mardi 19 janvier 2010

The Chilton Pen Company


Nowadays Chilton pens present real safe value for any vintage pen collector. Chilton made high quality pens, with great nibs and in quite unusual colours. However what Chilton above all represents is the determination and effort of its founder to create the best filling system at the time.

Chilton Boston Oversize in mottled hard rubber. © Carlos SanchezAlamo

The Chilton Pen Company was founded in 1923 in Boston, Massachusetts, by Seth Chilton Croker, whose father had founded The Croker Pen Company.

Improving the ‘blow-filler’ system used by his father, Chilton created the ‘Pneumatic-filler’, a far better filling system than the ones used by the other makes at the time: with just a simple motion the inner rubber sac could take twice as much ink as their competitors’.

Chilton Boston Black and Pearl. © Carlos SanchezAlamo

To refill the pen, you had to slide the barrel upwards, put your finger over the little hole that was at the end of the body, pull it downwards again, put the nib inside the ink pot and release the pressure of the finger, creating a vacuum which allowed ink to go up through the nib and into the rubber sac.

Hole at the end of the barrel used to create the vacuum. © Carlos SanchezAlamo

The inside tube of this first system had the peculiarity of being attached to the section. This entailed a larger section and a longer cap, especially when compared to the total length of the pen. This esthetical detail is quite outstanding, specially in the first small models of the company.

In those same times the company made some pens finished in exotic leather such as snake, lizard, elephant or ostrich. These models, which were specially designed for female clients, were very fragile and they are very hard to find nowadays.

Several Chilton Boston in black/pearl celluloid and orange and mottled hard rubber. The second and third ones on the left are two Chilton Boston pens in black hard rubber and covered in snake and elephant leather. © Bill Baisden

The first pens were made in the usual black and/or orange hard rubber; however, from 1926 on the company started to use celluloid as the other makes were doing.

Chilton Black Lined Hard Rubber. © Carlos SanchezAlamo

In the late 20’s the company moved to Long Island City, in New York, changing the design of their pens following the ‘streamline’ trend of the time, and introducing new colours …

Chilton Long Island Black and Bronze. © Carlos SanchezAlamo

… some of them quite uncommon and difficult to find nowadays such as the ‘Clown pattern’, the ‘Peacock’ or the ‘Multicoloured yellow and red pattern’.

Chilton "Clown" or "Harlequin". © Rtlott, propiedad de Bill Baisden

Chiltons Peacock. © Bill Baisden

Chilton "Multicolored yellow and red pattern" or "Chartreuse". © Carlos Sànchez-Alamo

By improving the mechanism, the shape of the pen gets also improved: to fill the rubber sac you only have to slide the lower part of the barrel. This mechanism is very similar to the one used in the ‘Touchdown’ Sheaffer models twenty years later.

Chilton Long Island Demostrator, made so as to show the potential client how the filling system worked. © Bill Baisden

It is in those times that the make also patents the Lox-Top: once the pen was closed, a notch or slot under the clip stopped it from falling out of the pockets.
The 30’s were difficult years for all the manufacturers. Only the strongest ones could hold out the economic crisis, due to either their innovations or to their new models.
In 1935 Chilton launched a new model, the Wing-Flow. It was named after its nib, which was held to the feed. Though this innovation was presented as one of the most important advances in the history of fountain pens, some collectors today think of it as just a way to lower costs on the manufacturing of nibs during the crisis.

The pen itself was of great quality and it had the efficient filling system of its predecessors. Besides, both its shape and the final decoration (metal inlays in celluloid, an exclusive patent of Chilton) followed the ‘Art deco’ trend of the time. In spite of it all, the Wing-flow was not a sales success.

© 1997 Fred Plewa

Chiltons Wing-Flow. © Bill Baisden

Chilton Wing-Flow set in gold filled. Modelo rarìsimo. © Bill Baisden

Chilton Wing-Flow in Cherry Red and Royal Blue. © Bill Baisden

Chilton Wing-Flow George VI (Rex) set. Very uncommon model made in 1937 to commemorate the coronation of the king of England. © David Isaacson, property of Bill Baisden

For the first time the make started to advertise on nation-wide press (‘Saturday Evening Post’ and ‘Post and Liberty’). They did not succeed, though; the company was unknown to the public and the times were not the most convenient to launch new models.

At the end of the 30’s Chilton made some models clearly targeting the ecclesiastic market. They were called ‘Holy Water’. These models, without nib and decorated with a cross, had the section pierced and were filled with holy water. LeBoef, Parker and Waterman also made this peculiar type of pens at the time.

Chilton "Holy Water"

In 1939 the company moved again, this time to Summit, New Jersey. Here Chilton manufactured the pen which is considered to be the last high quality pen manufactured by the firm: the ‘Golden Quill’. With rounded edges, without the engraving of the company and with a 14kt nib only the filling system gave the manufacturer away. A beautiful model, simple but elegant, it is perhaps the most coveted model by collectors nowadays.

Chilton Golden Quill. © Bill Baisden

Economic problems forced the company to make their last models cheaper: thus ‘Chiltonians’ were born, a poorer quality model with a steel nib, with the same characteristic filling system of the firm but ventless, that is, without the hole at the end of the body.

Chiltons Chiltonian in Black, in Peacock and in Chartreuse celluloid. © Bill Baisden

Chilton Peacock “Chiltonian”, Clip Less Turquoise and Chilton Lever-filler FP burgundy & black, this last one extremely unusual due to its lever filling system. © Bill Baisden

In 1941, and because of economic reasons, the company closes down and the manufacturing of pens comes to an end.
In those times there are some models with the Chilton patented filling system but manufactured in Holland. Although these pens are called Chilton and have got the same filling system as the Chiltonians, there is no connection whatsoever with the genuine American company and they must have been a copy of the last models made by Chilton in the U.S.A.

Chilton Pneumatic-fill fabricado en Holanda. © Carlos SanchezAlamo

Chilton is one of those small companies which manufactured extremely good quality fountain pens in their moment of glory. Their design was not always attractive, but its filling system is one of the best ever invented. Considered as one of the best makes concerning quality, some pens such as the Wing-Flow, the Golden Quill, the ones which use the lever system (perhaps a model used by the company as a prototype) or some models made in celluloid are extremely difficult to find nowadays. As LeBoeuf or Carter, Chilton is a highly valued make and some models can cost a few thousands of dollars …

My deepest gratitude to Bill Baisden for his great contribution to illustrate the history of this great company.
Carlos SanchezAlamo, November 2009

For more information on The Chilton Pen Company:

Translation by Susana Domínguez