Many thanks to those of you who replied to my last blog post. On consideration I think I’ll keep the ultrasonic cleaner I have. My main use for it – and that very seldom – is with the antioxidant. I occasionally get an accommodation clip in a poor state which can be improved with that mixture. So far as cleaning is concerned I think I can do better with cotton buds and small brushes.
Your comments were invaluable, not only for me but also for other readers as is made clear by one of the responses. I have always thought that the comments were at least as useful as the blog posts themselves, an example being Raymond Wiker’s comment on the post about the Cross pen, a brand about which I know very little. Indeed, I am no expert on any one brand though I have some knowledge of Mabie Todd. I am very fortunate that there are many among my readers who generously share their great knowledge and expertise here.
Writing about my tools the other day led me to think about my ultrasonic cleaner. I bought it about ten years ago, a mid-range model made by JPL. From the very first it was unimpressive. In fact most of the time it didn’t seem to make any difference. I could do better with cotton buds and brushes. It has two practical uses: it sits in my work area filled with water and I flush sections in it – obviously a bowl of water would work equally well! And secondly I use it with an anti-oxidant solution but that would work just as well shaken up in a jar.
The only other ultrasonic cleaners I’m familiar with are the big ones for cleaning carburettors and they are very different. Greasy, clogged carburettors come out of them gleaming.
Those of you who use ultrasonic cleaners, do they do a good job? Are they indispensable in your work routine? Should I get a different one or should I forget about ultrasonic cleaners?
When I first got an old pen working I was pretty pleased with myself and considered that pen restoration was a straightforward business that wouldn’t require much in the way of tools. Brightening one up could probably be done with whatever I already had in the house. I’m not often wrong but when I’m wrong I get it really wrong! I now have an entire room devoted to the repair and restoration of writing instruments.
All those years ago I didn’t (or thought I didn’t) even need section pliers. My hands were stronger then and I thought such mechanical aids were for wimps. It was a Swan SF130 that made me reconsider. No amount of heating and persuading would divorce that section from its beloved barrel. I gave in and ordered section pliers which did the job with consummate ease.
Over the years I tried every polish recommended on the pen discussion boards. Several sit yet sad and neglected on a shelf. When serious restoration work requires it I use the three-part Novus polish. Otherwise a Sunshine cloth does a fine job without unnecessarily abrading the material.
Pliers love to proliferate. I have several sizes of needle-nose pliers, the clever parallel pliers and various other less easy to label types. Medicine and dentistry provide tools useful for fountain pen repair: small, slender forceps assist work in the interior of the cap or barrel. Dental scrapers are good for removing sacs that seem welded to the interior of the barrel. The sorts of headlights that surgeons use help to illuminate the work. Scalpels have a thousand uses.
When I began I thought that a pocket knife was just about all that I would need. I was very wrong, of course, but my trusty old pocket knife is still used to scrape the remains of the sac off every sac-filler’s section. I have a shelf in a cupboard filled with polishing cloths, cotton buds, pipe-cleaners and all the other necessaries for ensuring pens are clean inside and out. The business of abrasion is covered by Micromesh, steel wool and when something more aggressive is needed, needle files.
I never imagined for a moment that I would require electro-mechanical help to fix pens but my heat gun is constantly required and I have a handy little electric drill that drives a host of useful attachments. Lighting comes into that category. I have a powerful overhead light and a flexible angle lamp. Magnification helps my failing eyesight: an OptiVisor headset and loupes of various magnifying strengths.
Is that all? Of course it isn’t! The collection of tools. adhesives and consumables is beyond listing. Whenever I think I must be finished something else comes to mind. So I’m going to stop.
Many moons ago my husband and I used to mentally put together the ideal motorbike. If I was to do the same thing with vintage fountain pens it would be something like this:
Starting at the pointy end, I like exposed nibs for two reasons (1) Gold nibs are things of beauty and (2) with a hooded nib I have to check that I’m holding the pen properly every time I use it. There’s a fashion for flexible nibs these days but I don’t subscribe to it. Firm and fine is how I like my nibs though I do occasionally use a medium if it’s a good one and I like stubs, oblique or straight.
I like a section with a good “stop”. Again, this rules hooded nibs out because of their slippery hoods. The barrel (and section) should be comfortably thick. Very thin pens give me pain after a short while. I’m not talking about huge modern pens or even Swan sixes or eights. Swan pens bearing number two, three or four nibs are good
Filling systems are not so important that they become a deal breaker. The note-taker on my desk can be a piston filler. Otherwise I prefer a pen that holds less ink. That rules out eyedropper fillers too though I do admire the early ones. Sac fillers, Leverless, lever or button are ideal for me. There are some inks you’re not supposed to put in sac fillers but I’m in the fortunate position of having replacement sacs to hand – not that I’ve had to replace sacs often.
I prefer a pen with a clip to stop it rolling off the desk. I like threaded caps. I don’t care about colour. Nice patterns don’t make pens write better. You can be sure that the colourful pens I have were chosen because they’re great writers. Not that it matters much but I have a slight preference for black.
My Leverlesses, 0160 and 1060 are all black. My Parkers are almost all black button fillers, the exception being a Lapis Lazuli Duofold Junior and a mixed colour Frankenpen. And an English Duofold Junior that fills by the Aerometric system.
That’s a quick outline of my pen preferences. Other factors will come in too but that’s enough for a discussion. What are your preferences?
Buying small lots of pens is a lucky dip. The lot usually contains one or two pens that you want and the rest may or may not be useful. Several years ago I bought such a small collection and it contained this Cross Century. It’s an advertising pen with a Ford decal, making it probably unsaleable.
It lay in a drawer for years. It’s a cartridge/converter pen and I had neither converter nor Cross cartridges. Recently I came upon it and decided that it merited a small outlay on cartridges. They came a few days ago and I finally tried the pen.
I can’t say it was a disappointment because I never expected much of it. It’s a metal pen which I don’t care for but at least the section is plastic, giving a better grip. The nib is medium, again not my choice. Worse, it’s that blobby, indistinct medium that you get on so many modern pens. It’s like those making some modern nibs had one described to them but never actually saw one. Of course I could improve that with a little time and Micromesh if I chose.
Also, it’s a very slender pen and my hand begins to ache with it after an A5 page or so. On the plus side, the ink delivery is very good.
It’s unlikely to be one of my favoured pens, then. Later Cross pens are thicker, even the Century II which otherwise looks similar. I hear good things about modern Cross nibs too, made by one of the Japanese factories. I won’t be rushing out to get one, even so. If anyone would like this pen let me know. First come, first served. If I’m sending it to a UK address I won’t worry about the postage cost but for overseas I would be grateful for a little help.
The days when you could walk into a brick and mortar shop and see cases and cases of shining new fountain pens for you to choose among are gone forever. The last shop that carried fountain pens here where I now live was a newsagent which had a small case of Sheaffer pens. This was about the time that the reborn Balance came out, so when was that? Twenty years ago?
However, with the power of imagination we can go back to any period we choose and visit The Pen Shop of Our Dreams. Let’s say 1922 and a shop specialising in Swans. They’re promoting their latest pen, a small self-filler in black chased hard rubber. And here it is:
I cannot guess at the history of this pen but it seems completely unused. The hard rubber is as black as night and the chasing and imprint are crisp and sharp. The gold plating on the lever is immaculate. The papers are fresh and unmarked. It is almost as if I did visit that imaginary shop and buy this brand new, century-old pen!
What is your pen of choice, vintage or modern? For me it’s Swan, for several reasons: build quality, variety of nibs and the Leverless filling system. Celluloid Swans, especially of the 1930s, have an incomparable range of colours and patterns. They are very durable and restore to be the equal of any modern pen. That’s not to say that there are not many other admirable pens. The Onoto comes to mind with its excellent filling system and splendid nibs. In US pens the early Duofold heads the list with the Waterman close behind, especially the 52 and 94; great nibs and wonderful colours, both hard rubber and celluloid. The earlier flat-top Sheaffers are wonderful pens. In later Sheaffers I like the Triumph and inlaid nibs. Among German pens the Soennecken comes first though they are hard to find and expensive now.
There was a period in the final quarter of last century when slender pens were the vogue. At most other times they have been rather out of favour, though. At the beginning of last century, all pens were slender by subsequent standards. This was a carry-over from dip pens but by 1920 pens were becoming thicker and for most people, more comfortable.
A pen that swung in the balance between old and new is the Thin Blackbird. I’ve written about this pen before and the search box at the upper right of this page will find it. As a statedly slender pen it looked backward; as the first of the lever filler Blackbirds it was forward-looking.
As I have considered elsewhere, this pen was perhaps an attempt to meet the wishes of those traditionalists who were used to a thin pen and didn’t want to change. Maybe there was some other reason that is lost to us now. Thin Blackbirds don’t seem to have sold especially well and they are quite uncommon now.
That said, I’ve managed to acquire two in a month. I always go after any one I see, not only for their historical significance but because the Thin Blackbird is a very attractive pen. Most of them have retained their colour. This example has retained its crisp engine chasing, too. The cap screws on so it’s not old fashioned in that respect. It has a beautiful semi-flexible nib.
It’s hard to establish the beginning and end of production of these pens but I would hazard a guess at 1922. It doesn’t seem to have remained in production for very long and it was followed by the thicker – and hugely more successful – Blackbird BB2/60.
Nonetheless there was a time, nearly a century ago, when it would not have seemed too thin in the smaller hands of schoolchildren and to them, with its self filling by side-lever, it would have been the latest thing, as novel and important in its day as a smartphone.