The English Duofold New Style

I don’t write about Parkers nearly often enough. Whether American, Canadian or English, Parkers up to – oh, around 1970, say – are among my favourite pens. Not to write with, particularly, as their mostly rigid nibs don’t suit me, though their balance and fit to the hand is superb. They’re a joy to work on, with their high quality, durability and great design. Also, I just admire them, whether it be a 1920s Duofold or a humble English Slimfold. They’re simply great pens and they ooze fitness for purpose and that restraint of design that makes every one a classic.

The reason I don’t write about them much is that I don’t handle them often these days. For many models, the price differential between unrestored and restored is too slender to repay my investment. Some of the other models, like the Duofold Senior, Maxima or New Style always seem to slip past me or I get outbid. But not this one:

The Duofold New Style was, I believe, the first Parker wholly designed and manufactured at Newhaven and it broke new ground for the model. Though still a button filler, the shape and style is a radical change from the previous Duofold line. It appears familiar to us today because, with small changes, it remained the shape of the English Duofold for many years, through a couple different filling systems – the Aluminium Filler and the Aerometric. It was immediately influential and remains so today.

Looking at it, you know this is a pen to be taken seriously. The only hint of ostentation – and even that’s a very subtle one – is the double “jewel”. For a pen that’s more than 60 years old, it looks very modern. The best design is always timeless. The plastic of the barrel and cap has proved durable and it readily takes a shine. This well-used example has lost a little plating on the chevroned cap band, but otherwise it’s good. The blind cap still fits so perfectly that you have to look for the join.

The only other indication that this pen cost quite a lot is the big lump of gold that is the nib. Durability is the watchword here too. Unless they have plummeted nib-first into the floor tiles, Duofold nibs rarely need tuning. That thick, rigid blade of a nib remains stable, and writes as smoothly today as it did in 1946. That’s the downside for me, in a way. If I ever get one with a bit of flexibility, it will become my daily writer.

Buying Pens In Ebay

I constantly search for pens to buy and restore. I source them wherever I can but nowadays they mostly come from eBay. In truth, without eBay, far fewer old pens would be available to us. Before that market existed, most old pens were stripped of their gold nibs and scrapped. Though that still goes on, sadly, it happens much less as people have become aware that pens are worth more complete.

Buying pens in eBay is easy enough but buying well requires a little more thought. There’s a general body of knowledge that you bring to it, and then there are some differences between buying restored and unrestored pens.

Starting with restored pens, the first requirement is to know about the pen you want to buy. Research it in books and online. Consult other pen fanciers if you’re in a position to do so. It’s going to help you immensely if you know the pen’s strengths and weaknesses, any changes in the model during its period of production and what sort of price range the pen falls into for a given condition.

Check out the seller. The eBay feedback system is imperfect, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing at all. Have a look at the actual feedback comments: are they just routine or is there a genuine enthusiasm for this seller? Does he or she mainly sell pens? Pen descriptions are important: are they clear and comprehensive and do they show a knowledge of fountain pens? Are the photographs good enough to let you see what you’re considering buying? The informed and dedicated pen seller is much less likely to try to sell you a pup, I suggest. Their reputation as a seller is as much their stock-in-trade as the pens themselves. It may well be that in time you will develop a list of trustworthy sellers who present pens that interest you.

Buying unrestored pens is similar but there’s a shift in emphasis. You need to know your pens at least as well as you do buying restored pens. Descriptions are unlikely to be anywhere near as good but they should at least cover any faults the pen may have. The quality of photographs is often poor. Sellers vary a lot. Many are house clearance people for whom pens are only one of the many items they deal with. Some – though sadly they’re a vanishing breed – are pen pickers who obtain pens from a variety of sources and are generally quite knowledgeable. I find that the list I develop for buying unrestored is rather different. It’s a list of sellers I will avoid buying from again, usually because they have been less than honest in describing the pens they sell. You undoubtedly have to take more of a gamble buying unrestored, but all sellers have a basic level of responsibility to their buyers. More of that anon.

Some rather more general hints: don’t impulse buy! That’s sure to lead to tears. There’s no magic trick to “winning” on eBay. Without exception, whether you bid early or late, use sniper software or sit with your finger poised on the mouse until the last second, the highest bid wins and that’s all there is to it. In reality, you don’t “win” in eBay. You buy. It isn’t a game, it’s a purchase like any other. Determine before you begin what the pen is worth to you and stick to that. Bid only once. Bidding wars are a mug’s game. Bid late. If you bid early, you indicate to others that there’s interest in the pen, and they may jump on the bandwagon.

If the pen you buy is not as described, you don’t have to accept it. Sellers may say that they won’t accept returns, but that counts for nothing if they have failed to notify buyers of a clear deficiency. Use the channels that eBay provides to return the pen and, in my experience, eBay will back you. I’ve returned many pens that had undisclosed cap-lip cracks or cracked nibs. The vast majority of sellers are honest and the faults were not disclosed because they weren’t pen people and didn’t know what to look for. They accept the return and refund the price with good grace. I always ask for – and almost invariably get – repayment of my postage in both directions. There’s no reason why the buyer should be out of pocket because a pen was not as described. It’s worth adding that these comments apply to eBay UK. The law isn’t the same everywhere and I’m aware that getting your money back doesn’t work the same in some other countries.

A good eBay seller puts the customer first. That sounds like an unlikely ideal, but in reality it’s what every pen seller who makes eBay their business or part of their business must do. Otherwise the bad feedback will accumulate and they can’t sell their pens. Speaking for myself, as a seller of restored pens, good customer service including after-sales service is part of what I do. Not only do I have to, to protect my business, but as a pen enthusiast myself, I want my customers to be happy with the pens they buy from me. Most of the pen sellers who last the pace in eBay are the same, I would suggest.

Compared with the online retailers, eBay appears a little wild and woolly. Prices are generally considerably lower than retail prices, though, and there are often tremendous bargains to be had for the discerning buyer. The variety is immense, too. Often criticised in the online pen discussion groups, I find that most criticism arises from those who blunder into eBay without preparation. Be prepared, as the Boy Scout motto has it, and you’ll have a lot of fun in eBay.

An English Waterman

These rather plain Waterman pens turn up quite often. They have no name or number, and resemble the last, celluloid version of the Waterman 52, cut down, without the lever box and a little more streamlined. They’re not fancy but they’re good, and I buy them whenever I can. Guessing that they’re 1930s pens, they’re more robust than Waterman’s output would be ten years later, they’re well-balanced and comfortable in the hand, and they often have exceptional nibs.

Talking of which, this is from the guarantee/instruction leaflet in the box. Quite a range of nibs were available for this humble pen. First time I’ve heard an oblique called an “SSO” and I’m still not quite sure what distinguished a “TUP” from other nibs.

It would be my guess that the “Flexible Fine” was fitted to this pen!

A Bulb Filler

That decidedly ugly thing on my knock-out block is a no-name bulb-filler in hard rubber. It was sold as a Mentmore because it happened to have a tiny Mentmore nib in it. In all respects, it’s identical to National Security bulb-fillers I’ve had before. They were made, I believe, by Henry Stark, Son & Hamilton and that’s the likely source of this pen too. I love bulb-fillers and I haven’t repaired one this year, so I grabbed it despite its sad condition. It cost very little, you’ll be relieved to hear.

Here it is disassembled. Really, that’s the worst part over. I never know what these ink-view barrels are made of. Might be celluloid or some form of perspex, but they’re often very fragile, just awaiting the slightest pressure to be applied in unscrewing the nib/section unit to crack and break into a thousand pieces and bring the restoration to a sad end. This one was quite sound, though, and disassembly was tense but uneventful. Dry heat and infinite patience is the recipe for success.

Here it is cleaned up a little. As you might expect, the clear barrel was the most difficult to clean and it took repeated applications of the ultrasonic cleaner together with overnight immersion in my Secret Cleaning Compound to get it nice and sparkly.

These pens operate on the vacuum principle, so you don’t want air getting in where it shouldn’t. A liberal application of silicone grease ensures that the section screws back in easily without cracking the barrel, and makes an effective seal too. A chopped-down No20 silicone sac completes the job. I left it to dry and settle for an hour and tested it with water. Success!

Here it is restored and ready to write. Still a little ugly, I fear, though not without character and charm, but it’ll hold a lot of ink and it’s fitted with a little flexible Warranted 14Ct nib.

Bulb-fillers tend to be the poor relations of the pen world, because they’re comparatively cheap to manufacture and this filling method was used to make some truly shoddy pens, and that was the association that built up in people’s minds. Intrinsically, however, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with bulb-fillers, and when you get a well-made one like this, it makes an excellent pen. After all, Parker Vacs are bulb-fillers; they just have a plunger to press instead of a bulb to squeeze, but they fill the barrel with ink in exactly the same way. Like all ink-in-the-barrel pens they have a tendency to blob if the ink is allowed to fall too low, but why would you? You can see exactly how much ink is left in the pen!

An Unusual Kingswood

I wrote about Eversharp Kingswoods before, back here: http://wp.me/p17T6K-3k but I found out two new things about them today.

First, they were produced in this glorious pattern:

And second they were offered with this superb oblique stub:

This is the earlier Kingswood with the Art Deco stepped clip and the pierced cap ring. The section is black hard rubber but, oddly, the clip screw is plastic. It shows the results of time and hard use. The plating (which is thin on these pens) has completely gone from the lever and the clip is little better. More remains on the cap band. The BHR section is a little faded and there are some nibbles on the clip screw. The nib has been bent and straightened. None of that makes much difference; this remains a glorious pen.

This pattern, in various forms, appears on several makes of pen: Swans, Blackbirds, Summits and Wyverns to name but a few from the British manufacturers. It’s sometimes called brickwork, I’ve seen some American collectors describe it as web, and here it’s mostly known as lizardskin. The fact that the pattern varies from dark to light is, I think, meant to evoke reptile skin. Here, it’s at an angle, whereas on Swans it tends to run parallel to the pen. I think this is because, rather than being machined from the rod, this cap and barrel are made from wrapped celluloid sheet. The pattern ran along the sheet, but the forming of the pen has set it at an angle.

The nib is unlike the Eversharps I’ve seen in previous Kingswoods. “Eversharp 14K 0.585 Flexible Made In USA” is stamped on the nib. Along one side of the nib, in tiny writing is “A 14. 585©”  and on the other “WECO” .  I’ve long suspected that Parker began making Kingswoods to use up Eversharp nibs. Maybe this nib appears in other Eversharp models. Tell me if you’ve seen it elsewhere, please. The nib is soft rather than flexible (which might be because it has been bent and straightened) but the shape of the stub imparts some line variation.

In conclusion, this pen has caused me to reassess Kingswoods. I thought of them as no more than competently made workaday pens with really good nibs. This strikingly beautiful pen suggests that, on occasion at least, they could be more than that.

 

The Conway Stewart 27

The Conway Stewart 27 was produced for about ten years, from the early fifties to the early sixties. There were slight differences, mostly in the imprint, during that period and this is one of the later ones, from between 1958 and 1962, when it cost the princely sum of 27/6d. That was a high price, and the 27 is high-quality pen with its cowled clip, large nib and broad cap band. They sold well and are common today, but their quality ensures that they fetch a good price.

They came in some gorgeous colours: tiger’s eye, cracked ice and the full range of herringbone, hatched and marbled colours. This is the olive green hatched. Forgive the photography which doesn’t really do the colour justice.

This one has a Duro 40 nib, and I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t. I think these always had No5 nibs. It shouldn’t be too much trouble to put that right.

Mentmores Again

I felt the need to get out and about this morning, so I fired up my time machine and went back to 1952 to buy these two Mentmores.

In truth, it’s rare to see sixty-year-old pens in as good condition as these. A speck of wear on the lever of the black chased one, and that’s all. Along with a few other pens, mostly Watermans, these came from a well-cherished collection that’s being sold off.

Though they’re not the kind of pen I use, because of their (mostly) stiff nibs, I admire Mentmores. I think they may have suffered a little from association with their budget brand, Platignum, but in actuality they’re very sound pens, at least the equivalent of Conway Stewart or Summit, and, in the case of their button-fillers, a more efficient filling system than either. Users of modern pens take to them readily, because they tend to have a larger iridium ball, like contemporary nibs.

It may be winter now, but looking at the button-filler, with its glorious golds and bronzes, transports me right back to autumn. No-one else uses that celluloid. It’s quite exceptional; bright, warm and satisfying to the eye.

There may be a little less to say about this sturdy lever-filler, but I do enjoy good, sharp engine-chasing. This is a fine example.