Ink Disaster!

I hate to get ink on my hands. It’s not ladylike and I sometimes pretend to be a lady rather than just a pen restorer! I wear gloves to repair pens and even to fill them because ink is a pernicious fluid and loves to get where it shouldn’t.

Yesterday I selected a German piston filler that I haven’t used for a while. It has a lovely Merz & Krell nib, fine and with a touch of flexibility and I was looking forward to using it. I filled it with Diamine Grape and wrote a few practice lines. It was every bit as pleasing as I remembered. I capped it and set it aside for a while. I came back later and opened it to take some notes. The nib was completely covered in ink. I wondered what was going on and wiped the ink off. The pen continued to write well. Again I set it aside until I needed to take notes again. The nib was covered in ink once more. I held the cap in my left hand while I examined the nib. I felt something wet! The cap was full of ink and it was escaping onto my hand. My palm and fingers were purple.

That Diamine Grape is pretty resistant to soap and water. Indeed they seem to make no difference to the purple staining my hand. I tried a nail brush. That didn’t help much either. Was I to have to go around with a purple hand forever? Would I have to wear one glove (like Michael Jackson) to conceal it, or keep my hand in my pocket?

Thankfully, between dishwashing and showering, the purple has paled somewhat. It might not be entirely permanent and perhaps I will be rid of it by July or August! By the way, the pen is not deficient. I had forgotten the most basic role of inking a piston filler. Fill it, then pour out a drop or two. That’s all I had needed to do to save myself from the shame of the ink-stained hand.

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Jinhao 992 (Reprise)

I think I mentioned the Jinhao 992 some time ago when I bought a packet of five of them.  They worked out about £1.50 each, perhaps the cheapest pens of all.  I decided to use them for the inks I didn’t want to put in a more expensive pen.  The first one was filled with red ink which famously stains pens.  I don’t use red ink a lot but I’ve used up that first fill.

Another one was filled with Baystate Blue.  It has been used a lot and has been refilled several times.  I think I still have a couple of these pens unused in my desk drawer.

I’ve always taken an interest in Chinese pens.  I think it’s fair to say that the interest was not well rewarded in the early days, ten to fifteen years ago.  The pens cost very little but were still a bad deal because most of them didn’t work well at all, or fell apart within a few weeks.  That began to change a few years ago and I have some good Chinese pens, though as long as they were made out of brass tubing they were a bit too heavy for me.

The 992, however, is the first Chinese pen I’ve had that can actually challenge much more expensive Japanese and European pens.  It wrote, and wrote beautifully from the first fill without any flushing.  It weighs nothing which suits me very well.  The nib is very good – perhaps a little on the bland side, like a Pelikan, if that’s a fair criticism.  I’ve never been especially fond of ‘demonstrator’ pens – they’re lacking in aesthetic quality and all look pretty much the same but I’m forced to admit it’s useful to see how much ink is left in the converter.

The shape is pretty much a small cigar, quite similar to various models made by Pilot, Platinum and Sailor.  The white metal clip is unremarkable and it seems likely that it would do its job perfectly well.  I don’t clip pens to my clothes so I can’t speak from experience.  The broad cap ring covering the lip of the cap is what you see on many pens at the moment.

Several reviewers have commented on the little blob at the end of the barrel.  To be sure, they could have made a smoother outline but it’s hardly a big deal!

The most serious criticism people have made is that cracks appear in the barrel end.  I haven’t seen this in either of the 992s I use.  I don’t know how serious this cracking is – whether it leads to the ultimate disintegration of the pen.  On the other hand I don’t know what other people are doing with those pens.  I’ve been carrying mine in my pen case several times a week but I haven’t dropped either of them.  They seem quite robust to me and the fit and finish is adequate.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, and I have found these pens to be absolutely faultless, something I can’t always say about pens costing 100 times as much and more.  Neither pen has ever failed to start instantly and neither has ever skipped.  How many pens can you say that about?  In terms of durability, time will obviously tell but at the price they are currently offered, I wouldn’t mind having to replace one every few years!

Ruminations

If I had my way I would only deal in British pens made before World War II. Perhaps the odd American or German pen but predominantly British. It can’t be done now but ten years ago I could have worked that way. How many prewar Swans do you see these days, waiting to be snapped up at a good price? Not many. I can’t remember when I last saw one of those wonderful lapis lazuli copies of Duofolds that Macniven & Cameron made – or had made. Decorated overlay pens in the Art Nouveau or Art Deco styles no longer appear where I buy. Even imported pens like the great unfaded jade Parkers of yesteryear are pretty well gone too.

That’s not to say that there aren’t good things still to find for a buyer with a good eye but I wouldn’t be able to make a living trading only in the pens I would like to buy. Those days ended around 2010, in my estimation.

It isn’t all bad, of course. Those pens that I most wish to trade in are the ones I most want to keep. Parting with a good Waterman 52 ripple gives me pain. Even thinking back to some of the pens I sold years ago gives rise to a twinge. So when I look through my sources of unrestored pens and see ones that I know my customers will want but that do not especially appeal to me, I know I can look forward to a pain-free life.

Every now and then, when the lid will no longer fit on the box where I keep those pens that are “my own”, I know I have to make hard decisions. I must go through the box mercilessly. Those pens that I have already spent much time with, those pens that have less than a vice-grip on my heart – it’s time for them to go. That hurts too but behind every cloud there’s a silver lining. There’s room in my box for new residents!

The Nova Pen

Every country has its mystery pens, the ones no one seems to know anything about. Britain has a few but the one buried deepest in mystery, to my mind, is the Nova. Try searching it in Google and once you’ve eliminated all the other pens that have “Nova” in their title you’re left with – nothing! People in the various pen discussion boards have asked about the Nova but no one seems to know anything about the company which made the pens, where they were based, who were their directors, or which years they were in business. And I’m no different. I don’t know anything about the Nova.

I’m aware of two models, this traditional open-nib model and another, perhaps later, with a long section and nib that appears semi-hooded. These are all the Nova pens I know about. I have no way of telling when they were made though my guess would be that they’re post-war. I have a vague memory that I’ve seen a larger version of this open-nib pen so perhaps there is a third model. Also, I believe that some pens have steel nibs whereas this one has a very nice warranted 14 carat gold one. It may not be original, of course.

This is quite a small pen at 123 mm capped. The gold plating has lasted well throughout. Cap and barrel are slightly tapered. Unusually, the clip screw is in the same rose/black patterned material as the cap and barrel. The stepped clip curls at the end. The black section is gently tapered with a “stop” to prevent fingers slipping onto the nib. The feed is simple and quite old-fashioned.

The later pen measures 125 mm capped and is not all that dissimilar apart from the long section and the partially covered traditional nib. It has a more modern comb feed. The nib is gold plated and writes very smoothly. Unfortunately it is in less good condition with considerable plating loss to the clip and cap band. The yellow box reminds us that the “Nova” pen will ‘suit all hands’ and is ‘for satin smooth style’.

So that’s the Nova – just about all I know about it. As there doesn’t seem to be any earlier or later models I would guess the company wasn’t around long, perhaps as short a time as a couple of years, but it seems to have sold a lot of pens in that time. It has the appearance of an inexpensive pen and perhaps that was why so many were sold, aimed perhaps at the school market.

It’s a less popular pen now though I can’t see any particular reason why. It’s on a par with Burnhams, I would say, quite robust and a good writer despite that primitive-looking feed. As always, I have a soft spot for the underdog and I rather like the mysterious Nova. I’d like to know more about it and maybe someday I will.

 

Thanks to Paul L for information and photos of the later Nova and its box.

A Green Marbled Summit S100

Remember the Velvatip? I fixed it up to working condition and it lies on my desk. I use it all the time for note-taking. It’s a scruffy pen with chips out of the cap lip and alongside the lever. I polished it a little but it’s still quite dull. The nib, a firm medium, has lost some of its gold plating and the exposed steel is slightly pitted. I like it but it’s a dog.

By contrast, further up the Langs range to maybe the middle is this Summit S100. To be fair to the Velvatip it undoubtedly saw hard use whereas this beauty looks like it was never used it all. It has a shop display-cabinet shine. The chrome plating is perfect throughout. It is not all down to little use, though. This is a better pen, probably fetching a considerably higher price.

There are clues that this is a pen made late in the Summit production. It is made from wrapped celluloid sheet rather than machined from a solid piece. The tall clip screw of the earlier pens has been replaced by a shallow one, concave in the top. Otherwise, it retains the Summit style with the ball ended clip engraved “Summit”, the slender cap band and the tapered black section. It looks best when it’s posted, the black section complementing the black clip screw. It’s quite a small pen at 12.7 cm capped, but posted it’s a respectable and comfortable 15 cm.

Summits sold well. There are loads of them still around which means that there were many, many more 70 years ago. What was their selling point? Why would you choose a Summit rather than a Conway Stewart, Burnham or Swan? Doubtless the Summit cost less than the Swan, though it was probably comparable with many Conway Stewarts and maybe a little more expensive than a similar Burnham. It wasn’t a flash pen and the many Summits I’ve handled didn’t have very flexible nibs. They are very robust, though, higher quality than a Burnham and certainly at least the equal of the Conway Stewart in quality. If you wanted a pen that would last the long haul and never let you down, was attractive without being showy and was competitively priced, you’d go for the Summit.

Nowadays we know a lot about their long history, the proud names of the pens that Langs produced and the pens that they made for other companies. Back in the 30s or 40s, I doubt if the pen buyer took that into account if he or she was even aware of it. They just wanted a good pen and Summit could certainly provide that.