While hard rubber is by far my favourite material from which pens have been, and are, made I recognise its failings, the worst being oxidation. The market has come up with several methods of restoration (of a kind) of faded hard rubber pens but I steer away from them. They rarely work well and many pens returned to their original colour by these method tend to stand out and look bogus.
Long-lasting old black hard rubber, the sort that doesn’t fade, frequently appears in cheap pens. I’ve often seen 20s and 30s advertising and giveaway pens that shine with all their original lustre and depth of colour while Swans and Onotos fade if you give them a sidelong look. Purely subjectively, the rubber in those pens seems especially light to me and they don’t wear as readily as “better” pens.
Be that as it may, hard rubber is always light, one of its great benefits. I suspect that those who appreciate heft and regard heaviness as a sign of quality don’t actually write very much. The ideal pen would weigh nothing. A Swan 1060 with a fill of ink weighs 17g. The Crocodile, average for those far eastern pens with lots of metal, weighs 35g empty. I actually like the Croc for other reasons but I know which pen I prefer to settle down with for a long writing session.
Of course celluloid wins by several lengths in the colour stakes but hard rubber has shown a range of possibilities. Waterman and strangely enough Platignum turned out splendidly colourful hard rubber pens but they were beaten into a cocked hat by the rainbow myriad of colours Pilot achieved in their – sadly all too rare – 1930s hard rubber pens. For myself, I’m satisfied with black or mottled.
Hard rubber is hard to repair if it cracks or breaks. I have yet to be convinced that a durable repair is actually possible and yes, I know about the Loctite solution. Didn’t last for me. Of course all pens with exceptionally thin cap lips crack, regardless of material. I can’t repair the celluloid ones because the materials involved are lethal to someone with respiratory complaints so I can’t have them in the house. Sadly, damage is part of the ageing process for delicate instruments like pens. It isn’t always the end. My Swan 1060 was not sold because of a cap lip crack and I’m rather glad about that! And, on the other hand, hard rubber has a “memory” and a blast of heat is usually enough to get rid of those pesky bite marks.
I keep coming back to my 1060, of which I am especially fond. When I found it, it was not faded. It was dulled with much use, a mass of micro-scratches. Once I spotted the cap lip crack and decided I would keep it, I gave it a cursory polish with a cloth and that was all I did to it aesthetically. However, the more I use it, the shinier it gets! It’s beautiful to look at and very pleasing to the touch. I have a slightly faded SF230/61 that is going through the same process. Gets shinier every day I use it! It makes those pens especially precious and personal. Do any of the other materials pens are made from do that? Perhaps silver, though I’m not fond of metal pens.
Black hard rubber takes beautiful chasing, sharp enough to cut you when unworn. Celluloid does too, to be fair, but I always think of that as a backward glance to the glory days of hard rubber. Also, I would have to say that both are upstaged by chased metal pens but I just love black chased hard rubber. Whoever came up with the relatively simple chasing machine was a genius in the true sense of the word.
I’m lucky in that the pens I appreciate most, the Swan Self-Fillers and Leverlesses, were made in the heyday of vulcanised rubber production. Mabie Todd had an especial loyalty to that material, making pens from it in the forties and fifties when it had otherwise disappeared from fountain pen production.