Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Pen boxes - first in a series

Hang around fountain pen collectors, users, geeks and fanciers for a while and you'll hear one repeated complaint: not enough storage!

Fountain pens can be tricky to store. Sooner or later, the mug of writing implements on the desk is no longer enough.

There are different answers. Some people keep their pens in leather holders or in pen wraps. Some people have wonderful purpose-designed cabinets. (That costs a bomb, of course.) Other people have cigar boxes or briefcases full of pens.

I've got a number of rather nice boxes.
Glass topped tea box

All my boxes have come from car boot sales or vide-greniers. Most of them cost a quid (or a euro), and a few cost a bit more. I think my most expensive was a limited edition 'cigar and armagnac cellar' for ten euros. Various kinds of boxes I've found include:
  • artists' paint boxes, often covered in old oil paint and with plentry of bangs and knocks, but rather well built, which will hold a single tray of 15 or so pens.
  • tea boxes from Lipton's or (the best) Dammann, good solid wood boxes. They have a frame in for holding the tea bags, but that's quite easy to take out, and a good source of shim for other woodworking projects. They're deep enough to make a second tray to slot into them.
  • little wooden 'briefcases' for sets of crayons and pastels and felt tips. These are lovely, and quite cheap, and include a black plastic insert which can easily be taken out. (Best bargain, 24 good quality crayons, a decent bunch of pastels and the box, all for one euro!) Some of them are deep enough to allow two loads of pens to be stored.
  • Cake boxes! Plenty of German companies make very rich cakes which are sold in big wood boxes. They're quite thin wood, and not painted or varnished, but they are very robust.
  • Cigar humidors. These usually cost a bit more but are worth it for their much better brasswork (fantastic hinges!) and attractive veneer.
  • Cutlery boxes. Unfortunately (for me) most of them that I see at sales still have their regular complement of cutlery in. But some don't, and if they are reasonably priced they can make really lovely pen drawers
  • Rather sweet tourist boxes from Morocco and the Near East, in thuya wood, or with lovely inlay work. Most of these are too small for pens - but sometimes I strike lucky.
I've tried various ways of turning them into fountain pen storage. Partly that depends on the box; the deeper 'briefcase' boxes can accommodate two layers of pens with elastic holding them in; other boxes may want a tray, still other boxes are so flash (a couple of the Dammann tea boxes) that I've trimmed them up as cases to show off my very best pens (all my Merlins, all my Kaweco Sport Arts, and my Edison and Bexley pens, have a box each).
The same box, open, with its tray
I've tried various ways of supporting the pens. For cheaper pens, folding cardboard into accordion pleats works well and is cheap and easy to do. I've tried various ways of making wooden pen supports, and finally come down in favour of using a surform to create rounded hollows in a piece of pine. I sand down to 600 grit and then oil the wood lightly, or paint or stain it. It works, but it's labour intensive and I'm looking for better ways to do it...

I don't pretend to have all the answers. I'm learning as I go along. The more you do, the more you learn, so to any fountain pen collector wanting to turn old boxes into storage, I have one thing to say: get started now. (Actually, two things to say: get started now. Then make another one.)

Now you have some ideas for where to get boxes... I'll be showing how I converted mine, next post.

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