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.