Throughout the history of fountain pens, there have been numerous attempts to make a better filling system. Sometimes these were simply efforts to get around an existing patent – Sheaffer’s patent of the lever filler generated many variations intended to avoid infringing, and Sheaffer guarded that patent zealously in court – others were genuine improvements, and others were created as a differentiator in the market.
The earliest pens were eyedropper fillers. Just imagine the mess one made by unscrewing the nib from the pen, filling the body of the pen with ink using an eyedropper, and screwing the nib back into place. Read my post on the Laughlin Eyedropper pen for more information on this system.
Then along came the “safety” pen. Still filled with an eyedropper, but promoted as less likely to leak in one’s pocket. See my post on the Moore’s Midget for this system.
The self-filling pen was the next step. Conklin was first out of the starting block with their Crescent filler system, but others followed in rapid succession, far too many to address here. Most, but not all, used a rubber bladder inside a rigid barrel to hold the ink, and the filler systems were different methods of squeezing the bladder to empty, the releasing it to fill, while holding the nib in a bottle of ink.
The sleeve filler was one such bladder-squeezing system. The first sleeve fillers featured a sliding sleeve that covered an opening in the side of the barrel. To squeeze the bladder, one slid the sleeve down the barrel, revealing the opening, and used one’s thumb to squeeze the bladder. Replacing the sleeve prevented inadvertent pressure on the bladder with resultant expulsion of ink at unintended times.
Laughlin first made eyedropper pens, but saw the market changing in favor of self-fillers, and designed a variation on the sleeve filler in which the barrel is divided about in the middle. Sliding the barrel apart at this joint reveals the bladder and a pressure bar. This design is cleaner than those with a separate sleeve. After a few years, the sleeve filler fell out of fashion, but interestingly enough, Parker’s Aerometric filler, adopted on the Parker 51 in 1948, essentially reintroduced it as a new feature.
I bought this Laughlin Sleeve Filler simply because I wanted an example of the filling system and this pen came complete with its original box and directions. After I received it, I found that it needed some cleaning and a new ink sac and it was ready to write, looking almost like new. It is a Black Chased Hard Rubber (BCHR) pen with no pocket clip – clips were not standard in the early days. Unlike the Laughlin Eyedropper, this pen does not have a Laughin branded nib, but instead a Warranted 14K nib. Richard Binder’s Laughlin Sleeve Filler also came to him with a Warranted nib, so it is possible that this is original.
Several pictures are in the gallery below. Click on any picture to enlarge.