silver Fountain Pen Fine NibMabie Todd Swan Eternal # 4 Oblique Broad Nib Price Sticker -- Rare Fountain PenWaterman Le Man 100 Black Ideal 18k Solid Gold Nib- Look!!!1940s Vintage Large Watermans Hundred Year Fountain Pen - Near Mint Condition Waterman Gold Eyedropper Pen...worksRestored Waterman‘s Fountain Pen Nice Marbled Brown Waterman Exclusive Fountain Pen, Fully Serviced. 18k F NibWaterman Pearlized Gold Fountain Pen 14k Gold Ideal Nib Waterman Preface Paris Fountain Pen - Boxed - Gold Plated - A Beautiful Pen Waterman's Ideal #52 Fountain Pen, #2 Gold Flexing Nib, Good Condition. No Sac. Vintage Waterman's Fountain Pen, 14ct Nib, 1940's EnglandWaterman Edson Sapphire Blue Fountain Pen 18k NibMentmore Auto-flow Green Marbled, Fountain Pen C1940, 14 Ct Nib With BoxVintage Waterman Ideal Fountain Pen. Black Swirl Design. 5 ¼ In. Nib No 2 Vintage Waterman's Fountain Pen, 14ct Nib, 1940's England***waterman 18k Gold & Sterling Fountain Pen***Nos Lot 12 Vintage Bottles Waterman No. 472 South Sea Blue 2oz Fountain Pen InkLot Of 2 Antique Vintage Waterman Fountain Pens, Ideal,pat. 1899, 1884, Pls ReadWaterman Phileas Fountain Pen ~ Green/black Marble Judd's Very Nice Waterman Leman Fountain Pen & Ballpoint Pen SetArthur A. Waterman's Gold Filigree Fountain Pen C1920 Hard Rubber Lakeside Lever Fountain Pen Warranted 14kt Gold M Nib New SacEarly Waterman Ideal Fountain Pen, Large Size. Gold? Sleeve On BarrelVintage Watermans Ideal Red Ripple & Gold Plated Fountain Pen 18ct NibWaterman's Ideal #55 Red Ripple Fountain Pen Ca. 1920'sVintage 1903 Waterman Ideal Fountain Pen No. 52 1/2. W/ BoxWatermans Ideal Paris Fountain Pen,18k Nib, In Gift Box 1968-1993 Macro 4 Waterman 52 Coral/orange Hard Rubber Fountain Pen-excellent Condition-workingVintage 1990s Waterman France Laureat Green Marble / Brass Fountain Pen Med NibEarly Waterman #12 Gold & Hard Black Rubber Eye Dropper Fountain PenWaterman Expert Matt Black Fountain Pen Fine Steel Nib!!Waterman Laureat Fountain Rollerball Pen Set Marbled Gray Leather Pouch RefillsVintage Waterman's Ideal 92 V Fountain Pen - Rare - Vest Pocket - C1933Waterman Vintage Hard Rubber Parts-sold As Parts OnlyWaterman Fountain Pen, BlueFountain Pen Lot 14 Vintage And Various Pens. Sheaffer Waterman StratfordC.1940 Vintage Waterman's Fountain Pen -- Deep Blue Pearl ColorSheaffer Sterling Silver Waterman's Ideal Nib 4 3/4" Fountain Pen 5 1/2"Waterman Rollerball Pen.. Red Black Pattern.. Giant Waterman Fountain Pen, With Large Sterling Silver MedallionWaterman 92 Red And Gold Pattern Mint With Remains Of Price Sticker Fountain PenVintage Waterman Tortoise Look Fountain Pen With 750 18k Gold Nib - FranceWaterman Carene Fountain Pen Lacquer Body 18k Gold Broad Nib FranceWaterman Phileas Solid Black Rollerball PenVintage Waterman's Nw2 Fountain Pen - Grey - 14k Gold W2b Nib - 135 Mm"waterman Ideal Fountain Pen #52 Reg U.s. Pat.off. #2 Super Flexy Nib C 1903 Vintage**rare** Waterman Le Man Sterling Silver Pen Made In FranceBoxed Pearl Red Waterman Phileas Ball Point Pen Waterman France BoxWaterman Phileas Kultur Fountain Pen Fine Pt & Converter Transparent Clear NewWaterman Fountain Pen - Medium Nib