It’s Thanksgiving, a time to be thankful. Indeed, I’m plenty thankful for my new friendship with A, in Italy. A is a retired architect who is selling his collection, bit by bit. We met each other on eBay, where I had purchased a lovely Columbus Extra that was missing a nib. His Italian always comes to me with Google’s translation in the email, I (having zero Italian..) do the same with him. “Tim, why are you so happy to buy a pen without a nib?” “Because I have another one that is in terrible shape but has a great nib…”. Some weeks later, “I’m getting ready for the Bologna pen show, and have some pens you might have some interest in owning.” That started a flood of correspondence that ended, for now, with my purchasing a Tibaldi Transparente and a Tabo V, both from the late 1940’s, black celluloid piston fillers with very unusual transparency and flexible nibs. Both pens moved happily into my collection and their use will force me to become comfortable using long-tined nibs in my overwriting left hand. Thanks!
October 2017 — Plexor
I’ve recently received an oversize Plexor pen, the first I’ve seen. Plexors are interesting curiosities, perhaps the only Parkers to not carry the Parker name in some form. Their history’s documentation is not unequivocal, but the gist of it is that during World War II, French industry was only allowed to use French or Germany-allied manufacturing materials. With most of the fountain pen manufacturers either closed or their raw materials diverted to the war effort, most of the pens available for sale were either made before the war or were imported as parts and assembled in France. Plexors were the result of an agreement between Parker Pen and an entrepreneur, who imported American Duofold parts and assembled them as Plexors. I have not been able to discover whether the Plexor-imprinted gold clips and nibs were produced and imprinted in the Parker factory or in France; it’s a missing piece of the story. But, my Plexor is a very large pen (see the Edacoto 87 Thought of a few months ago; I think these two were the only oversized fountain pens produced in France during the war years.), the size of an oversize Vacumatic or Duofold but not as thick, with a purely Parker appearance. Given my fascination for wartime pens, this is a wonderful find. I have some photography of my c0llection pens to catch up with, so this will appear soon.
August 2017 — Two Years In
It is a little hard to believe, but timsvintagepens has been operating for two years, as of early September. Although I had been restoring and selling pens for some years, during the summer of 2015 I realized that I was completing more projects than I could sell by word of mouth or Fountain Pen Network listing, that the growing volume was forcing me to become more organized, and the deepening complexity of my work had created the need for more advanced tools, supplies and sales to support the habit. The plan that became timsvintagepens coalesced over that holiday weekend, and now it’s coming up to two years later! What have I learned from the past two years? First, that my basic principles still hold — I’m in this to learn about vintage pens, to master a craft, and to make fine vintage pens available for new owners whom they will excite as much as they do me. Second, I’ve learned that the mastery part is further away now than it was two years ago — as with any real craft, the more one learns the more there is to learn. While I’ve gained a certain amount of competence in handling many brands and models, every pen is different and you just don’t know in advance what you’re going to find or how you’ll deal with what has been found. Third, my own expectations of the skills I want to learn also continue to rise. Finally, my respect for the masters of restoration crafts continues to grow, because whether we’re masters or students, we are working against the objective benchmark of how that pen left the factory and the skills of those who made them every day. That’s a tough standard to match. Thank you, clients, family, friends, partners, and mentors, for your ongoing support of my efforts!
July 2017 — 51 and 88
This month I restored three 1950’s Aurora 88s and several Parker 51’s in succession. This combination is interesting because Aurora designed the 88 to emulate the Parker 51’s the American soldiers were all carrying in their return to Italy under the Marshall Plan. Yes, both have gold caps and black barrels, and both have hooded nibs, and both are exactly the same size. But the similarities stop there. Under the hoods (sorry, couldn’t resist…) the differences are stark: the 51 carries an ink collector that fills into an open barrel; the 88 carries a piston actuated by a relatively fragile mechanism. How American, to build a high-functioning mechanism to fill and provide a large quantity of ink; how Italian to build a delicate mechanism that is a jewel. No one has ever accused a 51 of being a beautiful pen — handsome, sturdy, classy; but the 88, copied from the 51, is a beautiful, graceful pen. Finally, the older 51’s carried date codes to identify the quarter year of their mass manufacture; the 88 has an individual serial number to remind the owner that this one pen is yours. Italian pens are an acquired taste, but a wonderful, enchanting one…
Early June 2017 — French Pens
With a traveling friend’s recent delivery from France in hand, I recently found myself staring at a large handful of pre- and post-WWII French projects the other evening, and realizing that I have developed a particular fondness for them that is quite unlike my taste for other pens. I’m hoping, when I’ve restored the Edacotos, Unics, French Matador, StyloChap, Parker La Plume and NoNames that I’ll know better what draws them to me. There is no question that French pens are their own species, quite unlike their British, German and Italian counterparts. They are shorter, often a touch broader at the top of the cap, of celluloid that is often rolled on the bias rather than straight down the pen, with undulating clips. They’re elegant more than Italian beautiful, prettier than the more stately English pens, and almost never piston-filled like the German or Italian pens. Nibs are also different — very often with some flex but without the English softness, shorter-tined, and the ones I see tend to have been more steadily used. This is definitely one of those times when I really need a time machine.
I’ve been asked what happened to Build Your Own Esterbrook. It was a very successful experiment in selling pens that are essentially alike and have interchangeable parts. But, its success notwithstanding, I learned that vintage pen buyers prefer to see the actual pen they are buying, not an example of one just like it. As a result, over the coming months, BYOE will be replaced by a series of focused sales of groups of restored Esterbrooks, the first of which is the Pre-1950’s group listed this month.
April 2017 — JJ Lax Pen Co
I won’t do this often, but my Thought with this update is a plug for JJ Lax Pen Co. Joshua Lax, a friend here in New York, and I started doing pen work around the same time, each in his own direction. Happily for me, Joshua’s main interest grew into nib repair and customization. He has studied under Richard Binder, and now performs a wide variety of customizations for clients. My collection includes two pens on which he has worked his magic — a French NoName pen that the best of my efforts just could not get to work right, and a Kaweco Sport Classic that now has a needlepoint.
Why am I using this space to advertise Joshua’s nib work? Answering your questions…more and more people are asking for advanced nib repairs and customizations, especially on modern pens, and it’s important to me to steer my clients in the best directions for their needs. Joshua, who has my full support, is available via jjlaxpenco.com.
As some readers know, I have been steeped in a large Esterbrook project for the past month, the evidence of which is in the Build Your Own Esterbrook listing on the Bargains page. A partner and I sold a lot of Esterbrooks, and still have plenty…. But, with this work is coming to an end, I’m starting to tackle a very large batch of mostly American pens from a collector, which will be appearing in the coming months. Included are numerous Parker 51’s, a wide range of Sheaffers from the pre-Balance, Balance, and Touchdown/Snorkel eras, plus pens from Eversharp and Waterman, and more than two dozen 1930’s pens from less famous brands that are in excellent condition and worthy of new careers. Stay tuned!
Late March — A Restorer’s Mystery
Benchtop surprises are part of restoring vintage fountain pens, and one appeared on my bench this past week. As I have worked my way through the large batch of a collector’s vintage pens, I knew there was a dark blue 1950’s Summit awaiting its turn. I like Summits — like Wyverns, many Conway Stewarts, and the better Burnhams and Mentmores, they’re working British gentlemen, but not aristocrats. Surviving Summits are usually black or dark blue, with or without chasing, made of plastic after WWII, with nice soft English gold nibs. I pulled it out of the box, thinking “nice, like mine”, and suddenly realized that it wasn’t! I found my typical S125 to compare, and sure enough, the clip and crown were quite different and there was no Summit imprint, in fact, except for the overall appearance, only the nib confirmed that it was a Summit at all. After a bit of searching around, I discovered that 175’s, a step above 125’s, existed and had clips like this pen’s…but this 175 didn’t fit either any picture or description I saw or the pictures of known 175 variants. Which, of course, leaves me with a Summit 175 I can’t fully identify. How will I find out what it is?
At this point, I may not…right now the best I can do is say that fountain pens in the vintage era (for me, 1920-1970) were generally produced in the thousands, including the finest brands. All of the manufacturers built variants, for smaller, focused markets and some that were not meant for the market at all — experiments, test balloons, and lunchtime specials that leaked their way out into circulation and have survived. The result, and probable end of my story, is that we will never be able to definitively name every pen we see — some are like my outlier Summit: oh so close to a typical 175, but just…not. A daughter of mine would say “Dad, live with it.” I can live with it, for sure; in fact I like it!
March 2017 — Ever Seen a Brick of Esterbrooks?
Last night the mother lode of Esterbrook fountain pens arrived, along with numerous Parkers, Sheaffers, and other pens, including a group of fifteen 1930’s lower level pens that will make interesting restoration projects. Esterbrooks J’s were made, to quote Richard Binder, in “vast quantities” from the end of WWII through the 1950’s, and are always desirable writers — attractive, well-made and incredibly durable, and their wide selection of interchangeable nibs means, as Esterbrook marketed, that you can change your writing style by just swapping nibs. While it is indeed a bit intimidating to face a veritable brick of Esterbrooks, now that they’ve arrived, I’ve figured out how I’ll deal with them. You will soon see a new section in Tim’s Bargain Pens for an ongoing sale of Esterbrook J family pens — Transitionals, J’s, L(ong)J’s, S(hort)J’s — in probably the full variety of colors, and available with a range of nibs. These will also be handled a little differently: rather than restore and photograph every one in advance, when a client says “I’d like one of those red J’s”, I’ll provide the full description of the next couple of available red J’s to give the client a choice, and ask for a nib selection. Details to appear very soon in Tim’s Bargain Pens!
A few months ago, I told the story of my finding an Edacoto 87, the unusually large wartime French pen, in great condition but with its original nib missing the tip. The happy conclusion of this story is that the pen appeared in front of me at a serendipitous workbench moment, when I had my box of nibs open for some other pen (how do these things happen?), and after a little digging around, I found a large Waterman’s keyhole nib from the 1930’s that fit perfectly. OK, so it’s not the right brand, or decade, or country, and yes, a Waterman’s nib is a much firmer writing experience from a soft flexible French nib, but the upshot is that the 87 is now in use on my home desk, and it is, as I’ve responded to everyone who has seen it, emphatically not for sale.
January 2017 — The New Year
With the change in years, two annual events on my personal calendar have arrived and passed — visiting Anderson Pens and the Philadelphia Pen Show.
For two consecutive years, clearly a trend, I’ve spent a few days at the end of the year with family in Milwaukee, my hometown. Part of that trip, which reminds me every year that New York City’s winter really is not cold, is driving up to visit Brian and Lisa Anderson in their amazing Anderson Pens store in downtown Appleton. Their business gives one hope that there is a future for modern, Internet (andersonpens.com) and storefront, family-owned business in America. Central Wisconsin rent aside, their store could be on Madison Avenue and do well. The front is all pens, the long wall is all ink, there are large MontBlanc and Sailor cases in center islands…and there are Brian and Lisa, whose passion for their work shines through. There are a lot of reasons to visit Wisconsin; now pendom has another.
The Philadelphia Pen Show, just past, was a fun afternoon. The Show is at a crossroads, but that’s for another day. What pen shows are really about is talking, and I had wonderful conversations with two vintage pen restorers I had not met before, Fred Gorstein, with whom it turns out I share some professional background, and Michael Quitt (Charm City Pens). From Michael, I purchased a very nice black 1930’s Parker Duofold, sporting a jeweled Challenger Deluxe three-ringed cap, which to me looks much nicer than the round black crown of the Duofold. It carries a lovely original nib that writes a wet, full medium with some spring and a touch of flex, very different from the contemporaneous Vacumatic “nails”. Although my collection is getting another culling, this one, having just arrived, will be staying. Pictures in the Collection page soon. Thanks, Michael!
December 2016: A Grail Pen Arrives
Pen collecting, like many other hobbies involving vintage items, uses the term “grail” to describe a very few specific items that are long term collecting objectives but are only rarely found and affordable when they are found. While I don’t actively maintain a “grail” list, there are a few important pens I’ll admit to coveting — vintage celluloid Montblanc, Soennecken, Osmia piston fillers from prewar Germany, a De la Rue Onoto Magna, a first generation, transparent Parker Vacumatic Maxima, prewar Italian celluloid pens. For some years, a full size, late-1920’s Sheaffer Jade “Flattop” was on my mental list with its black hard rubber cousin, but frankly every one I saw showed too much celluloid deterioration to either be useable or worth the price. This was Sheaffer’s first celluloid pen, and the beautiful green, translucent celluloid has not survived as well as later models.
I’m happy, and still somewhat surprised, to report at the end of the pen-full year that a full-sized pen/pencil Sheaffer Jade set came to me, found in a rural Wisconsin auction by a champion picker, and in this case the reality far exceeds my expectations. It is a rare beauty, with zero celluloid deterioration and a large Lifetime nib that is in perfect condition. The pencil appears to be in mint condition. Should I sell it? One picture is here…and there are more in Tim’s Pen Collection . Click on the image to see a much enlarged image.
November 2016: Another false alarm…with a twist!
A few months back, I wrote about the almost-loss of my Parker 75, and how it brought home some lessons about collecting and possessing. Well, it happened again…almost. Another Parker, this one an English post-WWII Victory, in dressy navy blue celluloid and with a lovely wet full medium Parker nib, disappeared. I was using it because it needed some nib attention and because a client had requested a wet English pen of that type. So, I was giving it a fill or two to see if I wanted to keep it or sell it. Partway through the second fill, nib now tuned and working a lot better, I decided it was giving me too much pleasure to let go, and that I would tell the client I’d find another, when I discovered its absence from my pen case. This time I had enough confidence that it was in my orbit somewhere — not left in a bar as I feared the last time — but it was just not getting found. Finally, this past week, during an especially chilly New York autumn day, I left my office to walk down the block to our second building and pulled on the blue cashmere blazer that lives at work, and it was hanging in the inside pocket. Finding the Victory wasn’t the surprise, however…what still is not clear is how it got there, since I hadn’t worn that jacket since last spring!
September 2016: An eBay surprise! And, it’s back again.
For many people, eBay is usually no longer a source of treats and surprises…it has become a shopping place, an Amazon Prime alternative. For those of us in the world of vintage pens, we can certainly indict eBay for ruining flea markets, but it has become a pretty accurate measure of actual selling price, as long as there are enough data points for any given model to find something of a current average. So, even though the true rarities are now hotly contested, and prices are often too high, occasionally a nugget slips through.
This month one of those nuggets, an Edacoto 87, found its way to me from a blurred picture posted by a seller who could not have known that he was selling, for a small fraction of its value, one of the largest fine pens produced in France during the 1930’s, just because the original Edacoto nib had no tip. French pens of the ’30’s-’50’s were typically short, sub-5″ capped, but with the girth of a full-size pen. The 87, created to emulate the success of the American Parker Duofold, is a good 1/2″ longer than my other French pens, in fact only 1/4″ shorter than my Montblanc 149, a pen no one would call small. This is a pen that I had never seen before and would probably not see again, so it’s going to my collection, possibly after it gets treated to a nib retipping. Except for the nib, it’s in almost perfect, unmarked condition. When I read about the nib issue in the listing of an Edacoto that looked too big, I figured, worst case, I have a few appropriate nibs lying around that would probably fit, and Edacotos always sell well. Why was it so cheap? Well, the seller noted the broken nib, but not the fact that the nib was original, or that it was an 87, or its length, or its rarity, and the picture was really bad. It sold as it should, except for what it was. The moral of the story? I have to give it some thought, but maybe something along the lines of “You can still get lucky, but do your homework…” Watch for the 87 to show up in my collection pages.
A few months ago I wrote about my friend’s Parker 51 that won’t feed enough ink…and thought it had returned to its owner to stay. Well, it’s back, having become something between a bad dream and what my family would call a Wandergeschenk, the gift that just keeps comin’ back… Do you think its owner would notice if I swap its broad nib, collector, and feed for something from the parts bin? Seriously, the margin between getting enough flow from the ink collector to fuel a broad nib and having the nib be too open to maintain capillary action is truly fine, and Parker 51 nibs are small tubes, which make adjusting them a delicate job. I just have to keep trying. At some point I’ll get it right.
August 2016: Two New Pens
Two new pens have joined me, and like our Presidential candidates, they are as different as can be. Unlike our candidates, they both have great looks, style, function well, and are probable keepers.
The first is vintage: a 1940’s Pelikan 100N with a grey marbled Binde. This is the first Pelikan I have purchased since the 120 I bought my first week of college in 1970. I have been watching listings for them since reading Pelikan expert Rick Propas’ statement in which he noted that he owns quite a few 100N’s and never is without one in a shirt pocket. When a reasonably priced one turned up, I pounced; two weeks later it landed in my life. It’s a bit short but not petite; light in the hand but perfectly substantial and balanced. After a minor nib tweak by Josh Lax, it’s easy to see why Rick loves his 100N’s. Using this pen is an experience in elegance and timelessness. Once again, as when using a Sheaffer Vac-Fill or a Parker 51, one is compelled to ask whether Pelikan had any idea that this pen would be so solid, so dignified, and so well functioning in 70 years…it just feels right, writes well, and fits me.
The other new pen was given to me to try out at our recent New York City pen club barbeque, a TWSB Mini Vac. It’s made of very solid, clear acrylic, with a plunger mechanism that is very similar to the Sheaffer Vac-Fill. This pen has a stiff EF nib that is a bit too stiff for me and might be swapped out, but I find myself being repeatedly surprised to find the pen being turned over in my hand, over and around so the sloshing ink can be admired; I usually don’t even remember picking it up to play with it. Until now, much as I’ve admired TWSB’s pluck and struggles as a new company in mass production, its pens just haven’t, until now, caught my interest or felt right in my hand. So far, this pen has achieved both; I’ll report later on whether the feeling endures.
July 2016: Forward to Vintage
What happened to June? Suddenly, it’s July…
June was an interesting month for the my personal evolution as a fountain pen restorer. I accepted, during May and June, just over a hundred vintage and modern fountain pens as a consignment from a significant collector, who is focusing his collection, even as it continues to grow. The hundred were split roughly a third each in modern pens, all 1990’s to current; vintage pens, almost all from before 1970; and what I call “cheaps”, inexpensive modern pens. Over time, all of the vintage pens will be restored, listed here and sold from here and various fountain pen forums. The nice modern pens and the “cheaps”, all of which are already in fine-to-excellent condition, will get a cleaning and be sold however they find the opportunity to be sold. In fact, some are already gone. The vintage pens are the challenge — while many are in great condition, they all need at least some work, and some need substantial work, and I’ve never before had 30 pens waiting patiently for my attention. It’s interesting to me that even though I did not find and bring them in because of their interest to me, I have found all of the vintage pens interesting and attractive. Now, my personal challenge is to see the modern pens in the same way. I’ve even been carrying around a matte black slim Cross for a few days! A colleague who knows me well looked at it and asked if it was a special vintage Cross…it writes pretty well!
May 2016: A Wearever Returns and a Parker Goes Home
Part of being a collector, even a bit player like me, is keeping track of the pens that got away. No, I don’t mean the the decisions to not buy the Hundred Year Waterman or the lapsed ebay bid — not those pens. I’m talking about the ones I owned and let leave, only to regret the loss. This past weekend I bought a gree-grey striped 1940’s Wearever Deluxe 100 and filled one of those holes. It was sold at a Wearever price, barely a fifth of the way to $100, coincidentally the same price its predecessor earned a few years back. Why is it special? Wearever, like many other long-closed companies, used its design capability to copy others and sell at a very low price point, and a few of their models were close enough to make one momentarily think “is it really? could it be?”. In this case, the Deluxe’s vertical stripes aped those of the far better Parker Duofold and even the Waterman InkVue of the ’30’s — the stripes lent elegance to an otherwise ordinary, and clearly not as durable pen.
The question that remains is why I’m interested in the copy, rather than the real thing. First, I do like the originals, although I don’t currently own either a striped Duofold or an InkVue. Even if it is a copy, it is its own reality and brings its own magic as an unheralded icon of wartime America, a time when people were cutting back on what they bought and the materials they used, a time of utilitarian goods that carried the scent of an earlier, perhaps happier day. I have always liked nicer Wearevers, because they filled an important need for a working person. I do hope it’s one of the Wearevers that is not filled with corrosion under the clip and jewel…
For several months, I have been working on a friend’s Parker 51. Truth be told, it’s my second, nope third, sentence with this pen. Parker 51’s are normally not considered cranky pens, but there’s always an outlier. This is a beauty of an aerometric model, with a smooth broad nib, in Dove Grey with a brushed stainless steel cap. The trouble has been that it just didn’t let enough ink out and a broad nib needs ink flow. I flushed it, disassembled it, changed the breathing tube, made sure every little nook and cranny wasn’t plugged or somehow impeding flow. Not the problem. I opened the nib a bit. No again. I reset the nib against the hood. Nope. All of this is months apart, since both he and I needed to confirm that it just wasn’t right yet, and we’re of course on opposite coasts and I’m a lefty and he’s not. I did two things that I hoped to be determinative: first, I found a recommendation to replace the little plug that hold the the collector open in some 51’s. Not having a plug to use, I cut off a 1/4″ piece of 26 gauge suture wire (don’t ask…) and inserted it into the collector slit in the hope that that would increase ink flow. And, I lined up my own three 51’s and his and did some tight measuring, and decided that even though there were different amounts of nib showing at the end of all of the four hoods, his pen showed the least by a good 3/64″, which I decided was causative. So I pulled the nib out a teensy bit, more a creak than a pull, reassembled the pen (it practically closes up by itself at this point), and so far three right-handers have said it works. It returns to its owner, one hopes finally, this week and we’ll see.
April 2016: A Modern Pen Joins the Herd.
Notwithstanding the physical evidence of my collection, I do appreciate modern pens. Really, I do. The problem has been that I just haven’t had much use for them. Vintage pens is where I started and they fit my love of cultural history. I’ve never not appreciated modern pens — friends’, Shawn Newton’s and Scriptorium’s frequent Instagram posts, the Chatterly offerings. Until recently, in fact, I did have three modern pens: a Delta Fusion 82, a Varuna Vishal in unfinished ebonite, and a Kaweco Sport Classic. Then a friend gave me a four-year old Pilot Custom Legance in a rich mottled chestnut brown with chrome trim. It became an instant daily carry pen, sharing the “jacket pocket/subway” role with the Kaweco and, truth be told, taking some the Kaweco’s playing time. I’m happy to confirm three additional Pilot features, previously noted by others: first, that Pilot pens and Pilot ink are made to work together: it just writes much better with it. Second, although the sample size is admittedly pretty small, I can now join the popular view that Pilot nibs are wonderful — neither stiff nor soft, with a little “give”, and with just a touch of feedback. Finally, it just works every time I use it, which is important when you’re adding one number to a Samurai Sudoku puzzle on a moving NYC subway in rush hour.
A quick note of thanks to WordPress.com. For the past year, the first for this website, I have used WordPress as both my service host and provider of the content theme I’m using. Recently, in preparation for moving to a more sophisticated structure, I moved the hosting to a new service called Reclaim, but am leaving WordPress with gratitude for helping me get my feet on the ground. For the entire year, WordPress was never down, and I never experienced a glitch that was not of my doing. Thanks to WordPress, I’m now ready to move on…
March 2016: Aurora 88
I haven’t written much about pens I’ve bought for myself, mostly because there have been very few times that I’ve actually bought a particular pen because I wanted it — not a restoration project that appeared and then stayed with me, but for me. My Parker 75, the Columbus Stiliridio, carmine Vac-fill Sheaffer Balance, Waterman New Look and Stalwart, and most recently, an Aurora 88. Using a pen that came from the years when Europe was rebuilding after WWII has added interest for me, and this pen in particular because it is timeless Italian design born of a need to start something new that emulated the wildly successful Parker 51. I had been watching for a good, reasonably priced 88 for some time — with its gold cap and black resin body looking much like many Parker 51s, but an altogether different shape, a piston filling system, and a typically Italian soft and flexible nib. When this one came along, I didn’t dare tell the seller that its serial number dated manufacture within a month of two of my 1952 birthdate, but that clearly added to the pen’s allure and sealed its destiny with me.
After one partial fill of Waterman Serenity Blue, my control ink, I can report that writing with an Aurora 88 is distinctly different than a Parker 51, or a modern Delta Fusion, or a Bic. It is not instant love and ease — there is a learning curve in holding it, pressing the nib exactly right to get its flexibility to work, until suddenly it’s flowing and shading and acting like a true Italian pen. This is not a pen to pass around the table; it’s a private relationship, and it’s mine!
February 2016: Thinning The Herd, Again.
Lately, I’ve been thinning my collection. Not drastically, but a minor change in direction. Until now, for a dozen or so pens I have violated my own rule of not keeping a pen that I didn’t use for a year, because they were interesting, would not likely come my way again, were among my first restorations, other reasons. So it was time for the pristine Parker 61 with the Heritage cap that is just too skinny for my hand, the flawless Wearever Pennant I’ve never used but kept as a curiosity, the 1930s “No-Name” that is improbably smooth, the stickered Esterbrook J, the Wality, all to leave. This isn’t all of my violators, but it has helped me refine my tastes, a subject for a future month. Have no fear, however: the collection is not in danger of shrinking below 50, because three new pens have found me: an early short-full girth Sheaffer Balance with an amazing BB nib, a first generation Aurora 88 that is on its way from Austria, and a 2010 Pilot Legance, a gift from a friend that I’m much liking as an everyday “carry”. There is no question that being able to define and redefine my collection as I choose is part of the fun.
January 2016: Inventory Issues and Photography
I hadn’t planned it this way, for sure…but I’m essentially out of inventory. There are almost 40 projects awaiting my attention, but only the Ingersoll Dollar remains unsold, and it will wait patiently for the Ingersoll collector to find it. I’ve realized while that I could let this be a problem and quickly restock, it’s better to stick to the plan and restore as I can and what I find interests and teaches me, which of course is the main reason all of this is happening. Now, back to that cocoa 51…
During my year-end two week break, I upgraded the photography setup, changing from tungsten lighting (after burning out a half dozen bulbs and two fixtures) and precarious light stands to a Canon speedlight in a diffusing soft-tent that sits atop my foamcore lightbox. HUGE difference in overall light on the scene plus (once I climbed the learning curve…) so much work removed from the photography process. You need to get the positioning and focus right, set aperture at something pretty wide like f/11 or f/16, and let the light and shutter work together, simply put. There is still a fair amount of processing in Lightroom, of course, but that happens with no doubts about whether there was enough light. Unless the pen is black or white there is virtually no need for bracketing anymore, and the session goes so much quicker when you don’t need to take a break to let the lights cool down. Well worth the investment.
December 2015: The Missing Pen
I’m generally not a possessions kind of guy. Frankly, I don’t care much for things, except for my 50 or so fountain pens, some family stuff, two hobbies’ worth of good tools, my father’s two watches that get worn all the time, and my wedding ring that I couldn’t take off if I tried.
This past weekend I discovered that I was missing my “daily carry” Waterman 2-pen case and the Parker 75 it contained. I was surprised to find, on Friday evening, that case’s other pen, my Waterman Stalwart, in my shirt pocket and not the case, and the case was not in my bag. Pens travel in their case in the bag, especially in the NYC subways. I’m a relatively habitual person; having some routines is my way of managing the surrounding chaos. So, not having my pen case was something of a shock. There were only so many places it could be: at home, in my office, or somewhere else. Home was quickly eliminated on the visible layer; it couldn’t have sunk to the deeper layers that fast. If it was in the office it was safe for the weekend. The third option started with a bar I like near work, where I filled out the weekend’s NFL betting pool sheet with the Stalwart, surely how and when it got into my shirt pocket. That bar is a mob scene on football Sundays, so I convinced myself it just wasn’t there, and waited for Monday.
I was surprised to note, over the course of the weekend, how much I regretted the loss of the 75, if it was indeed lost. It made me have another look at my pen list, at which I realized that there were a bunch that I would also genuinely miss — the 51’s, a couple of Sheaffers, the wartime bandless Esterbrook Dollar, the Columbus Stiliridio, the Waterman 5 and French New Look, the two Bayards and Gold Starry, a couple of the Conway Stewarts, my 149. That’s 15, and I realized I’ve finally found the answer to the perennial Top Ten Pens question. Not the “ones I like the most”, because I like them all. The 15 that I would be genuinely sorry to lose.
Oh, and the case was on my office desk, buried under papers.
November 2015: Two New Old Pens
I have two new pens, although neither was purchased to be kept. The first, bought by a friend for me in an antique shop in upstate New York, is a Wearever Bullet from 1946-48. He got it after I said “nope, don’t want it”, thinking this grungy little piece was “cool” while I thought I had reached my lifetime maximum with Wearevers. I cleaned it with a soft rag but did not use polish with an abrasive for fear that the gold-colored plate would rub right off. Suddenly I had a shiny, almost perfect, elongated bullet in my hand, with an unbelievably smooth semi-hooded medium steel nib stuck with its cheap plastic feed into a cheap plastic hood. With a fresh sac under the cheap squeeze bar it’s my new pocket pen. Third tier? Of course. But third tier pens can be beauties, too, and this one is a clear timepiece from a period when our country was in reset mode after the long world war and still celebrating war and its symbols.
The second is a Conway Stewart 15. As is my custom when I shop on eBay, which isn’t often these days, I go for the reputable brands that are poorly photographed, put in a low snipe bid, and either I win or I don’t. This one had no other bidder and a very low opening price; the shipping from Scotland to New York was more costly than the pen. 15’s are budget-level 1950’s pens, without cap bands, and usually made from casein, a milk byproduct used widely in England during the war and postwar shortage years. Casein pens are usually very shiny, and their patterns are often uncommonly beautiful. This example is a deep red with brown veining and marbling. What is curious, and why I’ll keep it, is that the barrel and cap have been ruined but retain their own beauty. At some point, the pen must have been soaked or exposed to bright sunlight or excess heat, all of which ruins casein (don’t forget, it is milk…). It is covered head to toe with thousands of barely visible cracks, which from even inches away give it a subtle bark-like, almost intentional, beautiful appearance. In contrast to the damage, the CS imprint is deep and complete and the gold clip and lever are shiny and tarnish free. As a whole pen, it carries its imperfection with dignity and its probably original gold nib writes a rich, soft, wet, medium line. I’ll keep this one, too, thank you. When my photography operation is up again, I’ll photograph both.
October 2015: Inky Reflection: New Friend In, Old Friend Out
During this past summer, our trip to the Netherlands included a stop at PW Akkerman in den Haag and a purchase of a bottle of Royal Akkermanblauw ink in their signature bottle. It’s a beautiful, full, true blue that flows wonderfully. Although time and use will tell if it displaces any of the Waterman’s, Aurora, and Diamine blues in my normal use, its first use was in my Delta Fusion, which loves wet ink. Does having multiple blue inks really make a difference? Away from its context, clearly not. However, the choice of one blue ink over another for a particular pen or use is as important to a fountain pen user as the choice of tie with a particular shirt or suit to one who takes pleasure in dressing well. It matters if it matters. And, as with the ties, inks exude mood and volume — they make their own noise and create their own vibrations. My Royal Akkermanblauw is, I sense, going to earn its way into the rotation.
Sadly, the other day I finished my bottle of 1940’s Parker Permanent Blue-Black Quink. It was a rich, midnight blue that flowed perfectly on any paper with my vintage Parkers and Sheaffers. Getting good vintage ink is always a risky venture, and I doubt I’ll find another like this…it will be missed.
September 2015: Thinning the Herd
I’ve also been spending some time going over my collection, and have decided to part ways with a few pens that just don’t work well for overhanded leftiness. This winnowing process has made me love my collection even more, because every pen there has been used in the past year and has, to quote a daughter talking about her clothes, given me joy. Don’t expect to see any of my Parkers, Sheaffers, Watermans, or English pens for sale anytime soon, though…in fact, the recent return of my carmine post-WWII Sheaffer Valiant Triumph vac-fill, sent away to have its plunger restored by Ron Zorn (nope, I don’t do those yet…) caused me to think seriously about whether my carmine pre-WWII Sheaffer Balance Triumph lever-filler still gives me joy…and yes, they’re both staying.
August 2015: Photographing the Collection
Photographing my collection for this website has been an eye-opening experience. Fountain pens are truly beautiful objects, each emblematic of its time and culture and exhibiting its own special beauty. Getting my photos to show the pens as they are has forced me to significantly expand my photographic skills — as a result, I’m now shooting in RAW, using a real lightbox, and processing in Lightroom. The changes have made a world of difference. The calculus of learning, of course, has shown me how much more I have to learn, so that pen photography has become an additional source of challenge and pleasure in this hobby of mine.
M’s pens restored very nicely…in fact, she discovered another Parker 51! This one is a Vacumatic filler, and its diaphragm had dissolved completely and hardened. After scraping out all of the detritus and screwing in the new filling unit, the main thread gave way. The filler is in there, but I don’t think that barrel will withstand frequent filling. I’m going to keep an eye out for a replacement dove grey barrel…
June 2015: Every Pen Tells a Story
Recently, during a trip to Chicago for a wedding, a friend left me with three pens to restore — not from a collection, but just three fountain pens that had found their way to her over the years. Yet again, I remembered why I always tell people to let me see their pens, because they are always interesting and reflective of the person. The three pens my friend brought are an interesting combination — a 1960’s Esterbrook Classic, a “no-name” pre-1920 hard rubber gold overlay eyedropper, and an attractive if dirty aerometric Parker 51 with a gold-filled cap.
The Esterbrook is a wonderful example of the output of a great company nearing the end of its very long line. During the 1960’s, Esterbrook brought out numerous new lines, including Classics, copies of the ubiquitous J but cheap polystyrene plastic and gold-colored metal trim having replaced the thick celluloid and stainless steel. Even so, the Esterbrook heritage is still apparent — strong lever filler, threaded interchangeable nib unit, and the streaked pattern are true Esterbrook. Since there’s nothing wrong with the pen that a good cleaning, polishing and sac replacement couldn’t cure, it restored easily. It is curious that this pen carries a much older 3014 Relief nib, which the owner believes came with the pen. One Esterbrook expert noted that “the nib was probably what the store had around…”
The eyedropper is handsome — black hard rubber under gold overlay, an eyedropper barrel tightly threaded over the gripping section. There are no markings on the pen; no hallmarks, no brand-name. The top of the barrel appears to be missing a flat crown piece, which might have carried a brand insignia or a carrying ring…but “might” is the best we’ll ever know, except that it probably was made between 1910 and 1920. The nib is by Paul W. Johnson, a known pen and nib maker in the early 1900’s. Johnson nibs are known to appear on many makers’ pens, however, so knowing the source of the nib does not further identify the pen. It was a fun, if uncomplicated restoration.
A Parker 51 always brings, to a restorer, the same thrill of watching elegance and timeless workmanship emerge from grunge. I’ve never worked on a tapped-out 51; every time they return to life, ready to go another half century. It is an honor to be the agent of its reappearance.