The first pen I ever worked on was a little Swan eyedropper. Looking back on it now, it might have been a 1500. I found it in a junk shop, one of those places that was piled high with other people’s worn-out dreams, stacks of furniture and old trunks, ornaments and knick-knacks that had served whatever purpose those things serve.
The pen was seized solid with ancient ink. You’ll have to bear in mind that I was as innocent as a newborn where pens were concerned. I would have a pen like that disassembled in two minutes flat now, but then I had no appropriate tools or knowledge.
A few minutes examination showed how it went together. Getting it apart was another matter. Despite being a girly I have strong hands from years of operating motor bike clutch and brake levers, but I couldn’t unscrew the section. I was savvy enough to know that ordinary pliers would cause irreparable damage so that was out.
It occurred to me that ink is a water-soluble substance, so I suspended the pen nib down in a jar with a couple of inches of water in it. It worked in a way. By the next morning the water was deep blue and when I applied some force I was finally able to unscrew the section. The downside was that the front part of the pen which had been a dark greyish green was now a nasty dull yellow. That was disappointing but I refused to be discouraged about it. After all, I wanted the pen to write with, not to impress anyone.
I couldn’t get any ink to reach the tip of the nib. It seemed that the section was still blocked with dried-out ink. I couldn’t really see how to get the feed out. The rear of the feed was pointed so it wouldn’t be a good idea to hit it. It looked like it would have to come out from the front. I spent the day alternately soaking the nib/feed/section unit and pulling on it. I wasn’t getting anywhere. It wouldn’t budge.
Then I had a brilliant idea! I took a set of pliers, ground the ridges off and wrapped the jaws in many layers of insulating tape. I seized the nib and feed with it and give a mighty pull. And the feed broke off. That was a bad, bad moment.
There were no Internet discussion boards where I could go for advice in those days, and everyone I knew was perfectly satisfied with their Bic ballpoints and regarded fountain pens as being as outdated as a horse and cart. All I could do was ponder on my experience and try to find a way forward. No blinding light of revelation came to me but I had learned that force is never the answer, pens (I didn’t even know what the material was that the pen was made from) didn’t like water and I had made my first pen restoration tool, imperfect though it was.
That might have been the end of that and I would have had to be satisfied with a Bic ballpoint like everyone else or laid out the huge sum that new fountain pens cost in those days. Fate intervened, though, as it so often does, and I went to a stationery store one day to buy that accordion-fold paper that printers used back then. The man who sold it to me was making notes with a truly ancient fountain pen. I admired it and we fell into fountain pen conversation. In the past, as part of his stationery business, he had serviced and repaired fountain pens. That work had dried up several years before. Not only was he happy to sell me some tools and spares (including sacs) but he gave me a brief tutorial on types of fountain pen and the methods of their repair.
From that moment on there was no looking back. I would like to say that I still have that first Swan, all these years later, but barrels, caps and nibs are too precious for sentimentality. It was used for spares long ago.