Weasel Words

Today, brethren and sistren, I am going to moan, grumble and groan about the language of our hobby. If this doesn’t appeal to you, pass on by. I expect the next post will have returned to the pens.

Those of you who are aware of my eBay listings as well as this blog may have noted that I never use the word “vintage” in my descriptions. Vintage, as I’m sure you are aware, originally referred to the annual crop of wine and on its own carried no note of approval or disapproval. However, if one were to say “Bordeaux, vintage of 1956” (I don’t know my wines from my Coca-Cola), those in the know would be able to determine whether in that context I was speaking with approval or disapproval. Then the word was hijacked by the old car hobby. First of all, they determined that cars that fell within a certain period were “veteran” cars. As time went on, this left another whole selection of not-quite-so-old cars that were also admired for their age and engineering quality. The hobby then sat down and decided that cars of a certain age could be legally described as “vintage”. If you tell me you have a vintage car, I will know exactly what you are talking about.

On the other hand if you tell me you have a vintage pen, the adjective carries no real burden of meaning because our hobby has avoided defining “vintage”. All I can take from it is that you have an old pen and the fact that you use that word suggests you want to sell it to me. Without definition it remains a junk word so far as our hobby is concerned. What I restore and what we all love are old pens. Mostly they are admirable old pens and often they are wonderful old pens, but that’s what they are. Old pens.

Even more appalling is the term “mint” and its variants, which we often see used to praise some piece of old tat. If it were to be defined as it is in numismatics, it would mean “completely unused and in perfect, unmarked condition”, but this is rarely the case with the pens that are described as mint. Then there’s “near-mint” which descends into the realm of utter meaninglessness. And worst of all, “minty”. What does that mean? Did the seller polish the pen with Colgate toothpaste?

Then (and this really gets my goat) there’s the habit of calling every mottled hard rubber pen “red ripple”. Red ripple applies to a particular flow patterning of the red and black hard rubber and in old pens, it’s confined to Watermans. It’s highly regarded, and red ripple Watermans tend to sell for more than mottled hard rubber Watermans, or, in most cases, mottled hard rubber pens by other manufacturers. Calling everyday mottled hard rubber or woodgrain red ripple comes very close to attempting to defraud the unwary buyer. “Woodgrain” is, quite simply, mottled hard rubber designed to look like wood. The best example is Wahl Eversharp’s wonderful rosewood pattern, but most later mottled hard rubber is in a woodgrain pattern. It carries no especial cachet or value.

I could get into “New Old Stock” but I won’t. That’s enough grumbling for today.


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