Old And New

You may have noticed that over the past few months I have introduced a few new pens among my more usual vintage fare.  I much prefer old pens.  They have a history that we can research and talk about and sometimes they even have a provenance.  There’s undoubtedly a romance about older pens that have been someone’s daily companion in a way that rarely happens now.  Cell phones, perhaps, but fountain pens are no longer that most personal of personal possessions that they once were.  New pens, it seems to me, lack a whole dimension simply because they are new and have not accumulated history.

That said, in my easily diverted way, I will often find my eye caught by something about a new pen that I find appealing or admirable or just plain interesting.  If it’s cheap enough I’ll buy it.  The “cheap enough” limitation is an important one; you’re not going to find an Omas or a Montegrappa suddenly appearing my blog.  Not unless I win the lottery, which is quite unlikely considering that I don’t buy the tickets.  However, cheap but good pens will appear from time to time, and maybe even cheap and bad.  So far, I must say, I’ve been quite impressed with the quality of several of the low-cost modern pens I have bought.  I’ve had a couple of Pelikan’s school pen offerings and they’ve been very impressive.  Even some of the Chinese pens that have come my way seem much better than than their predecessors of ten years ago which were, really, not worth having at any price.  The Italix pen I wrote about some weeks ago was very good and would have been a keeper if it was lighter.  It was just too heavy for me to use for any length of time.  However, some fountain pen users these days like a heavy pen so it has had no difficulty in finding a market.

There’s another point in the favour of new pens like the Italix: they’re providing employment and they’re a start-up opportunity for entrepreneurs.  That’s something I approve of and would wish to support.  I’ll never do that writing only about pre-1960 pens.

Fear not, though.  This does not herald a major change of focus in this blog.  My interest, nay, my obsession, lies with the older pens.  Most of my posts will be about Swans, Conway Stewarts, (no, not the new ones), Mentmores, De La Rue Onotos, Parkers, National Securities, Stephens, Summits and all the other glories of the British fountain pen industry of yesteryear.

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The Waterman CF

Despite a slight prejudice against cartridge-fill pens, I have always admired the Waterman CF, the daddy of all cartridge/converter pens.  It’s just such a bold innovation – not so much the use of the cartridge to fill the pen but the futuristic styling which was designed by Harley Earl.  Waterman borrowed him from the automotive industry and I don’t think you have to look far to see that influence in this pen.  It’s very much of that optimistic era, the fifties.  Back then we believed in progress and knew that the solution to all our problems was just around the corner.  A science fiction future was almost upon us, and designs like this one anticipate that.
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Here’s one or two before shots.  This pen was more than a little rough and being one of the more expensive ones it had more décor to get discoloured.  Thankfully this one hasn’t suffered the damaging corrosion that has ruined many of these pens.
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Restoration required very little.  Flushing old ink out of the section took a little time due to complexity of the feed, full of nooks and crannies for ink to cling to.  The rolled gold cap and the teal and white plastic cleaned up well.  The gold-plated brass areas showed more indications of wear but at least there’s none of the pitting that has afflicted some CFs.

This pen came with a cartridge, a precious thing these days now that they’re no longer made.  It can be refilled, but I set my heart on a converter.  They’re hard to find now.  Amazon used to stock them but no more.  I could have bought one from America but by time I paid for the shipping, customs dues and Royal Mail’s handling charge it would have cost several multiples of the buying price of the pen.  I finally tracked one down in Penbox and that’s eagerly awaited.

The smooth nib is springy rather than flexible.  It’s pleasant to write with but perhaps too slender for me to use it for my magnum opus.  The cartridge is big so it won’t need filled very often.  The pen closes firmly but the cap wobbles a little.  I can’t see an obvious way to fix that.  It’s not the worst fault.

This is one of the English-made pens.  I see no difference from the American ones.  The French pens came in a whole variety of colours.  This one is the standard teal and white.  I’m pleased that the white cleaned up so well.  I’ve seen examples where the white has taken an ivory tinge or even become downright yellow.  I’ll ink up this pen now and again so that I can plug in to that future that once was, with personal fliers, transporters and instant meals from machines.  We don’t seem to be so optimistic any more.

The Platinum Ten Year Pen RK14

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Sometimes you strike it lucky and I think I did with this Japanese Platinum Ten-Year Pen, for which I didn’t pay a fortune.  When it arrived I had a look at it and I wasn’t sure what it was, so I consulted the very knowledgeable Eric Wilson.  Eric said it could either be an inferior copy of the Onoto plunger-filling system or an eyedropper with a cut-off valve.  Having studied it again, I believe it’s the latter.
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Judging by the amount of ink that went everywhere when I tested it, there’s a seal in there that has seen better days.  Still, I kept ink in it long enough to discover that it has a delightfully flexible nib.  Once it’s back in working order, I think this one will join my tiny collection.  I’m greatly taken with it.
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The pen’s 13.2cms capped and it feels quite solid though not unduly heavy.  Clearly, Platinum were admirers of the Vacumatic.  The Ten Year Pen emulates the Parker pretty closely.  The clip is a cheeky rip-off, as is the nib and even the shape of the pen.  The manufacturers weren’t content just to copy, though.  Whereas most Parker nibs are quite firm, this nib has a lot of flex.  I haven’t had the nib out to examine it properly but I can’t decide whether it’s gold or gold-plated.   Not that I care.  It’s the performance that matters.  Also, instead of copying the rather finicky Vacumatic filling system they went for a lower maintenance solution that had been long tried and tested in Japan.
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Finally, this pen has the shiniest finish I’ve ever seen, and towards the end of the barrel there’s an area where this lacquer has worn off or otherwise been removed.  The edges of the layer can be clearly seen.  Were these pens coated with urushi?

Mabie Todd Jackdaw Self Filling Pen

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Though it isn’t as colourful as the last Jackdaw I wrote about, this Self-Filling Pen is interesting and it’s a great writer.  There’s a general resemblance to the mid- to late Thirties self-coloured Blackbirds that I wrote about here: http://wp.me/p17T6K-7m .  I think we can take the date as being the same, so this is a pretty old pen.  Despite that, and despite being the economy model of the Mabie Todd range, it’s in fine shape.  There’s the odd scratch and scuff from use and there’s a little pitting on the lever.  In all, it’s in better condition than many higher-priced pens of the period.
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Of course this isn’t true of these pens in general.  Most didn’t survive at all, which is why this is quite uncommon pen.  This model was the sturdy workhorse for a generation of school-children,misused, abused, dropped and thrown into school-bags full of books.  Children are remarkably efficient pen-killers.  The kid who owned this one must have been the exception.  You are entitled to suspect that he or she was the teacher’s pet and a true nerd.  But even this child had a moment of abandon and dropped the pen or threw it a tormentor, because the original nib has gone and it has been replaced with a delightful Blackbird replacement.
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There are some pens that you know are champions the moment you touch the paper, before you even form the first letter and this is one of those.  It’s a semi-flexible – a fine without pressure expanding safely to a broad.  Using it as a fine it has that precision that the best pens have, and it retains that pretty well when it’s stretched.  I’d rather a pen like this than the most extreme wet noodle.  It’s a real writer’s dream.
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Many thanks go to Paul Leclercq for the pleasure of studying and writing with this pen.

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Noodler’s Nib Creap

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I bought this pen because it was ridiculously cheap at around £12.00  Of course I’d heard about Noodler’s flex pens for years and it was a nice chance to see if it lives up to the hype.

Short answer is it doesn’t.  Yes, you can flex the nib to obtain a pretty serious level of line variation but you have to press hard to do that.  I mean, you could flex a shovel if you pressed hard enough!  Also, it railroads a lot under pressure.  That might be cured by a bit of adjustment but I’m talking out of the box, here.  Such flexibility as the pen does display comes from the long slit in the nib.
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It instantly reminded me of a small piston-fill Wality that I bought long ago.  The whole pen is reminiscent of that other and the ink window is pretty much the same, as is the piston blind cap.  That’s not a complaint, by the way.  My little Wality has been working well and reliably for seven or eight years and like the Nib Creaper it was very cheap.  My guess, then, is that this is an Indian pen, too.  It may well be as durable as the Wality.  Time will tell.
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Forget about the flexibility for a moment and just judge the pen as a pen.  The nib is smooth and it lays down a nicely wet line.  It holds a considerable amount of ink.  Visually it’s no great shakes but it isn’t ugly either with its red and black pattern.  The clip is nicely springy and should work well.  The barrel and cap threads are cleanly and deeply cut.  They won’t be wearing out in a hurry like some of the cheap pens of yore.  It all works as it should.  I would say that for value for money it’s unbeatable and it’s the kind of pen you could carry or leave lying around the desk without much concern.
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The downside is that it’s quite small, even for my not-very-big hands.  Then there is the fact that it’s marketed as a flex pen and in practical terms it’s a semi-flex at best.  The railroading when flexing is distinctly annoying.  That’s the kind of thing you should take care of at the design stage.  With a multi-finned feed like this one it just shouldn’t be happening.
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These gripes aside, it’s an almost unbelievably good deal.  A piston-filler that writes well for £12.00?  You can’t go wrong with that!

Langs Summit Cadet S100

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Langs knew how to make a good, solid, traditional no-nonsense pen.  This Summit S100 Cadet makes no pretence at modernity; no hoods or covered nibs here.  Though it was probably made around 1950 it remains the archetypal English pen, just as it would have been in the nineteen-thirties.  That’s no bad thing.  If we have a design that works as well as it can – and this one does – why change it?  There’s no merit in change for change’s sake.  It’s only appreciated if it’s an improvement and many of the desperately modernist styles that were appearing in Britain in those years were no improvement.  Many were a little weird and showed a lack of confidence in home-grown design.  The contrast with that is one of the things that makes the Summit so attractive.
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Another is the rose-marble patterned celluloid, which was used by several manufacturers in the post-war years.  Though the “Cadet” name implies a school pen, there is no diminishing of quality from the more expensive models.  This is a well and solidly made pen.  Perhaps there is a little saving in the use of chrome rather than gold for the plating of the trim but it goes well with the pattern and is very attractive.  The 14 ct gold nib is small but not as small as, say, some Wyvern nibs were at this time.
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In use it’s a good size of pen that fits the hand well.  The nib is a little more than springy, in fact it gives quite a noticeable level of line variation.  It’s a real pleasure to use.
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Langs and their Summits would not be around much longer.  This isn’t quite their last hurrah but it’s coming close.  This beautiful pen reminds us of how much we have lost with the passing of one of the great British pen manufacturers.

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Collecting Pencils

More and more I’ve found myself fascinated by mechanical pencils.  I admire their technical ingenuity, I enjoy the wide variety of materials they come in and I love that anything from a miniature cricket bat to a greyhound’s head can reveal itself to be a mechanical pencil.

All too aware of my abysmal ignorance on the subject I went looking for a guide.  There are several out there.  I settled on Collecting Pencils by the late Sue Courtier with Jane and Jim Marshall.  It’s a slender paperback of 66 pages but there’s a huge amount of information in there and it’s profusely illustrated, mostly in colour.  It cost £12.00.

The authors emphasise that this is a beginner’s guide and I have no doubt that there’s much more to learn but it is a very comprehensive introduction.  There are chapters on everything from classification of pencils to the simpler repairs that one might conduct oneself.  One thing the authors have wisely chosen to omit are the list of prices that you find in many books on writing instruments.  These prices are rarely a good guide even at the time of publishing and with the passage of time often become more and more misleading.

Seeing all the varieties and brands of mechanical pencils laid out like this it seems too huge a field to ever come to terms with, but I can remember a time when the fountain pen world looked equally vast and varied.  I’ve enjoyed this book immensely and I think I will find more involvement with mechanical pencils equally enjoyable.