Nurse Daisy and Her Graduation Pens: 1953

Daisy Patricia Freeman, R.N. Circa 1953 (Courtesy Irons Family Collection)
Photo Collection of Author

Daisy Patricia Freeman graduated from Thomas Memorial Hospital in St Thomas Ontario in 1953. As a graduation gift, she received a Waterman’s Nurse’s Pen Set, with her name monogrammed on it, and her graduation class information also monogrammed in gold leaf on the leather pouch.

The ad here shows two pens: tipped red and black. This particular set has a pen, pencil and thermometer and is in a leather pouch. I continue to search for an ad that shows the set like Daisy received for graduation in 1953

The thermometer case is also interesting: it has a red tip so that it would be easy to distinguish from the pen and pencil when in the pocket.

Red tip indicates the Thermometer Case (photo Courtesy VintageByJoanne. Collection of Author)
The Case (Collection of Author)
The case monogramed With Graduation Date: 1953 (Collection of Author)
(photo Courtesy VintageByJoanne. Collection of Author)

68 years later, I came across this set on Etsy, and was thrilled to add it to my collection. I was also lucky enough to be able to contact Nurse Daisy’s family and learn a bit about her service as a nurse.

Daisy Patricia Freeman graduated in 1953 and did general nursing at the local St. Thomas General Hospital. After working as a nurse, she eventually took time off from regular duty to raise her family. Upon returning to the profession, Ms. Freeman then worked at the St Thomas Psychiatric Hospital in St Thomas, working in geriatrics, where she finished her career as the  floor nurse supervisor. (By coincidence, my own mother was a nurse supervisor at a Psychiatric Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey.)

Graduation Day, 1953 (Courtesy Irons Family Collection)

Finding this kind of set is a dream come true for me as a collector. While I find the pens themselves interesting, knowing the provenance of this set, and getting to share and honor the career of the nurse who owned it makes it a real treasure for me.

(photo Courtesy VintageByJoanne. Collection of Author)

I’d like to thank “Daisy” Patricia Freeman’s family for sharing these photos and this information. And thank you Patricia Freeman, R.N., for your service to humanity. God bless the nurses!

The Incredible Changing Pen!

(fig 1.) Nurse Pen with Beautiful Patina. (Author’s Collection)

Recently I acquired a Waterman’s nurse’s pen with a color and patina I had never seen before (fig 1-3).

(fig. 2)
(fig. 3)

Normally these pens were a crackle-ice white color, with an emphasis on white, almost assuredly to match a nurses’s uniform. But this one has delightful caramel colored swirls. I wondered why this might be: was it manufactured that way (unlikely) or had the color changed with age?

It turns out that the latter explanation is the reason for this gorgeous color, and that there is indeed a solid hypothesis for why this pen looks the way it does.

Nurse’s pens are made of celluloid. This material is susceptible to chemical reactions of inks and ink sacs. Let me explain.

Inside this pen is an ink sac, a bladder that holds ink and when squeezed by the lever on the outside of the pen and (fig. 4) draws ink from the bottle and fills the fountain pen.

(fig 4.) The lever that fills the pen

If the sac is made of latex (and the original sac assuredly was) as the chemistry of the ink interacted with the sac and as the sac began to age, it off-gassed and interacted with the celluloid (fig. 5). That, and other environmental factors, is almost assuredly why this pen became the color that it is today. I’ve learned that this phenomenon is known as ambering, and it’s common in pens of the 20s-40s.

(fig. 5) The Interior of an Esterbrook pen, showing a latex sac.

When this pen was restored, the dealer followed best practices and installed a true (non PVC) silicone sac, one that will not off-gas and further compromise the celluloid (fig 6.) (Note that pens re-sacced with silicone sacs should be stored nib up and vertically, since there is a slight chance of oozing ink because of the material of the sac.)

(fig 6.) A Proper Silicone Ink Sac

I know now that it was a combination of reactions that changed the color of this pen, basically making it an accident of time and chemistry. I for one am happy it happened–this pen is unique and gorgeous!

From left to right, you can see how the luck of chemistry and time have changed this pen to a different patina from the other examples in my collection

I do have a question about the bands on this pen. The design is made up of a thinck gold band with a thin one above and below. I’m not certain if this design appeared on Doctor’s Pens, Nurse’s Pen’s, or both. I am assuming this is a Nurse’s Pen, but I am always open to your comments. Contact me!-30-

Waterman’s Pencil/Pen Set

(Fig 1.) Two Waterman’s Pen/Pencil Sets, Side by Side (Author’s Collection)

If you’ve read the introduction to nurse’s pens, you’ll remember that Waterman’s made a lovely set in a white celluloid. This pen/mechanical pencil set is seen here with the “military clip” (also seen on other Waterman’s pens, like The Commando.) This clip was designed so it would fit underneath the flap of a military uniform without showing. (fig 2.) I believe that nurses of the 30s through 50s would be able carry a pen in the side pocket of their uniforms, which often had a flap over it like the breast pocket of a soldier (fig. 3.)

(fig. 2) Close-up of Caps, showing “Military Clips” (Author’s Collection)
(fig. 3.) Note the uniform from c 1930s with the pocket flap: nurses could utilize the “military clip” style pen so the clip would not show. (New York Public Library)

You’ll note that the celluloid has aged differently in all of these caps. This may be due to the amount of wear each set has seen, as well as environmental factors in storage. Each of these pens is unique in patina, and that makes it extremely interesting to acquire different examples. They were a marble patterned white when new, but they age–almost like a coin does–and can be quite beautiful in their uniqueness.

These pen sets were marketed specifically to nurses. There is an advertisement in an early 40s edition of The Saturday Evening Post that markets to soldiers, graduates, and nurses–all on the same page (fig. 4).

(fig. 4.) An advertisement marketing this particular pen/pencil to nurses. (Author’s Collection)
Detail: In this particular set illustrated, the caps may have had a red jeweled and black jeweled cap for different colored inks of the shift.

As always, if you have any insight or information on these pens, please reach out and contact me.


The Mystery of M. Stoudt

One of the things I particularly like about collecting nurse’s pens is the history: more than likely there has been a nurse on the other side of time who once used the pen that I now have inked and before me.

Like any other pen set, nurse’s pens were given as gifts and testimonials, and sometimes even monogramed for the recipient. This is the case with a set I bought from Fred Gorstein .

The set I purchased is an Esterbrook red jewel and mechanical pencil set, both of the pieces monogramed MARGARET STOUDT. They seem to have been never used. What could be the story behind them?

Monogramed Esterbrook nurse’s pen set–pen and pencil. (Author’s Collection)
Red tip, indicating the pen was to be filled with red ink and used for charting during the 11pm -7am shift in the hospital. (Author’s Collection)

I did a thought experiment: Maybe Margaret was a nurse, and upon retirement was give this monogramed set as a testimonial, a set never used but kept as a keepsake. These pens were manufactured in the early 50s. Was there any evidence of a Margaret Stoudt, R.N. who might have had one?

The Search for Evidence

In the old days, I’d have been in the library, seeking out references that might have shown that there had been a nurse with this name.

But these aren’t the old days, and today, a good search engine can be your friend.

After about thirty minutes of searching, I struck gold:

Newspaper Clipping from the Lebanon Pa. News, September 15, 1952

“A retired nurse, she had been graduated from the Knickerbocker Hospital, N.Y.C., and had nursed in New York for many years.”

Lebanon Daily News, 9/15/52, pg 6.

Margaret died in 1952. My hypothesis that this pen was given to her for retirement, perhaps a few years before her death, is a real possibility.

I am thrilled to add this to my collection, not only because it is the first of my red jeweled nurse’s pens, but because I have found what could possibly be an actual connection with the nurse who used it.

This is the exact reason I love collecting these pens!


Esterbrook “Dollar” Pen

A Dollar Pen Style Nurse’s Pen: c.1930s-early 1940s

I am thrilled to add this to my collection! A dollar pen in the style of a nurse’s pen is scarce indeed!

Foot of the pen

Dollar pens date from the 1930s up until 1942, and are named as such because they originally cost a dollar. These may have technically been marketed as Doctor’s Pens, but until I see some ads or catalog listings, I’m going to assume the may have been marketed towards nurses as well. (If you have information–contact me.)

The cap of the pen
The pen nibs on Esterbrook’s are easily changed.

No Antibiotics

Reflect on this: it wasn’t until 1942, –the last year that this pen was manufactured–that civilians began being treated with penicillin!

Core structure of Penicillin

This pen may well have been used during a time before antibiotic therapy was available for clinical use! Imagine the orders that were written on patient charts during this time.

My mother–the R.N. who inspired this interest of mine in nurse’s pens, was hospitalized in 1933 with a ruptured appendix. Because there were no antibiotics, she painfully spent a year of her childhood in the hospital. Perhaps it was in that year the idea for being a nurse was put into her head.

My mother Doris in the 1930s, around the time she was released from her year in the hospital

Pens are more than writing implements. They are sociological artifacts!

What pen in your collection tells a story beyond the mechanics of mark making? -30-