Not Soaking Again!

I see that the hoary old nonsense about soaking pens has arisen again.  Yesterday, in two groups, there were separate soaking questions.  A quick look at my spreadsheet tells me I’ve repaired 278 pens this year and a couple of thousand in the preceding five years.  I didn’t soak any of them.

What is it that people expect from soaking pens in water, water and soap or water and ammonia?  What they are likely to get is a damaged pen.  Black hard rubber, casein and some celluloids react badly to soaking in water.  I’ve heard it said, as a sort of excuse, that it is only the black hard rubber pens that have been exposed to sunlight that will fade on immersion in water.  There is doubtless some truth in that, but considering the age of most black hard rubber pens, it’s a fair bet that most of them have been exposed to sunlight at one time or another.  So don’t plunge them in water, look for another way to do things.  First choice would obviously be a solution of unicorn’s tears and virgin’s blood but as neither of those substances are readily available – at least where I live – it’s probably better to try something else.

The something else that I use is heat.  It invariably works.  Admittedly, there is the risk you will melt your pen – that’s why we constantly tell novices to practice with worthless pens until they are experienced enough to tackle the good ones.  Judicious use of heat is no threat to your pen and works in two ways.  First it will loosen adhesives, whether they be of the intentional kind or the accidental sort, like an accretion of years of hardened ink.  Secondly they apply differential expansion, even where the two parts of the joint are made of the same material, because the outer one becomes hotter than the inner one and expands more.

This is fairly simple stuff and it should be evident that apart from the damage that might be done by using soaking in water to the materials the pen is made from, there’s also the problem of metal inside the pen.  Pens were designed to hold ink in a fairly restricted way so that it doesn’t do any damage while being available for writing.  By comparison it easy to fill the pen completely with water, in a way it was never intended to be.  However, it is rather harder to get it all out again.  There may be a fixed pressure bar in there.  There will often be a circlip to retain the lever in place.  There are the inner parts of the lever itself.  If the clip penetrates the cap it, and its retaining parts, will also be rusted.  It may take a few weeks or months before the consequences of your actions become evident, but they will, believe me!

Finally, while water is a wonderful substance which forms a large part of each one of us, and without which we could not live for more than a day or two, it isn’t penetrating oil so it doesn’t get into the joints where other substances cannot go.  It isn’t very good at dissolving accretions of ink and, indeed, it doesn’t do any of the other magical things that its proponents fondly imagine that it will.  There are places where water is helpful – in the squeezy bulb for getting water through the section, on a cotton bud to clean inside a cap and even inside your ultrasonic cleaner when you’re using that in the correct way, i.e. not sticking a cap and barrel in there.

“Soak” is a term for a sleazy old drunk.  Think of it in that way and you might be less inclined to expose your precious pens to it.

Sheaffer Gold-Filled Flat Top


This is a Sheaffer gold filled flat top.  Not particularly common, these pens are most often seen as smaller ring tops but this one is a full-sized pen, measuring 12.7 cm capped.  Unusually, the gold filling has survived the 90-odd years since the pen was made in very good condition, with no brassing.
I believe this pen to be one of the later ones, after 1923, as it has a Lifetime nib rather than a number three.  Otherwise, these pens remain pretty much the same from first to last.
I’ve always liked Sheaffer’s flat tops and I’ve had quite a few over the years but I didn’t expect that one like this would fall into my hands.  They are quite exceptional.


The Sales Website Is Down

I’m sorry to say that the sales site is not available at the moment.  We’ve been having some problems that centre around PayPal purchases.  Investigation showed that the problem purchases were those made with mobile phones and tablets.  It appears that PayPal uses a different checkout system for phones and tablets than it does for computers, and that system does not interface properly with my website or, indeed, a great many others.

PayPal, it must be said, has responded extremely well to the reporting of these failures and is actively pursuing a solution.  From what I’ve seen so far I think the problem will be solved quickly.  I’m not sure if the coding gurus work the weekend so that may delay things a little but I am hopeful that I can make the site available again very soon.  Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience.

Waterman/Alco Skywriter

Skywriters can be very confusing.  There are three separate generations of this pen which hardly resemble each other at all.
The first Skywriter was produced in the 1930s when Waterman took over Aiken Lambert and the pen appears under both Waterman and Alco names.  The next one has a metal cap and was made in the late 40s and early 50s.  The final Skywriter was very similar to the C/F and was launched in 1953.
These were all entry-level pens and the first two were high-quality and excellent value for money.  The third one, though not a bad pen, has not proved as durable as its predecessors, and I think it is awareness of this pen that brings the reputation of the earlier versions down in the estimation of collectors.
The first version, an example of which we are dealing with here today, is a beautiful pen in striking Du Pont Pyralin plastic.  The pattern is best explained as brown lines over brown and black marbling.  The pattern appears to change and shift as the pen is rotated.  It is known as Brown Pearl. The clip, which I believe is unique to this pen, is in an elegant At Deco style.  The section is visualated to enable the user to see much ink is left.  The nib in this version is a slightly stubbish medium with plenty of flexibility.
The barrel imprint tells us that this pen was made in Canada by the Alco division of Waterman, and in reality this pen is the last creation of the famous Aiken Lambert company.  It cost $1.50 when it was new, which is outstanding value for such a high quality pen.  This one retains all its gold plating in perfect condition nearly 80 years after it was made.  It is a pity that Waterman was unable to maintain this high quality in later years.


Montblanc 342

Do you remember when Montblanc sold pens rather than status symbols?  I don’t suppose you do unless you’re older than me and that’s seriously old!
I picked up this Montblanc 342 and I’m quite impressed with it.  The Internet tells me that it was made from 1954 to 1956 and it wasn’t one of the more expensive ones, which explains why it can be bought today for less than an arm and a leg.  Just an arm, really.
At first glance it’s just another German piston filler but, of course, it has the bird splat on top of the cap and “Montblanc 342″on the cap band.  I read that these pens often have quite worn gold plating on the clip but this one is okay and the plating is excellent on the cap band.
How does it feel and how does it write?  Like all sensible pens it weighs very little and though it isn’t a large pen, when capped it should be large enough for most people, I would think.  The nib is beautiful with long tines which encourages the hope that it might be flexible.  It has a little flexibility but the important thing is that it’s very soft.  The springy nib acts like a shock absorber.  This pen will be very comfortable to write with all day.
I don’t know if Montblanc were making pens from “precious resin” back in the early 50s, or were they just using plastic like the rest of us (you may find some sarcasm in there).  It takes a nice gloss anyway.
I’ve been put off modern Montblancs by the awful publicity that they issue and the fact that the good ones cost more than I would pay for a decent second-hand motorbike, but I would happily buy all of these older pens that I could lay my hands on.

My assistant reckons that’s enough for today.


A Mottled Hard Rubber Waterman 12

As you will have seen I’ve been looking at some modern pens recently, and very nice many of them are, but you can’t beat the old ones!
This is a Waterman 12 in mottled hard rubber.  They were made in this cone-cap version from 1900 to 1910 so it’s more than 100 years old.  Really, the only sign of its great age is that the barrel imprint is a bit worn.  It still has wonderful colour and a good shine.
I wonder if there is a good reason why we gave up the cone-cap in favour of other methods of attaching the cap.  Unlike the nearest modern equivalent, the clutch cap, it doesn’t wear out or need attention.  It just provides a good, firm fitting.
Being eyedroppers, these pens hold a lot of ink.  With a fine nib, like this one, it will last so long that when it comes time to fill it again you may have forgotten how to do so.  However, if you want to use the ink up a bit faster, just apply the flex!
It’s no accident that these pens have lasted so well for so long.  Manufacturing methods were exemplary and the best of materials were used.  These threads, cut over 100 years ago, must have been used thousands of times, and yet the pen is still perfectly ink-tight.
The nib, which is doubtless original, has superb flexibility.  The pen is a pleasure to write with.  Pens have come on a long way in the last hundred years but for the pure and minimalistic act of laying ink on paper this old pen has it all!  It pleases the eye as well, in its rich MHR.  Form meets function in a beautiful result!

New Uploads (A Short Poem)

Pens, pens, pens galore!

Waterman, Parker, Swan and More!

(Freshly uploaded to my website.)



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