Jinhao 886

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There was some discussion on the boards recently about the Jinhao 886 and I was quite taken with it. It seemed a nice, basic pen. I found some in eBay – they come in all the colours of the rainbow and I settled on a red one. You’ll notice from the photographs that this is quite red. In fact, it may be the reddest thing I have ever seen.
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It’s a moderate-sized pen, about 12.8 cm long. It’s quite light and initially I took it to be a plastic pen but on looking inside the cap I discovered that it is painted metal. Perhaps those people that make those tremendously heavy pens that require a hoist to get your arm off the table could take note of it and learn from it. The cap is the screw-on type and it takes two turns to close firmly. The short cap posts firmly and the pen is well balanced. I haven’t used it all that much yet but it starts well and there’s no skipping. It’s not the perfect pen for me because it’s a medium and I like fine. Imagine a situation where you can’t find a fine nib on a Chinese pen! That was all I could get and I took it.
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Because it’s so astonishingly red I had to put red ink in it (though I’m not usually one of those who hunts around for the right ink for a particular pen). I’ve only got about three inks but one of them is a glorious bottle of old Stephens ink from about 1970. It may have faded a little over the years but it’s still in-your-face red.
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Of course the pen was ridiculously cheap. It cost £2.99 postpaid! I don’t know how they do it but I’m quite glad to snap up pens like this while I can. I can’t believe that such pricing can last.

Some have described this as a bullet pen but the resemblance escapes me. It’s just a rather ordinary pen with a slightly shorter cap than usual. I think it’s the ideal thing to have lying around the desk or in your pocket.
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My assistant says, “Cheap Chinese pens! Again!”

Yard O Led Pencils

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There was a lot came up the other day with a Swan in it which I wanted. The rest of the lot was pencils, something I don’t have a great deal of interest in or knowledge about. However, they turned out to be Yard–O-Leds which even I know are good pencils. You would pay a sizeable lump of money for a new one but I don’t think that these old ones were exceptionally expensive. I’m sure they don’t have much value now.

I would have set them aside to deal with them later but the degree of filth with which they were coated was just so demanding of my attention. It must have taken decades for them to accumulate that amount of dirt. Perhaps they were in the bottom of someone’s tool chest. In any case, I am challenged by something like that – I just have to polish them! So I got out the cloths and the polish and went to work. You see the result – far from perfect because unfortunately the silver coloured pencil, which is actually rhodium plated, is quite scratched up and the rolled gold one isn’t much better. Nonetheless, they look a lot better than they did when I got them! I should have taken “before” photographs.

There is no bottom to the depths of my ignorance about pencils, but I will hazard a guess that the rhodium plated one may be as early as the 1920s whereas the rolled gold one is quite a lot later, perhaps the 1950s. Perhaps you can put me right on that.

I’m not fond of writing with metal instruments, whether they be pens or pencils. They tend to be heavy and slippery. Of the two, I could make more of the rhodium plated one; the rolled gold one seems exceptionally heavy and unwieldy to me.

So there they are. I’ll probably list them on the sales site at some point.

Books Or Websites?

Considering the discussion that took place on my last post, it’s inevitable that this post should be about pen books and pen websites. They are quite different things and not really comparable as they are produced the way they are to address different purposes.

Many books do not make good references as they are not easily searchable whereas websites are. Books, in the main, (there are exceptions) are about narrative. They are sequential and that’s how they’re best read. Really comprehensive indexes can help but not many books have indexes that are good enough. A shining example of a good reference book is Steve Hull’s The English Fountain Pen Industry but of all the fountain pen books I have, many of which have been reviewed here, that’s the only one I would regard as a useful first-hand reference.

Websites, generally, don’t lend themselves to extended narrative but you’ve only got to hit CTRL-F to find what you want. They are also very good for disseminating information as it becomes available. It’s a work of moments to update the information on a given fountain pen whereas a book is static and new information has to wait for a later edition if it is ever to appear at all. Websites are comparatively inexpensive to their author and free to the public.

Personally, I’m a book person. There are rooms in this house that I can barely get into because of the number of books I have. I love a good read and I look forward with anticipation to new fountain pen books that come out. They can provide a narrative of company information, of the personalities involved and of the development of that company’s fountain pens. But, for the most part, I don’t use them as first port-of-call references where there is an online alternative. The scrap of information that I need is much more easily accessed on one of the excellent brand websites that people have taken the trouble to make available.

Fountain pen books are expensive. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they are among the most expensive books on my shelves. That’s simply because the market for them is very small which forces the unit price up. However, not everyone is a reader of books and even among those that are many would rather spend their money on pens. That seems fair enough to me. You might respond that someone who is not prepared to buy the books can do without the information. I don’t believe that to be true. Information is ancillary, not central, to the fountain pen collecting hobby and its free availability is very good for the hobby. We in the UK are late in coming to this realisation, whereas America has had its major brands well covered online for years.

I don’t believe that the publication of information online will adversely affect the sale of pen books. Those who will buy the books, will buy them anyway. I’m an example of that. The information presented by the two mediums is invariably different.

It really isn’t about a choice between books or websites. We want – and need – both.

Mentmore & De La Rue

I’ve had a few technical enquiries of one kind or another about Mentmores recently and that has reminded me that there is very little information about the company online. There are good websites devoted to Conway Stewart, Mabie Todd, Burnham and the Langs pens but nothing so far on either Mentmore or De La Rue.

It’s hard now to tell which pen manufacturers produced the most pens but it’s certainly true that Mentmore was very prolific. If you include the sub-brand Platignum they must certainly be among the biggest producers. Both Mentmore and Platignum made technically interesting pens over a long period and Mentmore pens were of comparable quality to Conway Stewart. Platignum pens were lower cost and hence somewhat poorer quality but many have proved durable nonetheless. There’s an opportunity for someone to do a bit of research and get it online.

That leaves De La Rue as the red-headed stepchild of the British pen world (so far as online information is concerned). I understand that a book on the pen production of the company is in preparation but that’s another matter. We need books on the manufacturers but it’s also nice to have an online reference that can be quickly consulted.

Unbranded Pen With Silver Overlay

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While it’s best to go for branded pens, occasionally one will come across a pen with no maker’s name that is nonetheless clearly high quality. This one is such a pen. It’s a 1920s pen with no clip. It has a sterling silver barrel overlay and the cartouche contains the initials E S-B, so its original owner had a double-barrelled name. Sadly, the hallmark is cut in half by a seam, otherwise I would have been able to get the date.

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The pen is around 12 cm, and with the long cap posted it’s a more than adequate sized pen. The nib is warranted and has a little flexibility and it’s slightly stubbish too.
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It’s a button filler. I suppose that it’s possible that there is a maker’s mark under the overlay but given the presence of a warranted nib that appears to be original, it was probably a product of one of the many factories that turned out unbranded pens. In any case, it is well made. Everything fits together as it should and the blind cap and cap threads are deeply cut. The black hard rubber has faded very little.

An Art Nouveau Inkwell

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When I bought this wonderful inkwell, it was described by the seller as “an art nouveau/art deco inkwell”. To my eye, it’s completely art nouveau and I see no sign whatsoever of the art deco style. Both in shape and decoration, it conforms completely to the natural forms associated with that style. It has those “sudden violent curves generated by the crack of a whip” that reminded me of Beardsley’s illustrations or the tresses of a Mucha maiden.
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It’s a large piece, 8 1/2 inches across, in brass and enamel. Unless it’s a later revival – which seems unlikely given its purpose – it dates somewhere in the period 1885 to 1920. I’m sure Oscar Wilde would have had one of these…

Back At Last!

My apologies for the length of time this blog has gone without updating. Illness descended upon this house like a black pall, and having arrived refused to leave. Finally, there is improvement which will allow me to concentrate on other things like the blog and pen sales at long last.

I’ll have quite a few interesting things to write about.

Thanks to all those of you who so kindly enquired about the reason for this long caesura.