Collecting Part II

I think a lot of light has been cast on the nature of collecting in comments and emails. I’m very grateful to those who made the time and effort to examine their own behaviour in this regard.

There may, in some cases, be psychological compensation going on. Collecting may give the opportunity to bring order to a worryingly disordered universe and as nothing in life is ever properly complete, having every Wyvern model ever made brings peace and contentment. I hasten to add that none of this came from the experience of my correspondents but from a couple of articles I was kindly shown.

Then there are those who were always destined to be collectors. Even as children they collected. There are so many affordable items that can form a collection. It was often much later that they came upon fountain pens. They are a very satisfying collectable given the number of brands and models.

There are another group who would never have collected if they had not become fascinated by fountain pens. Their collections are about knowledge. More than anyone else they are the repositories of the history and development of the fountain pen.

There is an often-mentioned divide between collectors and writers. Some do not even restore the pens that they acquire. They are objects to be viewed and examined, Just because they were made to write with doesn’t mean that has to happen. But there are collectors who write with every pen they have. Perhaps the pen is bought for its beauty or rarity but it is restored as a working writing instrument, made to write as well as it can and used regularly. These are not hermetically sealed categories. They often drift one into another.

Several collectors have written on the subject of their collections, either on paper or on the Web. They have provided us with so much valuable information and I would regard many of those collections as historical and very valuable, a small museum of the history of communication. The problem may be that the rest of the world does not see fountain pen collections in the same way.

What’s This Collecting Lark?

As we all know, there are two sides to the pen hobby: those who want a good pen to write with, and those who collect. I’m part of the former. I have a drawer-full of great writers as evidence that this is so. They come from every decade and from all over the globe. If there is a preponderance of Swans that’s because they are the best writers of all, not because I’m collecting them.

In truth I don’t really understand collecting. That’s not said in any way to disparage those who do collect. They are the founts of all knowledge of vintage pens. Even in this blog alone I wouldn’t be able to count the number of times collectors have come up with the information and evidence that has clarified puzzling situations.

When I was a child the collector mindset applied to books. If I got a book I really liked I had to get hold of everything by that author. Is that collecting? The same thing happened with music. That’s a completist mindset, isn’t it?

When it came to fountain pens I knew that people collected them and it seemed the thing to do. I was still in America then and amassing a never-ending collection of Conway Stewarts (the original ones, not the later counterfeits) seemed like a worthy challenge. I pulled together quite a good representation of what the company had done over the years. It was very expensive, though, and I didn’t have a lot of money to throw at it.

We married and I – and my Conway Stewarts – moved to Scotland. My husband and I gradually fell into a pen restoration and sales business. It dawned on me that my real pleasure lay in seeing, handling and writing about every pen I could lay my hands on. Ownership of a collection didn’t satisfy me in the same way. I sold the Conway Stewarts.

This leaves me with another question. Is this blog with all its articles on the pens I found a collection in itself? With no glass cases of gleaming celluloid, am I still a collector?

Though it isn’t for me, I can see the pleasure and satisfaction that must come from having a historic collection of all the pens turned out by a manufacturer. Of course that’s more possible with some brands than others! Then there’s all the research which, for me, is a joy in itself. Each pen is a document which tells us much about the development of the brand. Changes between one pen and another may indicate that there was another pen in between, in the development of that model. Then the search is on again.

There are some very wealthy people who collect cars and motorbikes, something well outside my financial capability! But there are so many “small objects of desire” that catch the eye and attention. Writing accounts for many of those: pens, pencils, inkwells, even the more unusual things like quill cutters. And on the subject of cutting, old penknives and pocket knives with their varying mechanisms, blade shapes, different scales – a perfect area for the collector. Then there’s treen, Black Forest carved figurines, vintage thimbles (not those made to be collected modern ones), tools and a host of other things.

I confess that though I understand the area of collection I still don’t understand collection. Enlighten me!

Tuppence

Someone mentioned our assistant in a comment. I’ve been avoiding dealing with this because it remains painful and I didn’t want to concentrate on it, but here goes.

Unbelievably it is six months since our dear Tuppence died. She never actually belonged to us but we certainly belonged to her. In a common situation with cats she didn’t get on with her owner’s other feline pet. It didn’t make it any better that it was her own daughter who bullied her. She was a tiny cat but she gave birth to big, strapping daughters and sons.

When Smartie, our former assistant, died Tuppence moved in. She would be waiting in the kitchen window in the morning. She would have a handful of treats and a drink of water then off to bed. At first we called her McTavish, then were told her real name, Tuppence, which could not have been more appropriate.

Over the years we have known many cats: several tabbies and calicos and a couple of Siamese. They’ve all been lovely and characters but Tuppence stood out. For such a little cat she had a huge fund of affection. She knew she was loved and she loved us right back. She was the friend of every child who passed though the street. Fearless where people were concerned, she believed every door should be open to her – and most were. She wasn’t a lap cat but would be content to sit on the arm of the chair and be companionable.

She had the most beautiful slanted emerald eyes and unlike many animals met your gaze. There always seemed to be a depth of understanding between us. She relaxed around the house with us all day, sharing our meals and our company, and went home at night. The lady who owned her (in so far as one can own a cat) left the window open for her to come home.

One day in the run-up to Christmas Tuppence didn’t appear. Nor the next day. I went to her owner’s flat to enquire. Tuppence had died in her sleep. It seemed (and still seems) unbelievable that that personality, that charming spirit was gone. We had always taken her to be middle-aged as she was super fit and playful as a kitten. She was thirteen; not terribly old for a cat but old enough for Tuppence to have finished her sojourn here.

For various reasons we can no longer have a pet of our own. Maybe another cat needing a refuge will share our days again but it is unlikely. If there are no more after Tuppence we had best for last.

WordPress and All That

I’ve been having some technical issues with the blog, just niggling sign-in problems that affect my response to comments. My apologies if I have been slow to acknowledge your comments; I hope I’m caught up now. Be sure that your comments are valued and appreciated!

I’m not really grousing about WordPress. They change and “improve” ways of doing things now and again and I have to puzzle it out but WordPress has been such a benefit over the years. At the beginning of all this I checked out the blog options and I believe I settled on the best method: easy editing and good presentation at a reasonable price (advert over).

While I was poking around in the program trying to solve my difficulties I discovered the blog statistics which I had completely forgotten about and hadn’t looked at for years. There was a time, quite a while ago, when I used to pick through the stats, seeing where the referrers came from but the novelty of that soon wore off. I have discovered that the blog is super popular! I am amazed and gratified, not in a big-headed way, more grateful that it serves a purpose.

People visit the blog, often to find out about the old pen that they have acquired. I do hope that they land on a helpful page. Never an expert like Stephen Hull or Andy Russell, I gradually amassed what knowledge I could on a pen, the last post being the most correct one! I have a fairly decent vintage pen library and Google is my friend (sometimes, when it isn’t trying to sell me trash or following me around the Web). Often there was nothing to be found for some of the more obscure and short-lived companies and I could do no more than a physical description.

The blog has been the best part of our fourteen or so years fixing old pens. We have always enjoyed writing these little articles, and I had better come clean here. It’s about 50/50 between my husband and myself though naturally I have taken all the credit! If he’s making braised steak I write that day. If I’m making my famous Mongolian Beef, he writes it. Over the years our styles have blended to become well-nigh indistinguishable.

So long as people are making use of it the blog will never disappear. Even after our time family will keep it available. It is so nice to have done something that has become an appreciated work.

Penol Ambassador Special

Probably Penol is best known as, for a time, the Danish outlet for Parker pens and later as the manufacturer of pens that had a striking resemblance to the Parkers of the day. That’s not what this is.

It is an entirely Penol-designed piston filler, and a very handsome one too, made around 1945. I like the stylish clip and the three cap bands. Penol nibs are always good, sometimes flexible, sometimes not. Either way, they are great writers.

It’s good to be given the chance to write about the Ambassador Special as they don’t appear all that often in British outlets. This pen is for sale in eBay today and I am grateful to seller i*himlen for permission to use his excellent photos and information.

Blackbird?

This eyedropper pen is said to be a Blackbird. It has a Blackbird nib but I have never seen a Blackbird with such a large step from the barrel to the slender section. Also it has no imprint of any kind despite being in unworn condition. I’m unaware of any Mabie Todd pen without a barrel imprint. What do you think?

A Question

A friend has a Pitman’s Fono pen with a very short lever. That may be a clue to who made it. Can anyone think of a British pen manufacturer who turned out models of their own with a very short lever? It’s niggling at the back of my mind but I can’t get it.

Photo added with thanks to Paul Leclercq. Now where did you see that tiny lever before?

Beginnings

How did you get started in this hobby? I’ve written before about being given a Sheaffer Targa as my first fountain pen as an adult. I got into old pens through junk shops at first, then eBay as it took off. Repair and restoration followed gradually. My husband began earlier than I did, picking up old pens from family, then junk shops and car boot sales. At first it was hard to find sacs and he was unaware of anyone who could fix the more complicated pen like the Onoto. He used one of those as a dip pen for a time.

It all suddenly seemed to take off in the nineties, both interest in vintage pens and the availability of parts and people to repair them. I began restoring and selling pens myself. I bought unrestored pens locally, through eBay and the auction houses. There was so much to learn about popular pens; the big sellers like Parker, Sheaffer, Conway Stewart and Onoto. Then there were the rarities that turned up which I researched as best I could. I wrote about them here and that has been the greatest pleasure for me.

Though I have retired from the business vintage pens are still my hobby, still my obsession. I love to hear about your pens, especially when you have something uncommon. I still buy pens occasionally, of course. I am very interested in how you began and where you are in the hobby.

An RHR Regent

Despite its price the Duofold was such an immense success that every pen manufacturer wanted to make one and every writer wanted to own one. There was honest influence in the appearance of many subsequent pens. Also, there were some in the US and elsewhere that were shameless copies. I remember a beautiful Lapis lazuli Macniven & Cameron that at first glance was a Duofold. It was only when you spotted the lever that you realised that it was a copy, down to the dummy blind cap.

This beautiful pen is an even more successful copy. Without examining it closely enough to read the writing, there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this was a Parker Duofold. The red Vulcanite is just right. The pen’s a button filler and the size is right. The quality is just as high. It was made by Langs in the early thirties, one of those pens that they named after London streets, in this case the Regent.

It’s a superb pen, owned by my friend Hans Gilliams. I’m trying hard to force down the envy. The nib is an 18ct replacement, a perfect fit and a nice writer so none the worse for that.

The Duofold influence went on for decades. Langs button fillers and Mentmore Autoflows continued to be in debt to the Duofold almost to the end. And then Parker made the 51 and the process began all over again…

Another Ty-Phoo pen

I’ve written about the Ty-Phoo pen before but it’s well worth another mention. Ty-Phoo believed that interaction with their customers was a good form of advertising. As well as the pen there were sets of collectible cards and printed materials for schools in which they informed pupils about how well they treated their workers in the then Ceylon (!)

This particular pen belongs to Rob Parsons. It’s a splendid example and looks as if it hasn’t been used. The box is shabby as it might well be after kicking around in a drawer for ninety years. It has the full paperwork including, uniquely, the covering letter, complimenting the recipient on collecting all the coupons necessary to obtain the pen.

There has been much discussion over the years about the origin of the Ty-Phoo pen. It doesn’t closely resemble any of the production pens of the time and could have come from any of the factories. I’ve always favoured Wyvern, not from any evidence, but because that company especially was in the business of making pens for others. The mottled hard rubber version, like this one, is a beauty. One might say that the warranted nib is smaller than a pen of this size would seem to require but bearing in mind the price of gold and that this pen is essentially advertising, I would say I’m glad they stuck with 14ct gold and didn’t go for plated steel.

This form of advertising was not uncommon in the twenties or thirties. Several newspapers offered pens in the same way, with coupons cut from the paper. It made people buy the tea or the paper and it got talked about. By time you had collected all the coupons you may have grown to prefer the tea or the paper.

It won’t be long until the older, lever filled filled Ty-Phoo pens, like this one, are genuine, century-old antiques. It is a testament to their quality that so many have survived in such good condition.