Sunday, June 12, 2011

Charles H. Ingersoll 'Dollar' Pen (1924-1931)

Ingersoll 'Dollar' Pen with ribbed pattern.

Charles H. Ingersoll, along with his brother, Robert, founded the Robert H. Ingersoll & Brother Company in 1892, makers of the Ingersoll watch. Their pocket watches, the ‘Jumbo,’ ‘Yankee,’ and the ‘Reliance,’ were the Timex of its day. These dollar watches were quite popular, selling over 70 million by the end of World War I. Despite their success, the company was unable to pay its creditors, declaring bankruptcy in 1921. The company was reorganized and Waterbury clock continued to make watches using the company’s name. The company eventually became Waterbury-Ingersoll, later U.S. Time, later Timex. New York Times article on Ingersoll watches.

In 1924, Charles Ingersoll formed the Charles Ingersoll Dollar Pen Company in Newark, later moving to East Orange, New Jersey. They weren’t the only company in history to produce a “dollar” pen (e.g. Evans or Esterbrook). But clearly, Ingersoll was trying to capitalize on the Dollar Watch fame. The company existed until about 1931, producing a nickel-plated brass pen with a 14 karat gold nib and iridium tip. These pens sold for $1.00. That’s $12.50 in today’s economy.

Fourteen karat gold nib with "CHI" stamp.
Later the company added a junior/ladies pen selling for $1.50 and a oversized Bakelite or celluloid pen for $2.00. These pens featured a two-point bearing clip and a unique twist-filling mechanism using an oversized watch-like stem-winder. Ingersoll marketed their pens to compete against the low-end nameless pens with steel nibs. Ingersoll offered high quality 14-karat gold nibs with iridium tipping, much like the “$50” Waterman’s or Parker’s of the day. The nib is easily recognized by the initials "CHI" for Charles Henry Ingersoll. Ingersoll saved on manufacturing and material costs, using brass tubing stock for the body and cap, cheaper, and more readily in supply. It was also easier to form. They avoided cutting a slot into the side of the pen for the lever. Instead a large upholstery tack was used as the filler. It was a simple filling mechanism, but one that also drew up a large amount of ink. Dimensions: Length: 12.8 cm (5”) closed (the twist filler adds an additional 1/8” inch to the length); Cap 5.9 cm (2-5/16”). Width 1 cm (7/16”).

How the ink-filling mechanism works:  Ingersoll used a stem-winder twist-filler system at the back end of the pen. This stem-winder looks very much like an upholstery tack. This tack is inserted through a small hole in the back end of the pen, and into a hard rubber or wooden plug inside the pen. The plug serves as a mount for the back end of a rubber sac, which is cut to fit over the plug.
Twist-filling mechanism.
The other end of the sac is then fitted over the feed. It’s not a complicated system, although it really confused me at first. Twisting the stem-winder about a half-turn squeezes out the rubber sac, much like a sponge. When the stem-winder is released the sac springs open. With the nib sitting inside an ink-well, the action of releasing the stem-winder draws ink through the nib assembly and into the sac. I have seen the twist-filling mechanism on some Gold Bond's, Esterbrooks, Wahl's and Mabie-Todd's.

Writing sample. Click to enlarge.

How does it write: The characteristic of the nib on paper is based not only on the design and material of the nib, but also the paper, the ink, the restoration of the nib, and just blind luck. I have two pens, and can confidently comment on both. The gold nib has a bit of tooth. I’ve tried to adjust and smooth it. I’ve also tried different inks. Despite that, I cannot seem to get it to the butter-on-Teflon smoothness that I prefer in all pens. The tooth doesn’t affect the writing performance, and is not irritating. The nib is firm enough to cut through carbon paper, but there is definitely a bit of flex. 

This is a pen that I’m comfortable letting others try. But it’s not the spokesmodel for the wonderment of writing with fountain pens. Some people will not post pens. I will when it balances the writing instrument, and this pen would be better balanced when it is posted.
Fleur-de-lis pattern on an Ingersoll pen.

It certainly writes well, but it’s not an all-day writer. It got a bit heavy by the end of a page of writing. When I switched to a plastic Parker, my hand breathed a sigh of relief. I would probably prefer a wider pen. Ingersoll did produce plastic pens in larger sizes.
Finding your own pen:  A nickel-plated brass pen would appear indestructible. However, the sections are prone to cracking. One of my two pens has a large crack in it, but it doesn't affect the writing performance (one restoration specialist has been known to fill this crack with epoxy). These sections are form-fit onto the brass body, and often require a bit of muscle to remove. I was able to successfully remove the section for restoration purposes without fracturing it. The nickel plating on the body is also prone to brassing and wear. This pen has a bit of plating wear along the body, just beneath the cap. A completely clean model is difficult, but not impossible, to find. The pen originally sold for $1. However, modern prices for these pens, depending upon condition, vary from $10 to $90.
Crack commonly found in section.

Conclusion:  I’m a sucker for unique designs and unusual filling-mechanisms. The Ingersoll pen offers both. Its metal body stands out in a collection of pens. Meanwhile, the twist-filler is a unique, and actually quite efficient, mechanism for filling the pen with ink. These pens were not produced as status symbols for executives, and it’s overall finish and design reflects that. However, they are durable writing instruments, that fall well below the radar among collectors.


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