Restoration Practices

Here’s an interesting tale and I’ll be glad to hear your comments about what I have to say. I sold a pen recently to a customer who subsequently complained that there was an accumulation of old ink in the section and in the cap.

As most of you will be aware (goodness knows I’ve written about it often enough) I restore conservatively. That means I do no more than is necessary to bring the pen back to working condition and a good appearance. I don’t do reblacking, for instance. I want the pens that I restore to be around for as long as is possible, so I don’t use materials or practices that are deleterious to the pen’s longevity. I don’t soak pens as that can damage all materials. I keep water out of the barrel and cap. Strange as it may seem you can have decades of accumulations of water-based ink in the cap or barrel without any apparent damage but the moment you put water in there the rusting begins. I’ve had enough pens passed to me that have been “restored” by someone else, with rusting internal metal parts. That’s especially bad in the cap because the tiny parts holding a clip can rapidly rust through, which requires a difficult and time-consuming repair and is best avoided. If you get water in there you may imagine that you’ve got it out but you haven’t. The only way to ensure that your customer’s pen is not going to suffer severe problems from rusting is to keep the water out of there.

Now, to the specifics: the pen had good ink flow before it left me and the customer does not complain that the ink flow is inadequate. Nonetheless he has said that the section/feed assembly had an accumulation of old ink. Further, he said that it took use of an ultrasonic cleaner to remove the ink. In answer to that, I don’t routinely drift out the feed and nib. I only do so if there is a blockage and I believe it to be the case that most good restorers follow the same practice. Resetting a nib properly is not a trivial exercise and it should not be done unless there is a reason for it. Secondly, why use such a blunt instrument as an ultrasonic cleaner? If the interior of a section needs cleaned of ink, that’s what cotton buds were made for. They have the benefit of doing a very good job while not exposing black hard rubber to the likelihood of fading from exposure to water. It seems to me that it matters not, in any case, if there is old ink in the section provided the ink flow is good.

Then there’s the cap. As I said above it is my practice to keep water out of the cap, for what I believe to be excellent reasons. If it is essential to remove accumulated ink, such as in the case of the disassembly of a post-war Conway Stewart cap, I would use naphtha which will evaporate completely and leave no wet residue. Normally, I would see no reason to go digging around in the cap. Removing an accumulation of old ink has no benefit, either practical or aesthetic. You’re not aware of its presence unless you shine a light in there, and why would you do that? My customer says his concern is that it can become a problem when new ink condenses inside the cap. I’ve never known that. If the new ink is going to condense inside the cap, surely it will do so whether there’s old ink in there or not? Also, in years of pen restoration, this is the first time that anyone has raised the issue of old ink in the cap with me.

Given how long I’ve been doing this, and with such a high rate of success, it would take a tremendously good argument to make me change my tried and tested practices. However, I would be most interested to hear what you think.


13 thoughts on “Restoration Practices

  1. Ha, may I quote the following well known saying….
    “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.
    I agree with you Deb, conservative restoration is the way to go with vintage pens.
    Keep them coming!

  2. Your other customer may be the kind of collector/user who wants a vintage ‘virgin’. Sounds like he should focus on new old stock. One of the many charms and pleasures of a vintage pen is the ‘warrior marks’ of previous battles with condolences,school essays, love letters, checkbooks.All that adds to the warmth and personality of a vintage pen.

  3. Any vintage pen is like a vintage car, it’s ‘used’. You have to be pretty strange to expect it to be absolutely perfect. One of the charms of an ‘old’ pen is that you can guess it’s history by its usage marks.

  4. previous comments re cleaning and restoration from a professional such as Deb, would seem to indicate that there’s no lack of ‘right approach’ when preparing pens for sale, so on the face of it difficult to understand the buyers comments as being legitimate complaints.
    Much caution is needed when drifting out nibs and feeds, and very true that re-seating a nib is not for the faint hearted. A suitable diameter pipette, cut open half way along such that it then fits tightly over the rear of the section, may be used to pump warm water in and out of the section repeatedly, and should clear any dried ink residue – patience may be needed with repeat efforts as ink can be stubborn. This is preferable to removing the feed, which is something probably only necessary when a nib needs changing.

    Regret I don’t follow the logic of using a cotton bud to clean a section – not sure how you’d get the bud into the section, and assume we’re not speaking here of simply cleaning the rear end of the section or the nib. Obviously the ‘hole’ at the rear of the section (in fact the surface groove on the feed) could be blocked, but this would be apparent immediately since the pen would not take up any ink, and Deb has commented that the pen functioned perfectly o.k. when tested.
    I’ve no experience of ultrasonic cleaners, so can’t comment as to whether they are considered to be blunt instruments or not – do know that they are recommended in some of the manuals – but their use does appear to be more as an extreme measure, and on the face of it would not have been necessary bearing in mind the condition of this particular pen.

    I’d agree with some of the other comments insofar as this particular buyer sounds to be picky to the nth degree, and want a pen that looks as though it’s just come from the factory. I believe that some buyers routinely dismantle their pens and clean every surface meticulously.
    W……….s. (that’s wallies by the way:))

    Ages old dried ink in the cap probably creates an anaerobic environment (the opposite of what girls do in their aerobic classes:)) – if you remove oxygen or the presence of ‘air’, then you also remove the potential for rust to form – but take the dried ink away and in comes the air again which might then corrode the internal metal.
    Am sure I get plenty of H2O in some of my caps, but don’t seem to get problems since I thoroughly dry everything.

    Can’t see that Deb has done anything out of the ordinary, and hope she didn’t get a bad feedback on this one. Carry on as usual Deb.:)

    1. Thank you, Paul. Couple of points: perhaps if I use the term “Q-Tip” rather than cotton bud you’ll understand better what I’m saying about cleaning the section.

      In my experience, there are very few functions in pen repair where an ultrasonic cleaner is more useful than simpler methods. The only pen part I can think of that I would immerse in an ultrasonic cleaner is the reservoir of a Parker 61.

  5. Thanks so much for this exceedingly timely article. I am new at restoration and am particularly interested in third tier pens from the 30s and 40s. I was planning on buying an ultrasonic cleaner tomorrow (truly), but having read your notes I think I’ll skip the machine and instead buy those Berwicks I saw in a nearby antique store.

    1. I’m glad that it has been helpful for you. Dig through the blog, there are other restoration articles. As regards the ultrasonic cleaner: I have one but I rarely find a use for it.

  6. I think I should be put out to grass:)……….. no one picked me up on it, but perhaps Deb will amend the last sentence of my first paragraph to read………
    “This is preferable to removing the feed etc. etc.” thanks:(

    The problem is not so much taking pens apart that’s most dangerous – it’s the getting the bits back together again properly that’s the real headache:)

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