Duofold Special

There are very few pens I don’t enjoy working on. There are some, however, that are an especial pleasure and this Duofold Special would be high on that list. Late twenties/early thirties Duofolds are at the very peak of quality. There is no skimping of effort to achieve the best possible result in the manufacturing process. Apart from the slight barrel discolouration due to the decomposition of the sac, and a little wear on the plating, this pen is almost like new and that’s because of the original attention to quality.

There’s a routine to restoring a pen – assess, disassemble, clean, assess again, re-assemble. The only part that needs replaced here is the sac. I use a silicone one to prevent any further discolouration of the jade. It’s important to clean the inside of the barrel thoroughly; any fragment of the old latex sac that remains will continue to discolour the barrel. As it’s a screw-in section, sac size is critical. It has to be as large as possible to contain the optimum amount of ink, but narrow enough to clear the walls of the barrel. Then it’s time for reassembly and a gentle polish, and the pen is ready for write-testing.

I have read that the Duofold Special, or JL (for Junior Long) as it’s also known, was not listed in Parker’s catalogues of the time, but was made to meet popular demand for a Duofold the length of the Senior and the thickness of the Junior. Actually, it’s a tiny bit shorter than the Senior and a little thicker than the Junior – but near enough! From the first black hard rubber model in 1922 the Special was very popular in Britain, and survives in moderately high numbers. This two-ring green jade version was made in 1928 and 1929, and is not so often seen.

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Black Is Black.

From the 1930s to the late 1950s, pen manufacturers produced pens in a stunning range of colours and patterns that has never since been equalled. There were marbled patterns in all the colours of the rainbow, candy-stripes, herringbones, lapis lazuli, jade, snake-skin and cracked ice, to name but a few. So which of those glorious colour-schemes was the most popular? None of them. In Britain, at least up until the introduction of self-coloured injection-moulded plastic in the sixties, black was king.

Why should it be that black pens were vastly more popular with pen buyers than any other colour? It wasn’t price. Coloured pens and black pens cost the same. To a large degree, I think, it was what people were accustomed to. Before celluloid and casein became commonly used, pens were made from vulcanised rubber, and that mostly came in black. Yes, there were red hard rubber pens and the various versions of mottled hard rubber. There were overlays in gold and silver too, but these were the exceptions. Most pens were black, and it was accepted that black was the colour for fountain pens in the same way as refrigerators were white or later, desk-top computers were beige. Then again, I think, there was the implication that if you were a person to be taken seriously, you would use a black pen. This intensified in the post-World War II period, when men (and it mostly was men) avoided colours in their dress and accoutrements. Suits were black. Shirts were white. Any deviation from that pattern reflected badly on the wearer. Even cars were black.

Things have changed today. If we had the full nineteen-fifties range of the original Conway Stewart company available to us now, we’d all be buying cracked ice, tiger’s eye and red herringbone. Instead, the majority of Conway Stewarts that appear on eBay are black. They’re beautifully designed and excellent writers, but we may feel justified in wishing that the buying patterns of their original owners had been different.

Summit

Though their quality is consistently high Summits can usually be had for bargain prices. Partly, perhaps, that’s because they’re seen as quite dull. Their design, though practically and ergonomically excellent, was conservative. They’re most often seen in black chased celluloid and the nibs, though very good writers, are generally firm.

There’s more to the company than that, though. Just on the basis of the pens I’ve seen, Summit began life in the last years of the 19th century as, I believe, Curzon, Lang and MacGregor. Examples of their early output are rare now, but they marketed the Angloamer pen. In, perhaps, the early nineteen-twenties, the company became Curzon’s. Lang continued to manufacture the pens. They produced a range of handsome BHR flat-top lever fillers with riveted clips during the twenties and by the end of that decade had moved on to celluloid. Just before the Second World War the company became Summit. They produced many beautiful pens in lizard-skin patterns, in moire and in the full range of marbled celluloids. At the peak (I almost said summit!) of their popularity, from the thirties to the early fifties, they were a very big player indeed, as can be seen by the number of Summits that still appear on eBay.

Something that appears admirable in retrospect – though it was doubtless not done by intention – is the way the company ended. Faced with the post-war decline in sales due to the advent of the ballpoint, other companies reacted with unfortunate new designs and saved costs by reducing quality. Summit continued with its well-made, traditional design until 1954, then closed its doors.

From a collector’s perspective, the various versions of the company produced a range of pens over the years, many now rare and costly, some exceptionally beautiful. For the writer who likes a firm or only slightly flexible nib, the later Summits provide excellent, well-made, comfortable writing instruments.

Tools: Sac Fitting.

Most sacs can be slipped on only using your fingers, without any other assistance, but there are some awkward sections where you need a bit of help – necked sacs, for instance, or where the section protrudes a long way, or when there’s a breather tube.

When I began repairing pens (it was quite a while ago!) there were no specialist sellers of tools for the fountain pen repair-person. Then, you adapted tools made for other purposes – still a good solution for pen repairing. I found a pair of dividers in an old geometry set, snapped the points off and filed the rough edges away so they wouldn’t tear the sacs. It worked very well and I used nothing else for many years.

More recently, I bought this handy gadget:

Actually, it’s more clumsy in use than my dividers, but there are occasions where the wider sac opening it gives can be useful, like when an especially thick section protrudes well beyond the nipple.

Restoration.

Restoration is a thorny issue within the fountain pen community. For discussion of the ethical problems involved, I refer you to Fountain Pen Network and especially Lion & Pen, where this subject has been thoroughly debated.

I restore conservatively, and I think it’s worth going into a little detail of what that means to me so that you will know what to expect if you buy a pen from me.

The pens I sell almost all date from before 1970 and they are usually in need of repair when they come to me. It is my aim to do no more than return them to good working order and an acceptable cosmetic condition. Perhaps I should clarify that by saying what it is that I don’t do.

I don’t use a buffing wheel or strong abrasive polishes. I clean the pen thoroughly and polish it lightly. I don’t try to disguise its age or remove the surface scratches that it has accumulated over time. Sometimes heat will make tooth marks pop out and I do that, but I don’t grind indentations or scratches out.

I don’t replate metal trim. I will polish trim but make potential buyers aware of plating loss.

I don’t re-black faded black hard rubber pens.

Replacement sacs are new, of course, as are pressure-bars when the original is damaged. I will replace damaged nibs, levers, clips, feeds or sections with spares from pens of the same model and date.

My aim is to present a good honest pen that doesn’t pretend to be what it’s not. Old pens that are found in an unused, perfect condition naturally fetch a premium price from the collector. Over-restoring a well-worn pen to resemble one that hasn’t been used is, in my opinion, a fraud on the buyer. Further, if a pen has been well-used for many years, its scratches and wear have been honourably come by, and are, to some at least, part of the attraction of owning the pen.

There are collectors who go further and believe that you should do nothing at all to an old pen. It is a collector’s item and should remain in the condition in which it was found. I don’t agree with that. I think people should have the option of using old pens, which write quite differently from modern ones and are an especial pleasure in themselves. After all, collectors can choose, if they wish, to buy the unrestored pens before I get my repairing hands on them.

Less Common British Pens – The Wyvern.

The Leicester Dragon on a Wyvern De Luxe Nib

Despite being one of the oldest British pen companies, and producing a variety of high-quality pens, Wyvern does not have a strong following these days. From the 1880s onwards, the company went through various stages of development, importing pens, buying them in from outside contractors, assembling pens from parts and finally going into full production. By the late nineteen-twenties they had their own nib plant and as well as producing their own-branded nibs bearing the Wyvern logo, they made nibs for other manufacturers and warranted 14ct gold nibs for the wider industry. You may have bought a Wyvern without realising it, as they made entire pens for other companies and produced a great many promotional pens.

An Early Fifties Wyvern De Luxe

Though not often seen now, their early eyedroppers and safety pens are excellent examples of the period. More commonly offered now are their pens from the nineteen-forties and fifties. These range from the Wyvern Perfect Pen – a good economy-priced student pen – through their larger numbered models like the 60c to the crocodile-skin, lizard-skin and pigskin-covered pens at the top of the range. These pens were highly esteemed and the company enjoyed royal patronage during this period. The weakness of the middle-range Wyverns lies in the gold plating, which is often little more than a gold-wash and wears away easily, especially on the clips. Their great strength are the nibs which are of consistently high quality and among the very best of the time. They are usually firm or semi-flexible, but the occasional full flex Wyvern turns up and is a true delight.

A "Perfect Pen" No 81. Low Cost With A Great Nib

An innovative and progressive company, Wyvern made such a wide range of pens over the decades of their existence that they offer good opportunities for the collector. For the writer looking for an excellent and characterful pen to use, Wyverns still offer great savings over comparable Swans and Conway Stewarts.

The Wyvern Logo on a 1950s Ambassador