[ search ]

Eversharp Skyline

Mid-range Eversharp Skyline, maroon with striped cap, c 1940

The Skyline (actually originally known as the Skyliner) was a dramatic new pen design introduced by Eversharp in 1940. If the Gold Seals and Dorics and Coronets of the previous decades exemplified Art Deco, then the Skyline looked forward to the cleaner, simpler modern design ethic of the 1940s and 50s. As great a design as it was, the Skyline was sadly overtaken by events that eventually led to the dissoltion of Eversharp as an independent company. Whatever success the Skyline may have had (or not had) at the time, however, it really came into its own in the 1990s, long after its demise; it inspired a number of tributes and overt imitations, and at least one full-scale reissue (one model of which was finished in bright yellow and came with a souvenir model Yellow Cab). This "Skyline fever" has cooled a bit in recent years, leaving us with the originals to use and admire.

The Skyline was styled by Henry Dreyfuss, an early master of industrial design and ergonomics (a field for which he wrote one of the first popular texts, Designing for People). Even if you've never heard of Dreyfuss before, you are certainly (in the U.S. at any rate) surrounded by his work. Dreyfuss created the classic Model 302 desk telephone for Bell Labs back in 1937, and then topped it in the 1950s with the iconic Model 500 phone (at left), the "plain old telephone" with the rounded shape and big rotary dial that all of America used at home and in the office through the 1970s and beyond. For Honeywell, he created a number of thermostats for home heating systems culminating in the famous "Round" (at right, with its concentric thermometer and thermostat dial) that can still be found in many homes (Dreyfuss was inspired to use the round shape because the customary "square box" thermostats of the day often looked as though they were hung crooked on the wall).

In 1938, Dreyfuss designed a total stem-to-stern refurbishment for the famous New York Central luxury passenger train, the 20th Century Limited, which included stylistic modifications to the train's Hudson locomotive. This work is very similar to the Skyline in one particular respect (and yes, we will be getting back to pens now): Dreyfuss really only provided the futuristic outer skin of the train's prime mover, underneath all the glitz was a garden-variety steam locomotive of the type that would be obsolesced within a couple of decades by modern Diesel-electric engines (Dreyfuss' "appearance package" was eventually removed for the final years of the locomotive's service). In the Skyline, too, we have an exciting, futuristic exterior covering rather conventional sac-pen guts (consider that these were the years for Parker 51s and Sheaffer Vac-Fils and Triumph points, all of which offered real technological advances to go with their sleek new looks). In fairness, though, we should note that the Skyline has a breather tube like that found in the 51 (and the earlier Vacumatic), which would make it better behaved during air travel; it also has a novel clip design that helped the pen meet military dress regulations by allowing it to be pushed completely into shirt pockets and covered by pocket flaps.

Skyline points are very good writers, often fairly flexible for the times.

The Skyline came in both normal and oversize versions, and there were many, many variations in trim and color, offering the buyer a much wider choice than any other U.S. maker. The entry-level models were all solid-color plastic (often without cap bands); the middle of the range comprised pens with striped plastic caps as well as striking moiré-effect caps and barrels (these latter usually have gold-filled derbies on top). The next models up had gold-filled cladding on the cap, while the most expensive Skylines were those with solid gold caps, gold-filled caps and barrels, and even pens of solid gold (the latter were availabe in pen-pencil sets that sold for $125, a price that seems pretty low until you realize that this was nearly ten times the asking price for a basic plastic set).

Eversharp Skyline set in solid brown with gold-filled ringed caps, c 1940

Wahl-Eversharp was, of course, first noted for their pencils, and so a couple of words about the Skyline pencil are in order. Called a "repeater," it was one of the first to offer a reliable pushbutton lead advance (today, most inexpensive pencils use a variation of this mechanism). To advance the lead, just click once or twice on the button; to retract the lead, hold in the button and gently push the lead back in with your fingertip (or against the tabletop or paper). You can remove the button to load new lead (which is usually in the standard size of the day, equivalent to 1.1 millimeters, and is still available from vintage dealers like Pendemonium) and you can flip the button around to reveal an eraser (most original erasers, even replacements, are long since dried out; you'll have to try to find or fabricate replacements from modern stock).

If you are lucky, you may at some time come upon a Skyline pen that is marked "Wahl" rather than "Eversharp;" apparently, this temporary measure was deliberately taken to allow Eversharp to retain control of the Wahl brand name after the company reorganized in the early 1940s.

The development costs for the Skyline were high, and contributed in a $360,000 loss for Eversharp for the 1941 model year; however, sales of the Skyline were very strong and the company soon earned it all back. No doubt these sales were helped by Eversharp's heavy investment in network radio advertising. In those days, a sponsor didn't just buy an isolated commercial or two; advertisers usually underwrote entire shows, which featured spots and plugs for their products throughout. Often, the advertiser became actively involved in the development and production of the show (on Fibber McGee and Molly and The Jack Benny Program, among others, the intrusions of the obnoxious pitchman were often integrated into the show and turned into opportunities for gags). Eversharp was associated mainly with two shows: a Milton Berle comedy revue called Let Yourself Go, and the much more famous quiz show Take It Or Leave It, in which contestants answered questions to win geometrically-increasing cash prizes that started at $2.00. If the contestant were lucky enough to make it through to the end, he'd get a chance at the "sixty-four dollar question" (which went on to become a popular American catchphrase long after the original show and its original title were forgotten). Eversharp tied its products in to this popular game show, offering the "$64 Set" (a Skyline pen-pencil set with solid gold caps).

Contestants on the Eversharp radio quiz show Take It Or Leave It could win special "6?4" Skyline sets like that pictured here.

The Skyline was so successful that it quite possibly could have helped propel Eversharp into the 1950s as a formidable match for Parker and Sheaffer; however, the company suddenly found itself dealing with other problems. In 1944, they introduced the Fifth Avenue, a rather stubby-looking pen that sought to emulate the new style and hooded point of the Parker 51, but was not terribly successful. Worse, in 1945, they rushed to market with a new ballpoint pen (the CA), that turned out to be a very expensive disaster; the pens were not reliable, and worse, were faced with unexpected competition from another maker. The resulting litigation, and a management shakeup at Eversharp, severely weakened the company so that it was eventually absorbed by Parker by the end of the 1950s.

The Verdict

The Skyline attracts a devoted following who seek out all the myriad variations of this stylish pen. Skylines, being basic sac pens, are very easy to refurbish and get writing again. They have wonderful gold points, often very flexible. Some of these pens may turn up with shrunken plastic -- this isn't surprising given that the Skyline's heyday coincided exactly with the worst years of World War II, during which the best-quality materials were often redirected to more critical war work. In fact, it's a tribute to the quality and popularity of this pen that so many survive in such good shape.

Keep an eye out for the gold-filled or solid-gold Skylines, as well as those with solid gold caps; these are more commonly found than one might imagine. Solid gold pens are usually not chased or engraved (because the gold was too soft for such treatment to be effective). Be sure to look for the hallmarks on these pens.