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    

Vintage Bchr Waterman 52 Fountain Pen, Restored. Nice #2 Flexible Fine NibWaterman Le Man 100 Opera Black Chase & Gold Fountain Pen. 18k M Nib. Rare.Vintage Waterman Stalwart Fountain Pen, 14k Xf-bb Flex Nib, RestoredVintage Waterman's Patrician - Onyx - Celluloid Fountain Pen [flexible Nib] 52Vintage Waterman Ideal 54 Red Ripple Mottled Woodgrain Fountain Pen Flexible NibAntique Arthur A Waterman Modern Pen Co Fountain Pen With Original BoxLovely Rare Large Vintage Waterman's 45 Safety Propelling Fountain Pen - BhrVintage Waterman Ideal Green Red Black Marblized Fountain Pen Pink Nib NrWaterman Phileas Fountain Pen Fine Pt Clear Demonstrator New1941 Blue Waterman's Hundred (100) Year Fountain PenWaterman Ideal Large Men's Fountain Pen, Hard Rubber, Circa 1920sVintage Waterman Ideal Patrician Patricia Ink-vue Red Fountain Pen Flexible RareVintage 1920's Waterman's Ideal Clip Sterling Silver Fountain Pen 1920s Waterman Ideal Fountain Pen Counter Top Oak + Glass Store Display CaseWaterman C/f Sterling Silver - Barleycorn Finish Fountain Pen €Old Waterman 58 Large Fountain Pen Wood Grain Ripple 18k Gold Filled Ideal 6"Waterman Ideal 52v Green & Red Celluloid Fountain Pen. 14ct F Nib. Vintage.Vintage Waterman's 503, 'book-keeper' Fountain Pen, Black With White Cap ButtonVintage 18ct 18k Gold Watermans Fountain Pen 1936Waterman Laureat Green Marble Rollerball PenLot Of 2 Antique Vintage Waterman's Fountain Pen Aug 4, 1903 Made In UsaExtremely Rare Gorgeous Limited Edition Waterman Edson 125th Anniversary BoxedExcell.waterman Carene Abyss Blue Lacquer Gold Pl.trim 18k Nib Fountain Pen+caseWaterman Exception Black & Silver Ballpoint Pen. Box & Papers. Nr Mint.Watermans Ideal Fountain Pen No 12 Usa With Original NibExcellent Condition Watermans Large Sterling Silver Fountain Pen.a Beautie!!lookVintage Watermans Ideal Clip Cap Fountain Pen Vintage Waterman Carene Black & Silverplated Fountain Pen - Ballpoint Pen Set Vintage Watermans Ideal Fountain PenWatermans Ideal 32 1/2 Fountain Pen & Pencil Set In Full Working OrderWaterman Ideal Opera Fountain Pen 18k Nib Barely UsedWaterman Leman Opera Fountain Pen - 18k Fine NibVintage Waterman's 512v Fountain Pen - Nice Nib - Striated - Broad Italic Nib3 Waterman Fountain Pens 12 Psf, 0852v, 52 1/2Waterman 52 1/2 V, Bhr, Gold-filled Lever, Semi-flex Nib, Working, No ReserveRare Fantastic Fountain Pen Waterman Edson Graphite Black BoxedLuxury Waterman Carene Pink Gold Meridians With Silver Rollerball Pen!!Rare Vintage Eisenstadt #3 Fountain Pen 14k Gold Nib Gold Trim Cap Both MarkedWaterman Exception Black & Silver Rollerball Pen. Box & Papers. Nr Mint. Waterman 452 1/2v Ringtop Pen Sterling Overlay Basket Weave PatternVintage L.e. Waterman's Aikin Lambert Skywriter Silver Striped Fountain PenLuxury Waterman Carene Pink Gold Meridians With Silver Ballpoint!!Waterman's Ideal 14k Flexible Nib Fountain PenWaterman Sterling Silver And Gold Ball Pen With Box L'etalonDiamond Point Pen Co Art Deco Black & Gold Filled Fountain Pen In Box 14k NibAntique Waterman Ideal 52v Chased Brown Hard Rubber Fountain Pen Waterman Cf Parts 18k Carat 750 Gold M Nib Section For Vintage Fountain Pen NrNew Vintage Unused Waterman Ink Fountain Pen 14k Gold French Paris W/case No ResBeautiful Waterman Fountain Pen Blue Resin Lever Filler Made In Usa 14kt NibWaterman Phileas Red Marble Fountain PenWaterman France Purple Marble Fountain Pen Fountain Pen, Waterman 12v Psf, Hard RubberVintage Waterman’s 0552 Gothic Pattern 18k Gold Filled Overlay Fountain PenWatermans Ideal Fountain Pen Eye Dropper Fill Style # 15 On EndRare Watermans Ideal 52 Lever Fountain Pen With 14ct Gold Nib & Gold BandVintage Watermans 1903 Safety Pen Hard Rubber Propelling Fountain PenWaterman Phileas Fountain Pen, Medium Nib, Converter, Used, CleanedVintage Watermans Ideal Fountain Pen 14k NibBeautiful Vintage Black Hard Rubber Waterman's 52 Fountain Pen !!Waterman Perspective Champagne Ballpoint Pen!!