December 18, 2015 13 Comments
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.