I sold an eyedropper pen recently with Mabie Todd’s version of the spoon feed, not unlike Waterman’s and equally efficient. Though Mabie Todd experimented with the over-and-under feed and improved it over the years, the spoon feed was noticeably better, giving good ink delivery. It was also much less likely to drop a blot.
Good though they were, those feeds were not produced for long. Mabie Todd’s R&D came up with the superior ladder feed, so good that it lasted as long as the company.
I had been casting my line in the waters of eBay and I landed a few. Of those so far delivered a small lot of three are pretty rough, so will keep me occupied for a while. There’s a BHR Mentmore, thoroughly faded, that has the worst broken nib I have seen for some time. I think I have a replacement. The Swan, the reason I bought the lot, is good but has a Blackbird nib. Again, I’ll have a replacement and a spare Blackbird nib is a precious thing indeed.
On the subject of precious nibs I bought two small Swans with No. 1 nibs. They’re both broad so capable of being stubbed. I’ve done that before and though it’s quite onerus I will consider it.
Perhaps the worst of the lot was a Swan Eyedropper 1500. The cap has a crack – nay, a chasm – in the lip and it has been fitted with a horrid little Warranted nib. That one will keep me out of trouble for a while. There are one or two more to come. They will be the last purchases for a while given the industriousness of the virus. I have no wish to go to the Post Office because I’m sure I’ve seen the critter lurking there eyeing me and sharpening its teeth.
Well here we are again, with Covid Mark II spreading like wildfire! As during last spring, I must decide what to do for the best. Given that we are in full lockdown, I’m not sure whether the police would look kindly upon our trips to the Post Office to despatch pens. More to the point, given my husband’s poor health and the virulence of the virus, I think those are trips we don’t want to make. I have four pens to send out today and they will go but that’s the last.
With great regret I shall close the sales website. It will be temporary and I hope it will be of short duration. I hate having to do it and it isn’t about the money. I enjoy the activity and the friendly discussion about pens that often precedes a sale. I will still provide as much information as I can here in the blog and Eachan will be available in Fountain Pen Geeks and Fountain Pen Network. It’s a nuisance but not a disaster.
When I wrote my recent post about favourite tools I left one out because I didn’t want people to buy this tool and start using it without due consideration and practice.
I’m talking about my heat gun, one of the most used of all tools for me. No pen is ever taken apart without dry heat and none is reassembled without it either. That’s why it’s many months, probably years, since I’ve broken a pen. Having said that I’ll be sure to break one now!
Mine is a generic Taiwanese 300 watt heat gun. The temperature is not variable, just ouchy hot! It may be the most helpful of my tools but it would also be the most dangerous to pens in the wrong hands. Its main use is section removal but it can help with many other tasks. It removes bite marks in hard rubber in a trice. It can also destroy any pen equally quickly.
I’ve been using this heat gun as my main means of freeing up difficult pen parts for a long time but I do remember plastic suddenly and catastrophically warping. The best way to set celluloid on fire is with a naked flame but a heat gun can do it too. A split second too long and you instantly have a firework spreading liquid plastic everywhere. You don’t want that, I promise you.
Clever people will tell you at what temperature shellac softens and various plastics will sustain damage. That knowledge is completely irrelevant in the real world. Instead, it takes lots of practice on cheap pens and sacrificial broken parts to work out how long to deploy your heat gun and at what distance. I’m not going to try to tell you because your heat gun will be different from mine. All I can advise is to constantly rotate the pen as you apply heat.
There are some who fear the heat gun but are happy to use a hair dryer. Well I have news for you! A hair dryer is just another heat gun. Some of them get pretty hot too and can damage pens if used unwisely. However you apply heat, you will damage pens as you learn. Just make sure you don’t do your learning on that precious rarity.
Some people loosen things by soaking them. Some people will do anything.
This blog began on October 3, 2010 and there are 1,312 posts. Some of them will be brief or humorous entries but it’s still quite a few. When I began writing it I was conscious that while the US brands were well-served online there was little about British pens apart from Jonathan Donahaye’s wonderful Conway Stewart site. Our find brands like Mabie Todd, Summit, Wyvern, Mentmore and the rest remained in obscurity. I wanted to provide some searchable information, however brief and unscholarly, about the British brands. To some degree, at least, I have succeeded in that aim.
WordPress includes a page of statistics and I can see how many people use the search feature every day to find out about pens and repair procedures. That’s exactly how I hoped the blog would work once it had some content. It’s so nice when something works out!
As I’ve said before, I’m restricting myself to restoring Mabie Todd pens. I’ve explained that there are several reasons for that but one is that there are additional claims on my time. I will, of course, continue to write about anything interesting that comes my way. If you come across something I haven’t written about before, or attracts your attention for any reason, I’ll be pleased to write about it if you care to send me details and photos.
A large part of my pleasure in the blog is your comments and the discussions we have had. I wonder if there’s anyone still reading who was here at the start. Of course there are a great many who have subscribed but have never commented. Those I don’t know, of course, but I’m grateful for the presence of all of you.
This blog won’t end as long as I’m capable of battering at a keyboard but it may be less active than it was. See you around!
Prices are high just now. It’s hard to find a decent Mabie Todd pen at a reasonable price. I shouldn’t be too downbeat about it, though, as I managed to capture this marbled green Blackbird during Christmas week. It arrived today, and a charming little pen it is.
The Blackbird was a pen for everyone but it was especially a school pen. This model was launched in 1943, during the dark days of war. Troubled times even for a child. It may have accompanied its young owner in evacuation, to live with strangers and attend an unfamiliar school.
This range of Blackbirds was known as “austerity pens”, part of the restricted models permitted while much manufacturing was diverted to munitions production. Quality remained as high as ever, with close attention to detail such as the black discs closing off cap and barrel and the tiny Blackbird image on the clip.
Despite its nearly eighty years the pen is in very good condition. The green marbled pattern remains as bright and contrasty as ever and the chrome plating is good.
I have a James Products Ultra 7000 ultrasonic cleaner which I’m told was the most popular one in the UK. I don’t think it’s available now. It cost around £35.00 when I bought it maybe ten years ago.
I use it with water and a German cleaning solution that comes highly recommended. To be honest, I don’t find it all that useful and I don’t use it much. I would rather use fine brushes and cotton buds to clean the feed and section. I wonder if it actually achieves any more than a quick soak with cleaning fluid would do. Where it is more useful is with oxidation and rust remover on the odd occasion that I come across an accommodation clip with a little rust. Again, it’s possible that it is the rust remover rather than the ultrasonic process that does the job.
My cleaner might be more useful if it could be set to run for longer periods but the maximum, so far as I remember, is five minutes, then you have to re-set the thing. From past experience I can say that five minutes does not make much impression on a nib and section unit that is thoroughly clogged with old ink. Perhaps a 30 minute setting would be more effective and convenient.
The larger ones used for carburettor cleaning certainly do a very good job but they are quite expensive and have a large footprint. Honestly I’m not at all sure that these small ultrasonic cleaners are really a necessary part of the restorer’s toolkit.
2020 has been a memorable year, mostly for the wrong reasons as we all know. There were one or two good things, too. I bought a digital microscope which has saved my ailing eyes and helped enormously with my work.
I finally made the decision – long considered – to confine myself to Mabie Todd pens. I sold off my Waterman, Parker and Conway Stewart spares. I have yet to go through general spares and clear them off, too. Why did I concentrate on Mabie Todd pens? They’re our favourites, they’re a pleasure to work on and they sell well.
I had, and sold, some of the best pens ever this year, all Swans; L245B/62, L112/60, SM205/65 and a glorious rolled gold Swan set – I could go on! These may just be numbers to you but you’ll find most of them in my blog. Whenever I have pens like those to work on, especially the Leverlesses, I am reminded of why I do this. The Swan designs are so well thought out that they are a delight to restore.
Of course throughout the spring and early summer we closed down the sales site and sold no pens. Later, when we risked opening it again, the sales more than made up for the earlier dry period. So many pens sold, so many new friends!
We always wish for better days ahead. There are hopeful signs for 2021 and for everyone’s sake I hope the various vaccines will allow us to return to some semblance of normality. However, when I look back on 2020 it wasn’t all bad.
I bought a set of eight dental picks. This is the only one I use often. It’s the perfect shape for scraping sacs out of barrels.
This pocket knife is around 60 years old and is my husband’s. It has three blades but it is limited to one job: scraping the remains of old sacs off the sac peg. This is never difficult but can take longer when the bits of old sac retain some elasticity and stretch rather than come off. I’m happier with entirely desiccated sacs which can be scraped and snapped off.
This piece of wire with the ends filed smooth acts as a depth gauge when it’s needed or as a means of pushing a large Leverless sac into the barrel. A valuable tool which was once part of a wire coat hanger. Those coat hangers had a million uses and it is a pity that they have been replaced by plastic.
The knock-out block is an essential for vintage pen restoration. There are some commercial kinds offered but it’s much better to make your own, to suit your own way of working. That said, I inherited this one as part of a large set of tools and spare parts, from a restorer who was retiring. He made it to his requirements and it suits me so well that I never needed another.
I bought this set of nib straightening tools from Laurence Oldfield. He makes them using old pen parts when he can. They are both beautiful and essential tools. I tackle many more bent nibs than I would have done without them.
Another real essential is the section pliers. As its name suggests its main purpose is removing sections from barrels but it can also be used to remove recalcitrant clip screws among other jobs. I prefer this type to sparkplug removal pliers. I can replace the part that grips the pen with a length of fuel line when it shows wear and the angle with which the pliers is used suits me better than the sparkplug type. I bought these but it is the work of a moment to grind the gripping points flat and attach fuel line.
My sac spreader is obviously an old pair of dividers. I snapped off the sharp points and used a fine file to smooth the points. It becomes smeared with shellac and I scrape it off from time to time. Works a treat.
A pen may seem simple but there are many measurements needed to ensure correct spare parts are used. This caliper is inexpensive and does a great job.
There is almost an infinity of tools that can be used to make life easier when working on pens. These are probably those I use and appreciate most.
Western companies make fountain pens for the hobby market. These days it’s only really India and the Far East that make pens as practical, everyday writers. Though Chinese pens have come along quite a way, most of them need to improve a little further. Many Indian pens seem altogether better.
I’ve sourced Indian pens directly from the companies in the past. Sometimes this can be difficult. Really, these companies exist to supply the home market. Doubtless they are pleased to sell pens to the world market but not all are well set up to do it and the language barrier can be difficult to surmount. I can hardly blame them for not speaking my language when I don’t speak theirs!
Dealing with Fountain Pen Revolution removes those problems and makes some lovely pens available. I bought a pen from them that I particularly wanted and it was only a few pounds more for free postage so I chose this Himalaya. When the pens arrived a few weeks ago I laid it aside and I have filled it only today. It has a screw-in converter and while it was fixed in the pen it only took about a quarter fill. I unscrewed it and filled it more fully. A little awkward, then. The barrel has a long thread so that the pen can be used as an eyedropper filler. I confess that I find that a little annoying. FPR makes a virtue of the fact that the pen can be filled with a cartridge, using the converter or as an eyedropper filler. I don’t use eyedroppers and I would rather a shorter thread. Yes, I’m picky! The cap also has a quite long thread – two and three quarters turns – so the pen will not be a desk note-taker. That’s almost all the complaining. The nib is glassy smooth and I like a little feedback. That’s a preference, not a fault. I can fix that in a moment.
The blue marbled pattern is very bright and pretty. Acrylic marbling cannot match patterns in celluloid but this one comes close. The chrome goes with the blue very well. The pattern continues into the section. The section is quite thick, gently tapered and has a decisive “stop”. It’s really comfortable. The nib is a more generous fine than a Japanese fine. It’s nice and wet. No stinginess here!
For me, this is an exceptional pen in the hand. With a little tinkering it will be a very good pen for my wrap, for longer periods of writing.