July 9, 2020

The Skyline pen: the pinnacle of Art Deco design for writing instruments

The Skyline pen: the pinnacle of Art Deco design for writing instruments

I've been home for more than four months, and like you, taking the time to organize everything I’ve been putting off for months. I must say that “mining” at my own home has been a delight because I’ve discovered that I bought and forgotten.

When I started attending antique fairs, my main focus was watches. But opportunities materialize in many areas of collecting, and by talking with other collectors I build new interests and learn how to buy many different types of pieces. As a result, today I have a bit of everything. I like to say I don’t collect just objects, but good discoveries and their history.

Fountain pens in particular have always fascinated me; in the 1980s, at school I used a Parker 51 that I got from my grandfather. Although I never focused my collecting on pens, today I have a good collection that formed gradually over the decades. One of the most interesting pens is the Eversharp Skyline introduced in 1941, just as the US was entering World War II.

But perhaps before talking about the Skyline, it is important to talk about its designer, Henry Dreyfuss.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1904, Dreyfuss is a major figure of 20th Century design. Dreyfuss was one of the great proponents of industrial art deco, the last great architectural style before current modernism. Dreyfuss’ work constantly focused on products designed for the average consumer.

henry dreyfuss design

Dreyfuss had a profound impact on the daily lives of millions of Americans, creating American design icons such as Electric Model 500 telephone, the Westclox Big Ben alarm clock, and – perhaps most prominent – the round Honeywell thermostat that was a fixture in millions of American homes built in the 1950s and 60s.

henry dreyfuss

Dreyfuss also created designs for tractors built by John Deere, cameras for Polaroid, styles, and branding for American Airlines, A T & T, Hallmark Cards, pens for Eversharp, and typewriters for Royal. Dreyfuss also created perhaps the most prominent example of American industrial art deco design: the spectacular streamlined Hudson locomotive produced for the New York Central Railroad and its premier “20th Century Limited” express service to Chicago.

streamliner Henry Dreyfuss skyline

The Eversharp Skyline, in my opinion, is the pen that best represents the Art deco style of the 30s and 40s. With a prominent cap, a short, tapering barrel, the Skyline was unique and groundbreaking for its time. Dreyfuss designed the Hudson locomotive in the mid-1930s, and the success of the distinctive design inspired him to create the Skyline in the same streamlined style. My next watch model will be launched in this month and is a homage to the art deco style of Manhattan of the 30s.

The Skyline was manufactured for only seven years and was produced in a range of colors and finishes – from low-cost all-plastic pens to all gold. Originally priced US$ 3.50 to $125.00, the Skyline came in three different sizes (demi, standard, and executive), today is a reasonably rare pen. The 14k gold models, the "Command Performance" sell now for around $ 500. The rarest is the stainless cap and the platinum models.

skyline collection

By 1945, the Skyline was the best-selling pen in the US. Many were sold during World War II, when Americans were fully employed but had few consumer goods on which to spend their earnings. With a rich history and affordability the Skyline a delightful pen to collect and use daily.

The Wahl-Eversharp brand was one of the biggest players at the "golden era” of the fountain pens during the first half of the 20th Century. As with wristwatches, pens were an important consumer good, and competition between manufacturers was very tight. New designs, new materials, and new colors were constantly in perpetual development.

However, by the late 1940s, and despite the huge success of the Skyline, Wahl-Eversharp was almost bankrupt – the heavy toll it paid for its efforts to develop a ballpoint pen.

The company was sold to Parker Pen, and then sold to a successor, which in turn sold it to another organization, where it languished virtually unknown for almost 50 years.

eversharp skyline collection

However, in recent years the company and the name have been revived, and Wahl-Eversharp now produces a wide range of pens and pencils, including re-creations of its mid-century models – among them the Skyline.

But if you like the designs, buy the vintage versions!

Happy collecting,

Dan Henry

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