Finishing

An aspect of restoration that is much misunderstood is polishing. There is moderation in all things and it should be applied to the final stage of restoration. I’ve seen many pens that have been machine-polished to death and beyond, producing a hideous glaze that bears no resemblance to the original appearance of the pen. Note: I don’t condemn buffing machines. I have one myself and it’s useful for reducing or removing scratches and nibbles.

I’m not one of those restorers who tries to return a pen to its appearance when new. That isn’t possible with most old pens, nor, to my mind, is it desirable. There are several restorers selling their pens in eBay who practice this type of restoration and do it well. Of course their starting point is an old pen in near-pristine condition. You’re unlikely to succeed with a scratched or faded pen with worn trim. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. It’s best to aim for an attractive appearance that acknowledges the pen’s long use.

Gold plating, in its various kinds, endures better on some pens than others but a well-used old pen will always show wear even if it’s only on the ball end of the clip. The plating on 20s/30s Parkers and Sheaffers lasts better than most. Other pens, even high quality ones like Waterman and Swan often have some brassing. What do you do about it? Re-plating is out of the question for everyday pens. Even for more expensive ones it may not be appropriate as it’s very hard to colour-match gold plating. I would suggest that heavily worn clips and levers should be cleaned and then left alone. Constant repolishing will make them look good temporarily but every polishing removes more gold. There’s little to choose between metal polishes; they all abrade the present surface away and present a new one. Semichrome is well regarded. I use a rouge cloth.

Finishing hard rubber is something we could argue about all day and long into the night. To reblack or not? Up to you. I don’t do it and I don’t plan to get into the pros and cons here. Even faded hard rubber polishes well and shines even more, the more it’s used. It’s a very rewarding material to work with. If they aren’t too extreme bite marks and scratches disappear like magic with a blast of heat. Not so much celluloid or casein. That sort of damage requires work with the Novus three-part polish. Otherwise, all those materials were a good choice for the manufacturer and shine up well. If I don’t have to repair the surface I just use a Sunshine Cloth. It’s all you need, really.

Finally, and I admit I’m a bit of a bore on the subject, don’t put wax on your pens. Renaissance wax and Cornuba both contain chemicals which will harm pens in the long term, especially celluloid. Waxes discolour through time and are very difficult to remove completely.

5 thoughts on “Finishing

  1. Maybe the diverging restoration preferences correlate with the distinction between “collectors” and “writers”. I belong to the latter category; a vintage pen that shines like a new one somehow does not feel entirely right. Scratches and brassing are a reflection of the pen having been pre-owned (or “pre-loved” as some sellers like to say), and in my partisan view add to their charm. The only thing that really maters to me is whether a pen is fully functional – no cracks in the nib, enough tipping left, no undue leakage and a filling system that works. I remember having read (possibly in your blog) that polishing a pen with a buffing machine used to be standard procedure whenever a pen was brought in for maintenance (like a car! – try to explain that concept today to anyone else than a fountain pen fanatic). Perhaps that is the reason why some pens have worn-out barrel inscriptions.

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    1. You make good points, Hans. I didn’t know that pens were routinely buffed with a wheel but I’m not surprised. As you say, it’s standard practice in some other areas. All that I would add is that I know some collectors who are happy with pens in their found condition.

  2. There’s a chap who posts videos on pen restoration (Grandmia Pens) and does everything by hand. A pen that he has worked on looks just right, an old pen in nice condition. I can’t achieve his standards but find that micromesh pads and simichrome work well, and you can avoid damaging the maker’s marks. BHR is another matter, of course. When I began I tried to recover the colour on a chased pen, got somewhere near it, and removed most of the chasing. It turned brown again shortly afterwards.

    1. Hi David,
      Interesting points. I don’t re-black BHR the pens I sell on ethical grounds but of course what people do with their own pens is their business. I think the only satisfactory way to re-black chased pens is by using Mark Hoover’s chemical process. It’s messy and expensive but people have achieved good results. Watch Grandmia’s videos with a critical eye. He is at odds with most of the restoration community because of his dubious methods. I don’t want to go into that here but if you search FPN and FPG you’ll get more information on the subject.

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