Reblacking Revisited

I’ve touched on the subject of reblacking black hard rubber pens before, but today I’m going to rant.

I’m a conservative restorer. I don’t try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I produce restored pens for people to use, but my pens must also be in a condition acceptable to a collector. Not only do serious collectors reject reblacked pens, some, in recent times, have even given up collecting BHR pens because of the spread of the practice of reblacking.

I buy pens wherever I can, but mostly my choices are made on the basis of photos. Unless it’s an exceptionally good photo, you can’t tell that a pen has been reblacked. The minute it’s in your hand, of course, you are in no doubt. The most common reblacking agent is Syd Saperstein’s Pen Potion No9, which is only marginally better than black shoe polish. It does not come anywhere near replicating the original appearance of a black hard rubber pen. The best thing about Potion No 9 is that it is reversible. It can be removed. Trouble is, old pens have lots of surface imperfections that the potion penetrates, making it really difficult to remove the coating completely. It can be done, but it often requires hours of work. I could leave it, of course, but then I would be colluding in the fraud on the end buyer perpetrated by the person who reblacked the pen in the first place.

If you buy a faded black hard rubber pen and choose to reblack it, that’s your business. The pen is yours and neither I nor anyone else can tell you what you may or may not do with it. However, if you subsequently decide to sell it, there’s an ethical duty on you to declare that this is not a pristine pen that has retained its original colour, but a pen that has been artificially blackened. Worse still are the people who routinely reblack pens, not for their own pleasure, but to fraudulently sell them as having retained their original black colour. They never (or at least never in my experience) make it clear that these pens have been reblacked. It may well be that there is a subset of users and collectors who will be perfectly happy with these pens. There are others of us who don’t want them. It is only fair that we should be informed.

My own view is that reblacking should never be done. Even when it is carried out with the best of intentions, it will ultimately lead to someone taking ownership of a pen that is not what he or she believes it to be. Mostly, it is not done with good intentions, but purely to line the pockets of the unscrupulous. Aesthetically, it is not an improvement. All the reblacked pens I have seen have uneven colour, the machined patterns have soft edges and you can see brush strokes. Every one, without exception, and I test every black hard rubber pen I buy for reblacking. If it’s there, it comes off. So far, not a single reblacked pen would have fooled me – or anyone else.

My view will not prevail, of course, but I think the minimum the hobby should accept is disclosure, and disclosure in a permanent fashion that is attached to the pen. After all, there is another reblacking agent, Giovanni Abrate’s G-10, which was brought to market in 2007 and rapidly removed from general sale following an outcry of concern from the hobby. It was, I believe, then made available to one American restorer who will reblacken any pen and who has resisted requests for disclosure. I don’t know whether any of these pens have come my way or not. Unlike Syd’s potion, this stuff is irreversible and undetectable by normal means.

All of which, of course, has us doubting the validity of any shiny, black BHR pen we see. And that’s a problem.


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