I can’t keep all the pens I buy. I can’t, indeed, keep one tenth or even one hundredth of all the pens I buy. I buy them to write about, to restore and to sell. I already have thirty-five or forty pens that I keep. I really neither need nor can use more.
And yet… Though my criteria for pen purchase is often very different from what I would buy for myself, it is inevitable that some of the pens will appeal to me aesthetically and will suit my hand. The present pen is a case in point. If I was starting out and didn’t already have a boxful of pens, this one would be a keeper!
This is not a new problem for me. I’ve always had to deal with this conflict. I adjusted my thinking a long time ago. Now, I am grateful that I can enjoy these exceptional pens for a little while before they move on.
Still, it is a wrench to part with such exceptional pens…
We discuss our pens in whole or in parts. One day I’m writing about Conway Stewarts and Mabie Todds, the next it’s levers and J-bars. In the whole group of words that surround and describe fountain pens the one that annoys me most is “cap.”
Allow me to explicate. I use Dragon Naturally Speaking to transcribe my blog articles because I have a deep-seated hatred of keyboards. I’m not fond of mice either but that’s by the by. Dragon Naturally Speaking always interprets “cap” to mean capital letter, so instead of, “to replace the cap on the barrel,” I get “to replace the On the barrel,” if I am unwary, as I often am. If I was writing about cars or coins it wouldn’t matter, but any poor soul that writes about head wear and uses Dragon Naturally Speaking must suffer spasms of anxiety.
Just to be more annoying it isn’t entirely consistent. I can get away with cap ring and cap band but not cap on its own.
I imagine that it’s perfectly possible to go into the inner workings of Dragon Naturally Speaking and change the command to “capital” but I’ve never had the time. In eight years I’ve never had the time.
My husband, who is a member of FPN, showed me a horrible photo he saw there: more than $1000 of gold fountain pen nibs, sold for scrap. I studied it carefully and most of those nibs were not damaged. I saw a few that were bent – all bent nibs can be saved. There may have been some in the pile with cracks or missing iridium but I didn’t see any.
What’s the scrap value of a gold nib? Can’t be all that much. Most gold-nib pens in unrestored condition are fetching £30 and upwards – often far upwards these days. Those scrap merchants are throwing money away! How can we get across to these people? A lump of lead behind the ear would do, but we could appeal to their greed if there was a way of contacting them.
It’s so infuriating. Hundreds of restorable pens are going in the trash. I’m sure many of us would love to have those pens, or even those nibs. All restorers, I am sure, have otherwise excellent pens set aside awaiting an appropriate nib.
We could, of course, buy the nibs that appear in quantity on eBay and I have tried to do that once or twice, without success. I’ve also had gold scrap merchants going door-to-door, collecting any gold they can get. I’ve tried to educate those guys but it’s an uphill job. How many fountain pens do they destroy every month?
I wrote about the much-underrated Altura recently. Here are a couple more (from eBay completed sales) just to show that they don’t always come penny-plain.
Everybody knows the Waterman 52. It was produced in huge numbers over a long period and remains one of the most common vintage pens. Because many 52s have flexible nibs – some exceptionally so – they are in demand whether black hard rubber, mottled hard rubber or ripple like this one.
For many years they were were workhorse pens, a job they did very well. The nibs come in a variety of forms – this one is a stubbish semi-flexible medium oblique, a very stylish line!
To my mind, the Waterman 52 is up there with the all-time greats – the Onoto, 1920s Swans, the Duofold and the Wahl Eversharp Doric. Red Ripple pens, especially those in condition like this one, are much demanded. The gold plating on this pen has survived unblemished. That doesn’t happen often!
Like those other pens I mentioned above, the 52 is an ergonomically superb pen, whether by design or accident. It remains comfortable in the hand after many pages of writing. How many modern pens are as good in this respect? Their popularity has driven prices up over the last decade but compared with many modern pens Waterman 52s remain a bargain
Every now and again something takes the public attention and it appears everywhere: Minions now or Pokémon a few years ago. In the 1920s it was Bonzo, a cartoon dog drawn by G E Studdy, a commercial artist. The little dog was an ideal marketing choice, appearing as mechanical and soft toys, car mascots, jigsaw puzzles, postcards and many other things. And one pen! Mentmore caught onto the public fondness for Bonzo and doubtless paid Studdy a fee.
The Bonzo pen was not just a gimmick, however. Mentmore were paying another licence fee, to Wahl, and it may be that it related to the red collar, which is in fact a double section. This enabled changing nibs without completely dismantling the pen as the other section held the sac. In this respect the Bonzo was the forerunner of the Esterbrook, Osmiroid and Platignum pens with their interchangeable nibs.
The Bonzo was a popular pen but not all that many have survived today. They fetch a good price on their own, and much more with the very attractive, colourful box (which I sadly don’t have!)
Thanks to Paul S for photographs.
Are there pens around today that have real continuity with their predecessors of eighty or one hundred years ago? Though their ownership has changed, Pelikan, Montblanc and Kaweco might be said to have such a relationship with earlier models. Parker, perhaps, too. Cross certainly. Sheaffer was producing models that showed a line of descent from those of the thirties until a few years ago but not so much now. Waterman is still producing some decent pens but the present owners of the company seem to have lost touch with their heritage.
Obviously any company that ceased trading and was revived many years later does not have that continuity, though several have claimed it. Wahl Eversharp, Conway Stewart, Onoto and Conklin come to mind – there are several others.
Does it matter? I think it does. The fountain pen is a traditional writing instrument and many of us must be traditionalists to wish to continue using it rather than a more modern pen, several types of which are quite acceptable writers. It would be nice to feel that the pens we use bear some relationship to those we admire from earlier years. That doesn’t apply to all fountain pen users, of course. Many are content with modern pens and have no interest in the age of the company that made them. I think, however, that most people reading my blog will have an interest in fountain pen history and how we have arrived where we are today.
A couple of years ago I bought a modern Conklin Durograph. When unboxed it looked okay, though it was evident that it was made from very different materials from its namesake and bore little physical resemblance to it. Despite my initial disappointment I kept it for a while and wrote with it often. It was heavy and not well balanced. The gold plated medium oblique steel nib delivered ink adequately well but was slippery and had a tiny sweet spot. I concluded that this was just a characterless Chinese pen, the equivalent of others I have bought for a small fraction of the price. I have a vintage Endura, which is a splendid pen. I felt that the company producing these pens was insulting the name of Conklin.
It’s just an example of how a lack of continuity when the name of a highly regarded old company is used leads to disappointment. There are many ways to view this subject. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.