What can I write about for your delectation today? I don’t happen to have to hand some unusual pen that you’ve never heard of, though I’m sure I will, shortly. Today I want to talk about ink, but not as someone in Fountain Pen Network would. You know the sort of thing, he’s verging on a nervous breakdown because among his 400 bottles of ink there isn’t one that will suit his new limited edition fluorescent pink Montblanc that contains the DNA of Liberace.
No, I’m more inclined to talk about ink getting into the wrong places. For many years I only used fountain pens to write with and I was very careful filling them. I might get the occasional spot of ink on my fingers but by the time I’d washed the dishes it had faded to near-invisible.
I began restoring and selling pens. In the early days when I was selling in eBay, I might be write testing as many as 20 at a time. Doing as many as that and flushing them too, it was impossible to keep the ink off my little paws. And not just the occasional spot, either. Even washing the dishes and doing the housecleaning was not enough to remove it. I know that some of you wear it as a badge of honor but I think it’s quite unsightly on my ladylike pinkies.
I ordered a box of black latex gloves, the ones that some tattoo artists use. They were great. Not only did they keep the tide of ink at bay, they improved my grip when I was taking pens apart. A few weeks later, though, I began to feel itchy and uncomfortable wearing them. I know that latex allergy is common and I began buying nitrile gloves instead. It’s equally grippy and not at all allergenic. I believe it’s what most of the other tattoo artists use.
Problem solved, no more ink-staining of the digits unless I got impatient and started messing with pens without putting on the gloves. But that wasn’t the end of my concerns with ink. I’ve never had one of those horrible major accidents (touch wood) where an entire bottle of ink gets tipped over and you need to make an insurance claim for everything in the room, but ink, like blood, when escaped, leaves traces of its presence all around.
When the pens are ready for testing, I set out my necessaries – two grades of paper, several grades of micromesh, kitchen towel and the all-important ink bottle. I don’t do as many pens as I used to but thoroughly testing ten pens will take most of an afternoon. A few spots of ink will escape unnoticed until later, when I’m tidying up. As I’m working on our gorgeous oak dining table, it becomes a matter of some anxiety and concern to remove every last trace or shadow of ink. I use Diamine Sargasso Sea which wipes up very well but I don’t like taking risks with our lovely table. I found a plastic table cover which relieves my mind immensely.
To finish up this rambling discourse on ink, I know I was a smidgen sarcastic about those people who become a little obsessed with ink. Each to his own. Many inks are absolutely lovely. I often read those beautifully and scientifically constructed reviews of inks that Chrissy does in Fountain Pen Geeks. She is undoubtedly a great asset to the fountain pen world.
There are a couple of reasons why I don’t have more inks. First of all, many of them are very expensive. I spend a lot of money on pens and there isn’t much left over for inks. Also, as well as the Diamine ink I usually use, I have several vintage inks, Swan, Colliers and the original Webster’s Diamine among them, and I like to use those sometimes. Finally, and I hope I don’t cause too much offense saying this, my love is for pens, not ink.