Fountain Pen Restoration

Artcraft Fountain Pens

Fountain Pen History in the United States tends to focus in the Midwest and Northeast during the first half of the 20th Century.  Boston (Moore, Carter etc.. ), New York Area (Waterman, Swan, Esterbrook, Morrison, Ingersoll, Wearever…), and Chicago and the Midwest (Wahl, Parker, and Sheaffer…) were hotbeds for fountain pen production and marketing from the early 1900s through the 40s and beyond.  One normally does not think of Alabama as a fountain pen distribution point, but the Artcraft Pen is an exception.

Below is a photo of the simple lever filler after I have taken it apart.  As you can see, the clip, cap band, lever, and nib are quite dirty, as is the barrel.  The j-bar had broken off and the sac was reduced to powder.

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I replaced the j-bar and the sac (size 16) and trimmed them to fit the Artcraft barrel.  The metal parts were polished in the ultrasonic cleaner and then using Pentiques’ scratch remover, polish and wax.  Classified as a third-tier pen, it still has a few nice features.  I like the stepped clip, and all of the gold fixtures polished up and there was no deterioration of the gold.  Second, I like the brown swirl pattern of the plastic.  It is very similar to the pattern found in the Belmont pen/pencil combination that I wrote about in the post ~ Belmont Pen And Pencil Combination In fact, if you look at the two writing instruments (Belmont and Artcraft) you will see the levers, feeds and shapes are very similar. I have no documentation as to who made these parts, but it is feasible that they came from the same factory. One of the great mysteries, at least to me, is the origin of many of the components of the pens we restore.

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The pen is 5 1/4 inches closed and 5/ 15/16 posted.  Restored, it is quite clean and writes with a flexy medium line.

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Here is a close up of the logo for Artcraft, which I believe is an artists pallet.

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The medium nib, with the Artcraft Pallet logo.

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Now for a bit of history on Artcraft Pens ~  I owe thanks to Mr. Marvin Whiting of the Birmingham – Jefferson History Museum for helping me with this research.  When I found out that the Museum had an Artcraft pen in its collection, I requested his assistance with any information they might have on Artcraft.  He provided me with Corporate information from the Birmingham, Alabama City Directories (1925-34).

This research shows that Artcraft first appears in 1930 at 1424-26 3rd Avenue North in Birmingham, AL (this address is now a large Chevrolet dealership).  The President/Treasurer was Ford D. Cromer, James G. Erwin was Vice President, and Lillian Sharpley was Secretary. In 1931, the address changed to simply 1424 3rd Avenue North.  In 1932, Ms. Sharpley was no longer listed and in 1934 Harriett P. Cromer was listed as Secretar/Treasurer and the address reverted to the 1424-26 3rd Avenue.  Artcraft disappears from the Birmingham records after 1934.

I did some further digging on these names and Ford D. (Dalton) Cromer, was born in August 1886 in Christiansburg, VA and died in July 1967 in Birmingham. Interestingly, he was descibed as an industrialist and inventor.  Two inventions were patented – a shoulder rest for a telephone in 1959 and a fountain pen in 1934 (the same year that Artcraft disappears from the Birmingham City directory. The application date of the patent is 1932.  His patent is linked below.  If you read the patent closely, the only aspect of the pen he is patenting is the “ornamental design”.

Patent Link (click for full patent)

Interestingly, the pen in the patent is identical to the pen I restored.  The lever and clip have the same designs as in the patent.  This would place the production of this pen somewhere in the early thirties, presumably prior to 1934.  Mr. Cromer had patented these designs on the clip and lever as his own.

Ms. Sharpley, who was the Secretary from 1930 to 1932 was born in 1901 and died in 1983.  She was a graduate in 1923 of Auburn University (AL), where she helped start the YWCA on campus.  She can be seen here in a 1922 photo.  She was quite active in the YWCA nationally, starting to work there in 1933 in Baltimore, MD after her stint at Artcraft.  She went to graduate school at Columbia University in New York and remained active in leadership roles for the YWCA into the 1950s. How she came to Artcraft for a few years I can not imagine.

Artcraft Pens appear occasionally, but not often.  I know of one collector who actively seeks them.  They still are quite a mystery to me. I don’t know if they made some of the parts, or just assembled the pens in Birmingham.  I also do not know how they were marketed.  I did come across an Artcraft Printing Company in Mobile, AL that advertises that they were founded in 1929, but they responded that there is no relation to Artcraft Pens.

I had fun exploring this little corner of Fountain Pen History, and ended up with a nice pen in the process.  A very good week….

EDIT:  I received a comment (see below) that “The Artcraft Pen Company (with J.G. Erwin) moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1934.”  This would match the information received from the Birmingham directories that Artcraft disappeared from Birmingham in 1934. I have tried to email back to the commenter, but the address bounces.  If there is additional information, please let us know what happened in Argentina…

EDIT2:  (11-6-09) I have received another comment from a reader in Argentina that confirms the move of Artcraft from Alabama to Buenos Aires.  He states that he has a pen that has the inscription “ARTCRAFT PEN CO., ARG. INDUSTRIA  ARGENTINA” on the barrel.  It is black and has no logo, and a similar clip.  This would seem to confirm the comment that J.G. Erwin moved the Company to Buenos Aires in 1934.

EDIT3: (4-9-10) One of the great things about interactive blogs is the sharing of information.  Another reader from Argentina shared this with me today ~ “In continue with the Artcraft history (the argentine chapter), here a little information. Artcraft present itself in the 40 or 50’s as the first high quality pen factory in Argentina and continuing under the brand “Escritor”, with a large list of different articles, including a Parker 51 inspiration pen with filler button and firt class materials.It is relative easy found those pens here.” I am very interested in this as I have recently come across an Argentina-made Artcraft that I purchased from a seller in Argentina that has a Parker made nib (actually a Parker budget Fifth Avenue nib).  I wonder if there was a relationship? Phil

EDIT4: (7-22-10) A pen friend in Alabama did some fantastic research and came up with the following:

“My wife found an online copy at the Birmingham Public Library of a Birmingham Chamber of Commerce publication dated April, 1925.  On page 11 under Industrial Development is an announcement:
The Artcraft Pen Company announced it will manufacture its pens and pencils here at its new plant 1426-28 3rd Avenue.  Machinery is now being installed and the plan will be in operation within 30 days.”

This would seem to indicate that Artcraft made their own pens (or at least some parts) in Birmingham in the late 1920s.
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August 18, 2009 - Posted by | Artcraft Fountain Pens |

16 Comments »

  1. Nice job of researching the history of that pen. It seems to me that if Mr. Cromer only applied for a design patent on the pen, he must have

    a) used expired patents for the lever or
    b) bought the parts or the assembled pen from a company that had valid patents and/or licenses or
    c) violated someone’s patents and had possibly faced a lawsuit.

    Anyway, it looks like they weren’t in business very long, but they produced an attractive, well-made pen.

    Comment by Jon | August 18, 2009 | Reply

  2. Nice job of researching the history of that pen. It seems to me that if Mr. Cromer only applied for a design patent on the pen, he must have

    a) used expired patents for the lever or
    b) bought the parts or the assembled pen from a company that had valid patents and/or licenses or
    c) violated someone’s patents and had possibly faced a lawsuit.

    Anyway, it looks like they weren’t in business very long, but they produced an attractive, well-made pen.
    Ooops, should have mentioned great post! Waiting for the next post!

    Comment by Jon | August 18, 2009 | Reply

  3. The Artcraft Pen Company (with J.G. Erwin) moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1934.

    Comment by Gordon Petty | September 3, 2009 | Reply

    • Thank you Gordon. I am replying to hopefully gather some additional information.

      Comment by all of us | September 3, 2009 | Reply

  4. Another great article 🙂

    A quick search in Google Books for “Artcraft Pen Company”
    shows a hit:

    Boletin oficial de la Bolsa de comercio de Buenos Aires‎
    Bolsa de Comercio de Buenos Aires – Business & Economics – 1935

    but the link is restricted.

    Wonderful article!… Thank you.

    Comment by AntoniosZ | October 29, 2009 | Reply

    • Thank you Antonios. It is good to hear from you again. Yes, it seems that Erwin took the Company south. The previous commenter, who mentioned this left an unreturnable email address with the information and I have no further information.

      By the way, I picked up a large Cromer RHR flat top with a Birmingham imprint that I am working on and will post later.

      Comment by all of us | October 29, 2009 | Reply

  5. Very interesting article. I confirm the movement of the Artcraft Pen Co. to BsAs, Argentina. I have one pen thats had a inscription ARTCRAFT PEN CO. ARG, INDUSTRIA ARGENTINA in the bodie. But unlike the pen thats you show in this article, mine had no logo. It’s in black color, the bodie and the cup. The clip it’s similar (art deco inspiration, I presume). Thanks and excuse my poor english. Rodrigo

    Comment by Rodrigo Gonzalez Natale | November 6, 2009 | Reply

  6. I have a Cromer Artcraft pen that I bought several years age in a flea market in New York. It is a ‘Lifelong’ model, different from that shown. It is black, with a red/orange stem and measures 5 1/2″ capped – the same as a Sheaffer flat-top of the same period. It has a large, medium nib and writes superbly.

    Comment by John Lee | December 19, 2009 | Reply

    • Thank you for the Information on the Cromer Lifelong. I would love to see a photo. If you have the opportunity, please send one in the future and thank you for your response.

      Phil

      Comment by all of us | December 19, 2009 | Reply

  7. In continue with the Artcraft history (the argentine chapter), here a little information. Artcraft present itself in the 40 or 50’s as the first high quality pen factory in Argentina and continuing under the brand “Escritor”, with a large list of different articles, including a Parker 51 inspiration pen with filler button and firt class materials.It is relative easy found those pens here. Thanks for your time

    Comment by Rodrigo Gonzalez Natale | April 9, 2010 | Reply

  8. I have a gold Artcraft pen, with someone’s initial “JC” engraved on the pen. “Artcraft” is on both clips. It has a design on it and seems to be in good shape. I have no idea where or when my husband could have gotten it. Birmingham, Al.

    Comment by Bebe Gaines | May 10, 2010 | Reply

  9. Dear Mr Munson: following with the argentinian Artcraft pens, I recntly found a Artcraft pen with a clear Esterbrook J inspiration,lever filler system and a curious “Warranted 18ct osmi-iridium Angleterre” gold nib with broad point and fantastc flexibility, that I’d presume was made for French o Benelux markets. Well, I send you a few pics of it. Excuse for the english and regards.
    Rodrigo Gonzalez Natale

    Comment by Rodrigo Gonzalez Natale | September 25, 2010 | Reply

  10. For an interesting side-note to the Artcraft, there is an interesting cartoon showing Harriet and Ford Cramer in a 1919 pre-wedding invitation in eBay right now. A collector might like to add it to the Artcraft collection. eBay item 360317666771

    Comment by Tom Turner | November 9, 2010 | Reply

  11. Hi,

    I have an Artcraft pen, green celluloid, the nib mark Artcraft 50 pens, the barrel say Artcraft pen company inc. artcraft fountain pen Birmingham, alabama, if you want to purchase it, email me or give me a call at 714-230-9837. thanks

    An Tran

    Comment by an p tran | October 20, 2011 | Reply

  12. I just purchased a heavily vine engraved gold-fill overlay Artcraft fountain pen. It seems to have the quality of the equivalent Waterman. Just sparkles! (Over 5″ long with ball clip). I would say it was made around 1925 or so because of the style.

    Comment by Larry Herrin | January 16, 2014 | Reply

    • Congratulations on this acquisition. Your dates sound about right as well. Enjoy your pen!

      Comment by PKM | January 16, 2014 | Reply


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