I have to confess that I’m not very well-informed about Burnham pens. This is because I suffered so many disappointments with them in the early years of my pen-buying that I’ve ignored them ever since. The post-war Burnhams were made in some of the most beautiful patterns ever produced, but they lacked durability due to a multiplicity of faults. Most appear to have been made from casein and many have suffered from the destructive cracking that material can be subject to. The material seems to accept stains readily, too. There are also shrinkage problems such as loose cap rings and ill-fitting caps. Conway Stewart pens were sometimes made of the same material but have survived the years much better. The gold plating on Burnhams is poor, too, being little more than a gold wash which is often entirely rubbed off clips and levers. Clips were fitted with a flat stud which seems to fail easily; many examples appear without clips.

Earlier Burnhams were rather better made, and the thirties range included a large mottled hard rubber pen with a washer-clip, elegant and well made. It is distinctly uncommon now, but the few examples I have seen have survived in good condition. Similarly-styled metal-covered pens were made in that period and they were quite robust too, but they are rare. The button-filler No 60 was a large and impressive celluloid pen and it turns up reasonably often, but it, too, suffers from poor plating, though not quite so bad as the later pens.

Burnham numbers can be confusing as they do not follow any logical sequence and were re-used for different pens. 1950s production included brightly-coloured pens with plated nibs, aimed at the school market, and calligraphic pens were offered too.

Given the variety of models and the beautiful colours, Burnhams are collectible, but because of their faults it pays to be a cautious buyer. There are good examples out there; try to ensure that those are the ones you buy. All post-war Burnhams are lever-fillers and repair is very straightforward. As the sections are screw-in, use a size smaller sac than you would use with a comparable push-in section, or you may end up with a twisted sac.

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