The Waterman Patrician is among the most coveted fountain pens still available to collect. Ebay lists Patricians ranging from a few hundred dollars up to $5000. I am fortunate to own two Patricians: an emerald green one pictured above and a moss-agate.
Waterman introduced the Patrician in 1929 just at the start of the Great Depression. The timing couldn’t have been worse since the pen sold for the astronomical price of $10. The pen contained many hand-made parts that raised the manufacturing cost. Patricians were not actively manufactured after 1936.
Patricians were expensive to make because they contained many hand-made parts. The pen’s design looked back to the opulent pre-Depression era. Competitors produced modern designs, like the Parker Vacumatic, that were both cheaper and more innovative than the Patrician. Relatively few Patricians were made, given the high manufacturing cost and the low demand during the Depression. This explains why it cost so much to buy a Patrician today.
I, like about 20,000 other people, visited the DC Supershow this past weekend. I enjoyed talking to Brian and Lisa Anderson. Over the years I’ve purchased many unusual Esterbrook nibs from the Andersons. What caught my eye this time were the fountain pen friendly pads of paper they sell. In particular I loved this one:
Founded in 1884, L. E. Waterman is the oldest fountain pen manufacturer among the Big Four. Several companies began making fountain pens around this time, but Waterman’s design proved to be the most reliable.
L. E. Waterman’s first pens were eye-dropper fillers made of hard rubber. These pens let ink flow out of the reservoir without blobbing. In 1915 Waterman introduced a level filling mechanism that became their primary filler until the 1955.
In the years preceding the Patrician, Waterman made many innovative and interesting pen models. Most were designated by a number system that reflected, among other things, the size of the pen. These pens were made of black hard rubber, often chased, sterling silver, 14k gold, and gold filled metal. The Patrician was the first plastic pen Waterman made. Most models that came after the Patrician were made of plastic, although they continued to make silver and gold pens that sold at high prices.
Although it is debatable, I think the Patrician was the last great pen that Waterman made. Some people like the Hundred Year pen, which was made from 1939 to c.1949. However, most examples I’ve seen have severe deterioration at the end of the barrel where a bright colored end was attached.
By the 1950s, Waterman was reduced to copying other manufactures—and doing a poor job at that—as witnessed by the Taperite, a Parker 51 knockoff. In desperation, Waterman made a cartridge pen, the C/F, before ceasing operations in 1956.
Waterman had a French subsidiary called Waterman JIF. With the demise of the American parent, Waterman JIF struck out on its own. They were successful and eventually bought out their former parent’s assets. The Waterman pens made today are from the Waterman JIF branch of the company, although the path to the present company is convoluted.
The Patrician is slightly smaller than the Duofold Centennial when both are posted, although their lengths are just about identical when capped. Both of these pens are oversized compared to the average pen.
The weight and size of the pen are given in the table below.
|Measurement||Units||Waterman Patrician||Duofold Centennial|
|Max Barrel Diameter||mm||13||13|
Waterman used their standard lever filler in the Patrician. This is the same mechanism that was used, with minor cosmetic changes, from 1915 until the 1950s.
The clip and band were specially designed for the Patrician and were meant to give a feeling of opulence to the pen. These accouterments have the feel of Greek columns. The bottom of the barrel should also have a gold filled disk glued in place. Unfortunately it is missing from my pen.
The imprint on this Patrician shows few signs of wear and is sharp and clear.
The Patrician nib was meant to compliment the luxury feel of the pen. By modern standards it appears too broad and stubby for its height. It is as if Waterman was showing off how much gold they could stuff into the nib since, for a fancy pen like this, money is no object. The engraving on the nib is sharp and clear.
Richard Binder is an excellent online reference on the history of the Patrician.
The Fountain Pen Board displays a photo of all the different Patrician colors.
The Patrician was the high point of art deco opulence for Waterman pens. Unfortunately their timing was off on two counts. First the pen looked backwards to the 1920s when the other big pen manufacturers were streamlining their pens in the modern style that was in demand. Second the pen was expensive to make since it contained a lot of custom, hand-made parts that added significant costs. The pen was introduced on the eve of the Depression. This doomed the pen to failure because the price was out of reach for most people.
Waterman ceased manufacturing the Patrician after 1936. They continued to assemble Patricians from spare parts and sell them into the late 1930s. Some people therefore date the end of the Patrician era later than 1936. ↩
See Fischler and Schneider’s book The Golden Age of Writing Instruments. Note that just before 1900 the A. A. Waterman Pen Company came into existence. A. A. Waterman worked for the L. E. Waterman Company before starting his own business. ↩
Waterman made a black hard rubber Patrician when the pen was introduced in 1929. ↩