The Future of Old Pens

The pens that I’m restoring this week are all over sixty years old. The SF2 is at least 90 years old, the Lapis No-Name is a little younger and the Conway Stewart and the other Swan are 1940s pens. The BHR pens are a little faded and the Lapis one has a tiny bit of discolouration. That’s their past, but what of their future?

Nothing lasts forever. Even the Pyramids are crumbling, but in practical terms I see no reason why these pens and others like them should not be around and available to write with indefinitely. Yes, you hear the odd horror story of disintegrating celluloid but it’s actually a pretty stable substance, when it has been cured properly, as was mostly the case. Black Hard Rubber may discolour but it’s durable. Sacs are easily obtained once again, so when one wears out it can be replaced. The nibs have plenty of tipping material, the threads are good and the levers are sound.

Fountain pens aren’t used the way they once were – all day every day. None except the most eccentric among us does that now, so these old pens will accrue wear much more slowly than they did when in the hands of their first owners. Also, new owners, whether collectors or users, have a different attitude to these pens. First time around they were working tools. The first purchaser might well appreciate the quality and beauty of the pen, but it was there to get a job done, first, last and always. Nowadays buyers respect these pens for their age as well as their beauty and quality of construction. They reflect the virtues and values of an earlier age. They have become objects of desire and are well looked after.

You will, occasionally, read those harbingers of doom who would have you believe the we are drinking in the Last Chance Saloon, and that our collections will turn to dust before our very eyes any day now. I don’t believe them. The evidence just isn’t there to support their thesis. Yes, some casein pens are crumbling, though by no means all. There’s evidence that those that show the worst cracking were exposed to moisture early on. Pens that have been kept in boxes in drawers are fine. Some forties Watermans are subject to celluloid rot, but the material was not cured properly. Most celluloid is as good as the day it was machined.

They will outlive us, these pens, and probably our children too. It will be a long time in the future before a Swan SF1 or a Conway Stewart 475 only exists as a picture in a book.

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