Thursday, 31 October 2019

Resacking and other repairs, and a lovely little Swan

I've finally managed to make some time for pen repairs, and I've been busy pulling pens apart, and in some cases, getting them back together again.

The job is complicated by the fact that so often, you think "easy, that pen looked fine, I'll just resack it" - only to find that it's missing a j-bar, missing a nib, got a crack in the barrel, a cracked nib, the lever has come adrift from its bar or c-clip, or there's some other little fault that means you'll have to put in some time on the lathe, order more components, cannibalise another pen...

So I now use the pulling-apart stage as a form of triage. I have boxes marked

"need nibs"



"need sections". They are filling up much too quickly for my liking.

And then I have the box marked "ready to sack". It's rewarding when more than half of the pens go into that box!

Then there are also the pens that go back into the box because they still won't come apart. I have a couple of gorgeous Parker Modernes that simply will not separate. I just give them a go every time I'm working. One day I will, I'm sure, feel that little sideslip that means they're ready to give...

This is the nice thing about restoring only your own pens. You can leave them as long as it takes. I'm really glad I don't work on other peoples' pens; I can run a batch processing system like this, and no one is going to ask me why, for instance, I haven't done their piston filler, because this is lever fill month...

Batch processing means those pens needing new sections or end tassies or blind caps will all be put away till I get the mini lathe out, and then they'll all be done at once. All the safety pens will be done at once.

It's also useful because it means I never work on a pen that's above my current level of skill. The Vacumatics can wait! By working on the easy stuff first, I've got reasonably good at taking pens apart, I've got good at resacking (only one disaster, an Edacoto where I managed to shellac the channel in the feed closed, and had to knock out the feed and nib to solve the problem), and I have got started on a few pens that needed their nibs knocked out, straightened and reinserted. (The reinsertion is the hard bit.)

Anyway, I did get a few pens all the way through the process, and I've been using one today. It's a sweet little Swan, just 12cm long, with a nice flexy nib. I think I've underestimated Swans in the past - this is a delight of a pen, in 'snakeskin' effect spiral wrapped celluloid. I did a little extra work filling in the swan engraving on the black cap top with gold pencil (yes, it probably should really be white, but I'm keeping this pen for myself, so never mind authenticity) and cleaning up the rather inky threads.

I was about to see if I could remove the scratches on the section when I realised: those aren't scratches! "SWAN" is actually engraved across the section (with the double quotation marks), just in case you had missed the swan on the cap top and the three-line barrel imprint, again with the little figure of the swan. Branding gone mad.

Apologies for the rather poor photo - my compact camera is out of action so I had to resort to the Nexus 7.
I've been trying to improve my handwriting with this nice flex nib. I think my pen restoration skills are some way ahead of my copperplate.

Friday, 15 June 2018

New Chinese pens - rekindling an old flame?

It's been a long time since I ordered a Chinese pen.

I started out with a bunch of Chinese pens - Jinhaos and Picassos. They were fun fodder for nib grinding, and they didn't cost much, but I soon found myself tiring of them. Quite literally in some cases because of the very heavy, brass-based build.

But the Chinese pen industry has been changing and a recent post on FrankUnderwater's blog got me interested again. Two wooden pens - the Moonman M5 and the Delike Redwood - made me break into the Paypal account for the first time in a while.

I don't know what they'll feel like when they arrive. They might not feel as good in the hand as they look on the screen. The nibs might not be great (I ordered a 0.6mm and an EF fude). But they do look rather stylish. They don't seem to be outright copies of another pen manufacturer's work (there's a Faber-Castell Ondoro clone out there, but then I have the Ondoro in bog oak and orange, so I don't need a clone) and they're wood, which is a material I love.

Probably neither of them is going to replace the Waterman Man 100 briar in my heart (particularly since neither of them comes with a Waterman Ideal 18 carat nib), but I'm looking forward to a pair of parcels arriving... and of course I'll write the pens up once they arrive.

(I've also been interested by the PenBBS pens I've seen featured; there are some really quite amazing acrylics available. But then Bexley and Edison feed that lust quite nicely, and if I really want to go premium acrylic it'll be a Kanilea or Carolina Pen Company, probably, or maybe a Fred Faggionato...)

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

A ***B-I-G*** bottle of ink!

The problem with loving fountain pens is that you not only end up collecting pens - you end up collecting ink. It starts with your noticing that the local stationery store has an alternative to Parker blue-black. You can buy Waterman blue or turquoise. Then you get into purple. Then you get on the internet and you find out about Diamine, Iroshizuku, Sailor Jentle... and even vintage inks.

Then one day you're looking for fountain pens at a car boot sale and this catches your eye.

Oh. My. Goodness.

An absolutely monster bottle of Waterman ink. About half of it has been used - but there's still loads sloshing around there. And it comes with the funnel that you can screw on to the top of the bottle when you want to fill inkwells, or smaller ink bottles.

I absolutely love the form of the bottle - like a well muscled wrestler, with its broad shoulders and its ribbed waist. The packaging is rather wonderful, too, and I particularly like the typographical contrast between the solid modern style letters of 'Waterman' and the delightful handwritten effect of 'Bleu-Noir' (blue-black).

Dating pens I can do. Dating inks... is difficult. But I managed to find one site that suggests this is a 1940s logo.

Best thing of all? This bottle cost me slightly less than the local maison de la presse has 5cl bottles of modern Waterman ink selling for!

Monday, 1 January 2018

My top pens of 2017

I have had a little luck finding pens in the wild this year, as well as having spent a bit of money on new pens. Some real love affairs happened.

I should make it clear that these are not my all-time best pen selections: they're the pens which entered my collection this year and that I've really loved. Added to which I should give honorary mention to two Bexleys (Poseidon Magnum and 20th Anniversary 'lemon') and two Pelikans (m200 blue marbled with an m400 gold nib, and 950 Toledo) which have delivered real enjoyment over the year.

Pelikan Brown Tortoise m400 with broad italic nib

Because tortoise. Slightly more orangey and less varied than my vintage 400s, but still the most amazing colours; twirl the pen in your fingers and watch the highlights shimmer.

And because that nib is so juicy. I love a good stub or italic, and this nib is delightful - bouncy, wet, fat, and still gives good line variation, though it's not quite crisp enough for calligraphy. Thank you very much, Pelikan, for giving us the chance to buy a nib that's not F, M or B, and please do it again on other pens!

Pilot Custom Heritage 92 demonstrator

My first upscale Pilot, with an FM nib. In some ways this is quite a clunky looking pen, with two steps down to the piston turning knob, and a very visible inner cap. But I've grown to love it, particularly filled up with a nice wet ink. The piston works wonderfully smoothly, and the nib is juicy, and the clear plastic has the sparkle and brightness of diamonds, and it's just the most comfortable pen ever to write with. For a couple of weeks I've had it paired with another of my favourite Japanese pens, the Platinum 3776 Sai, giving me a double dose of beautiful transparency.

Aurora desk pens
Two generations of writing implements

An unexpected entry for an unexpected find - four desk pens, probably an accounting set (the inlay rings in red and blue show the colour of ink so you could have pens ready for doing double entry bookkeeping), found in an old watermill turned antique shop in the Eure valley. Beautiful matt ebonite, the 'Aurora' badge impressed on each section, fantastic nibs (though one, sadly, is broken, and it won't even work as a stub). The flared edge on the section is beautifully sharp. I really love the desk pen shape - Lamy Joy and Rotring Artpen are two of my favourites - and these little pens have delighted me.

Edacoto and unidentified red mottled hard rubber pens - French 1930s

I found the  'Mory et Cie' pen at a vide-grenier, and couldn't resist the character of the imprint, which I found out later belonged to a French shipping company. Late in the year I saw the gorgeous Edacoto at Vanves flea market, and negotiated a good discount as it was getting towards lunchtime (it's strictly a mornings-only market).

There should be a photo to come when I can actually find the Mory pen!

Since I've been living in France I have found that the Brits and Americans never really understood what red hard rubber can do. The French have wonderfully extrovert ways with this material - there are tiger stripes, Rorschach blots, vivid stormscapes, as well as ripple and bark effects.

And they do it in celluloid too! This Stylomine (fourth from top), also found at a vide-grenier, would make it into my top pens of the year... if only it had a section. I have some work on my Unimat lathe to do.
Not a bad haul for a handful of euros

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The modern Tortoise

I have really fallen in love with my M400 special edition brown tortoise. I find with my relatively small hands the 400 is a good size for me, though I marginally prefer the M600 - but this special edition had two things going for it.
  1. it's in brown tortoise, one of Pelikan's best known and (for me, anyway) most beautiful materials, and 
  2. it came with a broad italic nib.

Pelikan cut out a lot of its special nibs a few years back. No more BBs, no more OBBs or italics. Which is a real pity, and I suspect it may prove to be counterproductive, since the fountain pen fancy is becoming more and more focused on speciality nibs. (If Pelikan considered trying to make a modern flex nib, the massed hordes of Fountain Pen Network would beat a path to its door. And obviously, judging by the fact that Jowo is now making stock flex nibs for Edison, there's enough of a market to pin a business plan on.

But just for this one pen, Pelikan announced a broad italic option.

It's marvellous. The photo really doesn't do it justice. It writes super wet (making this quite an expensive pen to keep supplied with Iroshizuku ink: five pages and you're dunking it back in the bottle for a refill) and really broad, and has good line variation - though it's not a calligraphic italic, it's a cursive, and I find it can keep up with my need to take notes of phone interviews with no problems. Smooth, a little bit bouncy, and ... it squeaks. Now that is weird. But apart from the squeaking, it's rapidly become one of my favourite nibs.

I don't know how I'm going to explain this to my Rotring Artpens....

As for the tortoise; it's not perhaps my favourite tortoise in the entire Pelikan family. It's a trifle orangey rather than the deep browns or honey colours of vintage pens. But what I do love about it is the variance in the stripes - it's not a regular pinstripe, and the colours are not solid, but shot through with flakes and streaks of lighter and darker shades. No, you wouldn't mistake it for real tortoiseshell, but there is something about it that feels organic, and that has the gentle undulation of a natural form, like the wrinkles the sand makes when the tide goes out, or the gentle curves of a willow branch.

A note on Special editions

I rather like special editions. They're rather different from limited editions, which often strike me as rather self-indulgent and overpriced.

The idea of a special edition seems to be; we'll produce this pen for a certain period, and however many we can sell, we'll sell. And then we'll stop. And while the limited editions are often art works, such as raden or maki-e pens, the special editions are generally just a slightly different take on the regular serie and sell at a fairly slight premium to the regular pens.

However.... get 'em while they're there. Once they go off the market, prices can rise significantly - if what's happened to the m600 Pink is anything to go by. (I'm glad I got mine when I did.)

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Old dogs, new tricks

Leigh Reyes has a wonderful post on old nibs in new fountain pens. Of course we often call these little babies 'Frankenpens', and they'll never be collector pens - collectors want the original setup. But like Leigh, I prefer to see a good old pen salvaged.

And there's nothing new about nib-swapsies. Plenty of Gold Starrys, Onotos, Edacotos, Conway Stewarts turn up with anonymous 'warranted' nibs that must have been swapped over at some point, perhaps when the pen hit the floor nib-down or little Johnny decided to try to use the pen as an arrow in a Cowboys-and-Indians game.

Pens that don't get their nibs swapped? Parker 51s, because it's too darn difficult to get them apart. Parker 65s and 75s, because no other nibs will fit. But I've seen older Duofolds with all kinds of nibs, so it's clearly not associated with the brand - it's purely and simply about the ease with which the nibs can be exchanged.

I always head for the junker trays at pen shows. I've managed to save some very distressed individuals indeed - and where pens really can't be saved, you can still find a great nib to transfer to another pen.

Meanwhile, Leigh's pictures are just gorgeous - marvellous nibs! beautiful pens! and a bit of good advice on the practicalities of swapping nibs.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Big game Safari - hunting pens in the wild, so far this year

Last year wasn't a great hunting year. I didn't find much, and some of the usual waterholes seemed to have dried up.

This year started with a bang. The first sale I went to, one exhibitor had a couple of nice Rotring pens on his stand. And while I was paying for them, I saw a couple of Parker boxes... and I left with one of the best hauls I've had in ages, and for not a whole lot of money.
A nice haul
So here we have; a lot of nice Rotrings - piston filling. Neatly, the piston mechanism is made in red plastic to form the red ring ('rot ring' in German), and I particularly like the way the pens have the size in white letters around the barrel, as well as on the cap, so that however you keep your pens you can quickly see which one is which. These pens tick all the boxes for me that the Lamy 2000 does - they're functional, they're beautifully designed to be functional, there are no bells and whistles, every bit of the design does its job and does it well. And as a bonus, if you don't like the stylographic nib, you can replace it with an Esterbrook Reform nib and feed (I've done that on two of mine).

Then on the left, from the top: a mismatched Waterman glass cartridge pen, gold nib; not sure what the next one is; Waterman Laureat; Waterman gold nib pen in thuya lacquer; Parker mixy (I think these were only ever made in France), Waterman hemisphere; Parker 35 (I think -  very similar to the 75) in thuya lacquer, and a little mechanical pencil in celluloid.

Even better, I now have a friend - last time I bumped into the seller, he actually gave me something I'd been looking at and refused to let me pay for it!

That weekend left me feeling this could be my year... I was quickly disappointed. The next two months had other rewards but in terms of fountain pens, just a couple of common Waterman Kulturs and one nice but anonymous red mottled hard rubber pen. Where is that Waterman Man Patrician I'm looking for? Where is the Waterman 20? What about the tarnished Aztec in a tray of Jotters? Why are the miracles not happening?

Okay... Saturday, I had a rehearsal for a concert I'm playing next week. Drove there, and decided we'd take the scenic route home, along the river valley, through little villages and woods, instead of along the main route through the wheat fields. It was cooler, if slower. There are some water mills along the route - one still working, one derelict (I keep dreaming about buying it), and one that has been turned into an antique centre, so of course I had to stop.

Nothing in the glass cases. I was about to give up when my eye fell on a pen stand with four dip pens on it.

On my safaris I see lots of rubbishy dip pens - cheap plastic ballpoints. So I prepared to be disappointed. But these weren't ballpoints. They had nibs. On closer inspection, they also had the 'Aurora' stamp in its little shield. Picked up - gosh. They're ebonite - at least, the sections are, I'm pretty sure. Into the bag they went at ten euros each, which for four pens, three gold nibs and one broken nib, ain't at all bad.

Four lovely Auroras. Globus nibs. And one of them is also a Rotring... at least in spirit

And then yesterday, we went off to a number of sales, and suddenly Lady Fountain-Pen Luck was with me. It started with a blue Waterman Kultur, a nice pen - one of my favourite models, though this is a common one. Still at fifty cents, I'm happy! Then a nice purple moire Reynolds box, though the pen inside it wasn't the one that came with it - an 'AA' cart filler. Came with a free bottle of Waterman Blue ink as a present.

The next to appear was a Reform. At first, I thought it was a Creeks - rather cheap French pens that crop up fairly regularly. But the clip is different, and it's quite a nice little pen, from a German brand that I have some respect for - the Reform 1745 was the first piston filler I ever owned. It's in a swirly green plastic - I thought it might be printed, but when I opened it up, I can see the pattern runs all the way through.

Oh look! a big bucket of pens! They're almost all sure to be felt pens or ballpoints, but ... a good handful of Pilot V-Pens at ten cents each? How could I resist!

Wallet empty. Heart full. Yesterday's haul
So far, cheap but interesting pens. Next came a little oddity; a lovely dip pen stand with a gorgeous crystal ink well. Green marble, bronze, and crystal - and in the shape of a heart. Just gorgeous. I don't really collect pen stands but I had to have this one.

And then a stand that had ink. A huge bottle of Waterman Red which I decided I didn't really need and rather wish I had bought. A packet of Waterman glass carts which will come in useful, though the ink in them has gone to powder. (Maybe I can revive it with water.) And a lot of dip pens... but no fountain pens at all. What a pity.

Oh look. There's a little pen case on the same table. I don't suppose there's anything in it. Oh, there is. Probably rubbish pens - Marksman, Daniel Hechter, ballpoints. Let's take a .... oh. Parkers. Lacquer. Okay, let's ask... how much? well, that's a bargain, let's snap it up!

Turns out to be Parker 75s, fine nib fountain pen and matching mechanical pencils. That's a great set for me, as I don't really use ballpoints at all but I do use pencils. Absolutely stunning condition - the pen's a bit dirty but just needs a flush, and the pencil has lead in it still.

Two stands on, I see what I think is a Parker 45 and it turns out to be a second generation Pelikano. Metal cap with a 'Pelikan beak' clip, dark blue ink window, nice.

The day would have a couple of surprises still in store. We went to one last sale which for the past couple of years has had marvellous things in store. This time; nothing at all, except a Waterman Gentleman cigar box, which unfortunately I forgot to photograph (and was too expensive). Inside, a cartoon of two gents in their riding coats, one with his pen and the other with his cigar. I must definitely look up this byway of Waterman history!

Disheartened, I knew it was time to head home. Some of the stallholders were packing up. But there's a little antique shop near where we parked, and it was still open. No pens, but there was a nice lacquer pen box... of course, as a great game hunter, I know that you have to look inside.

And there was my last pen of the day, one of my favourites - a Bayard Excelsior in marbled celluloid. That's the bottom one on the left in the picture, with the characteristic chevrons on the clip and lever. It's just gone to the top of my repair queue.

Okay, I still haven't found the red Man Patrician. But I really have got a lovely little haul and had some fun along the way.