Vintage Pen Review: Waterman 52 1/2v Red Ripple

Material: Red Ripple Ebonite
Nib: 14k Gold
Appointments: Gold Plated
Filling System: Lever
Length (Capped): 112.5mm
Length (Uncapped): 101.3mm
Length (Posted): 142.8mm
Section Diameter: 6.4mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 9mm
Cap Max Diameter: 11mm
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter): 10g
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 8g

A HUGE thanks to viewer Chris who gifted me with this pen!

The Waterman’s Ideal No. 52 is one of the company’s most popular models–particularly from their early years.  They started manufacturing the 52 (under that designation) in 1919, mainly out of black hard rubber. In 1926, they introduced their red ripple ebonite, which they would continue to use for their pens for many years. For those that liked a smaller pen, Waterman also introduced the 52 1/2v–a much smaller and slimmer version of the 52, often sold with a ring-top cap, which is what Chris so kindly gifted me with. I am by no means a vintage Waterman expert, but I would hazard to guess that this pen is from the early-to-mid 1930s. Waterman continued using Ebonite even after most other manufacturers had switched to celluloid in the early 30s. For more information about the history of the Waterman 52, check out Richard Binder’s post and photos at

Comparison to the Lamy AL-Star

Comparison to the Lamy AL-Star

I have a red ripple Waterman’s Ideal No. 7 with a “Red” flex nib, which is my favorite flex pen experience. I love it. So I was excited to get my hands on another vintage Waterman to see how it compares…even if this pen is much smaller than I would normally use. And let’s be honest: It’s pretty darn small. At an uncapped length of only 101mm, and a section diameter of just over 6mm, this is a micro-pen in my hands. In order for me to write with it, I must use it posted. It’s too small otherwise.

The red ripple ebonite on this pen is lovely, still rich in color. There is very little brassing on the pen (the flaking off of the gold plating to show the brass underneath). The pen is a lever-filler, and had been restored before being sent to me, so it works perfectly. It’s in excellent shape.


The pen comes with a 14k gold nib with a heart-shaped breather hole, which is common for a Waterman pen of this era. I would classify the nib, which is a truly excellent writer, as a semi-flex, inching toward a full-flex nib. It’s got lovely line variation, but doesn’t provide as much line variation as my Ideal No. 7. One of the things that I love about vintage gold flex and semi-flex nibs, however, is the “snapback.” For those not familiar with using flex nibs, it is the responsiveness with which the nib will return to its base position. Most modern, gold-nibbed flex pens, of which there aren’t very many, may provide good line variation, but they have a sort of “spongey” feel to the way they write. They don’t come back to the rest position quickly. The nib on this Waterman (and on my Ideal No. 7) is very snappy and responsive. So, even as a semi-flex nib, this nib really is a joy to use.


It’s a small detail, but I also appreciate that Waterman made the feed for the pen out of the same red-ripple ebonite that they used for the body of the pen. I find it interesting that, even for a pen that can flex and put down so much ink, these old feeds could really keep up with the ink flow, despite not having the fins found on modern fountain pen feeds.


I really do like this pen. It’s in beautiful condition. It writes wonderfully. The semi-flex nib is spectacular. My only real problem with the pen is the size. It’s too blasted small for my hands. When it’s posted, the pen is long enough, but it is still so narrow. Even if I hold the pen at the barrel, it’s narrower than I generally prefer my pens to be. It is so small that writing with this pen makes my handwriting sloppier, and I make more mistakes. I suspect that, if I used it enough, I could adapt to the pen’s size, but it is not properly sized for my default style of writing.

Even though I’m not big into the vintage pen collecting scene, I continue to find myself drawn to pens like these. There is something exciting about a pen with a history. The feel of a pen that could easily be 80 years old in the hand stirs my imagination. I start to visualize the storyboard of the Pixar more that walks through the highs and lows of my anthropormophized vintage pen: the letters it has written, the tasks to which it has been put to use, the pain of neglect and abandonment while sad music by Sarah McLaughlin plays in the background, and the eventual ebullience of an upbeat Randy Newman score as the pen is discovered, lovingly restored, and passed along to a new generation of pen lovers. This may not be the perfect pen for my hand, but it is a perfectly wonderful pen. And now I need to find myself a full-sized, full-flex example.

  • allenabg

    Oh, my! What a lovely pen. I just had a new sac put in a Waterman’s lever filler that I bought in Scottsdale. I dipped it to test the nib and it was magical as it has a vintage stub on it. I suspect it is from the 20’s and I too love the sense that the pen’s history is there with you when you use it.

  • Cliff

    Great review Matt – I love your relaxed and informative style. I covet the rippled ebonite and vintage flex nib but (although I do sometimes use a Pilot Prera which is equally tiny) like you I think the 521/2 V is just a bit too small. Really liked your calligraphy on “Flex”, very stylish.

  • Cialina

    Oh this pen is beautiful! This is EXACTLY the pen I want, actually. I didn’t realize how small the 52 1/2 V is, but since I have small hands it is PERFECT. Thanks for the great review. Definitely going to have to buy this one in the near future.

  • Pascal Leers

    You can get used to the thinner size of the pen. I teached myself cursive writing with an old fashion dip pen. (Because of the flex). But it took me a while to get used to thicker fountain pens. (I’m now in love with my Pelikan M1000.)

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