McTavish

There is a very sweet and charming little cat who goes around in our street. A lady a few doors along belongs to her. She’s everyone’s friend and all the schoolchildren love her. Having heard that we were bereft of a cat she started visiting, popping in any open window or trotting in when I open the door for the postman.

Here she is sitting on the box that contains the most-used pen repair tools. She has applied for the post of assistant repaircat (part time). I think she’s got the job, don’t you?

A Swan SF2

Old things – old pens – have more than one value. There’s the monetary value, the pounds and pennies that one estimates an unrestored old pen to be worth. That forms the basis of a transaction but there is another value, a value that cannot be expressed so easily.

This pen was made around a century ago. Since then the wear it has accumulated may have been in one hand or several. Either way, this is a well-used old pen. The imprint and chasing are almost entirely gone. That means it was a real workhorse, appreciated for its usefulness for many years.

In the end, after many letters and notes, perhaps ledger entries in a workplace, the pen was retired to a drawer to be forgotten about. Maybe its owner died or perhaps the pen was replaced by the first of many ballpoints because most ballpoints are intended to be disposed of; they have so little value of either kind that they can be thrown away without a second thought. That’s the difference with this old fountain pen. However it stopped being used it was not regarded as trash to be thrown away.

So there it is: a well-worn Swan SF2, the receptacle of a century’s use and memories, ready to start another life. I’m sure it will provide excellent service for another hundred years!

Sales Site Open Again

That didn’t take long! The site is open for business again with one change: we only accept payment by PayPal now. Offering credit card sales has never been cost effective but we provided it as a service to customers as long as we could. The situation was brought to a head by changes within Worldpay/Cardsave, which were very poorly communicated by the company leading to a complete loss of confidence in it.

About the Sales Site

You may have noticed that the sales site is “Down for Maintenance”. There are some changes we have perforce to make and it is my intention that these will take no more than a week, less if things go well. If you have any questions contact me on redripple@btinternet.com.

Mabie Todd Jackdaw

Jackdaws are quite uncommon and when they do turn up it’s usually in a fairly battered state. They were school pens, after all, so it isn’t that their quality is less than that of other Mabie Todd pens; it’s just that they were in the hands of little school age horrors*. Indeed the quality is excellent. It’s only in the small nib and rather plain design that economy shows.

I have often taken this model of Jackdaw to be older than it really is because of the flat-top design. They look like twenties pens but were made in the mid-thirties. Most, of course, are quite colourful but this example is just plain black.

The Jackdaw shows that despite the tiny nib such a pen will write just as well as any other. Nib size has nothing to do with writing, of course. The bank manager will want to impress you with his huge No 8 nib but that pen doesn’t write better than your kid’s Jackdaw. Maybe the opposite, in fact, because a large, long nib can become awkward in smaller hands. The smallest nib of all is, of course, the hugely popular Parker 51.

The box is very decorative and is often saved for that reason. I always think that the bird illustrated looks more like a starling except for the white ring around the eye which does identify it as a jackdaw, The colours of the box are still strong after ninety years; they must have been very bright and attractive when new. The double-height “J” in Jackdaw is typographically adventurous as is the mixture of regular and italic typescripts. Sadly, the box doesn’t contain the original papers.

The pen isn’t entirely plain. There are two chased rings on the barrel and one on the cap. It is in very good condition. The only place where wear shows is on the lever, where the chromium plating has suffered. The condition of the pen suggests that it was the property of that rarity, a civilised child – or perhaps a thrifty adult.

The Jackdaw is a fine pen. Fortunate the child that was given one.

*Please don’t take my comments on children the wrong way. Many of my best friends are children. Indeed, I am assured I was once one myself.

The Glorious Nail

When I began using fountain pens again as an adult, it was with a Sheaffer, a medium nib and hard as a rock. Then I discovered flex and delighted in it for a few years. My writing is about legibility rather than beauty but line variation covers a host of sins.

However, I was trying to improve my writing and that was never going to happen so long as I hid behind line variation. In any case I know my own limitations and I have no ambition towards calligraphy. I missed the challenge of writing well with a firm fine – or as well as I can! I bought my first firm fine as an experiment but it just felt right. I’ve kept one or two flex pens and I have a few broad stubs. They’re good for signatures and for addressing envelopes. Everything else is done with a fine or an extra fine. I’ve moved from the flex to the firm camp – which is great as it opens the door to wonderful pens: Duofolds, Summits, Mentmores and the whole range of Japanese pens, vintage and modern.

It’s strange how the value of nibs has changed. Many flex nibs from the twenties and thirties flexed because the manufacturers wanted to save money and did so by using very thin grades of gold. The firm pens like the Conway Stewart Duro or the Swan Eternal were the expensive, prestigious ones. Also they were in demand for carbon paper and to reduce the number of warranty claims for cracked nibs by the heavy-handed. Those splendid nibs are the ones I see described as ‘nails’!

The demand for the ultra flex nib is very high these days. So many people want a vintage ‘wet noodle’. It really is a pity that the pensmiths of the early twentieth century did not anticipate this change that fashion would take a century later! Such pens are very rare indeed. The pens I sell are mostly firm or semi-flexible with the occasional full flex but only very occasionally something could meet any description of a ‘wet noodle’. The really very, very bendy flexes don’t really occur much in British pens. The Whytwarth safeties can sometimes be an exception. I’ve had Onotos that were very flexible.

What concerns me is what will happen to the semi-flexible and fully flexible nibs I sell. I know that in many cases they will be over-stressed and in others such pressure will be applied in the search for extreme flexibility that nibs will be cracked.

In truth, very few – vanishingly few – fountain pens can achieve the line variation that many dip pen nibs show with ease. That may be the best, and by far the cheapest, way to achieve the flexibility that is fashionable today.

If all you want is a fountain pen with a nib that will show the occasional broad-line flourish while mostly writing as the nib was intended to do, that can be done provided a little mechanical sympathy is applied so as to avoid stressing the nib to the point where a century old nib has its life shortened abruptly.

Short Silver Swan

Twice I’ve drafted posts about this little pen and twice they didn’t seem right so I shall try the “less is more” approach and just say that it was made in 1938, it is quietly understated and the chasing is subtle. And it is my heart’s desire.

A New Tallon

Do you remember Tallon pens? My husband remembers them from 60 years ago when he was at school. His parents bought him cheap pens because he constantly lost them but poor though they were, they never stooped so low as to force a Tallon pen upon him. Tallons were the utter pits.

A conversation a few days ago got me thinking about Tallon. I wrote about them once before, and not in the most complimentary of terms. I thought it was time to look at them again and searched online. Lo and behold, there’s a new Tallon! Out of curiosity I invested £1.29 in a Tallon fountain pen and ballpoint pen set with four cartridges. This is even cheaper than the Chinese. They may well be Chinese now for all I know, though they have a Coventry address. They sell a wide range of stationery.

What can I say about the pens? They’re sold in the usual no-frills bubble. The fountain pen works well but the ballpoint is rather feeble though it may improve with encouragement. Both pens close with a positive snap though this may not last, the platic being what it is. The supplied bright blue ink for the fountain pen is very good though it may well fade as many cheap inks do. The pens themselves are in the traditional flat top style, in the cheapest blue plastic. They’re not repulsive. The fountain pen has a Western fine nib, a little scratchy but it doesn’t skip and it always starts at once.

What more can I say? As pen sets go it’s not the most desirable. In fact it isn’t desirable at all but it works perfectly well. So that’s Tallon, a blast from the past and one of the great consistent survivors, almost as bad now as it was in 1960.

Of Letters and the Writing Thereof

I am fortunate in having several excellent correspondents. I am encouraged to try different papers and inks. It gives my pens another outing apart from the drafts of these blog entries. One beneficial result is that I have to work at keeping my writing as legible as possible.

I love good paper. I do use some modern paper, especially Vergé de France which has texture that I enjoy. I found Clairefontaine Triomphe too smooth, though it works well with dip pens. Much of the paper I use is old, from the time when all paper had to be fountain pen friendly. I was kindly given some sheets of Croxley Hammered, a delightful paper, sadly no longer made. Some of my old papers come with envelopes, others don’t. Some envelopes are so old that the gum on the flap is no longer sticky. But that’s okay, my little dispenser of craft glue does the trick.

The addressing of an envelope raises an issue. There is the concern that if the envelope should get wet, the address will be obliterated. One answer is to use waterproof ink but I have not found a particularly attractive ink of that type. There was a time I capitulated and used a gel pen for addressing the envelopes but I didn’t like that solution. Instead I use the inks that I like and give the address a good rub with beeswax which should protect it. At one time I used a candle stub but I think the beeswax is better and more appropriate.

We keep an old tradition alive. It isn’t so many years ago that letters were the main form of communication with far-flung relatives and friends. Letters in those days carried a heavier burden of emotion then than now. The need for letter writing has diminished but it is significant that now, when we write to each other because we choose to, not because we must, it gives the handwritten letter of today greater significance.

Apart from the letters written by my pen correspondents, I never see a handwritten envelope anymore, just ones with laser-printed addresses in window envelopes. There is a concern that the time may arrive when young postal workers will no longer be able to read cursive writing as it is no longer taught in all schools.

Our letters are, of course, more trivial than the letters of long ago, when eagerly-awaited letters arrived in the trenches of Flanders from dearly loved wives and mothers. And yet, our letters are very welcome too. It brightens my day when I see a handwritten envelope among the dull brown ones.