A Faded Mentmore

Pens have a life of their own, even if it’s only black hard rubber fading or the pen accumulating micro-scratches. I could write one of those essays we did in school, “The Life of a …” about a fountain pen, but that’s not what I’m going to do today.

This is a Mentmore Autoflow, one of the better British pens. It started out blue and black marbled, as the cap remains but something happened to the barrel. It has become translucent amber with traces of the original marbled pattern remaining. I’ve seen this several times before, mostly on Mentmores but sometimes on other pens. British-made Watermans of the thirties are susceptible.

I don’t know what causes this effect. It may be similar to the transformation caused by the outgassing of sacs that affects jade and lapis lazuli (among others) celluloids. If that is so, why does it not affect all marbled celluloid? Perhaps it is down to a flaw in this particular celluloid, and it may be that the gases from the sac act as a catalyst. There may be some other explanation.

If you think of it purely as damage, this is a throwaway pen. I find it quite attractive, particularly when held up to the light. It’s something different anyway as it isn’t especially common.

My husband got into a discussion with a gent who had a Waterman that this had happened to. This was in FPN, a place where I am no longer welcomed with open arms and glad cries of joy, but he still visits the place. He has a stronger stomach than me. Anyway, the owner of the Waterman wanted to be told that he had something unique and precious. Hubby told him, with some regret, that it was a form of fading but the owner remained certain that Waterman had made this one pen that way. People can convince themselves of anything but I’m afraid there can be no doubt that this is a process that afflicts some celluloids.

The fact that it is a process is interesting too. Assuming that the fading happens to be an interaction between flawed celluloid and gases from the sac, could these little islands of pattern disappear too, if the sac decayed for long enough? Has anyone seen one of these amber barrels that has become wholly translucent?

I happen to have two or three of these faded pens at the moment (thank you, PS!) and I plan to restore them to the best condition possible. I think they’re quite special.

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6 thoughts on “A Faded Mentmore

  1. as far as British made f.ps. go, this ‘deterioration’ does seem to appear at least as commonly on Mentmore, if not more so than other makes, but like most folk I’ve no idea as to why either. I’ve a Diploma that looks more like a ‘demonstrator’ than how it should appear – it looks to be that it’s the black areas of the celluloid that degrade and become clear – leaving the flecks of silver, red and grey unchanged. Is there any possibility that this effect is the result simply of black being fugitive to light – some colours are known to have this down side.

    Not to be confused with Platignum’s ‘VISI-INK’, which has a purpose made clear central section of barrel and – mostly – a filling system whereby you remove the last inch of the barrel and squeeze a small sac – and rarely with large button fillers.
    Nor with Mentmore’s similar offering – my one and only Mentmore ‘VISI-INK’ lacks any barrel imprint save ‘EARLES CEMENT’ on the removable sac cover – the clear part of the barrel has a lovely rose tint which goes well with the pinkish marbling – though I suspect that the pink on the ‘window’ may have been the result of someone using red ink! EARLES CEMENT was, I think, somewhere in Cheshire.

    My older Watermans that have brownish barrels are definitely the result of out-gassing, I’m told – unfortunately it’s difficult to make a direct comparison with the Mentmore casualties because my W. lack any part of the body that has faded to clear – the barrels have all remained opaque and become disfigured by turning brown – some badly so. Great shame – one was a lovely Canadian moss agate job and another was, originally, a lovely pale onyx – caps can also suffer become dark brown too.

    1. Very sad that those beautifully patterned thirties Watermans are so susceptible to darkening and fading. I like your suggestion that the black may be fugitive to light in these Mentmores.

      There are several pens with intentionally translucent celluloid elements; the Ford comes to mind. Mine has a wine-coloured interior barrel.

  2. It happens to some celluloid Montblancs as well – I have a 344 which might as well be a demonstrator. Just like your Mentmore, the cap is still normally colored (black, in my case), but the entire barrel has turned a very even clear amber. It’s a piston filler, so no sac is involved, and I don’t even know if ink contact is relevant since the part of the barrel taken up by the piston mechanism (and therefore not in contact with ink) is just as amber as the rest of it.

    1. Thank you for that information, Brian. Can it be that light is the cause of the disappearing colours, and the caps are made of different material? In all the cases I have seen it is black that disappears.

  3. think I was wrong in suggesting the location of Earles Cement was Cheshire – I did look it all up some time back – believe it was the Kingston-Upon-Hull area.

    Perhaps it’s only black that suffers from this problem??

    1. Comment from Peter G:

      (Earles Cement)
      Established in 1803. Opened its first cement works in 1821 at Wilmington,
      Hull until 1966 (demolished 1969). In 1929 opened a works in Hope Valley
      Derbyshire. Could have had other works too. In 1912 they merged to form
      British Associated Portland Cement (Blue Circle) but retained their
      identity. In 1966 the name was dropped.

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