Waterman Pens

of Paris logo

The Waterman name is one of the more recognizable names in fine luxury pens. The famous "Waterman of Paris" pens in their distinctive blue clamshell boxes can be found in high end retailers around the world.

Waterman's claims to fame are many, including the invention of the modern fountain pen and the invention of the modern cartridge pen.

What fewer people know is that Waterman was effectively two different companies: the old L. E. Waterman Pen Company of New York, and the current Waterman S.A. of Paris. Waterman originally started as an American company, which eventually spun off a French subsidiary. When the American company collapsed, the French subsidiary took over the name. Collectors will notice a very sharp difference between vintage and modern Watermans, as the modern pens come from a rather different design lineage.

Waterman History

As noted before, the history of Waterman is best divided into two parts, for the American and French sides.

Early Waterman

In 1883, or so the legend goes, Lewis Edson Waterman, an insurance salesman from New York, lost an important contract when the pen he was using acted up and dumped ink all over the contract. Spurred on by this unfortunate event, Waterman tinkered with pens until he devised the first modern feed that ensured regular blot-free ink flow in pens. He is thus usually credited with inventing the modern fountain pen.

This story is almost certainly apocryphal (see David Nishimura's article in The PENnant) but it has persisted in pen mythology for a long time. Waterman's design was more evolutionary than revolutionary; pens with self-contained ink supplies had existed well before Waterman (Thomas Jefferson reputedly used one). The problem was that ink flow regulation in prior designs left a lot to be desired; no prior feed did a satisfactory job of keeping the air/ink exchange in balance. Waterman's channeled feed design solved this problem, and for that he was awarded a patent in 1884.

Waterman entered the pen business that year as the Waterman Ideal Pen Company and began selling fountain pens of his own design. As sales grew, it became the L. E. Waterman Pen Company in 1888, and for the next two decades, Waterman became the dominant pen company in the United States and the world.

In the early 20th century, Waterman started phasing out the eyedropper filler pens with a variety of filling mechanisms, eventually settling on a more developed version of the lever in the late teens. Vintage 1920s hard rubber Waterman lever fillers are very common and many are still quite restorable today.

Complacent in their success, Waterman started losing ground in the US market through the Depression, and by the end of the war was but a shadow of its former self. For a variety of reasons, the postwar years were not kind to Waterman USA, and the company slipped into serious financial trouble. By 1954, Waterman USA was disintegrating and their last US plant was closed, effectively ending the old Waterman company.

Waterman France

The modern Waterman company traces its origins to the French subsidiary. In 1914, Jules Fagard becomes the Waterman Company's French agent. Fagard's branch evolved into a semi-autonomous subsidiary under the JiF-Waterman name in 1926, producing American-designed pens as well as local designs.

In 1954, with the closure of Waterman's US manufacturing facilities, JiF-Waterman becomes, in effect, Waterman. Over time, JiF-Waterman continues to grow, and by 1971 it had acquired the remaining pieces and registered all the appropriate trademarks of the old Waterman company. JiF renamed itself to Waterman S.A. and has carried on the Waterman name ever since.

JiF-Waterman began experimenting with cartridge pens as far back as the twenties, and enjoyed limited success in Europe. The CF was introduced in 1953/1954 and was the first commercially successful mass market cartridge fountain pen. Plastics solved many of the sealing shortcomings of earlier glass cartridges, and the concept of a cartridge-filling fountain pen took off. Although current Waterman cartridges are incompatible with the original CF, almost every major pen manufacturer has adopted cartridges partially or exclusively for their fountain pens.

Waterman continues to survive today as perhaps the largest French penmakers (and certainly one of the major European penmakers), making it the longest running brand name in fountain pens.

Waterman is currently owned by Sanford, the same owners of Parker.

Collecting Waterman

Waterman pens vary greatly in collectibility. Very early Watermans and the gold and sterling silver overlay pens are highly sought after and can command rather princely sums. The hand-engraved overlays are quite beautiful as antiques.

The more common hard rubber Watermans from the early 20th century are far easier to obtain and far less expensive. The 12PSF, 52, 54, and 52 1/2 V models are all fairly easy to find and are good quality examples of 1920s hard rubber lever fillers. Best of all, these pens are very likely to sport highly flexible nibs, which makes them great for fine penmanship.

The higher end Watermans from the 30s and 40s, such as the Patrician and the Hundred Year Pen, are rather rare and command very high prices. A Patrician in good condition is one of the most stunning Art Deco pens ever made, but is far too expensive for the average collector. The more common models, such as the Commando, are relatively inexpensive.

Modern French Waterman pens feature radically different styling from older Waterman pens. Starting with the CF and continuing to all current production, the sleek forms and the cutout clip contrast sharply with American designs. Most current production Waterman pens are not considered terribly collectible beyond their usual value as high end fine pens. Waterman's range and production is enormous, which makes scarcity (an important factor in collectibility) less of an issue.

Waterman Pen Gallery

Waterman 12PSF, black chased hard rubber with 3rd-party clip

Waterman 12PSF BCHR circa 1915,14k gold Ideal #2 nib, black chased hard rubber, lever fill

The 12PSF ("Pocket Self-Filler") was one of the better early Waterman self-fillers and far more common than the rare sleeve fillers, coin fillers, and other systems. This design is essentially the same as the 52; when Waterman revamped their numbering system in 1918, the 12PSF became the 52. This particular example sports a generic after-market clip typical of the era.

Waterman 52, black chased hard rubber

Waterman 52 BCHR circa 1920, 14k gold Ideal #2 nib, black chased hard rubber, lever fill

The Waterman 52 is one of the most commonly available Waterman hard rubber pens. It is a large lever filler and is usually found with a "Clip-Cap" clip. Many Waterman #2 nibs are semi-flexible or flexible, making the 52 a good vintage pen for letter writing and other special uses.

Waterman 52 1/2 V, black chased hard rubber Waterman 52 1/2 V, black chased hard rubber, gold trim Waterman 52 1/2 V, black hard rubber, nickel trim

Waterman 52 1/2 V circa 1925, 14k gold Ideal #2 nib, hard rubber, lever fill

The Waterman 52 1/2 V is a shorter (the V designation) and slimmer (the 1/2 designation) version of the 52. It is usually found as a ringtop pen with gold or nickel trim. As with the 52, the nibs are often quite flexible. Pictured are variations on the design; from top to bottom are black chased hard rubber with nickel trim, then gold trim, then plain smooth black hard rubber with nickel trim.

Waterman 54, black hard rubber

Waterman 54 clipless BHR circa 1920, 14k gold Ideal #4 nib, black hard rubber, lever fill

The Waterman 54 is a slightly larger version of the 52, featuring the larger #4 nib.

Waterman Stalwart (or Dauntless), green

Waterman Stalwart (or Dauntless?) 1940s, 14k gold nib, plastic, lever fill

Waterman made tons of pens in the 1940s with this basic shape and clip design, which was derived from the Hundred-Year. The Commando was the bottom end one and the most common. I think this is a Stalwart, but it could also be a Dauntless, as I'm not clear on the specific differences between them. Some of these Commando-like pens didn't even have proper model names, making research harder.

Waterman Skywriter, blue

Waterman Skywriter (3rd gen) circa 1953-1960s, steel nib, plastic, cartridge

Waterman used the Skywriter name for three different low-end pens at three different points in time. The first is a plastic pen (often with crazy colors) from the late 1930s made by ALCO in Canada and marked as such and acquired when Waterman purchased Aiken Lambert. The second is a plastic pen with a chrome-plated ribbed cap made from the 1940s up until the introduction of the CF. The third, pictured here, is a plastic lever-filler with an conventional nib but strong styling influences from the CF. This one is made in England.

Waterman CF 14k, black and gold Waterman CF 14k, salmon Waterman CF 14k, black CT Waterman CF 14k, red/grey

Waterman CF 14k circa 1955, 14k gold nib, plastic/metal, cartridge

The Waterman CF, first introduced in 1954, was the first successful mass-market cartridge filling fountain pen. While there have been prior attempts at cartridge pens (most notably Eagle's turn of the century brass cartridges and Waterman's earlier glass cartridges) this was the first commercially successful attempt. These particular examples are all US-made, which dates them to 1954-1957, although the CF itself would remain in production for much longer in France.

The cartridge concept became very popular among penmakers, and within a decade most penmakers had switched over to cartridges for most of their fountain pens. Cartridges are now the dominant filling mechanism in fountain pens.

Unfortunately, cartridges for the CF are no longer being produced. Current CF owners must use a syringe to refill existing used cartridges from a bottle.

Waterman CF steel nib, red

Waterman CF steel c.1954-1957, steel nib, plastic/metal, cartridge

Waterman USA just before its demise made low-end CFs with steel nibs as well.

Waterman C/C, gray

Waterman C/C circa late 1950s, steel nib, plastic/steel, cartridge

The Waterman C/C is an entry level student pen. It uses the same (now out of production) cartridges that the higher end CF uses and is often confused by collectors for the CF. The CF's nib is set into a U-shaped cutout, while the C/C's nib is more akin to the Parker 45 with an exposed breather hole.

Waterman unknown cartridge pen (CF cartridge)

Waterman Unknown Cartridge Pen circa 1954, gold-plated steel 533 nib, plastic/steel, cartridge

I do not know much about this pen. It uses CF cartridges but is made in the US, with an open nib with the number 533 on it. The clip with the split cutout and the W clearly indicates French styling, but Waterman USA should have been out of business by the time a pen like this could be introduced. If anyone has more information, please let me know.

Waterman Concorde, silver plate

Waterman Concorde circa 1970s, 18k gold nib, silver plate over brass, cartridge/converter

The Waterman Concorde dates back to the 70s and may or may not have anything to do with the supersonic airliner of the same time. There is more than a passing resemblance in the shape of the body and nib.

Waterman Concorde, brown

Waterman Concorde circa 1970s, 18k gold nib, plastic, cartridge/converter

The regular Concorde is made of a lightweight plastic with a finely engraved vaguely woodgrain-like pattern. I do not know if there also exist lacquer finishes, but it would not surprise me.

Waterman Gentleman, brown marble

Waterman Gentleman circa 1980, 18k gold nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

The Waterman Gentleman was the top of the regular line from 1976 through the introduction of the Le Man in 1983 and is the classic tubular lacquer Waterman. Unlike most modern Watermans, the Gentleman's section matches the barrel and is also constructed of heavy brass. This is a heavy and luxurious pen.

Waterman Exclusive, brown marble Waterman Exclusive, blue marble

Waterman Exclusive circa late 1980s-early 1990s, 18k gold nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

A long slender tubular pen typical of 1980s Waterman, and therefore easily confused with the similar Executive and Gentleman. The section has a deeply imprinted waffle (or hand grenade like) pattern and there are a bunch of rings at the cap tassie and lip.

Waterman Executive, dark brown marble Waterman Executive, tortoiseshell Waterman Executive, black

Waterman Executive 1980s?, 18k gold nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

The Executive is another one of the thin 1980s style pens, often confused for the similar Exclusive. The section features longitudinal ribbed lines.

Waterman Cotele?, grey Waterman Cotele?, lacque blue

Waterman Cotele? 1980s?, gold-plated steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

I think these pens are Waterman Coteles, based on pictures of a pen with a similar section (note especially the two grooved lines on the section and the shape of the nib) identified as such. However, the other picture I was shown a different clip (no cutout), a slightly different tassie (mounted flush with the clip) and an 18k gold nib in the same shape (although the Cotele may have had both). It's not a Graduate (which has no grooves on the section and has a differently-shaped nib) or Allure (again, different section/nib, and no cap vents in the tassie). So, what is this? I know it also exists it metallic silver and bronze pinstripe, but no firm information on the model name.

I have also heard that this might actually be the "Master" but do not have an authoratative source to back it up.

Waterman Cotele?, brown marble

Waterman Cotele? 1980s?, 18k gold nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

This pen is extremely similar to the previous, but the clip is different and the nib is 18k gold. The parts are not interchangeable and the pen is clearly a different size, so this is probably a separate pen line, but I don't have any vintage catalogs or documentation that identifies this pen or the previous.

Waterman Centurion, green

Waterman Centurion 1980s?-1990s?, gold plated steel nib, lacquer over brass and plastic, cartridge/converter

The Centurion bears some resemblance to the Laureat, but is significantly cheaper in finish and construction (the cap is simply a folded strip rather than formed). I am not sure they were ever offered in the US market.

Waterman Le Man 200, Cordovan Brown

Waterman Le Man 200 Cordovan circa 1983-1990s?, 18k gold nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

The Le Man series was released in 1983/1984 to coincide with the company's 100th anniversary. The Le Man 200 is a slightly smaller and thinner version of the flagship Le Man 100. These are very high end and luxurious pens meant to compete with the flagship pens of other companies.

This particular speciman is quite unusual. I am unable to find any documentation showing that Waterman ever made any Le Man in the cordovan brown color, nor do any of the Le Mans (except for the stained-wood Fontainebleu line and the sterling silver Etoile LE) have matching sections. This pen should not exist, and yet we are looking at it. It may be a prototype, as it lacks the serial number that most Le Mans have.

Waterman Le Man Rhapsody, green flake Waterman Le Man Rhapsody, red flake

Waterman Le Man Rhapsody circa 1983-1990s?, 18k gold nib, resin over brass, cartridge/converter

The Rhapsody line consists of Le Man 200s in shimmering flake and swirled marble finishes.

Waterman Le Man 100 Opera

Waterman Le Man 100 Opera circa 1990?, 18k gold nib, resin over brass, cartridge/converter

The Waterman Opera in the Le Man 100 size features a pattern that is clearly reminiscent of the old 1920s vintage black chased hard rubber pens.

Waterman Laureat II, red marble Waterman Laureat II, green marble

Waterman Laureat circa 1990s, gold-plated steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

An evolution of their Gentleman and Executive pens, the Laureat was Waterman's high-end sub-$100 gift pen until it was discontinued sometime around 2000. These are the older (Laureat I) variant with the more square clip and trim rings on the barrel (the Laureat II has a rounder clip and trim rings on the section and blind cap and a fancier-looking nib).

Waterman Preface, rust red

Waterman Preface circa late 1990s, 18k gold nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

The Preface line consisted of thin tubular pens reminiscent of the discontinued Gentleman. The Preface is also now discontinued.

Waterman Preface, Sterling Silver

Waterman Preface Sterling Silver circa late 1990s, 18k gold nib, sterling silver, cartridge/converter

This is the sterling silver version of the Preface.

Waterman Maestro, burgundy

Waterman Maestro circa 1990s, gold-plated steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

The Maestro looks like a more downscale version of the Executive or the Exclusive, with a plated steel nib and a less fancy ribbed section.

Waterman Pro Graduate, wine red marble

Waterman Pro Graduate late 1990s, gold-plated steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

I have only very sketchy information on the Pro Graduate, but it is basically a more upscale version of the Graduate with gold plated trim. I do not know when the range was introduced, but this example is marked with the Thalys logo, which places it to the late 1990s or early 2000s. Thalys is a European high-speed rail operator that began service in 1996.

Waterman Hemisphere, blue Waterman Hemisphere, blue marble Waterman Hemisphere, green marble Waterman Hemisphere, black

Waterman Hemisphere circa 1990s, gold-plated steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

The Hemisphere is one of the most commonly seen contemporary Waterman gift pens, especially in the ballpoint and pencil package. The fountain pen is medium to slightly small, but has good heft due to the heavy brass construction. Examples can be found in most pen retailers and engravable gift stores.

Waterman Hemisphere, stainless steel

Waterman Hemisphere 2001-2005, gold-plated steel nib, stainless over brass, cartridge/converter

Waterman added numerous metal-based finishes to the Hemisphere line around 2001, from the basic stainless pictured here to many colorful satin metal finishes, displacing most of the older lacquer finishes.

Waterman Hemisphere, Mars Black CT

Waterman Hemisphere 2005-2008, steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

In 2005, more finishes were introduced, including the pictured Mars Black CT.

Waterman Phileas, blue marble Waterman Phileas, red marble Waterman Phileas, gray marble Waterman Phileas, black Waterman Phileas, blue marble (new style) Waterman Phileas, red marble (new style)

Waterman Phileas circa late 1990s, two-tone gold-plated steel nib, plastic with brass liner, cartridge/converter

The highly successful Phileas line is regarded as one of the great modern bargain pens within the pen collecting community. It looks and feels like a much more expensive pen but has the same simple mechanics and reliability of common school pens. Pictured are the old-style blue marble (which is closer to purple with dark veins), the old-style red marble, the relatively uncommon gray marble, and the standard black. After the black one is the new style blue marble, which has more white mixed in (this is true for the other marbled colors as well) and the new style red marble, also with more white. This change happened around 1999.

Kultur, clear

Waterman Kultur circa late 1990s, steel nib, plastic, cartridge/converter

The Kultur was the student pen version of the Phileas, with the same shape and design. The colors were more appropriate for student pens, including various transparent colors including the completely clear demonstrater version shown here. The brass liner is absent and the nib is a plain steel nib, albeit with the same fan design.

Waterman Reflex, blue paisley
impressionist-like Waterman Reflex, black CT

Waterman Reflex 1990s-2000s?, steel nib, plastic, cartridge/converter

The Reflex is one of Waterman's school pens for the European market. The pattern is printed/silkscreened rather than any sort of lacquer. The nib appears to be identical to the much more expensive Expert II, but the rest of the pen is quite different.

Waterman Expert II, blue marble

Waterman Expert II circa late 1990s, two-tone gold-plated steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

The Expert II is one of Waterman's higher-end steel pens. It is constructed of very heavy brass and is a hefty pen even for its size. The Expert II is available in many finishes, including a limited production "champagne" finish to commemorate the millenium.

Waterman Carene, sea green shimmer Waterman Carene, amber shimmer

Waterman Carene circa 1998, 18k gold nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

The sleek Carene features an (uncommon for Waterman) inlaid nib, and is one of the more radically styled pens in Waterman's lineup. In Waterman's lineup, it is just below their top end pens (Edson, Serenite, Exception, etc)

Waterman Expert II, dune green

Waterman Expert II c.2002-2008, steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

Sometime around 2002-2003 the Expert II line was revamped. The old marble colors went away and were replaced by the "Dune" finishes, which are cooler (in the warm/cool color scale sense), with a pattern that looks like rings of sand. They are still in production as of 2009.

Waterman Charleston, black GT Waterman Charleston, black CT

Waterman Charleston c.2002-2008, 18k gold nib, resin over brass, cartridge/converter

The Charleston is a loose remake of the 1930s-1940s vintage Waterman Hundred Year Pen, right down to the body band characteristic of early Hundred Years and complete with Art Deco style lettering. Introduced in 2002, the pen is still in production as of 2009, although both of these examples (the black with gold and chrome trim) are from earlier.

Waterman Ici et La, Silver Mist Waterman Ici et La, Khaki

Waterman Ici et La (1st Gen) circa 2004-2006, steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge only

The Ici et La is a diminutive little purse pen (it comes with a blue silk lipstick-style carrying case) marketed towards women. There are two versions, the First Generation and Second Generation. The older pens can take cartridges only, while the newer ones have a different barrel interior that can accomodate (just barely) the standard Waterman converter. It is impossible to distinguish between them otherwise.

Waterman Ici et La, Sweet Lilac

Waterman Ici et La (2nd Gen) 2006-2008, steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter

The second generation version is indistinguishable externally, but the guts were modified so now there is enough internal space for a converter. They were introduced around 2005-2006. I believe the Sweet Lilac finish is unique to the second generation pens.