Bad Practice

It has been a week of bad practice. My sources tell me that there was an unedifying debate in FPN on the subject of gluing sections in place with shellac. I’m sure that some of you will know where that particular piece of bad advice came from. The proponent of this nonsense shellacs sections in place so that the pens’ owners can’t get in there where they have no right to be. This is a fine example of the weird thinking that is abroad in the world.

Yesterday I took a trip through eBay to see what I could find. I managed to pick up a nice Leverless, one of my favourite pens. As I flicked from one page to the next my eyes were suddenly assaulted with astounding brutality. The offending weapon was a colourful 1930s pen, polished within an inch of its life until it gleamed like the Koh-I-Noor diamond. There were several of these shiny, shiny pens, all emanating from the workshop of the same “restorer.” They were mostly cheap pens to begin with but once The Shining had been imposed upon them I would think they were utterly worthless to any collector of that period.

I’m not going to publish the pen destroyer’s name here. That would be a little harsh, but if anyone wants enlightened just drop me a PM. What made this most amusing is that the seller boasts that his pens are “professionally machine and hand polished.” So it seems that in addition to the traditional professions: lawyers, clergy and doctors we now have professional pen polishers.

“What do you do for a living, Mr Pen Seller?”

“Why, I’m a Professional Pen Polisher!”

“My goodness! That must have taken a lot of study!”

“Yes, four years undergraduate study and another two years to complete my doctorate. My thesis was on the effect of varying speeds with a Dremel and a cotton mop.”

All very impressive. He then goes on to say that his pens are completed with “museum finishing wax.” About five years ago museums and other bodies stopped using Renaissance Wax and other similar preparations. Originally thought to be a harmless polish, they turned out to contain chemicals that were injurious to many materials, including those that pens are made from. It also proved well-nigh impossible to remove. Avoid wax at all costs.

17 thoughts on “Bad Practice

  1. Hi Deb, I’d be interested in who you are talking about here. I had a wonderful Parker Challenger pen from a customer that had the section glued and the new pressure bar was so bent it would never fill. Pen had previously came restored, from Greg Minuskin, not the first time I have heard unfavourable reports about him. I restore Japanese eyedropper pens, that many shy away from, including when he was repairing pens, Richard Binder, though he said on line he could service them.. We all have failures, why so many, once they realise it is not all “cakes and ale”, give up pen repair. I know my limitations and others strengths, Laurence Oldfield, Francis Gooosens, Osman Sumer, John Sorowoka, these people in the various skills required, I could not compare with, and quite happily send work to them. My standing is high enough, they will take work from me, but not from unknowns, that didn’t happen overnight. Sorry if this come across as narcissistic, pen repair is a very expensive skill to learn, some time fantastic highs, others crippling lows. Best Wishes, Eric

    On Sat, 3 Nov 2018 at 10:24, Goodwriterspens’s Blog wrote:

    > goodwriterspens posted: “It has been a week of bad practice. My sources > tell me that there was an unedifying debate in FPN on the subject of gluing > sections in place with shellac. I’m sure that some of you will know where > that particular piece of bad advice came from. The propone” >

  2. One wonders if the recent surge of over-polished, gleaming *old* pens is in response to a growing market of younger pen purchasers. From my vantage point, we may be seeing a waning of the ‘collector’ era that came about over the last 30 or so years, people who knew and valued the provenance and patina of a vintage pen. There are now many younger pen buyers who, after having gotten a handful of contemporary pens want to dip into ‘vintage’ (scare-quoted because to them that might mean a pen from 1980) and expect it to be shiny, just like all the others. It’s just awful, no matter the reason.

    1. I think that you’re exactly right. I come across less real collectors nowadays. Most of what I sell is to people who want to use the pens and that’s fine – I aim for that sector too, but the collectors were the core of this hobby and I think they’re disappearing.

  3. Hello ?? – yes, I’m still here:-):-)

    I understand there are many people who do acquire modern, though I’m always a tad mystified as to quite what it is that they’re writing. Are they all knee deep in long hand letter correspondence, limitless pages of a diary – or is it perhaps that they just like the idea of owning top end M.Bs. and Platinums.

    1. Your guess is as good as mine. I have a few modern pens and I like to write with them. Everything that appears in this blog is written out longhand first with either a modern or an old pen.

  4. sorry folks – must have pressed the wrong key.
    Had also meant to add that no only have many of the older quality increased in their value over the past couple of years, but they have also become less common, on such sites as ebay.

    My gripe with modern pens is that – judging by the nibs I see – their writing characteristics in general are very similar – so you lay out heavy shekels and when it comes to putting pen to paper the end result is no different than if you have bought a pre-owned Parker Duofold – which obviously would have been a lot less expensive.
    So this is a shout for older pens – the likes of Swan etc. – where you will get a nib with character:-)

    1. There is some truth in thta – it’s not entirely true though. There is some difference between modern pens – for instance I enjoy using Platinums but I find modern Pelikans unpleasant.

  5. Re ‘glued’ sections, please note it is documented that CS often used ‘a dot’ of shellac on sections in original assembly to take up any slack, especially early 50s. This achieves the required result, while sections can still be easily removed by heating just enough to soften this small amount of shellac. I guess the complaint about gluing relates to rather more liberal application of the shellac…..

    Treacling up pens, or indeed any antiques, is an example of extreme stupidity. Destroying patina in this short-sighted way just destroys the character of an item, the main reason that people like to own vintage products in the first place. I suspect the practice is employed by those who know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

    I have to say my respect for younger pen buyers was greatly enhanced by a politics student from University of East Anglia who purchased a couple of early Swan overlays c1900 in excellent (but original) condition at the recent LWES from my table-mate Steve Hull. He was keen to hear about their history, and keen to bring them back into use, albeit sparingly.

    1. I can’t say I’ve seen any evidence of the use of shellac on Conway Stewart sections. It may be documented but in the hundreds of CS pens I’ve restored, including ones with original CS sacs, they’ve all been a dry friction fit.

      As regards over-polishing, of course it’s bad practice but those who do it are selling their pens.

  6. I have to admit to owning a small tin of Renaissance Wax – it seems to be sold in small tins only – though I hasten to add that it was acquired in the pursuit of my interest in bookbinding – it does wonders for leather and give a marvellous shine, and I also admit to having used the stuff on a few pens a year or two back.
    It gained some popularity on FPN in recent years, so I thought I’d see how it behaved on one or two pens.
    It does exactly what it says on the tin, and my pens looked great though in view of the subsequent thoughts of the potential harm to pens I ceased using this wax on pens, and now use other water based proprietary polishes/creams which are recommended specifically for
    As far as leather goes, I suspect heavy use of R.W. stops the leather from breathing.

    I also dislike an over-shiny pen – I’m one of those people who doesn’t object to owning pens that show their age, and there’s a sense of possessing an antique when you can hold something from the 1920/30s that does in fact have an appearance of that sort of age. I also don’t particularly object to personalized pens – I have quite a few.
    But – aside from the over-shiny appearance, does R.W. actually harm BHR or celluloid – I’m not aware that those few pens I treated with this stuff have deteriorated, although to be truthful I’ve probably forgotten which ones I waxed. However, Deborah’s comment about the impossibility of removing this wax, once on the pen, is true – and that might be a factor that ‘polishers’ of pens would need to heed.

    As for shellac problems on section/barrel joins – I think I’ve had bad experiences on a variety of makes – wouldn’t say it was confined to any particular brand, and the only remedy is patience – it can sometimes take a few days of the use of a hair dryer to succeed.

    1. As regards Renaissance Wax, I’m going on the advice of people who have showed themselves to be completely trustworthy and who do a lot more chemical research than I ever could.

      I think the worst example of gluing sections was Waterman for a time. It was not shellac that they used but some concoction of their own. This applied most to US pens; Canadian and UK pens – while bad enough – could be repaired. Anything unnecessary that makes a section harder to remove increases the risk of breaking the fragile barrel.

  7. I’d suggest that there is an instance where scrubbing a pen barrel and cap to rejuvenate is justified, though not as an excuse to then use R.W. ………………… I’m thinking of those BHR pens that have acquired a heavy coating of oxidation.
    Slight browning can be tolerated, but when an otherwise black pen turns a deep shade of khaki, then it’s o.k. to spend time removing it. The down side is that this often leads to loss of imprint etc.

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