PenInHand: August, 2016
Indian Fountain Pen / Pencil Combo: An unsolved mystery
by Jim Mamoulides, August 14, 2016
The Indian fountain pen / pencil combos are one of the more attractive pens from the 1930s. They are also one of the lower tier brands that lack any primary information, including advertisements or catalogs, so information on these pens, such as dates, manufacturer, pricing, are at best, based on observation, or at worst, speculation.
What do we know about these pens? All of the examples I have seen personally or in books or websites, are fountain pen / pencil combos, a type of writing instrument that peaked in the 1930s. The clip design, with either a full or flat ball tip also indicate a 1930s design. It's a safe bet to date them to the 1930s.
Who made them? Unlike many pens from the 1930s, these pens do not carry a barrel imprint, which usually indicated the manufacturer, location, and sometimes a patent number. Phil Munson, a pen restorer, has seen a pen made in the blue material, with a Arnold Fountain Pen Company clip. Several collectors speculate that these were made by Arnold, of Petersburg, Virginia, and given Phil Munson's report, it sounds reasonable.
By pure deduction we get a 1930s pen possibly made by the Arnold Fountain Pen Company. This brings the final question:
Why Indian? A dazzling reason!
There is pure speculation on this topic, but it makes sense obervationally. Folklore in pen collecting says these writing instruments were made to be sold on Indian reservations. That's a possibility without proof, but looking at the pen and the name, there is an American Indian connection, specifically Navajo.
I actually came across this idea from an eBay listing, calling one of these writing instruments a "dazzler." The name was picked deliberately, not because the pen was dazzling, but because it evokes the Navajo Eye Dazzler woven rugs and blankets made in the late 19th century. The history of Navajo woven articles is a much bigger topic than I can treat here, but the key point is the design and color choices of the plastics clearly remind one of the designs seen on Navajo Eye Dazzler rugs and blankets.
There are internet stores that specialize in Navajo woven articles, both antique and contemporary. One example from the Nizhoni Ranch Gallery makes the point about the Eye Dazzler connection: you can see it by clicking here.
The consensus of the references I used is that the Eye Dazzler geometric designs were a convergence of borrowing ideas from Mexican serape blankets and weaving them with newly available boldly colored Germantown, Pennsylvania wools, brought in as the railroads came into Navajo country. The designs incorporate diamonds, triangles, chevrons, and Mexican serrate elements, usually throughout the woven piece. Vintage and modern Navajo woven rugs and blankets are highly prized and certain exceptional weavers are known by name to collectors.
An Eye Dazzler gallery:
Indian fountain pen / pencil combo in blue, closed
The Indian blue fountain pen / pencil combo is a base gray blue with green, burgundy and cream accents.
Indian fountain pen / pencil combo in yellow, posted
The Indian yellow fountain pen / pencil combo is a base mustard yellow with burgundy, green, and cream accents.
Indian fountain pen / pencil combo in red, closed
The Indian red fountain pen / pencil combo is a base deep red with black, green, and cream accents.
Indian fountain pen / pencil combo in green, cap and nib detail and closed
Photos courtesy Teri Morris, Peyton Street Pens
The Indian green fountain pen / pencil combo is a base dark green with black, orange, and cream accents.
Were there only the four colors?
Indian fountain pen / pencil combos in blue, green, and red, closed
Collectors who know the Indian fountain pen / pencil combos will certainly be familiar with the four known colors. In researching this article, I certainly thought that was all there was to it: find four nice examples and see if I could discover any primary information on dates, pricing, production.
Indian fountain pen / pencil combo in green, clip and nib detail
In seeking nice examples to photograph, I ran across an anomaly: this sage green writing instrument with a silvery paint residue with the "INDIAN" name stamped on the broken clip. The clip certainly looks like the flat ball type clip with the long triangle design used on some of the Indian combos. The cap, barrel and section match with the sample pens and the cap can interchange with them. The pencil unit and the overall pen is the same size as the longer version of the Indian combo.
Unlike typical Indian combos, the cap and barrel are a solid color, in this case a sage green, and appears to have been painted, though it's not clear what the design may have been. The cap top is different, having a brown and cream top piece and two cut and black paint filled rings at the cap lip. To me, this is evidence that there is at least one other Indian fountain pen / pencil combo model. I would be very interested in seeing more examples.
Identification guide and features:
Indian fountain pen / pencil combos in red, blue, green, and yellow, closed
Photo of green pen courtesy Teri Morris, Peyton Street Pens
The Indian fountain pen / pencil combos came in two lengths, two trim colors and two clip types. The length of the pen appears to be related primarily to the pencil unit installed, as all pens appear to have the same fountain pen front end, cap size and cap threading. The pencil unit is distinguished by either three or four engraved grip rings, with the unit having four being on the longer writing instrument. The writing instruments therefore measure 5 3/8 inches or 5 5/16 inches with the cap on. Clips are either plain faced with a ball end or having an elongated, raised triangle design with a flat ball end. Trim plating was lightly applied and either gold or rhodium/chrome. Retail pricing is not known.
- Multicolored Eye Dazzler patterned plastic resin cap and barrel in red, blue, green or yellow
- Gold or rhodium/chrome plated trim
- Clip stamped INDIAN, with either a plain faced ball end design or a long raised triangle design with a flat ball end
- Cap has a thin ring cut just below the clip
- Cap unscrews
- Gold plated stainless steel nib stamped DURIUM 14KT GOLD PLATED NO. 4
- Lever stamped MADE IN USA
- Unknown nib grades offered, fine and medium observed
- About 5 3/8 inches or 5 5/16 inches long capped, depending on pencil unit
I have the good fortune to review three of the Indian fountain pen / pencil combos, all in excellent condition. The cap and barrel material is quite vivid in person and the design hides the seam line in the plastic very well. Unlike many other pens from the 1930s, there is no noticeable discoloration in the cap or barrel of any of them. The gold plating on the red pen, on the other hand, shows the typical plate loss from the cheap plating done on lower end pens of the period. It might be amusing to have these re-plated.
Indian fountain pen / pencil combo in yellow, nib detail
Only one of the pens tested is restored, and it operates as well as any contemporary lever-fill pen. I dip tested the two with original nibs and they are very firm, fairly smooth writers. You will not think of one of these are a daily user pen, based on the nib. The nibs do not appear to have tipping, but have folded over tines. I also tried the out the pencil with one that had a working unit.
In the hand, these are long, light, slender writing instruments. I found they post well, but worked fine with the cap off, both ways. Given the collectible quality of each, the less than impressive writing quality, and the balky pencils, I am not sure I would use any of them as a daily user. I see them more as collection pens.
Indian fountain pen / pencil combos in blue, red, and yellow, pencil detail
Indian fountain pen / pencil combos have steadily risen in value as collectors have come to appreciate the vivid colors and that they are relatively uncommon. They are easily recognizable and unmistakable, but appear to appeal to only selected collectors. I expect prices to continue to increase as they are better documented and better known.
Thanks to Teri Morris of Peyton Street Pens for use of her photos of the green Indian fountain pen / pencil combo.
Arnold Fountain Pen Company, Glossopedia of Pen Terms, Richard Binder, © 2015 RichardsPens.com
Eye Dazzlers, Arizona State Museum, © 2006–2015, Arizona Board of Regents
EyeDazzler, Wide Ruins Traders, © 2008 rugtrader.com
Indian Fountain Pen, Phil Munson, March 10, 2011
Indian Fountain Pen Combo / Part II, Phil Munson, October 24, 2011
Indian Pen Company, Glossopedia of Pen Terms, Richard Binder, © 2015 RichardsPens.com
Navajo weaving, Wikipedia
Nizhoni Ranch Gallery, © 1996 - 2016 Classic & Contemporary Amerind Art Inc.