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The sword’s not mighty as the pen
At least that’s what they say,
I think that’s true for cutting wit
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The Lamy Dialog 3


If the Pilot Capless (Vanishing Point) didn’t exist the Lamy Dialog 3 would be the wonder of our age.  It does, though, and comparisons between the two are inevitable and, to my mind, come out in favour of the Capless in almost every respect.

I bought the Lamy out of curiosity, because I wanted to compare it with the Capless which I have found to be almost indispensable.  It’s worth saying that it’s a fairly expensive way to satisfy one’s curiosity as the Dialog comes in at £159.68, on top of which I had to pay an import VAT duty of £25 and a clearance fee of £13.50.  In my book, that’s serious money!
Having got it, though, I’m not disappointed.  It’s a great pen.  I won’t go through the rigmarole of describing the packaging to you.  It’s nice packaging but you don’t write with it.  The pen is, I suppose, for want of a better term, minimalistic.  It’s a matte black cylinder with rounded ends. Parallel lines run from the clip to the base and there is the Lamy logo.  Twist the barrel and the shiny nib cover moves aside and the nib is displayed.  I must say I prefer the Capless’s one-handed clicking action to the twist action of the Lamy.  When you retract the nib, if you overshoot in the turn that you make you begin to unscrew the barrel, so it isn’t particularly positive.  I have been told, though I’ve yet to experience it myself, that if you leave it for a couple of days it will dry out.  That’s not true of the Capless.
Filling it is quite an inconvenient procedure.  First you unscrew the barrel, then you unscrew the entire converter and nib unit out of the pen.  Dip the nib in the ink and fill the piston style converter in the usual way.  That’s a less convenient method of filling than any other pen I can think of.
When it comes to writing, the Dialog’s nib is wonderfully smooth.  Mine is described as a medium but it seems more like a broad to me. The pen is very heavy – around 50 g – and the grip takes a little getting used to.  I don’t think I could write with this pen for a protracted period.  It’s just too heavy and awkward.  Having said that, the nib is so good that I would wish to try to persist.  It isn’t flexible but it’s springy which makes writing with it pleasurable.
Of course, the capless pen isn’t a new concept by any manner of means, and the twist action is probably the oldest way of achieving that.  It reminds me of the old safety pens – though only in its action!  In appearance it’s something quite new.  I had a look at some reviews before I wrote this, and most people seemed to like its appearance, some even going so far as to describe it as “very sexy”.  I wouldn’t want to associate myself with those remarks.  People live their lives in their own way and it’s none of my business what they do.  I’ve no wish to be prudish about this but I will restrict myself to saying that it’s a nice pen.  And leave it at that.

Joking aside this pen would be a market winner were it not for the fact that the niche it occupies is already claimed by the Pilot Capless.  The Capless is lighter, its action is one-handed and more convenient, it’s slightly easier to fill, it has a better grip and all in all, it is the better pen.  But I’m very impressed with this pen too.  Such faults as it has are very minor ones with the exception of the filling procedure.  For someone with bigger hands and no arthritis, this might be the pen of their dreams.

The Sales Site Will Be Available Again Shortly

I’m going to open the sales site again.  Unfortunately, as the problem has not been solved, it’s only really going to work properly with PCs and laptops, so far as PayPal payments are concerned.  There is a glitch at point of sale with mobile devices using PayPal – mobile phones, iPads etc.  What happens is that someone using a mobile device will find that their basket has not been cleared, giving the impression that the sale has not gone through.  It has, but lack of connecting code means that the basket never empties.  Furthermore, and worse, the item or items that have been bought are not removed from the site and still appear to be available for purchase by another buyer.  This has happened once or twice but luckily I’ve been there to manually take the item down before someone else gets disappointed.  However, I do have to sleep occasionally.

So the story is, so long as you use your PC or laptop the sale will be fine using PayPal or credit cards.  Mobile devices are fine using credit cards but not using PayPal.

I can only apologise for this.  I’m sorry for my customers who have been denied access to the site for a long time.  I’m sorry for myself, as my business has been frozen during this period.  I’m sorry also for my reputation which is inevitably damaged by a website that doesn’t work properly and that’s infuriating because I did everything right.  The people whose reputations should be damaged are osCommerce Solutions (who should be known as No osCommerce Solutions) and osCommerce, who haven’t bothered to get off their lazy backsides to solve this problem for my site and the great many other sites that are affected.

I’m still trying to work with these people to put this right, getting gradually less polite with every day that passes.

Blackbird Fountpen Eyedropper Filler From World War I


During the First World War Mabie Todd’s British manufacturing effort was turned over to munitions manufacture and the associated company in the USA provided stocks of Swan and Blackbird pens to supply the British market.  I say “associated” because during 1914 the USA still held the parent company but at the end of that year a new British company was established to take over all non-US operations.
The companies maintained links with each other and it is my assumption that these pens continued to be supplied throughout the war.  In any case, it makes them rather easy to date: they are either 100 years old or just a little less.  This particular example could have been made yesterday.  The black hard rubber is as dark and shiny as the day it was made.  The chasing is crisp and the pen is remarkably free of the scratches that accrue over such a long time.
It’s a nice example of allied cooperation, and the words “made in USA during war” make the pen a little special, particularly from the point of view of a collector.  Otherwise, it’s as simple and straightforward as a pen can be.  It’s not quite two straight tubes; the barrel is slightly tapered at both ends.  The section has impressively deeply cut threads which keep the ink were it’s meant to be – inside the barrel.
The nib is fine and a little pressure will invoke noticeable line variation.  I find, when I use a pen like this, that I wonder if all the “progress” in the last hundred years is just superfluous.  What more do you need than a pen that writes as well as this one does and holds as much ink as this one does?


Altura 752


Here’s a pen I haven’t written about before: the Altura.  Despite this slightly foreign-sounding name, it’s a British company, one of the oldest ones and one that produced a great many pens.  So why haven’t you heard of it?

The Altura Pen and Pencil Company Ltd was established soon after the First World War and though it usually had a pen or two for sale under its own name, most of its production was for other manufacturers and own-brand wholesalers.  You may well have handled and used an Altura pen without realising it.  Certainly, if you have written with 1930s English-made Waterman pens, you’ve written with an Altura-made pen.  Though they remained independent during world War two they were coming ever closer in a relationship with Waterman, and in 1946 Waterman acquired Altura.  For a couple of years they continued to make a few of their own pens but after 1948 they were heard of no more.
This black hard rubber example is the Altura 752, probably dating from the 1930s but possibly earlier.  The most obvious thing about it is the mid-cap clip, something that had a spell of fashionability in De La Rue in the 1920s.  The pen measures 12.8 cm when capped but becomes a long 16.2 cm when posted.  The nib is warranted.  There is a tiny “RG” at the top of the clip.  I don’t know what that stands for.  On the barrel, very discreetly, is a tiny “Altura 752″.  Much more prominent is “Dinsdale’s Ltd.,  Leeds 1″ which probably refers to Dinsdale’s the stationer and art supplier, though it’s hard to be certain as there are many businesses in Leeds of that name.
Many of the unbranded pens from the pre-war period that we see were probably made by Altura, though it is impossible to say which ones as, like most pen manufacturers, they could turn out a pen in any style.  Certainly, they made pencils for De La Rue and they may have made at least some versions of the De La Rue pen.  Their own pens, though not outstanding, are decent writing instruments, not without a style of their own.  It is a pity that the company not only disappeared in 1948, but has since sunk into such obscurity that its name is no longer known by most pen fanciers.

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.



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