Apologies for the absence…

I probably should have posted this sooner, but I apologise if anyone has tried to reach me in the last week. I have been unable to reply because my husband is in hospital 110 miles from home, and I’m down here with him. He is on the mend, mostly, and we hope he will be released tomorrow after he has a dialysis session here.

The email account that lives on my laptop is not the Goodwriters account, which is on an email client on the PC at home… and I can’t remember the email password so I can’t even get there through webmail! So I have been unable to see anything new coming in since early last week. If you have tried to contact me, please forgive what might be a very late reply. Thank you for your understanding.

Library (Husband Again)

Andrew Carnegie was a monster who tried to make up for his monstrosities by charitable works. Of course people had to be aware that he was their benefactor, hence his name being applied to all he did. In other creations, Skibo Castle is his monstrous ego writ large.

His great gift to the nation is the Carnegie libraries and and this was our one. I’m not much of an architectural historian but the long windows are especially Scottish late nineteenth/early twentieth century design. Think Rennie Mackintosh. For the rest, I am ready to be educated but I suspect that it is an architecture all of its own. A lovely building and a superb library.

Two years ago we were presented with a new school and community centre with gym and swimming pool. The library was moved there and the Carnegie building was vacated. It was a sad move. The library part of the complex is a repository for a reference-only section of historic and local books with a few popular books for lending. The quality is abysmal. The rule of silence is long gone and one tries to read to the sound of screeching children and bellowing adults. The automatic check in/out system for library books hardly ever works. Opening hours have been reduced.

All this complaining makes me sound a real old fuddy-duddy but I believe we have lost a component part of literacy. When I was a boy there was only money for books on birthdays and at Christmas, nowhere near enough to satisfy my voracious appetite for reading. That was what the library did then and fails to do now. By time I was in high school I’d had a thoroughgoing education in the arts, courtesy of the public library.

It was a lifetime of devouring books (I hesitate to say literature; I read everything) that led me to writing and I have always written. I decided long ago that if I was writing I should enjoy the process – this article is not entirely devoid of fountain pens!

So thank you, Andrew, you old monster.. It seems you are no longer needed and I fear my time is passing too. It was bound to happen.

A ‘Guest’ Writer Speaks (Writes)

My husband wrote this piece a couple of days ago whilst ‘enjoying’ an unexpected stay in hospital. In his words:

“A few days in hospital for a service and oil change. Doesn’t matter where I am, I’m never far from fountain pens. The nice young doctor who is saddled with me for his sins is a fountain pen man, as are most doctors (and my optician, for another). He has a Lamy 2000, one of the nice mid-range Pilots and his “work pen” is a Platignum Preppy.

I often wonder about doctors and fountain pens. Quite convenient for the GP at his desk, scribbling a signature, but the hospital doctors have a bit of writing to do, patient to patient, pen in and out of pocket. I have an impression that a clicky ballpoint or Bic could be more handy.

Perhaps it’s a class thing – no, nobody likes that word nowadays – let’s say status. The inconvenience of the fountain pen is overcome by the impression it makes among one’s colleagues – and even the more discerning patient.

Patients in hospitals can be pretty anonymous – even insensate, to be pushed, prodded, measured and tested. A common interest in fountain pens makes a link and it perhaps reminds the doctor that you are a person as well as a patient. I must say we did have a spirited chat about fountain pens, and the good doctor said he looked forward to perusing this blog. Always nice to meet a fellow pen enthusiast!

They’re banging intravenous antibiotics into me by the pint. I’ll soon be horribly healthy and back home to my beloved – and my pens.”

[Note: My husband is home after his thankfully brief hospital stay. As always, he received excellent care from everyone at our local hospital at every stage from dialysis to A&E to the ward. It has been a rough few days but – fingers crossed – he is feeling quite a bit better.]

The Scribe

What lovely things
Thy hand hath made:
The smooth-plumed bird
In its emerald shade,
The seed of the grass,
The speck of the stone
Which the wayfaring ant
Stirs — and hastes on!

Though I should sit
By some tarn in thy hills,
Using its ink
As the spirit wills
To write of Earth’s wonders,
Its live, willed things,
Flit would the ages
On soundless wings
Ere unto Z
My pen drew nigh
Leviathan told,
And the honey-fly:
And still would remain
My wit to try —
My worn reeds broken,
The dark tarn dry,
All words forgotten —
Thou, Lord, and I.

Walter de la Mare 1918

Matters Mentmore

Rob Parsons challenged me about my reticence to identify the Golden Guinea as a product of the house of Mentmore. Really, I have no difficulty in saying it’s a Mentmore pen but so far as I know, no invoice or advert has turned up making the attribution incontrovertible.

Styles of machining and methods of assembly together with nib types assure us that Mentmore made the Golden Guinea. That will do for me. More of a mystery is why anyone was prepared to pay £1.1/- for what is really a fairly ordinary pen when better pens were available for much less. That’s the power of advertising, I suppose.

Platignum is the other house brand of Mentmore. These were proudly sold on their cheapness and undoubtedly outsold all the Swans, Conway Stewarts and Onotos put together. You don’t see them now because they didn’t survive; maybe not always because of poor quality. When the ballpoint came along you would be reluctant to part with your gold nib Onoto and would put it away in a drawer but you would have no hesitation in consigning your old Platignum to the bin.

Platignum’s early claim to fame was its “special alloy” nib. Judging by how few of these have survived and the poor condition in which they have done so, there was nothing very special about it. Like many other base metal nibs of the early days Platignum nibs succumbed to the inks which seemed especially caustic then.

In their last days Platignum took over from Mentmore as the company’s main brand and became respectable, gaining a gold nib. These pens are good writers but still often suffer from plastic shrinkage. That was too much a Platignum tradition to leave behind.

Regret

This begins in reply to Mario’s comment on the “Getting the Right Nib” article. As I’ve said before, I began selling pens so that I could see more of them, not being able to buy every vintage British pen that came along. That worked. I saw, handled and wrote about most British vintage pens.

But there has always been a hint of regret about the whole thing. As I sit here I can think of many pens that I let go reluctantly and have thought about ever since. It wouldn’t be so bad if I forgot those exceptional pens but I don’t. There are so many pens that pass through my hands that I could describe in detail, even though they were in my possession for maybe a fortnight, ten years ago.

I’m not short of pens and those I have are great writers but I remember the Macniven and Cameron in lapis lazuli with the leaf-shaped nib. I do wish I still had it. It was such a mistake to let it go.

Getting the Right Nib

Back in the long, long ago, when there was an Edward on the throne and you filled your brand-new, high tech fountain pen with an eyedropper, buyers were often quite fussy about the nib that they wanted in their new pen. Mabie Todd, like other manufacturers, wanted to be sure they were satisfying their customers’ needs, so they requested that they send in the dip nib that best suited their hand. This enabled Mabie Todd to choose the correct gold nib from their wide selection. Perhaps they adjusted the nib to further suit their customer but I don’t know that.

That this worked as well as it did was due to the almost unlimited range of dip nibs that had been made over the years. There was such a refinement of choice that every writer had the dip nib that suited him or her perfectly. Of course many writers just used the nib that their company ordered and weren’t too particular about it, but those who wanted Mabie Todd or other companies to supply them with the exact nib of their choice were those who knew exactly which dip nib suited them.

Oh happy days! Now most pen manufacturers offer three choices of nib. For some it is fine, medium and broad but others offer EF, F and medium. In any case the choices are very limited today. That’s a pity because the full range of dip nibs is still around today and a person can find what exactly suits them there but the fountain pen nib equivalent almost certainly does not exist. When I found that I could write with a dip pen – much to my surprise – I tried many different nibs. I had a good selection that I had almost accidentally built up over years and I was given a varied lot of nibs (thank you, Rob Parsons!) and though I could write adequately with many, the one that really flattered my hand is the Esterbrook Relief. It should be straightforward to transfer that to the fountain pen as Esterbrook made such a Relief nib. Problem solved!

Except it isn’t. Esterbrook’s fountain pen Relief nib isn’t at all like the dip nib. I also tried the oblique nib for the Osmiroid and it isn’t bad but it’s not quite right. The annoying thing is that I have had oblique Swan nibs in the past and I believe that they were perfect, but in the belief that there would always be another one coming along I sold them. Of course I haven’t seen one in ages!

It would be nice if I could send an Esterbrook Relief dip nib to Pilot as an example of the nib I want but that was a different time, a time when manufacturers were prepared to offer true service to their customers. Now it’s take it or leave it.

I could, of course, send an appropriate Swan nib to a nibmeister and he/she would grind it into the nib that I want. But that’s a very expensive way of going about it. With very great care I could probably make the grind myself but I am against altering vintage nibs. They’re not making them anymore. Best to leave them alone.

I suppose I’ll just have to wait until I get lucky and a sharp oblique Swan nib happens along.

Breakfast at Tuppence’s

Not much happening on the pen front except the male human had some difficulty getting an ink cartridge into a Moonman pen. Hard words were said about defective filling systems and modern pens. I retired under the desk until the air became a little less blue.

He was up at six this morning and I came in and deigned to eat some food. I checked out the apartment to be sure it was all still there, then asked out again because it was dark and still time for cat adventures.

I returned at 8:30 and yelled for food. He said, “But I fed you at six.” My reply was (if the yells were translated), “This is my usual time for coming in and I always get fed. Any change in my usual routine will lead to increased yelling.” I got my second breakfast and this is a ploy I will salt away for future use.