Burnhams haven’t appeared here often. I avoid them because so many, especially the post-war ones, have not survived well. Some models tend to lose clips and many of the casein ones suffer from crazing. They look fine in a photograph, but when you have the pen in your hand the beauty of the pattern is lost in a spider-web of tiny cracks. I’ve yet to hear why casein Burnhams are worse than other pens using this material. Perhaps the material was not aged or cured correctly, or maybe they were unfortunate in their supplier.
Still, I pick up a few in lots of other pens and occasionally I break my own rules (it’s OK for me to do it, but don’t try it at home) and buy an especially attractive one.
This Burnham No 51 is an example of the latter. The seller’s photographs were good and it appeared to be free of the pernicious crazing. The green and grey with amber veins made a wonderful pattern. To cut a short story even shorter I bought it and I was not disappointed when it arrived. Though it’s quite a small pen (11.8cm capped) it’s a good quality one. The cheaper versions have screw-in nibs but this one has a proper 14ct gold nib and ladder feed, held by a robust section. Unlike later Burnhams this example has a low, rounded clip screw which gives the cap a pleasing design. Burnham’s Achilles’ Heel is poor gold plating and this pen is no exception. The gold wash clings to the lever and cap ring but is largely gone from the clip. It doesn’t spoil it, really, because the base metal of the clip cleans up to an impressive shine.
The Burnham nib is small. This pen was aimed at those with a limited amount of spare cash in their pockets, and savings that didn’t affect the functionality of the pen were essential to keep prices competitive against Wyvern, Mentmore and the like who were producing for the same slender, highly competitive slice of the market. When all is said and done, though, the only part of the nib you write with is that rounded spot on the end. Where nibs are concerned size doesn’t matter, at least not from a purely practical viewpoint (the rest is aesthetics) and it’s a great writer. Burnham made good nibs.
The trouble they have with the casein crazing is a real pity because Burnham turned out some of the most delightfully colourful pens ever made. Just having one on your desk to enjoy must have cheered even the most dreary Monday.