I decided to
launch this site about Wearever fountain pens to promote interest in a
pen company that is very underappreciated in the world of fountain pen
collectors. I think the first thing that needs to be said about Wearever
fountain pens is that they are not high quality pens. But, they
were never intended to be so I will not try to build any illusions about
them here. However, Wearever was a very prolific manufacturer of pens
and they actually were pioneers in many phases of pen manufacturing and
of Wearever Pens,
David Kahn, was a Jewish immigrant who came to this America in the 1800s.
By trade, he was a engraver. Today, we would simply call him a jewelry
designer / maker. As such, he often received orders for ornate pencil
cases. Either he enjoyed this particular work or he simply
realized it's potential to increase his sales & eventually decided
to make and sell his own pencils. Pencils naturally led him to pens.
known use of the name Wearever was around 1918 on black hard rubber
fountain pens. These, of course, were not anything special and were not of
a very high quality. Why? Because, in those days, fountain pen
manufacturing was a very competitive field. Everyone wanted to be the
biggest & the best. They wanted to create the fanciest & the
prettiest. While all this was going on, David Kahn, being the business man
he was, quietly found that there was great opportunity for someone to sell
pens at the low end of the pricing scale.
1920s, Wearever produced flattop pens with gold plated nibs that sold for
a fraction of the price that Parker and the other "big" companies were
selling their pens for. Most Wearever pens were sold through catalogues
and to dime stores like Woolworths. Kahn knew that what he needed to do
was keep his costs down and sell pens that looked like the best sellers of
the day yet sold for about 1/4 of the price of those "big" name pens.
To keep prices to a minimum the pens were seldom individually priced or
boxes. Instead, pens were sold on cardboard displays or in bulk boxes.
Quality did improve as the years went by, but it was never a goal to make
a great pen.
The true name
of the company was David Kahn Inc.. Wearever Pens was simply one of his
most famous lines. In the 1920s, Kahn decided to sell a slightly better
grade of pen and named it the Pioneer. Although similar in appearance and
quality, these pens were offered with a choice of gold plated or 14K
solid gold nibs. The celluloid caps and barrels improved in quality
throughout the 1920s. During this time, you'll notice a better
grade of rods & tubes being used. The earlier pens had a porous
finish & were more prone to warping. Some of these 1920s pen, both
Pioneer & Wearever, had great colors - particularly the flattop celluloid
pens . The trim was still gold washed or plated but the pens were
starting to look good, In fact, the Pioneer pens with gold nibs could
actually (well, SOMETIMES) write as good as some of the more expensive
pens they were trying to look like.
costs fountain pens and the profit that could be made selling them was
starting to be noticed by other companies. Soon he began taking orders
from catalogue companies and chain stores to make pens that would be sold
under their own "brand" names. Because the pens that he manufactured
during this time had no barrel ore nib imprints, this was very easy for
him to do. All another company had to do was to meet Kahn's minimum
order requirement & he would mark the clips with any name they wanted to
sell the pens under. With very little time or effort (i.e. extra
expense), he had a product ready for them to sell. The companies that
ordered these pens ranged from dime stores to other fountain pen
It was during
the late 1920s that David Kahn heard about the new injection molding
machines being developed in Germany. He not only traveled to Germany to
investigate this new process but he also purchased the machines & brought
them back to the US with him. Wearever Pen became one of the first
or quite possibly THE first US pen company to produce an injection molded
pen. This was (you guessed it) a cost cutting move but it was also a major
step in pen design. Previously pens were made from rods or tubes, but now
new colors and shapes could be produced quickly and at a lower cost.
molding machine could produce a cap and a barrel in a few seconds. Before
this a lathe operator had to spend a few minutes making these each of
these parts. In no time at all, Wearever was making pens and parts for
other pen companies. The smaller pen companies that were
unwilling or unable to buy injection molding equipment soon found that the
buying public wanted streamlined pens which were very difficult to produce
from rods & tubes. This was the end of the celluloid rod era which
lasted from 1924 to around 1930. [This does not mean the end of celluloid
pens. Many pens were still made of celluloid strips wound in a
spiral and bonded into tubes. But, that's ANOTHER story].
The 1930s were
a time of huge production at Wearever. The use of 14K gold nibs
became more common place during this time and Wearever pens reached a new
level of quality. The trim was still low quality but they were solid
pens that were suited for everyday use. Although they were now
offering gold nibs, Wearever was one of the only companies to offer a
choice of nib. The buyer could usually get the same model pen with a gold
plated nib - of course, at a lower price. This made a big difference
to the buying public.
In the late
1930s, Wearever also developed a very interesting fountain pen nib. It was
a gold nib but it was held in a steel shroud or frame. This nib would
justify advertising the pen as having a gold nib but at the same time
would use the smallest amount of gold possible. Gold was a huge expense
to pen companies. Labor was not. Making a 2 part nib involving extra
labor was still cheaper than using more gold.
It was also
during the 1930s that David Kahn wondered if "America's Sweetheart", child
star Shirley Temple might possibly be able to help him sell pens the way
she helped Ideal Toy Co. sell dolls. Soon, Shirley signed a contract that
would give her a royalty from every pen sold with her name on it. These
pens and pencils were short colorful pens with steel nibs and "Shirley
Temple" marked on the clip and barrel. They were sold through Woolworths
and the other outlets that handled Wearever pens. By all accounts,
they sold and sold well, although accurate counts are impossible to find
brought some of the best Wearever pens. Pens like the Zenith
and the Pacemaker were often individually boxed and priced - something
Wearever had avoided for decades. These pens were offered with a good full
size 14K gold nib and were solid pens. The trim was upgraded from a gold
wash to gold plate. A button filler was also added to the line. These
were probably the highest quality collectable pens they ever made.
introduction, in 1945, of the ballpoint pen by Reynolds did not go
unnoticed by Wearever. They went after the ballpoint market with the same
strategy these used with fountain pens - sell for less. The original
ballpoint pens marketed by Reynolds and later Sheaffer and Eversharp
retailed between $12.50 and $15.00. That was a small fortune in 1945.
Early ballpoints were not dependable and the public initially rejected
them due to their "problems".
Even so, the
pen companies knew that the future of the industry was in ballpoint pens -
if they could ever get them to work right - and, quite simply, Wearever
put more effort into developing their ballpoint line than the other "big"
companies did. Within a year Wearever came out with a ballpoint pen that
they could sell for $3.00! Again, Wearever pioneered machinery to
make ballpoints just as they had pioneered injection molding for fountain
pens. The quality of their ballpoint pens improved greatly in just the
first few years. Throughout the process, they continually developed cost
cutting procedures AND perfected their product at the same time.
pen industry was severely affected by the introduction of dependable
ballpoints in the 1950s. The fountain pen companies that were still in
business turned to selling cheaper pens. This "flawed theory" that selling
cheaper pens would be the way to survive is was actually killed most of
the fountain pen companies. Parker and Sheaffer took over the selling of
high quality pens, Wearever had the low cost pen market and it seems like
the other surviving pen companies just faded away.
company was handed down from David Kahn to his sons and eventually to his
grandson. Production was moved from the North Bergen, New Jersey plant to
Deer Lake, Pennsylvania in 1964. Dixon Pencil Co. purchased the Deer
Lake plant in 1987 and continued the production of mechanical pencils
there until the year 2000 when they moved production to Mexico.
The pens that Wearever made during the 1950s & 60s were good solid pens.
Sadly, collectors have no interest in them. This is unfortunate, because
as I said earlier, I believe Wearever is a very misunderstood, very
underappreciated & very interesting company. This is only the start
of this project & I hope to keep improving it and adding to it. As many of
you already know, my interests in pen research keep broadening & I keep
branching out in different directions. As a result, I have
accumulated several "beginnings" (yeah, my Paul Wirt site needs attention
too). The good news is that eventually they will all gets filled in
& filled out because so far, I've reached no "dead ends" in my research.
As many of you also know, Ruth takes care of these web sites & she'll be
the first to tell you that she only has 2 speeds - slow & stop. So
if there is anything you would like me to add here (or on another of my
sites) please feel free to email & let me know. We'll do our best to
get it added. Otherwise, info will
probably get added in a pretty random order.