Re-Blacking (Again!)

If you’ve read my earlier comments on the subject you will be aware that I am not in favour of re-blacking. This is for practical and ethical reasons. Until quite recently there was no effective method of re-blacking that could be employed successfully on hard rubber pens with chasing. Potion No9 never really looked like the original black and was easily accidentally removed. If removed intentionally from a chased pen it always left many traces. Using abrasives worked to some degree but not on chased pens unless one was prepared to remove the pattern altogether. In recent times Mark Hoover’s mixture works quite well. It is messy and expensive and if you live anywhere but the U.S., importation will make it very much more expensive.

Ethically re-blacking any pen is reprehensible. You may say that you re-black only your own pens for your own pleasure in them and you will never sell them. I’m sorry to have to remind you (I hope it’s not news to you) that you won’t live forever, and then your heirs, probably not well versed in fountain pen lore, will sell them, unaware that they have been re-blacked.

Who buys a re-blacked pen? If they are sold without any declaration of what has been done to them, as they seem usually to be, the expert collector will spot them at several hundred yards, and it is the poor novice who is saddled with a faked-up pen. How will the expert know? Because he knows his pens. 1920s Watermans, for instance, like to change colour. One that has been cossetted and housed in cotton wool might survive coal-black. It will also have little in the way of evidence of handling and use, those micro-scratches and even scratches and dents that accumulate on a well used pen. It will almost certainly have lost some of its blackness. If you see a Waterman of that period, scratched up in the usual way but black as night, you’re entitled to be cautious and fear that it may be a pig’s ear posing as a silk purse and pass by on the other side.

It is true that there are some 1920s hard rubber pens that do not fade. They are not Waterman, Swan or Parker pens. If these pens are exposed to the normal measures of humidity and sunlight they will, to varying degrees, fade.

Some people like re-blacked pens, so where do the ethics come in? I cannot guess at the proportion of buyers who like re-blacked pens and I know there are many, like me, who would prefer not to have them. This affects sale prices. Is a re-blacked pen worth as much as one that retains its original colour? Probably not. Is the market perverted by the presence of undeclared re-blacked pens? Assuredly!

I understand from having had these arguments on the pen boards several times that not everyone shares my opinion and they believe that those ethics do not apply. They are just as entitled to their opinions as I am to mine, but their opinions are, of course, wrong!


19 thoughts on “Re-Blacking (Again!)

  1. Just servicing a Waterman 54 CBHR and it is like new in original hard shiny black (looks like cheap modern plastic) :-). So easy to compare that to a re-blackened pen, the re-blackened pen being so far inferior, I never advocate re-blackening pens, unless smooth finish and removing oxidised layer, to reveal original material. Mark Hoovers potion is probably the only process I have not experimented with, but in all the differing methods I have tried, I would never advocate re-blackening, unless as a fun project, to a real “beater” pen.
    i do regularly remove oxidised layers to BHR cap tops and blind caps for cosmetic reasons. A lathe and Autosol are very good for this.
    Eric (eckiethump) Wilson

      1. I think I probably do more Onoto services than anybody else worldwide, one of, if not my favourite pens. The filling system used for 50 years unchanged. I was having problems with some Magna services, which I have since discovered what the issue was and am able to remedy, teh solution came about when I was servicing an Onoto Mammoth (only the second one I have ever seen).

  2. It has long baffled me that cheap pens – like the Empress, retain their colour perfectly. Also I have a Pitman Pen and a Spot that are perfectly black, and by the way I just sold a Swan 1-SF/SF1 that was perfectly black – most unusual.

    1. Yes, the ones i have encountered from teh 20’s that have perfect, and I mean perfect, black colour have been Watermans. Machining a lot of Hard Rubber you do come to appreciate that not all materials are the same quality.

    2. The Swan #7 I had was sold to the person who had the Mammoth and did not realise the nib was platinised gold ! No problem sending customers my way, I’m well on top of things and even managing to sort out some of my own collection !

      1. As a follow up to this, My second Mammoth is to be posted to me on Monday, not mint, but with the platinised nib. MY other Mottled red hard Rubber one, bought last year is mint with the revealed Gold nib. I DO like my Onoto’s 🙂 Eric

  3. I truly love rubber pens. They are warm and comfortable in the hands. I believe it is my favorite material. There’s something about the simplicity of it.
    My first vintage was a Conway 330. It is my favorite pen. However, in the beginning my hands were blackened each time I wrote with it. Not anymore. The body is discoloured, a yellowish tinge. I love the mark of time on objects, on faces and trees on books….
    As for the Conway, I like to imagine, that some officer to whom I’m indebted for the outcome of the last war, was writing with it and that makes me feel even better…..

      1. When I asked the seller he told me he had cleaned it to the best. So, I guess you’re right. But it doesn’t “blacken” anymore….

  4. A used, battered, faded pen tells a story. I don’t see why someone wants to change it. The faded vintage pens I find ‘around’ I keep as they are, maybe polish a bit but nothing more. Restore to working conditions and use as old objects. It surprises me that vintage shops are full of pens from the 20s or 30s that look like they were just bought. WIll never re-black a pen. Curious to know if it is possible but as the passage of time is difficult to conceal on a human it is ‘impossible’ on an object. Look at the Colloseum 🙂

    1. I’m afraid I disagree, although I am not unsympathetic to the point to me it depends ont he fading. I have just restored a Swan Leverless L245/60. the filler knob and clip screw were the colour of milky coffee. Sorry but I have no intention of apologising for reblackening them. It’s just not on. I usd Mark Hoover’s excellent product. Another example is Onotos, such as 5601. Their clip screws and filler knobs usually fade quite dramtically. They look awful on any example wheter it be maroon or green marble or plain chased black.
      As for Swans fading, yes of course I’ve had plenty, but recently I have had two perfect 1920s examples – chased vulcanite in perfect order, so they do exist.

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