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”)

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]

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    

1940s Waterman Oversize 100 Year Fountain Pen Flex F To Bbb 3.27mm+ Flex Nib NrVtg Waterman #7, Orange Bchr Woodgrain, Exc Restord Cond, 14ct Ideal Flex No 7Vintage Super - Watermans no 7  Fountain Pen - C1926 - UsaC1915 Waterman #12 Red Mottled Ink Dropper Fountain Pen Xf To 2.6mm+ Flex Nib NrMint Waterman Le Man 100 Opera Fountain Pen, Fully Serviced. 18k Medium Nib Early Waterman 12 Red Mottled Eyedropper Fountain Pen F To Bbb 2.7mm Flex Nib NrVtg Waterman 100 Years, Cherry Transparent, 14ct Ideal Super Flex, Restrd Workg Pair Of Waterman Leman 100 Fountain Pens - No Reserve Collection 32 Of 57 LotsWaterman Edson Sapphire Blue Gt Fountain Pen No Reserve Collection 29 Of 57 LotsVintage Waterman's Ideal No.52 Fountain Pen - Near Mint - Ripple Red - C 1920'sWaterman Edson Sapphire Blue Gt Fountain Pen No Rsv Collection 29.1 Of 57 LotsTwo Waterman Fountain Pens And One Sterling Brand Fountain Pen W/ Remex NibWaterman 15psf Fountain Pen (early 55), Big Pen, M Nib With Some FlexVintage Solid 14k Gold 552 ½ V Waterman Ladies Small Fountain Pen Pendant 8 Old Fountain Pens Lot Parker Waterman Sheaffer Greif Belmont 14k & 18k NibsWaterman Edson Ruby Red Gt Fountain Pen No Rsv Collection 31.1 Of 57 LotsLovely Rare Vintage Waterman's Patrician Onyx Fountain Pen - Huge 14k NibVtg Namiki Sterling Art Series, "samurai", 18ct M, Exc Cond, 5 1/2", Exc WriterWaterman #52 Ripple Pen 18kt Semi Flex Nib+ Phraon's Head Removal Ring Clip18k Waterman Edson Sapphire Blue Gt Fountain Pen Nib No ReserveEight 8 Old Fountain Pens Lot Parker Waterman Esterbrook Mentmore 14k NibsWaterman England 515 Fountain Pen Vgc 1950s Waterman Carene Fountain Pen ~ Orange ~ 18kt Fine 18k Waterman Edson Sapphire Blue Gt Fountain Pen Nib No Reserve 29.2Watermans Lady Patricia Fountain Pen Moss Agate Flex F To Bbb 2.8mm+ Flex Nib NrWaterman 454 & 452 Fountain Pens, One Sterling Waterman PencilMontblanc 146, Near Mint, 14ct M, Piston/trasparent Mesh Window, 5 5/8"Five - 5 Old Fountain Pens Stylo Lot Waterman French Gold F Overlay 14k Nibs1920`s Waterman Red Ripple #52 Lever Filling Fountain Pen In Case/box CleanVintage Waterman 94 Fountain Pen ~ *persian*Two Waterman Sterling Silver Safety Fountain Pens, C1918, Both BeautifulNear Mint Big Waterman Man "100" Fountain Pen ~ With Converter! ~ Ready To Use! Waterman Carene Fountain Pen ~ Violet ~ 18kt Medium Waterman's No. 94 Fountain Pen In Gray And Red Marble Celluloid 14k Gold Red KeyWaterman's No. 94 Fountain Pen In Red Marble Celluloid 14k Gold Flex NibWaterman's No. 92 Fountain Pen In Moss Agate Celluloid 14k Gold Flex NibWaterman's No. 7 Fountain Pen In Jet Celluloid 14k Gold Purple Keyhole Rigid NibWaterman Leman 200 Rollerball Pen - No Reserve Collection 34 Of 57 LotsWaterman Edson Ruby Red Gt Ballpoint Pen No Rsv Collection 31 Of 57 LotsWaterman's No. 3 Fountain Pen In Moss Agate Celluloid 14k Gold Very Flexible NibWaterman's No. 301-v Fountain Pen In Red Marble Celluloid 14k Gold Flex NibWaterman Phileas Red Marble Color Ballpoint Pen Made In FranceWaterman Edson Sapphire Blue Gt Ballpoint Pen No Rsv Collection 30 Of 57 LotsWaterman Leman Black & Gold Ballpoint Pen - No Reserve Collection 33 Of 57 LotsWaterman Carene Gt Marine Amber Ballpoint Pen No Rsv Collection 28 Of 57 LotsWaterman Carene Black Sea Gt Ballpoint Pen No Rsv Collection 36 Of 57 LotsSealed Montegrappa Lmtd Ed "amedeo Modigliani" Founta Pen, N0:1879/3350, 18ct MWaterman French 544 18kt Solid Gold Safety Pen Nice Semi Flex NibWaterman's 16 Poc Black Chased Hard Rubber & Gold Eyedropper Fountain Pen - 1915Vtg Montblanc Meisterstuck No. 149 Black Fountain Pen 14k Gold 585 14c 1810 NibRare Waterman's Ideal 42 Safety Pen 18 Kt Gold RolledWaterman Le Man 200 Rhapsody Mineral Green M 18kt Nib & Trim MintWaterman Liaison Fountain Pen Ebonite In Brown-black With 18 K F NibWaterman Le Man 200 Black Fountain Pen, Fine 18k Gold Nib Fountain Pen Safety Waterman's Ideal Rientrante Inch 4,706 (ale3)Waterman Ideal Silver Fountain Pen 18k Gold NibWaterman Ideal Fountain Pen 18k NibSheaffer Imperial Brass Fountain Pen (in Original Box) + Waterman Paris (nib)Three Sterling Overlay Eyedroppers, All Are Simply Marked 'sterling'Black 52 Pen Storage Case / Box No Reserve For Montblanc Waterman Cross Pelikan