Wahl-E

I’ve been called a man out of his time. I’ve also been called “jerk face”, “loud mouth”, and “cheese baiter” but that’s neither here nor there (and I have no idea what the last one even means.) With my interests in things that are old and obsolete it’s no wonder I like the historic period that spans the gilded age through the roaring 20s. While my favorite watches were manufactured right around the turn of the century my favorite pens came into being over twenty years later.

The 1920s and 1930s are called the golden age of the fountain pen for good reason, some of the most beautiful pens ever made were created at that time. With colored hard rubber ushering out the age of the PBP (plain black pen) followed shortly after by the introduction of cellulose nitrate plastics fountain pens were now a fashion accessory. Also the teething pains of manufacture shown by awkward filling systems, strange patent feed designs, and clip on pocket clips were long in the past. Fountain pens wrote well, looked good, and didn’t leak all over your shirt pocket.

In the period between the reign of vulcanized rubber pens and the usurpers made of flammable plastic there was a time where you could get something utterly different than either material. I don’t mean the metal overlay designs had been around from the earliest days of internal reservoir pens as these were basically a hard rubber pen covered with a shell of decorative metal. While pretty they were structurally the same old pens with fancy wrappers.

Wahl Pen 2

Wahl, a company well known for its adding machines and Eversharp mechanical pencils, purchased the Boston Fountain Pen Company (or at least part of it) in 1917 so it could get a quick start in the business of making fountain pens. Wahl sold what was basically a slightly upgraded Boston hard rubber model for several years. Then something so big, so important, so game-changing happened that only the fine copywriters at Wahl’s ad agency could put this portentous event into words of the magnitude needed. I cannot improve on them so I will just reproduce them from the 1925 catalog here:

Wahl DiagramTHE WAHL PEN OF PRECIOUS METAL: A new landmark in fountain pen progress

Along the highway of fountain pen progress are but a few landmarks denoting basic developments in design that have guided the manufacturing effort of the future. The self-filling pen was one of these.

The self-filling pen, however, required a soft rubber ink sac which occupied a large part of the hard rubber barrel, and thus left little space for ink. Because the tradition of long years demanded that the barrel be made of hard rubber, the next step was simply to increase the size of the pen to get a larger space for the ink sac.

Thus resulted the bulky pens that have been the vogue for several years. But this method of getting greater ink capacity was a makeshift, as Wahl craftsmen realized. Why, they asked themselves, need the barrel be built of rubber at all, since the ink is contained in a soft rubber sac? Why not build the barrel of a thin strong material which would give greater ink capacity, plus added strength, without the disadvantage of cumbersome size and weight?

The answers to these questions resulted in the development of the Wahl Precious Metal Pen—a pen which we believe is destined to set up a new landmark on the highway of fountain pen progress. Gold and silver were the materials chosen to carry out this revolutionary conception of a fountain pen. New as these metals were to the art of fountain pen manufacture, they had been for many centuries the only accepted materials for the making of other high class articles of persona equipment. Since the beginning of civilization, they have been the only metals discovered (except for a few of prohibitive cost) that in their native state will maintain their outward beauty as long as any part of the material lasts.

So it was but natural that they were selected as the basic materials for The New Wahl Pen. This pen is so strong as to be practically unbreakable; it is slender and graceful, yet its ink capacity is greater than that of rubber pens twice its size; it is light in weight, perfectly balanced, unfaltering in writing performance, and has the rich beauty which can come only from fine jewelry designs engraved in gold or silver.

Some of the features are shown in the sectional view at the left. Note the thin walls, the rolled metal threads which cannot be broken, the large ink sac, the compact filling mechanism. Then turn to the pages which follow and note the beautiful jewelry designs and the graceful proportions of these pens.

Try a Wahl Pen from our stock; observe its fine balance, its light weight, and its certain performance. Compare its ink capacity, if you care to, with the largest pen in your case, and prove that it holds more ink than any other.

Wahl builds rubber pens, too, for those people who are not yet converted to this modern pen. These rubber pens are the finest that can be made, and second only to the pen of the future—the Wahl Precious Metal Pen.

Wahl Pen

A Wahl #5 Metal Pen

For those other than the luddites fighting the inevitably conversion Wahl metal pens were a very nice, if not quite earthshaking, writing instrument. They came in solid gold and sterling as well as silver and gold plate. It’s common to find the gold plated or “filled” models with a good deal of brassing from their long years of service. Dents and dings are seen more often than not since these pens are made of thin metal. If you find a nice example you’ll have a good writer with reliable lever filling and nice nibs which are sometimes flexible. Even the largest metal Wahls are compact and the smaller ones are extremely tiny. Some engraved patterns are worth more than other more common ones so you might want to check out this listing of them.

Wahl NIbThe Wahl pictured here is one of the bigger models they made. Usually you can tell the dimension of the pen by the how big the nib is as indicated by a number on it. The largest is said to be a #6 but those are very rare. A #5 like this one while not common will turn up for sale every once in a while.

Eventually Wahl stopped making all metal pens and switched to a line of plastic ones. I think the fragility of these dent collecting tubes helped speed that along. So ends the tale of a pen as important as the wheel, as much a marvel as electricity, as indispensable as the air we breathe: The Wahl Metal Pen.

  1. March 12, 2010, 6:29 am

    I have a Wahl GF ringtop, “M. Anthony”, and it came with a pencil. Unfortunately, neither Leigh nor I are able to remove the section from the the barrel, and so I can’t resac the pen. However, it does write very well as a dip pen. It has a lovely #2 flexy nib, and I’m inclined to wear either it or the pencil as an accessory.

    1. TAO
      March 12, 2010, 11:43 am

      Mona: I seem to remember that stubborn ringtop of yours. If you ever want me to try resaccing you know where I am. 🙂

  2. Kim
    March 12, 2010, 12:20 pm

    I love that picture with the hat so freakin’ much!

    1. TAO
      March 12, 2010, 4:23 pm

      Kim: Thanks for the compliment. I really like how that picture turned out too. I wear that hat, collar, and watch ever day. Yea, I’m just kidding. I actually do have a few vintage shirts that I can button collars onto but I don’t wear them that often.

  3. March 13, 2010, 2:33 am

    Great article!!

  4. March 14, 2010, 5:13 pm

    These photos are so beautiful. Lovely clip! Lovely nib! Lovely pen! Please remove the 99.999% uninteresting thing from your header. Your blog is a real gem. 🙂

    1. TAO
      March 14, 2010, 5:41 pm

      Well, I think you just found the .001% here.

  5. March 16, 2010, 5:33 pm

    Great, now you made me want to get one!

    1. TAO
      March 16, 2010, 7:53 pm

      Well, I know someone in your neck of the woods who has one. If you pester her she may sell. 😀

      1. March 17, 2010, 2:06 pm

        Oh man, please don’t tempt me : (

  6. Tom
    July 14, 2010, 9:23 pm

    I found a WAHL SET “Hanlin” engraved MINT, cap says solid gold, with brown leather case. value…?

    1. TAO
      July 14, 2010, 9:33 pm

      Hi Tom,
      That sounds like a nice set indeed. I have no idea what it’s value is and you’ll find that in pen collecting there’s a great range. You’ll probably not find many like that to have been sold on Ebay so that’s not a good resource. Best you could do is to check the sites that sell vintage fountain pens for an equivalent set. You could also see what offers they would make to purchase it from you which would be lower than the selling price, of course. Price guides usually are out of date rather quickly so I can say those would be accurate. Good luck!