I had my say about black hard rubber the other day. Now let’s look at mottled hard rubber in its various forms including red ripple and woodgrain. Visually, MHR tends to survive in a more pleasing condition than may be the case with BHR. Yes, the blacks can fade but the pattern always remains clear. Often the surface has become dull, but a gentle polish with one of the usual proprietary polishes like simichrome will improve things. Even that abrades the surface a little, as you’ll see if you look at your polishing cloth, which will have picked up some colour from the pen. Myself, I prefer a non-abrasive solution like museum wax. It would always be my choice to stop at that. Any fading of the pattern is a reflection of the pen’s age. Unless it has spent the intervening years enclosed in a box, it isn’t reasonable to expect the pen to look as it did when it was new in nineteen-twenty-whatever.
Not every collector, user or restorer will agree with me, though, and that’s where radical solutions that I would reject come in. I only discuss them here because it’s better to cause less damage rather than more.
Restoring the original strong colours of the pattern can only be achieved by abrading the surface away. Metal-work such as levers, rings and clips must be removed. Imprints must either be sacrificed or saved at the cost of showing a different pattern colour from the rest of the pen. The surface of the material is evenly planed away using a medium grade of micromesh. Once an unfaded layer has been reached, successively finer grades are used to restore a smooth finish, and the pen can be reassembled.
Don’t try to do this with proprietary polish. Yes, polish is an abrasive, but it is a comparatively inefficient one, which is why we can use it on something as delicate as a fountain pen without causing damage – or at least visible damage. It won’t reduce the surface of MHR evenly, as an efficient abrasive like micromesh will. Using polish, the softer black areas will be reduced more than the harder red ones, producing an ugly, uneven surface which can only be repaired by further abrasion with micromesh.
As a conservative restorer, all of this falls outside what I do. Nonetheless, people do many things in the name of restoration, whether it be of paintings, buildings, motorcars or pens. Better that it be done properly if it is to be done at all.
Hard rubber is not especially fragile, except in the Red Hard Rubber form, which does merit particular care. MHR is little different from BHR in terms of strength, but it does get used for quite delicate pens, like the half-sized Watermans. Treat it with the respect you’d give to any old pen and you’ll be fine. Also, despite the surface, aesthetic effects of oxidisation, hard rubber is comparatively stable, more so than many celluloids or caseins, which were often poorly cured, or early injection-moulded plastics which had a tendency to shrink. Oxidisation does not weaken a pen; “curing” oxidisation by reducing component thickness may do. Remember, too, that the moment you have finished returning the pen to its original colours, the process of fading begins all over again.