Fountain Pen Restoration

Dubuque, Iowa Fountain Pen

Every once in a while, a pen comes along that fits in with what you collect (Midwest/Vintage) that is a bit of a mystery. This pen is not much of one, but its Midwestern imprint prompted me to pick it up. I am not a big fan of ring top pens, but the Dubuque, Iowa roots of the pen, overcame that.

Below is the pen after I took it apart. The lever is a hanging one, and in good shape, so I left it in.  You can see that the main concern is the dirty yellow barrel and cap, and need of a new sac.


I spent a considerable amount of time cleaning the barrel and cap, both inside and out.  The hardest part was the inside of the cap.  The yellow cap and inner cap were caked with old blue ink and it took numerous trips to the ultrasonic cleaner and swabs with q tips to finish that job.  As you can see, the pen is now very clean.   The threads cleaned up with a toothbrush and ink nix.  I polished the nib on both sides.  It is a very nice Warranted 14K, with a triangle logo.


The pen measures 4 3/4 inches closed and 5 1/2 inches posted.


Here is a close up of the imprint, which reads ” RUETTELL BROS. DUBUQUE, IA”.  (Edit ~ Buettell – see below)


A brief search of Ruettell Brothers in Dubuque came up empty.  There were Ruettell Brothers Clothing Stores in Crookston, Minnesota, and Grand Forks, North Dakota throughout the 1900s, and certainly during the time of this pen.  My only guess is that they opened a location in Dubuque in the 1920s or 30s and used these as promotional, sales, or employee pens.  I will continue to research the connection, but nothing comes up yet.

Edit:  January 17, 2012 ~  A reader, Mike May, from Dubuque has corrected my reading of the above imprint.  It is Buettell Brothers, not Ruettell Brothers.  He also provided a link to this note in Publishers Weekly of 1893

Dubuque, Ia.—The Daily Telegraph of this city describes the new firm of Buettell Brothers Company, importers and jobbers of books, stationery, etc., as follows: ” The firm has only recently been established here and has already proved itself to be one of the live and progressive institutions of Dubuque. It was organ ¡zed in the latter part of January, 1892, and was ready for business and had three representatives on the road taking fall orders in June. The officers of the concern when it was organized were E. A. Buettell, president; Dr. E. R. Jackson, vice-president, and J. L. Buettell, secretary and treasurer. The firm had a commodious four-story building erected especially for their purpose on Iowa Street, between Seventh and Eighth Streets, in the wholesale district. This firm is the only exclusive wholesale house of its kind in the State. They carry a full line of books, stationery, drug sundries and make a specialty in window shades and fixtures. E. A. Buettell, who is considered one of the best posted stationery men in the West, has had charge of the business since its start. The business increased very rapidly, and in September Wm. A. Buettell became connected with the new firm and has now charge of the order department. The constantly increasing business makes it necessary to call its present secretary and treasurer, A. C. Buettell, into active service. He was recently elected to that position and will sever his connection with the H. B. Glover Company on January i. For fifteen years he has been with that firm and for over twelve years has filled the responsible position of book-keeper in their office. The affairs of this house are in the hands of young men born and raised in Dubuque. They are full of push and energy and the trade will find them prompt and reliable in all their dealings. The present travelling force will be increased January I, making in all five representatives. The territory covered extends over the greater part of Iowa, also large portions of Minnesota. Wisconsin, Illinois, South Dakota and Nebraska.”

It appears that Buettell Brothers was a long standing business in Dubuque.  A quick Google Search shows that they were also a publisher of Post Cards for years as well, and had a large Office Building for years in the downtown area of Dubuque.  Mike’s information certainly puts this 1920s/30s pen in better perspective, as they were a very active business at this time and thereafter., another link provided by Mike,  provides this additional information and a photo of the Buettell Building which was demolished in 2001 ~

“BUETTELL BROTHERS COMPANY. One of the cities largest importers and wholesalers in 1911, Buettell Brothers Company was established and incorporated in 1892. Located at 819-859 Clay Street, it was the only exclusive wholesale stationery house In Iowa. Officers in the company included E. A. Buettell, President; W.A. Buettell, Vice President; and A. C. Buettell, Secretary and Treasurer.

In addition to stationery, the company carried special lines in different seasons including valentines and sporting goods for the spring, fireworks for midsummer, school goods for the fall, and holiday goods for winter.”


I admit that I am drawn to looking at the cap and barrel ends and they make me think of some National Pen Products pens from the 20s and 30s.  Perhaps they produced these for Buettell – Chicago is not far away….

I have been to Dubuque a few times, and it is a beautiful city on the Mississippi River in Eastern Iowa, across the River from Illinois.  On my next visit I will have to look for a few more of these….

Edit 8-18-12:  I received a very nice email and set of photos of the home of A.E. Buettell, one of the Buettell Brothers, from 1908 (below).  The photo comes courtesy of Mr. Bill Stoffel, current resident of the home in Dubuque, who is restoring the home. The Buettell Brothers are described above.
Thank you very much for this photo, taken a few years prior to the production of this fountain pen, and during the prosperous years of their business in Dubuque.


Edit 8-1-13:  More on Buettell Brothers, from the Great Grandchild (Teran Buettell) of A.E. Buettell, founder of the Store:

Teran was kind enough to send me a large assortment of Buettell family photos and a narrative (below in green).  First the narrative ~

“I have attached several pictures related to the Buettell Brothers wholesale business in Dubuque, which are in possession of various members of the Buettell family and you are free to use to provide background information on your pen.  Edward Adam, or E.A., as he was more commonly known, Buettell was the founder and president of the company, with several of his brothers and other family members being part of the company on and off over the years.  Incidentally, he was a twin to Augustus Caesar (known as A.C.), who joined the business after it had been up and running for a few years. They sold stationery, household goods, seasonal items such as feather trees at Christmas (a German tradition-my aunt still owns the original Buettell feather tree) ,fireworks for the 4th of July, toys, perfume, and other items.  You can see some of these items in the photos of the showroom.  One shows an entire wall of dolls.  Another shows tables of boxed silverware.  Eventually, E.A.’s son, John Haines Buettell (my grandfather), took over the business.  His children recall him being generous with his access to wholesale goods, and tell the story of a time when he bought his son a toy fire engine.  Upon seeing the hurt and envy on the faces of the son’s two best friends who did not have such grand toys, he made it possible for their parents to purchase the same item at a wholesale price so that all three boys could play together without hurt feelings.  The children also recall that they had the grandest private fireworks display in town every 4th of July due to their access to the pyrotechnics!   Under John’s direction, the business eventually failed and closed, I believe, in 1951.   I have included a couple pictures of John Haines Buettell (known as Bibs to his family and friends, for reasons unknown to me).  One is in his office at Buettell Brothers and another is at the house on Alpine, of which you already have pictures.  The family pictures are of Edward Adam Buettell, with his wife, Mildred (Millie), and their two sons, John Haines Buettell and Andrew Kopp Buettell.  I do not believe Andrew ever joined the firm, although I am not certain on that point.  Feel free to write with any questions and thanks for your interest in our family.”

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E.A., wife Millie, and sons John Haines (Bibs) and Andrew Kopp.

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Company Trailer

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Salesmen filling out orders – wish we had a closeup of the pens….

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And finally, the toy fire engines from the story above

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Who knew that a small yellow ringtop fountain pen would lead to such great information on a proud family business spanning almost 60 years in Dubuque, Iowa.  Thank you to Teran for sharing this very interesting family history!


January 16, 2012 Posted by | Buettell Brothers Dubuque Iowa | | 10 Comments

Waterman’s Nurse’s Pen

Nurse’s pens were not only produced by Esterbrook. The following post discusses the restoration of an Esterbrook Nurses Pen ~

Esterbrook Nurses Pen – August 5, 2011

This week’s restoration is a Nurses Pen produced by Waterman (US). You can see the exploded view of the pen below.  Note the hardened sac, and discoloration around the lever.

I did  a thorough lever fill restoration.  I started by cleaning the pen completely.  The section needed to have the old sac removed and the feed needed to be cleaned and have the channels scraped of old dried ink.  I polished the Waterman nib in an ultrasonic cleaner and with a jewelers cloth.  The lever was gently cleaned with a jewelers cloth.  I dumped the cap into the ultrasonic cleaner as the build up of blue ink was deep and caked on and under the inner cap.  Once the entire pen was cleaned, I attached a size 16 silicone sac (see below) after it was trimmed for size.  I decided on silicone due to the light color of the pen and my desire to keep it as white as possible.


The completed pen measures 4 7/16 inches closed and 5 7/16 inches posted.



Here is the nib, an unremarkable Ideal 14K.


Waterman made these pens and often sold them in sets.  Some contained a matching pencil and thermometer holder.  Others had a matching pen with a red cap top, to match the black one seen on my pen.  Supposedly the red pen was to be used by the nurse with red ink for night hospital charts and the black pen used with black ink on day patient charts.  Apparently the previous owner of this pen had no black ink and used blue..

Below is an advertisement from a May 1942 Saturday Evening Post, found in my collection.  This is one of the few advertisements I have seen for this pen.  It was included in a larger promotion for the war time Commando.  I have isolated the Nurses Pen section in the second photo.



Waterman also made these pens in Canada, and the ones that I have seen have red and black jewels on the cap top, instead of the bands seen in these US pens.

I probably will not use this pen to preserve the white color.   It does, however, make a nice partner to the Esterbrook Nurses Pen, and another interesting corner of fountain pen history.


Waterman’s (top) / Esterbrook (bottom) Nurses Pens

January 4, 2012 Posted by | Waterman Nurses Pens, Waterman Pen Company | , | 1 Comment


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