The Restorer’s Challenge

When I first considered turning my small hobby shop into a restoration and sales practice, I consulted a number of prominent restorers.  One of those consultations was with Ron Zorn of Main Street Pens, with whom I spent the better part of a day in conversation at a Long Island Pen Show.  He told me a lot that day, but I am frequently reminded of his statement that “until I had repaired my first 7500 pens, I was not sure I could get my way through any pen I encountered”. Well, I’m not yet at thousands, and am still regularly surprised. This Thought is about the kind of surprise restorers face. 

My practice, as is noted in the home page, is not an open-to-the-public repair shop, partly because I have a full-time day job and can’t put any kind of deadline on projects, and partly I am not yet ready to succeed with every project that arrives in the mail.  However, when one of my oldest friends asked me to fix up and sell his small pen collection for him so he could donate the profits to charity, I agreed to do my best.  One of those pens, actually a pen/pencil set, has turned into the kind of challenge that I hoped to not see for awhile.

My friend lived in Paris for twenty years, so most of his fountain pens are French. This set is cream-colored, with very light wood-grained striping in the celluloid. It is a button-filler, as with so many French and Italian pens of the 1950s-1960s. The first challenge is that this is a No-Name; there is no brand identification at all. The chrome clip is similar to the “necktie” clips used by Bayard and Gold Starry, but different from both. I posted a query in the French fountain pen forum, and did not get any response that recognized the pen. So, I’m pushing ahead with a No-Name, and without name one doesn’t have model, submodel, approximate manufacturing date or confirmation of substances used.

The second challenge is that I’m not absolutely sure it’s made of celluloid. I think it is, but casein was still in use in France during the 1950s, particularly in lighter colored pens, and casein is both more fragile and dissolves in contact with water. I’m pretty sure it’s not a more modern plastic. Eventually I’ll shave off a little from the inside and drop it into water, see if it disappears. 

The third, and most significant challenge, is the repair. Upon removing the cap, the  circumferential crack around the threaded portion of the barrel could not be missed, since the broken piece separated the moment the cap was no longer holding it closed. I preserved the separated piece carefully and dismantled the rest of the pen. At least it fits right back on with no visible crack! How should I rebuild this pen? Assuming it is made of celluloid, I can probably solvent weld the broken piece back into place and shellac it firmly to the gripping section, but will that be able to take the strain of the button-filling pressure bar pushing against it? Or, must I reinforce the inside of the barrel with a sleeve turned on the lathe and fabricate a new gripping section to accommodate the extra space consumed by the sleeve? 

At this point, I only have doubts and questions, and don’t intend to start work until the questions are replaced by a plan. Writing this pen off is an option: since the goal is to benefit a charity, paying someone more expert than I to create a solution would be truly counterproductive. More to come in the future….