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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Collection of fountain pens sold in the auction. Photo courtesy of Dunning's
Lewis Edson Waterman was a believer in the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention in the 1880s.

Waterman, an insurance man, had just convinced a customer to purchase a policy. As the man leaned over to sign the contract, the pen flooded the papers.

By the time Waterman prepared new papers, his customer signed with a competitor. This is how Waterman came to develop the first practical fountain pen.

Most of us give little thought to the pens we use, except when they run out and we need to scramble for another one. Waterman's simple tool, a writing instrument that carried its own supply of ink, revolutionized writing habits.

Waterman's pens earmark the beginning of collecting in this arena for most hobbyists. Collectors treasure his early mass-produced pens from the 1890s.

Parker Brothers is the name most often identified with pens. George Parker, a telegraphy teacher in Janesville, Wis., first developed a pen he sold to students. His "Lucky Curve" model was patented in 1894 and today Parker pens can be found in desk drawers all over the world.

No wonder they also show up on the auction block. At their April 25, 1994 sale, Dunning's Auction Service in Elgin, Ill., hosted the sale of over 5,000 pens, pencils and related items.

"It's not just a status symbol," says collector Boris Rice who attended the auction. "It's one of the few pieces of jewelry a man can have.” Back in the ‘20s, the only jewelry a man wore was a fountain pen, pocketknife and watch.

The pens came from the estate of Harry Bouras. Born in Rochester, N.Y., Bouras moved to Chicago in 1955 and immersed himself into the Chicago art world. He wrote reviews for the Daily News and the Chicago Sun Times. He died in 1990. An artist himself, Bouras’ works have been exhibited in major museums nationwide.

Along with art, came his passion for the history and old pens. Although Sheaffer's made up most of the collection, other makers included, Parker, Waterman's, Tiffany, Wahl, Eversharp, Gold Medal, Sager and Twinpoint.

The top lot in the sale was a Sheaffer no. 8 heavy 14K yellow gold pen that brought $6,555. A 1935 lifetime balance pen, featured in the “Golden Age of Writing Instruments” by Fischler and Schneider, sold for $3,795.

Another popular name in early pens was the Conklin Company. Even Mark Twain was willing to endorse their product. "Because it is a profanity saver: it cannot roll
off the desk."

Q. I have an early-1900 or 1920 Yost Typewriter from my grandmother's days of renting to borders. It has a double set of keys. I checked the library but could find no information. Any idea of the value? M. H. Duquesne, Pa.

A. Typewriters made between 1874 (when the first typewriter appeared in the United States) and the 1920s are the most sought after. Historically, one of the more desirable machines was made by Sholes & Glidden. They produced the first commercial typewriter in the United States.

As a rule, the first of any product manufactured and made available on the market is going to be worth more money. Only 40 to 60 of these old typewriters are known to exist and rarity drives the value up.

At the same time, the commercial failures in the early typewriter industry also are sought after, names like the Williams Number 2. These poorly constructed and eccentric machines were produced in small numbers and then quickly vanished from shops.

Your typewriter is worth about $25. For more information contact the Early Typewriter Collectors Association. They are an international club of 500 collectors of old office equipment. Write to Darryl Rehr, 2591 Military Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90064-1933.

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