A Difficult Customer

If you buy a pen from me and you don’t like it, I’ll take it back. You don’t even need to tell me why you don’t like it. I see no point in sticking you with a pen you don’t like. All it will cost you is the price of sending it back. If there were to be something actually wrong with the pen, I’ll pay the return postage. That’s how it works and I make that plain to my customers.

On the subject of customers, mine are great and I’m happy to say that many have become personal friends. In any walk of life, though, you do occasionally bump up against an awkward customer. Some weeks ago I sold a nice little Swan 3160. It’s a very nice pen and I believe the price was very good. A few days later I received an email acknowledging receipt of the pen. This is what the customer had to say:

I should like to return this to you for a refund please. I have not inked or written with this pen but it is obvious that it will not write correctly. There is a large easily visible gab (sic) between the nib and feed, the nib has obviously been sprung at some point. If you have replaced the sac then you must have shellacked the barrel again as there is no way it will unscrew by hand?

The customer hadn’t inked or written with the pen but he knew it wouldn’t write properly! That’s a clever trick, especially since I’d written a page with the pen as part of post-restoration testing. That’s what I do with every pen. The “gab” between the feed and the nib is an illusion. It’s perfectly set.

As you can see, the nib is perfect. It certainly has never been sprung. Then this delightful gentleman questioned whether I had replaced the sac! This was because he couldn’t unscrew the section. Ignoring the question why he wanted to remove the section, he was evidently unaware that these sections rarely unscrew by hand without the application of heat. Of course, I never shellac sections – it’s bad practice and unnecessary.

All in all, I thought it was a pretty nasty communication and it came as rather a shock. It’s a little like answering a knock at the door and getting a punch in the face. I told the customer to return the pen for a refund, and I did complain about the tone of the email and the wrong accusations. He assured me he was not trying to be nasty. Well, there you go.

I love my job. There is no aspect of pen restoration and sales that I don’t enjoy. Interaction with customers is the best of it, usually, and I try to provide a good service, happy to give advice and information to anyone who contacts me. I’ve only rarely had difficulty with customers but when such an event happens it’s a rude awakening and a reminder that – as in any other business – not everyone in the pen world is nice. I’m very glad most are.

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A Burnham Boots Chatsworth

Boots the Chemist provided its customers with very nice fountain pens for many years. It’s still a major presence in the High Street but sadly it no longer sells pens.

Different companies had the contract to supply Boots with pens over the years. I’ve seen very handsome black chased hard rubber pens that have a Langs look about them. Later, perhaps the thirties and forties, De La Rue made the Boots Chatsworth pens and after that Burnham had the contract. Regardless of who made them they always bore the name Chatsworth.

This, rather obviously, is the Burnham version. It has the typical Burnham pressed steel clip with a slight coating of gold plate, now mostly gone. The plating has survived a bit better on the plain, straight, unadorned lever. Like most Burnhams of this period it’s a casein pen, in a glorious red, gold and black marbled pattern. The top of the cap is finished with a domed black clip screw. “Chatsworth” is stamped on the barrel.

Though the nib is stamped “Warranted 14 carat 1st Quality” instead of Burnham, its shape clearly shows it to be of their manufacture. It’s a lovely writer, a semiflexible medium. All in all, it’s a rather delightful pen!

I don’t know whether Boots sold their pens at a lower price than the manufacturers’ versions, but rebadged pens tend to go at a discount nowadays. There are serious bargains to be had when you think about it. The De La Rue version of the Chatsworth sells a little cheaper than De La Rue’s own version, which is identical apart from the rebadging. Considering that the De La Rue pen shares a nib with the Onoto, this means you can get an Onoto in disguise for probably one third of the price or even less.

Of course the Burnham version doesn’t have quite the same prestige and it would be pushing credibility to suggest that it’s comparable pen, but a good Burnham is a very nice writer and this one is made from exceptionally pretty casein. The buyers at Boots had an eye for a good pen!

Waterman 515

I’ve been calling this a Waterman 515 but I’m not entirely sure.

 

Any ideas?

Targa Slim Pen & Ballpoint Set

I was given a Sheaffer Targa not long after they appeared, a brushed steel one with a gold nib. They sold in huge numbers in the 80s and 90s. A well-designed and deceptively simple-appearing pen, they seemed to have been the shape of the time in fountain pens.

Though their design and quality seems to have fallen away in recent times, I’ve always admired Sheaffer pens, especially their 1920s flat-tops and the leverfill cap balances. I particularly admire the Triumph nib and the inlaid nib of the Targa is a clear descendant of that design.

The standard, everyday Targas like my one don’t make a lot of money. Because there are so many of them available, they’re really undervalued, considering their quality and how robust they are. They were in production for 23 years and for most of that time they were a best seller.

After selling the standard-sized Targa for a few years, Sheaffer brought out the Targa Slim, their version of the slender pen that was fashionable in the 80s. They made it in the same patterns as its big brother. This one is in the Tulle pattern and it is part of a set with a ballpoint. They are elegant pens.

The ballpoint is no problem. Refills are widely available online, but Sheaffer stopped producing the slim cartridges that the fountain pen uses, which was a dirty trick! As luck would have it, though, this pen has a converter installed and there’s even a cartridge. I’m told that Waterman mini-carts fit, as do Kaweco converters.

For an 80s or 90s pen and ballpoint set, the condition is excellent. I think I struck lucky and got hold of a set that has been little used. They’re good enough to be collectors’ pieces, though they are eminently practical too. The pattern is very eye-catching. I confess I’m very tempted by them but how many pens can I keep?

Parker 45

When we mention vintage pens, we all think of something slightly different.  For you it might be pens before 1980.  For me it’s pens before 1960.  That’s because by that date, the place of the fountain pen in the world had changed.  By that time the ballpoint had become completely reliable and was the writing instrument of choice.  My husband was ten in 1960 and he says that the ballpoint was the cool choice by then.  That’s what the schoolkids wanted to use but the teachers insisted on fountain pens.

After 1960 fountain pens were no longer just competing against each other; they were in a death-struggle with the ballpoint pen.  Several pen companies had already gone to the wall and the rest were suffering.  From then on, every fountain pen would be made in the knowledge that it would be in a fight for market share.  Pens were made for an ever-smaller niche.  As time went on more and more fountain pens were made with the hobbyist and collector in mind.

It was in 1960, right on the cusp of my date for the end of the vintage pen, that Parker brought out its budget 45.  I don’t propose to repeat the history of the 45.  You can find that on the excellent parkercollector.com.  The 45 was Parker’s first attempt at the cartridge/converter pen.  Some people say that the name is a nod to the Colt 45 and its cartridges.  Be that as it may, the 45 has some resemblance to the Parker 51.  It has a collector to control ink flow and the first 45s followed the plastic barrel/metal cap pattern of the 51.  Later ones were all plastic.  Then came Flighters, Insignias, the 45 CT Arrow and colourful Harlequins.  In one form or another the 45 was in production for 47 years.  I don’t know how many pens were sold, nor, I believe, does anyone else.  Hundreds of thousands I should think, and I believe it was Parker’s last really big seller.

For years I ignored the 45.  Most of its production years were too late for it to attract my interest.  Ebay is full of them and they don’t make much money.  Of course some came my way when they formed part of lots that I bought.  Apart from the converters, which can fail, every one I had worked well right away.  The nibs come in all shapes and sizes and are easily interchangeable.  With the exception of the Parker 17 (that’s for another day), I don’t like hooded nibs.  I find their looks unappealing and I have to look to ensure I’m holding the pen the right way.  That’s why Parker put the arrow on the hood of the 61.  But the 45 isn’t really an enclosed nib.  It’s partially hooded but enough of that little trangular nib protrudes that it’s instantly apparent which way up the pen is.

For one reason or another I’ve ended up with a lot of Parker 45s in recent times.  I put them up on the sales website for a peppercorn price and sooner or later they go.  Apart from the rather more special ones like the Harlequins and Insignias, they’re never going to be money-spinners because there are so many of them available.

I’ve kept one or two fine-nib Parker 45s because they write so well.  The plastic they are made from is light and they are very well balanced.  They don’t seem to be subject to any obvious faults like cracking or shrinkage.  The press-on cap can become loose but that’s easily repaired.  I find myself using a Parker 45 often.  The pen has sneaked into my heart.  From ignoring them for years I have become a Parker 45 enthusiast.

At a time when other pen manufacturers were struggling to sell fountain pens, Parker managed to turn out a succession of successes from the Aerometric Duofolds to the 45s and 17s and on to the elegant 75.  That may have fallen away in more recent times and, no longer a stand-alone company, its products may have lost the obvious stamp of Parker quality.  However, as long as the 45 remains ubiquitous we are unlikely to forget how good Parker once was.

Pilot Varsity

I love those disposable Pilot Varsity pens. I bought a package of six of them for the price of a packet of salted peanuts. They came with different inks. I’ll have to give some of them away. I couldn’t write with pink ink, for instance, though I find the purple quite pleasing.

It’s the nibs that I like so much. I bought the fine ones and they are exactly what I like in a nib, sharp and precise. The ink flow is excellent. Apart from their usefulness, I like the shape of the nibs, beautifully designed and stylish.

I believe that once the generous supply of ink is used up, you can take them apart and use them as eyedropper fillers. I absolutely won’t do that for a couple of reasons. First I don’t like eyedropper fillers very much and secondly I can find more interesting things to do with my time. Moreover a part of their charm is that they are disposable, like a Crystal Bic though much less painful to use.

Obviously Pilot and their competitors must make a profit from these throwaway pens but it can’t be much because they are so cheap. Maybe it’s to draw you in to the more serious addiction of non-disposable pens, like drug dealers feeding kids cannabis so that there will be a market for heroin later on.

Elvis Impersonators

There have been several companies which have resuscitated the names of former fountain pen manufacturers.   I’m not talking about companies which took over active pen makers like Parker or Sheaffer.  I mean companies which began using the names of long-defunct brands.  I’ll probably miss some but there are (or were) Onoto, Conway Stewart, Mentmore, Swan and Conklin.  Forgive me any omissions.

Onoto and Swan are in a category of their own, in that their original companies were not known by those names.  Those are model names.  I haven’t handled an example of the pens recently made under the name Swan but I’ve seen the photos and read owners’ comments.  It isn’t a good pen and it traduces the name of Swan.  To avoid confusion, I’m not referring to the Swan pens historically made in Japan, probably with some connection to the Mabie Todd company.  I mean pens produced in the last few years, maybe still in production.

The Onoto is a different case.  Though their website does refer to the pens made by De La Rue, they don’t pretend that they are a continuation of the same company.  It is to their credit that they have resuscitated the wonderful Onoto plunger filling system.  Of course their pens are extremely expensive, putting them beyond the range of most people, but that was true of many of the historical Onotos.

I don’t know what the legal grounds were for the producer of the recent pens to call them Mentmores.  I assume the company bought rights to the name.  I bought one of the pens out of curiosity some years ago.  It was the worst sort of cheap Chinese rubbish, much worse than most of what is produced in China today, being made of plumbing-grade brass tubing, ill-fitting and with a bad nib.  It would have been infinitely better to leave the honourable name of Mentmore alone.

The most recent version of Conway Stewart pretended, for a very long time, that it was a continuation of the historical company.  Mary Whateverhernamewas who was an admin in FPN as well as an officer of the company, eventually gave in and changed that, but only as a result of constant pressure from those who cared about the reputation of the original Conway Stewart company.  To this day Fountain Pen Network lacks people with experience in British pens because they were all kicked out for daring to suggest that there were problems with the Conway Stewart revival and its products.  Those products were, for the most part, poorly made, judging by the number of complaints fielded about their performance.  Many were in appallingly poor taste, glitzy, solid gold vulgarities.  The original Conway Stewart company priced its products in the middle ground, so that there was something in its product line for everyone.  The revived company was not run in the spirit of the original whose name it used.  They even re-used model numbers for pens that bore little or no resemblance to the original models, causing confusion that remains today among newcomers to the fountain pen hobby.

Conklin also falsely lays claim to being a continuation of the original company, even to impriting their pens ‘Conklin est. 1898’.  That to my mind is an irritating dishonesty.  I bought one of their pens, a Conklin Duragraph.  It’s not a bad pen, somewhat similar to my Monteverde Prima.  The crescent-shaped breather hole in the nib is a reminder of the historical pen but there the resemblance ends.  I don’t want to be hyper-critical about this revival.  It could be said that this is the kind of pen that Conklin would be producing if it had not failed years ago.  That may be so, but history tells us that the company was liquidated in 1948 and for that reason alone, I have difficulty in accepting that this worthy but unexceptional pen is a Conklin, like my Crescent filler and my Endura.  Putting that lie on the top of the cap annoys me to the point where I struggle to like the pen.

I know that historical re-badging goes on in other areas.  There’s a car out there with a Ford engine called a Jaguar.  Back in the 80s someone shoved a bunch of German and Japanese motorcycle bits together and called it a Matchless.  Have I got it wrong?  Is my dislike of this practice just a prejudice?