What is a “NURSE’S PEN?”

Nurse’s Pens are a variety of fountain pens that were marketed to nurses in the 40s and 50s and were principally manufactured by two companies: Waterman’s and Esterbrook, both established and famous fountain pen brands.

Why did nurses even need a specialized fountain pen? Because up until the modern age, hospital medical charts were written by hand in different colored inks.

If you worked the day shift, 7am to 3pm, you’d write in BLACK ink. Working 3 to 11? Then GREEN was the color. If you worked overnight, 11pm to 7am, you wrote on the charts in RED ink.

Nurses needed multiple pens inked differently for multiple shifts. And so, the pen companies stepped in.


Waterman made beautiful nurse’s sets in a white finish. Some sets had two pens for two different colors of inks. (fig. 1) Some were one pen and a pencil. (fig 2) Some sets had red/black markings on the top rim near the clip, to distinguish the color of ink. Some sets had a pen case that included a thermometer inside! (ALERT ME if you find one–I’m buying!) (fig 3.) Those sets were often in a leather (?) or leatherette carrying case that held pens/pencil and thermometer pen. (fig 4.)

Waterman’s pens with red/black tops to indicate ink color. Author’s Collection
Waterman’s Nurse’s Pen and Pencil from the Author’s Collection (fig 2.)
Waterman’s Nurse’s Thermometer “Pen” –Author’s Colection(fig 3)
Waterman’s Set that came in leather (?) pouch. (fig 4.)

Waterman’s made different varieties of nurse’s pens–which, of course, makes them so much fun to collect!

An ad from the Saturday Evening Post, showing the Waterman’s Nurse’s Pen set being marketed
Detail from ad above
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Esterbrook, known for making pens with interchangeable nibs, also manufactured a series of small, white NURSE’S PENS with different colored top jewels, in black, green and red–representing all three common nursing shifts at the time: 7am to 3pm (BLACK INK), 3-11pm (GREEN INK), 11pm-7am (RED INK.)(fig 4.)

The most difficult of these pens to find is the green jeweled tip.

(Fig 4.)Different colored Esterbrook Nurse’s Pens. Photo Credit: Matt Mendlik
(Fig 5.) Photo Credit: Matt Mendlik
An add for nurse’s uniforms that features a free Esterbrook nurse pen giveaway

Other Companies

Other companies, like Sheaffer, marketed pens to nurse’s and doctors. I am sure there are others, and if you know of them I hope’ you’ll contact me!

My interest in nurses’s pens is admittedly highly personal: they are connected with my R.N. mother (whom I pay tribute to on another page of this blog), and the collection of these pens is a form of mourning for me.

But the pens are also extremely interesting in their own right. They are fragments of a past, each pen with a story to tell. That’s one of the reasons I so enjoy collecting them!

Courtesy Bernard Gallant Collection