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.