Grace, Space, Pace(maker): A Surprise from North Bergen

Wearever Pacemaker AdWho was America’s biggest manufacturer of fountain pens in the 1940s and 1950s? Parker? Nope. Sheaffer? Uh-uh. Give up? From their offices in North Bergen, NJ it was common-as-dirt Wearever who crowned themselves that. Certainly that claim could well have been true as mass production allowed a seemingly endless supply of their low cost writing implements to fill up the shelves of many a dime-store. What else may surprise is that they made pens of rather high quality like the one we’re going to look at here.

The late fountain pen expert Frank Dubiel often said Wearever’s Pacemaker model was the equal of many a higher end offering from more respected brands. Looking like a handsome doppelganger to the contemporary striped Parker Duofold it’s easy to believe this pen does meet that criteria. At least at a glance the pen’s appearance belies its $2.75 price.

Taking the pen into had for inspection you can see two features which are attention grabbing. First off, it’s a button filler with a blind cap that unscrews to show the system’s namesake poking out in transparent red plastic. Depressing this button causes a pressure bar in the barrel to flex and squeeze the ink sac. Release the button and the sac inflates drawing in the ink. This system was made famous on early Parkers such as the Duofold (to get around the Sheaffer lever filling patent) but was mostly regulated to niche status as the complex filling system wars began in the 1930’s. Not the most efficient filling system but it certainly is simple and gets the job done.

Wearever Pacemaker

Wearever Pacemaker

Next item of note is the plain looking nib marked “14k, MADE IN U.S.A.” Most people think of Wearever’s having inexpensive steel nibs but this one is solid gold, as befits a premium offering. It’s a good sized nib with a fine-ish point and a nice blob of iridium at the tip so there’s nothing to criticize here. If Wearever couldn’t get in on the gimmick wars with a filling system or a unique design they did make one concession with what was under that nib: the clear “C-Flow” feed. Supposedly allowing you to see when ink flow started to dwindle and refilling was needed this gadget was a distant relative to the ink view window on other fountain pens. Of course if the feed became mostly clear you probably knew already the ink was running out due skipping or fading lines. So while dubious in use it is a quaint feature that makes this pen (and the Wearever Zenith which shared the feed and nib) a bit more endearing.

C-Flow clear feed

C-Flow clear feed

Pacemakers are sized on par with the mid-line offerings from the more expensive pen companies and feel solid in the hand. Concessions to low cost can be seen in the blind cap and section whose bright sheen screams “cheap plastic”. Additionally, the section seems to have been formed from two molded halves since there are seams running down both sides. On the other hand the bulk of the pen is in sturdy, attractive multi-colored laminated celluloid which probably has fooled more than one person into thinking they were looking at a Parker. Gold filled metal is used for the clip and band which on my example has no brassing despite evidence of a goodly amount of use. Overall, this was quite a good deal for a couple of bucks in 1946.

Since the proof is in the pudding I can state that the Pacemaker writes very nicely. I’ve had this pen for almost 10 years and paid little attention to it as it rested silently in a drawer. A short time ago I was looking for some pens to trade and I dipped the old Wearever into ink for a writing sample. When I put the nib to paper I was shocked to find it was semi-flexible! One always expects these mass market mid-century pens to have stiff fine or medium nibs (unless we’re dealing with Esterbrooks and their specialty points) but for whatever reason we get an expressive line with this workhorse. I’m not planning on trading it any time soon now.

A year ago the respected pen collector Don Fluckinger wrote an article titled The Top 10 Vintage Pens, As I See It on Richard Binder’s website. Number two on the list was the Wearever Pacemaker which he called a “hidden gem.” I think that’s an apt description for a pen that for very little money can give a great deal of writing enjoyment.

Pacemaker writing sample

  1. Jon
    April 9, 2009, 2:26 pm

    I started collecting Pacemakers after I read Don’s article and agree with everything you’ve said here. These are good-sized attractive pens with 14K nibs that usually write quite well. The C-Flow feed was a pretty decent innovation and does let you know when you are nearly out of ink. If Wearever wanted to, they could have upgraded the trim and end caps a bit and the Pacemaker would have been even more attractive, but I think they were focused on “the most bang for the buck.” They really succeeded with the Pacemaker.

  2. TAO
    April 9, 2009, 11:00 pm

    Jon, I agree with your agreeance. 😀 The Pacemakers beat out other “low cost” pens for quality and enjoyment. You can find them sometimes for the price of an Esterbrook. A secret bargain for those who know and one of my recommendations for anyone wanting to start collecting and using vintage pens. Thanks for the comment!