2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 42,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 10 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

More Grumbling

I awarded the second negative feedback of my life this week. The first was some time ago when somebody ripped me off over postage. This one was over that eBay perennial favourite, the cracked fountain pen cap. The pen was an English Parker Duofold Aerometric in dark blue, and visually it was perfect. A visual inspection’s not enough, though, especially with English Duofolds which are notorious for cap-lip cracks. Running a thumbnail around the lip is the litmus test and, sure enough, my moving thumb stopped sharply as my nail encountered a crack. Once alerted to its presence, it wasn’t invisible; the darker line of an aged crack was immediately apparent.

The seller had feedback of a mere 27 and this appeared to be his first sale of a fountain pen. I tried to let him down gently by saying that such a small crack might easily have been missed, but I wanted my payment and all postage costs back. My attempt at being conciliatory fell on deaf ears. The buyer came back vigorously denying that the pen was damaged in any way when it left his hands. I asked Customer Support to open a case and we duked it out for a couple of days. The seller was aggressive and devious which did not endear him to me. In the end, I lost patience and escalated the case to Customer Support to make a decision. They immediately gave me back my payment and original postage.

Result? Well, of sorts, but I still had to return the pen to the seller. I have no option but to protect myself by using a tracked, signed for service which costs £3.65, which means that I – the innocent party – am out of pocket over the transaction. I shouldn’t be. I should have been the proud possessor of the Parker Duofold in good condition that was offered for sale and that I believed I had bought. Well, you may say, £3.65 isn’t going to break the bank. I agree, but these days, as I said in an earlier post, I’m getting three or four misdescribed pens a week and they all go back at the same cost.

Anyone can make a mistake. I make a few myself, but I don’t expect anyone else to pay for them. If you buy a pen from me that turns out to be deficient I’ll take it back without a murmur and I’ll pay back your additional postage costs. That’s only equitable, after all. If I buy from any respectable trader online, I won’t get stuck with the cost of returning goods. It’s only a certain type of eBay seller – mostly of the “sell anything” variety – who believe that any mistakes they make must be paid for by someone else.

EBay is aware of this problem. I and others have brought it to their attention time and again. They’re sympathetic (sympathy’s free) but they say they cannot help. Agreed, they can’t reach out and take the money out of the seller’s pocket, but I have no doubt that they could find ways to apply pressure if they wanted to. That leaves it up to me to apply whatever sanction I can, and that’ll be the negative feedback. I do so not in a spirit of vengefulness. That would be petty-minded. I do so to educate; to help sellers to understand that not only will their mistakes affect my bottom line, it will harm theirs too.

A Candy-Striped Kingswood

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Most fountain pen manufacturers had the candy stripe pattern in their range at one time or another, and looking at this Eversharp Kingswood you can see why. It’s just such a beautiful pattern. In some cases, like the Onoto, candy stripe can be translucent but even when it’s not you’d almost swear the light shines through it. This one has a little discolouration, whether darkening of the cap or yellowing of the barrel I cannot say with certainty. It can go either way. A decaying sac in the barrel can change the colour but so can outgassing of the BHR inner cap. Even ink trapped behind the inner cap can do it. It’s not too bad in this case. It’s still a very attractive pen.

At first glance I thought that the clip was a replacement. It looks big and clunky and doesn’t seem to suit the pen all that well. I checked it against Simon’s collection (http://wp.me/p17T6K-uG) and, sure enough, his candy stripes had the same over-large-looking clip, so it’s original.

These are the Kingswoods I have always assumed were made by Valentine. I’ve seen Valentines – and Parkers too – made from this material, and if you discount such details as the clip and nib, the pens are very alike.

The Mabie Todd Swan 444C/60

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I haven’t seen one of these before and a Google search and a search of my printed materials didn’t throw one up either, so I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite uncommon. The “S.F” which began the number on older pens has been dropped, which would place it, I believe, in the late 1920s. The first 4 denotes the nib size, the second indicates unusual bands, in this case “stacked coin” bands at the crown and near the lip of the cap. The third 4 shows that this pen began life with an Eternal nib, which it still has. I don’t know what the suffix “C” is for. The “60” is for the material the pen is made from, black hard rubber. It’s a little faded, to dark brown, and it shows the wear one might expect from a long life of hard use. The barrel imprint is worn away and the gold plating is worn in several places.

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At 13.3cm capped and 17.cm posted, this is a big and bulky pen, though it isn’t heavy. Even posted, it’s light and well-balanced in the hand, and the big Eternal nib skims over the paper smoothly. With this size and the “stacked coin” bands it’s a pen made to be noticed but it’s fully practical as well, as shown by the use it has had over the years. By the time this pen was made, there were already colourful plastic Swans available, so the 444C/60 was quite a conservative choice.

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These elegant, robustly made pens of the twenties and early thirties often gave many years of work for their first owner and are ready to start all over again today. This is the kind of pen that one expects – with some justification – to go on writing forever.

Small Objects Of Desire

I spent this afternoon repairing pens, several Swans, a couple of Conway Stewarts, a Waterman and some Parkers, and as I did so I was considering the choice that the pens’ original owners made, and the impression that their pens made.

They used to say (and forgive me if I don’t have the quote quite right) that the Conway Stewart was the manager’s pen, the Swan was the doctor’s pen and the Onoto was the lawyer’s pen. Total hogwash, of course, in that Conway Stewart and Mabie Todd provided pens for all budgets, and even De La Rue’s Onoto range included lesser-priced models. Also, it leaves out a variety of other professions and occupations that depended to some degree on an ability to write. What, then, was the architect’s pen, or the minister’s? What did the chartered accountant write with?

In reality, of course, everyone who needed a pen, whether for work or leisure, could find what they needed in any one of the several ranges of pens the various manufacturers offered. Clerks, entering figures in permanent records, had to have pens to do so, and it doesn’t seem unlikely that many of those pens would be lower-priced Swans and Blackbirds, Conway Stewarts, Wyverns, Mentmores, Summits, Burnhams – all the pens I routinely handle today. I suspect that the pen that secondary school children did their homework with came from the same area of the market.

However, we judge each other in all sorts of ways – by the house we live in, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive and, back in the day, by the fountain pen we used. Most pens would be nearly invisible tools of the trade, whatever the trade might be, but many pens were made to stand out and say something – something complimentary, of course – about their owner. One didn’t own a Conway Stewart 60, a crocodile leather-covered Wyvern or a Swan 4660 because they wrote better than other pens, but because they were recognisable and said that one had money, discernment and perhaps even good taste (though I’m not so sure that that applied to the owners of animal-skin-covered pens).

It’s rather different now. Pens are much less an indicator of style now than they once wear. The most senior manager, doctor or lawyer may have the ubiquitous throwaway Bic ballpoint or Pentel rollerball on his desk or in his pocket without it being cause for comment. These writing instruments are universally recognised as being the practical solution to the need for something to write with. They bear no implication of success or failure, class or prosperity. They’re just pens. Of course there are those (not as many as you might think) who will spot a Montblanc as being a prestigious pen, though they’re unlikely to recognise any other equally valuable pen. Most, if they see that it’s a fountain pen at all, will take it as a mark of eccentricity rather than discernment.

Changed days indeed.

Last Uploads Of The Year

Finally got all my uploading done! Many new pens on the website, hopefully something for everyone… Mentmores, Conway Stewarts, Parkers, Blackbirds and Swans, Wyverns, Watermans, a lovely gold-filled all-metal Wahl and this beautiful Rubinette…  http://tinyurl.com/cngc8q2

Sheaffer Triumph Imperial / De La Rue Pen

As I said some time ago, I’ve taken a liking to Sheaffer Imperials in their various styles. I have quite a collection at the moment – a couple of Touchdowns and three of the later cartridge/converter pens. Another one arrived today.

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At first glance it’s a basic Sheaffer Triumph Imperial, made in the nineties and so very much newer than the pens I usually handle. On closer examination it turned out to be one of the oblique ones. At first I would have said an oblique stub but now I’m inclined to think of it as a cursive italic.

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I like oblique nibs and have several but this one seems a little too acutely angled to suit my hand. I’ll have fun with it for a while and probably sell it on.

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Another recent arrival was this De La Rue pen. When I bid on it, it was listed as an Onoto, and it wasn’t until it arrived here that I saw that it wasn’t one. While it’s a beautiful pen, I felt I’d paid an Onoto price for a De La Rue pen and I wasn’t very happy, but some cordial negotiation later I’d had the price reduced to what was mutually accepted as a fair price.

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I must admit that I’m a bit light on my knowledge of the output of De La Rue, whether their Onotos or their lesser pens. However, even I can see that this De La Rue Pen bears a close resemblance to the Onoto Minor 1202 of 1938, so I’m guessing that it was made around the same date. In the Onoto the semi-transparent lattice served to show the level of ink in the pen, but in this lever-filler it is just decorative, as is the bold MHR section.

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As one would expect from this company’s pens, it writes like a dream, a smooth, generous medium with appreciable flexibility. Not an Onoto, to be sure, but a beautiful, unusual pen and an outstanding writer all the same.