Thoughts on English Duofolds

I sold an English Parker Duofold the other day.  What’s so special about that?  Well, the Aerometric and AF Duofolds just don’t sell that well.  It’s a strange thing.  An English Duofold, in terms of quality, is as good a pen as the best of the 50s Swans, and that’s real quality.  They don’t have any special problems.  The sacs in the aerometric ones seem to last forever and the AFs are very straightforward to repair should they need a new sac.  Some say they have a tendency to crack in the cap lip but I have handled lots of them and I can’t see that it’s a common problem.

They are perhaps a little bland to some eyes, but you could say the same thing about many self coloured modern pens which sell well enough.  The nibs are generally inflexible but again, most modern pens are the same.  The AF, in particular, has some nice features like the aluminium pushbutton and the better section.  The plastic that they are made from, which I understand to be a form of Perspex, readily takes a beautiful shine with just a rub of a polishing cloth

When new, these were quite expensive pens, associated mostly with doctors, lawyers and other professionals.  Now they go for buttons.  It’s a strange old pen world.


Rotring Core


A few years ago (I’m not sure how many; time does slip by) you couldn’t open one of the pen discussion groups without finding a reference to the Rotring Core.  Though it appears to have been intended for school kids it raised the interest of adults as well.  There were many arguments, some in favour of the pen and some against.  Many (including me) thought it was the ugliest pen that they had ever seen.  Others thought that its ugliness was charming, like a cute mongrel dog.
After all the brouhaha had settled down, it disappeared.  Though there must be thousands of them around, the Core is now perhaps the least talked about pen ever.
I’m here to change that.  It hasn’t got any prettier.  Some compared it to a trainer  (That’s a sneaker on the west side of the Atlantic).  In a way, I can see where they’re coming from – lots of unnecessary and somewhat garish decoration pointed with unerring aim at the teenage market.  Once you get over that, you remember that it’s a pen.  Taking it as such, the very tight clip is made from bent wire like the Lamy Safari.  The cap has fairly impossible-to-describe decoration and it’s quite bulky, rather wider than the barrel.  Pulling off the cap is quite easy but it does fit securely.  The barrel has a grey anodised finish with lots of writing and a couple of plastic inserts.  The end of the barrel is finished off with a black plastic plug.  Between the barrel and the section is a red ring, Rotring’s famous trademark.  The section is unique.  It is cut out at the top and ridged underneath.  This is intended to give the writer a secure and comfortable grip.  It probably does for some, I should think, but I would have liked it a little thicker.
The nib is the usual Rotring offering.  I had a Rotring pen once, a big heavy brutal thing – I can’t remember the model name – and it had a nib like this, only bigger.  You could have used it to dig the garden.  This nib is similarly objectionable and it’s decorated with dots for no reason I can think of, and it has the letters XL printed thereon.  Unscrewing the barrel (it has a lot of threads) I find an empty short international cartridge held in place by some sort of adapter.  That seems to work well enough.
Going to write with the pen, you find that the cap posts after a fashion – it is loose and will fall off if the pen is inverted – and it completely over-balances the pen.  You have to write un-posted which never feels right to me.  In actually writing, the horrid nib performs very well indeed and the ink flow is very good.  This one is a medium firm, where firm = hard as a rock.  Really, prejudices aside, there’s nothing wrong with that and it has to be said that this little pen is a great writer.  It hurt me quite painfully to say that.
So that’s it,  the Rotring Core,  a sensation a few years ago but as popular as a red-haired stepchild these days.  That’s perhaps not really justified.  Apart from the posting problem this is a very good basic writer if you can ignore its appearance.  I plan to hold this one in a small brown paper bag.  It’s either that or go blind with the horror of the thing.

Writefine – A Parker Sub-Brand


It is sometimes said that Parker only made one pen with a lever fill and that was the Parkette.  That’s not quite true.  There was another, though it did not bear the Parker name.  The Parkette was withdrawn in 1939 and the Writefine was introduced in 1940.  This was a very low cost pen at $1, but the quality is surprisingly good.  The plastic that it is made of has some heft to it and it feels strong.  It reminds me of the material that the Parker 51 is made from.  The trim was originally goldplated or perhaps I should say gold washed.  A little remains on the cap ring but it is pretty well entirely gone from the clip and the lever.  That aside, this pen with its gold coloured metal clip screw, ink-visible section and general air of restrained good quality was a whole lot of pen for the money.
It has a steel nib which may originally have been goldplated but certainly is not now.  However it’s not one of these cheap nibs with folded tips.  It has a good blob of tipping material.  This pen had been dropped and the nib was buckled at the tip.  With my new nib repair tools ( I was able to get it back to something like its original state.
These pens had a short production run, so not all that many were made.  They are not at all common in Britain and in fact this is the first one I’ve had.  I believe there was a Writefine desk set too.  I find the quality to be higher than that of the Parkette or the Challenger, which it resembles in many respects.  It’s not actually a Parker of course.  The barrel imprint is “Writefine Made in USA Writefine Co” so perhaps Parker did not respect it well enough to put their name to it.  Nonetheless, it’s a surprisingly good pen considering its original cost.


I bought a pen from Graeme (smegmegs in eBay) and he sent me another one free of charge as he knew I would be interested in it.  Very kind of him.
It’s a Penplas lever filler.  I’ve had one or two before that came in lots that I bought but you don’t see them often.  It’s very much the Standard English Pen, a lever filler with a clip that is held by a screw.  It’s a very simple pen with nothing in the way of decoration.  There is no cap band and there is a tiny bit of gold plating left on the clip.  The nib is plated and it’s one of those ones with a star on it.  I should know what that is but I’ve forgotten.
They were low-cost pens, perhaps aimed at school pupils.  They were made by Penplas Industries in Regent Street, London.  The company was not in business for very long – 1947 to the early 50s, which may go some way to explaining why there aren’t all that many around.  Also, being a cheap pen they probably weren’t highly valued by their owners and were thrown away when they were replaced.
Not a collector’s item then, nor a pen that would be anyone’s first choice for a daily writer.  Nonetheless, it’s a fountain pen and remains of interest because it reflects what was commonly used in those days.  It lacks bling or even elegance but it was one of the host of forgotten pens that got the job done.

Pepe World Service Eyedropper Filler


IMG_0369This is a new one, for me.  I like the occasional oddity.  Pepe World Service, as you may know (I didn’t) is a designer label, marketing jeans, T-shirts and other clothes.  It apparently does some accessories, too, and that’s where this fountain pen comes in.  I have no idea when this was made but I would guess it’s no older at the most than the 1990s.
As you can see, the box contains a pen and a bottle of ink with an eyedropper attachment.  I’m not quite sure why anybody would go for an eyedropper filler in a pen that is marketed to the general public.  It’s a big pen at 15.4 cm capped.  It’s surprisingly well-made.  The plastic, in grey/black marbled effect is not unattractive and it has an ink view area which is quite useful in an eyedropper pen, giving you the opportunity to refill before it starts to blob.  It has a strong clip and the very wide cap band has a “stacked coins” effect.  There is a silvered barrel imprint.  The firm fine steel nib is marked “Pepe”.
In all, it appears to be quite a good pen.  It would be nice to know who it was made by but I don’t suppose we will ever get that information.
It seems that Pepe World Service believed that there was still some life in the fountain pen market and that it would be attractive to the young people it targets.  They might have misjudged that…


Conway Stewart Dinkie 570 Lumina Green




(Excuse the quality of these photos.  I’m not happy with this camera.  They say it’s a poor workman that blames his tools but I think I bought the wrong tool.  It has a lens with all the chromatic qualities of a milk bottle bottom.  And no, I won’t tell you publicly what it it is, because it was made by a huge manufacturer who might sue me to bankruptcy.)


This is a customer’s pen.  It had a slight leak which, as it turned out, was down to someone having fitted a Parker Pliglass sac which didn’t adhere too well to the section.

I’m not all that familiar with Dinkies and this little fellow puzzled me for a bit.  At first glance I took it to be a 570, then I doubted that because it is a Pressac filler.  It took a bit of digging around before I found out that there were Pressac 570s, so that’s what it is.
It’s a stunning little pen in the Lumina green.  Dinkies usually came in sets with a pencil and were extremely popular gifts.  I sometimes wonder, particularly with regard to the post-war Dinkies, whether they were more popular with the giver rather than the recipient.  I say that because so many of them come on the market in an unused state.  Perhaps they were felt to be too pretty to use and remained in their box.  Another thing that I’ve heard said is that they are too small to use, and to be honest, I sort of subscribed to that view myself.  However, write-testing this little fellow, I found it to be quite comfortable.  Perhaps I might write for a slightly longer time with a bigger pen, but it was certainly no worse to write with than the slender First World War Swans or Onotos.  I have moderately small hands which probably makes it a better fit, and it may be that those with larger hands can convince themselves that it’s impossible to write with anything other than a big pen, roughly around the size of a policeman’s baton.  Having seen joiners with hands like shovels writing perfectly comfortably with a half-inch stub of pencil, I’m inclined to regard that as another of those affectations that plague the fountain pen world.
Dinkies are the collector’s pen par excellence.  There have been so many models made over the years, in so many colours and patterns, that a comprehensive collection must be very big indeed.  Though the Dinkies are the most famous, several other firms made small pens, including even American manufacturers like Wahl Eversharp.

Like everything else, the prices of Dinkies are rising, though many of the post-war sets still sell for prices that seem a real bargain.

Stephens Scarlet Ink


I can never resist a big old bottle of ink!  This Stephens Scarlet is 20 ounces or 563 cc.  The ink seems especially translucent and may have faded but I can always find a way to intensify it should that be the case.
I can’t put a date on this bottle but the packaging looks as if it may be late 50s or 60s.  I believe that the company stopped making ordinary inks sometime in the 1960s, though it went on producing specialist inks.  I don’t want to cover the whole history of Stephens Inks as you can find that easily on the web – Wikipedia for example.  Apparently some drawing inks and registrar’s ink are still issued under the Stephens name.  I believe they may be produced by Ecclesiastical Stationery Supplies.
I particularly like the Stephens Inkblot Man on the side of the box.  At one time many companies used personifications of their product like this but it isn’t so common now.  I think that we have lost a cheerful and endearing tradition with their disappearance.

Actually, I never use red ink.  Though it looks nice on paper I have something of a prejudice against it because of the amount of time that I’ve spent trying to get it out of old pens.  Nothing seems more persistent nor stains so readily as red ink.  However, I think I’m going to have to set a pen aside purely for red ink.  The colour is so beautiful and it seems a shame not to make use of it.