Wednesday, 18 November 2015

My Lady Frankenpen

A set of pens that intrigue me, and of which I have a small but growing collection, is the Waterman 'Lady' series. These sweet little handbag pens are all based on the same model, a tubular body - if you shrank a Laureate and took the clip off, you'd be most of the way there - but with different materials and finishes.

Two of these pens particularly delight me because Waterman under its visionary CEO Francine Gomez took the unusual step of making them from vintage galalith. The Lady Agathe is the upmarket one, and came in its own little tubular carrying case made of the same material as the pen, with a gold nib; the Lady Elsa is a little less splendid, and came in a leather pouch, with a gold plated steel nib.

Then there's the Lady Alice, in gold or silver plate; the Lady Charlotte, in lacquer finish (some in a delightful eggshell crazed pattern); the Lady Patricia, a metal pen with a carved chequerboard finish; and the Lady Anastasia, which has a printed little baroque cartouche reminiscent of St Petersburg's golden age on the cap (there's also the 'Reve Latin' version which has a more southern influence).

The Anastasia is very recognisable, so when I saw a royal blue cap in a box of junk at a car boot I was quite excited. The excitement didn't last - the cap was all there was left of the pen, with a section firmly gummed into the cap so I couldn't see whether it had a nib or not. Still, the price demanded (20 euro cents) seemed more than fair, so off I went.
Baroque beauty
Now, one of the great things about modern Watermans is that many of the components are interchangeable. Nibs often fit more than one pen, so I thought I had a reasonable chance of finding a barrel that would fit, either in my parts box or as a temporary fix borrowing from another pen.

I've picked up quite a few modern Watermans at sales, and I had a Laureate rollerball in gunmetal that has a slimmer body than the fountain pens in that range. I tried it. Hurrah! It worked! At least that sorted out the issue of how to get the section out of the cap, and showed that the pen had a gold plated steel nib, in perfect condition, and (if you look closely you can see it) with a heart-shaped breather hole. I rather like that - at the same time complementing the feminine nature of the pen, and providing a reference back to Waterman's early history.

The resulting pen is ugly - the colour clashes and the barrel is way too long for the pen - but I can use it, and the nib is a good little writer, like most Watermans of this era.
Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. But it works.

Flushed with my success, I now have another victim on my operating table: a Lady Patricia, bought without a nib, which is going to get a transplant from an Executive.

Friday, 13 November 2015

An Indian 'Duofold'

The golden age of the Indian fountain pen may just be beginning.

Four or five years ago, when I first got seriously interested in Indian pens, they were very much a minority interest. Chinese pens had a huge following, while Indian pens had very few lovers (or so it seemed). And the Indian pen industry was gradually being whittled away as manufacturers and retailers gave up on fountain pens in the age of the cheap ballpoint.

Now things are changing. A new generation of Indian fountain pen lovers has arrived, and with them new manufacturers - Fosfor and ASA Pens - together with a basic structure of e-commerce to support some of the smaller manufacturers. Ranga Pens is exporting, with Peyton Pens selling their products into the US, and there's a thriving Indian pen forum on Fountain Pen Network, through which I've been able to participate in three Group Buys (thanks to Vaibhav Mehandiratta and jjlax10.

The joy of ebonite! The tiger and the fire
These two beauties arrived through one of the group buys - Ranga Model 3s. One is in brown and black ripple, a fairly conservative, though striking, combo, but the other is outrageous in premium orange ebonite. The colour in real life is a little more muted, towards terracotta rather than fluorescent orange, but it's still a pen that draws attention.

They're big pens - 148mm long, and girthy with it - but relatively light in the hand, as the only metal used on them is the nib and clip. Because there's no metal in the section, they're usable as eyedroppers, though I decided to get the version with converter at a slight premium to the pure ED model.

Despite their size, though, they are elegant pens, with a long, cylindrical cap and then a gentle swell in the barrel till it starts to taper away again towards the end. I particularly like the curved lip at the end of the cap, and the fact that there's no step between the barrel and the section. The clip is quite modern, simple, and elegant, and feels pretty rigid (all my pens are desk pens and never go in a pocket). If I have one quibble, it's that I find the lip at the end of the section just a tad too prominent and occasionally annoying if my fingers slip on to it.

The finish is very good. The pens are buffed to a nice polish, and the details are well turned. Lovers of the snap-on cap, though, should note that it takes a good few turns to twist the cap on and off, and the barrel to section threads are much deeper than on most C/C pens. These are pens for sitting at your desk and writing at some length; they're not for jotting down notes "as and when" .

I chose broad nibs with both pens, and eventually I'll probably have a go at grinding them to cursive italic. To my great delight they both wrote straight away - ten out of ten for "out of the box" performance, on which much more expensive pens often score poorly. The nibs are Jowo. (Better nib choice is one of the things that's changed in the Indian pen industry, which for a long time offered a choice of scratchy steel nibs or scratchy gold-plated steel nibs.)

I've christened the orange one 'Big Red' already. And I do have an original Parker Big Red - but this one's bigger if not redder! These may not be duofolds, but they are real classics - and you can get five or six of them for the price of a modern Parker Duofold.
Two Parkers and a Ranga. The little Parker is a mess, but I love it.

Parker and Ranga nibs and sections. Parker is much more gently flared and a lot shorter