[ search ]

Waterman Hundred Year

Waterman Hundred Year junior size, c 1940 (image courtesy of Bill Riepl)

It's hard to see any relationship between the Waterman Hundred Year pen and the company's products from as recently as five years before. The Hundred Year made a clean break with the past, discarding the straight lines and fuddy-duddy art deco detailing that had been Waterman's hallmark through the 1930s, and instead giving us a very modern and forward-looking design.

Waterman Hundred Year full size, c 1939 (incorrect year cap)

The Hundred Year was introduced in 1939, a year or two before the Parker 51 and the Eversharp Skyline, two other very up-to-date designs (Sheaffer had gradually teased and tweaked its minmalist Balance design over the years, and hence did not require such revolutinary restyling, although they did offer the Triumph point for the delectation of post-Deco iconoclasts). The Hundred Year was made of translucent plastic in green, blue, red, and black, and came in two sizes (with matching pencils available as well). You can in fact see all the way through these pens in a good light, although they're still a bit opaque to qualify as "demonstrators" (and there isn't that much to see anyway, since these are conventional lever-fill pens with black rubber sacs).

The pen was named for the hundred-year guarantee that Waterman offered (responding at last to the white dots, blue diamonds, and double-checkmarks offered by its competitors); in 1942, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission cracked down on these extravagant and hyperbolic warranty schemes, and Waterman was obliged to redesign the pen (to less spectacular effect) and to rename it the "Emblem."

Waterman chose a streamlined barrel design which, in the earlier runs, had an unusual ribbed surface; together with the huge tapered cap, this gives the pen its distinctive "Robbie the Robot" appearance. The early full-size pens got a snappy belly band suitable for engraving, while the smaller ones had the same motif for a cap band (the red pen seen here has a slightly incorrect banded cap from a later model). The clip is held in place by a decorative screw, which on some models features the old Waterman globe trademark. The traditional Waterman boxed lever gets a good freshening that harmonizes with the pen's modern shape. Nor did Waterman spare the gold at the business end of the pen; Hundred Years have impressively large and smooth points, even in the smaller-size pens.

Having to give up the hundred-year warranty was probably not altogether bad for Waterman, since the intervening decades have not been kind to these beautiful pens. One often finds deteriorated plastic that has gone fuzzy, opaqe, and brittle; the clear barrel-ends on the full-size models are often obliterated (some restorers can recast new ones). So, expect to pay a fair amount if you find one in good shape, and be very careful with it once you get it home, since it is one of the more fragile of vintage plastic pens.

The Hundred Year and its derivatives are unfortunately among the last pens made by U.S. Waterman to be of compelling interest to collectors; although the company continued to make quality lever and cartridge-fill pens throughout the 1950s, the U.S. operation was eventually snapped up by Baron Bich and retooled for the manufacture of his Bic stick-pens.

Had it remained in production today, the Waterman Hundred Year would've fit right in with the current iMac-inspred rage for transparently-encased appliances and funky 1940s contours, so it is no great surprise that Waterman has recently nodded in its direction with the Charleston series. These pens have the band, and a bit of the ribbing, but they're a bit chubby, and not transparent in any case. It just ain't the same, I tells ya.

The Verdict

The Hundred Year isn't the last good pen that the U.S. arm of Waterman would ever make, but it is probably one of the last ones that collectors would elbow each other out of the way to buy (I know this is true, it happened to me one time!). It's rare due to limited sales (compared to Sheaffers or Parkers at the same price point) and to its fragility. Examine any example you find very carefully for cracks or other damage. If the pen is the standard size model, ask the seller whether the barrel end is original or has been remanufactured (there's nothing at all wrong with this, ethically speaking, so long as the job was well done). If it needs work, even perhaps as little as a re-sacking, consider letting a specialist handle it rather than trying to 'do it yourself' for the very first time. If you get one of these in good original condition, consider not including it in the daily rotation and keep it at home instead.

Maker Waterman
Origin USA (possibly elsewhere)
Production 1941-1943
Type Lever fill
Point 14k
Construction Translucent celluloid, ribbed barrel with triple belly band, screw-on cap.