It’s a hard time to be a vintage pen seller and it’s even hard to find a space to discuss old pens now. Most of the pen boards move inexorably to modern pens. It seems like a good time to move on.
I’m not slamming the door; I’m sure things will happen that I want to comment about and where better than here? But I’ve been doing this a long, long time. I started out knowing very little about pens and I am approaching an end where I know how little I know. It has been an education for me. I have occasionally reached a level of expertise in some corner of pendom or another without ever becoming a pen expert – though I am proud to say I know a few of those, and admirable people they are.
I won’t be taking the blog down. I see I get lots of daily hits by people researching their pens and that’s a valuable thing. This blog will remain up as long as I am alive and maybe even after that.
As the Assistant Pen Restoration Cat it’s my job to keep an eye on our products. I spotted this rather nice dark red Swan 3250 (stock item No. 3361). It’s a pen from the 1940s, measures 12.7cm capped and is in rather good condition. The 14ct nib is a semi-flexible broad and they tell me it’s a splendid writer. In the absence of thumbs I can’t really try it myself. So it goes. On the other hand I can give myself a bath with my tongue!
When no one was looking I knocked a bit more than 10% off it. Ssshh!
I saw poor Prince Charles’s (as he was then) difficulties with signing. The first problem he had was with a silly little desk, not big enough to allow comfortable use of his pen. I believe that was a silver Montblanc and there was no problem with the pen.
The later incident was about a pen that leaked – profusely. I heard the words, “It’s everywhere.” That episode was quite remarkable, I think. I know that fountain pens are often accused of being leaky but I have rarely seen one that leaked at all and I have never seen one that sprayed ink as appears to have happened on this occasion. I think the Prince, now King, is very poorly served.
My husband remembers the very cheap school pens he had in the fifties and some of them could make a fine job of leaking but those pens were rubbish. I’m quite sure that the monarch is not supplied with rubbish. Properly serviced and set up fountain pens do not leak at all. The ink only appears on the paper in the manner it is intended to.
The leaking could be explained by something as simple as a badly fitted cartridge. The pen might even have been broken in a more serious way. The trouble is that people are not familiar with fountain pens today. I would go a little further and say that the desk incident suggests that some, at least, of those around the King are a little lacking in common sense.
There is a simple answer to this problem. A training course in the welfare and health of fountain pens might be a little beyond the average courtier but they might manage to send the royal pens to Eric Wilson for servicing and if they need replacements, come to Goodwriters Pens. I will be happy to supply pens that do not leak.
First, I should make it clear that I was given this portfolio folder by the company, LeatherNEO, for the purpose of review. I will describe it as fairly as I can. I don’t normally do this kind of thing as the items I am offered are not usually very relevant to this blog. I think this is an exception.
When I was employed I always carried a valise or portfolio folder (never a briefcase!) in preparation for meetings, and I even took work home sometimes – imagine! The document holders I had then bore little resemblance to the present article. The leather is supple and smells wonderful, reminding me of the better class of shoe shop (where did they go?) or a splendid shop entirely devoted to leather where I once bought a very dressy leather jacket. If I used this folio holder for meetings I would draw attention to myself by constantly sniffing its delightful aroma!
It’s a well-designed folio holder with fittings for an A4 pad and a couple of pens or pencils. There are other large compartments for other papers you might require, together with pockets for credit cards and business cards. It seems very adaptable and there’s an endless variety of ways it could be used. All can be personalised.
The stitching looks good and will be very strong. My one minor quibble is over the use of Velcro for fastening. I have had little experience of Velcro and I wonder how durable it is compared with press-stud closure. It may, of course, last very well and may put less strain on the leather.
LeatherNEO make many varieties of portfolio holder and I probably could have found one with a press-stud. There are far too many useful and attractive products for me to list them here. The link is: https://www.leatherneo.com/
There are many items for those of us who write. Their journals and pen wraps are very tempting. There are so many ways of organising one’s materials and LeatherNEO seems to have thought of them all.
Have a look anyway. Even if you’re not tempted to buy, you can dream on all that gorgeous leather!
It might be amusing to take the viewpoint of the fictitious average office worker who would never dream of using a fountain pen (heaven forfend!) and probably has little idea of what one is, beyond the notion that it involves a bottle of ink, a thing that is a catastrophic accident waiting to happen, for the clumsy among us.
The other things he may have heard are that fountain pens are prone to leaking and also supplying blots, especially at the bottom of a page of otherwise blameless text. Unlike the reliable and trustworthy Crystal Bic, the fountain pen cannot be casually cast aside but must be capped and laid down gently. How inconvenient!
The fact that the fountain pen is not held at the wrist-wrenching angle of the ballpoint is unknown to him and would not be understood if it were to be brought to his attention. Line variation is neither here nor there. If the ballpoint doesn’t do it, it’s of no consequence. In any case, if you want to be fancy there are gel pens and nylon tips. No need to be fussing with the inconvenience of a fountain pen.
Of course all of the above is myth rather than fact or generalisation from an occasional incident but I’m sure they are commonly-held beliefs.
The dear old queen is gone from us. She used a fountain pen to sign documents and there has been much discussion about which fountain pen she used. I imagine she had all the fountain pens she might have wanted and used whatever came to hand. Her father had a fondness for Wyverns and used a couple of crocodile-skin-covered ones. And what of King Charles III? Is he a fountain pen user? Time will tell.
This is the front page of a ship’s log, dating, as you see, from 1770/71. The first thing that strikes me is how little the formation of the writing has changed over the time that has passed since it was written. At that time though metal nibs had been invented there was no mass production of them so it is almost certain that it was written with a quill.
The lines are very fine so this was a very well-cut quill. There are light ascenders and heavy down-strokes, especially in the title, though they appear intermittently elsewhere. There may have been pencilled guide lines. A ship’s log is a permanent document so the captain (or whoever wrote it) would take care to ensure legibility
It is such an impressive document. Writing not only enables us to communicate with one another on paper; it also enables communication across time. Looking at this log one can hardly avoid admiring the writing and wondering about the person who wrote it. Today’s printed version of the same thing would lack the personal character which is so strong here.
I filled our Ford Patent Pen yesterday. It’s a precious thing in monetary terms now but it wouldn’t be precious to us if we couldn’t use it. It holds enough ink to last weeks with both of us using it. It has a lovely semiflexible nib that can make a lot of line variation if wanted.
I bought it for Gordon when we were courting (doesn’t that word sound Jane Austen now, but I can’t say “dating” or “going out” because I was in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and he was in The Highlands of Scotland). It cost quite a lot then but he had bought me a lovely watch and I wanted to get something he would love. And he does.
The mechanism of the Ford is a marvel, one of the great originals like the Onoto and the Pelikan. It was one of the very few pens that weren’t copied in the heyday of the fountain pen but those ingenious pen makers of the Far East make pens that work in the same way now.
There remains some mystery about the Ford. We know who designed it and who commissioned it (see earlier articles) but who ran the machines that made it? Our best guess is Wyvern, De La Rue or Valentine. Whoever it was, they made an outstanding job. The threads and knurling are admirable. These are among the things we can judge quality by.
One can only assume that the Ford was an expensive pen in its day but it sold well nonetheless. eBay sellers describe it as rare but that isn’t true. It isn’t rare at all but what is rare is a Ford in good, working condition. So many have taken damage over the years. The transparent inner barrel, or one version of it, is especially fragile.
All those millions who have moved on from the fountain pen probably think of it as just one thing if they think about it at all. They don’t know that there are fountain pens that compare with the Rolls Royce. But we do.
Not everyone likes to write. I have a friend with large hands who says he feels clumsy with a pen or pencil and avoids writing whenever he can – which is most of the time. A pen collector of my acquaintance, with hundreds of vintage fountain pens, never uses any of them. When he has occasion to write he uses a ballpoint.
I love to write. I love the process of applying pen to paper and forming letters. That’s not to say I’m a calligrapher or even that I write especially well. I’m a very ordinary writer at best and when I am drafting it’s a dreadful scrawl which even puzzles me sometimes.
Writing is a very personal thing. I began, like most of my age, by forming capital and lower case letters. Then came cursive, or joined-up writing as we called it then, carefully copying the letters and connections the teacher made on the board. At that point all twenty-odd of us should have been writing the same but of course even then skill and ability varied. I remember one girl whose writing was outstanding. The rest of us varied between pretty good and awful. I fell somewhere in the middle.
We were all – or at least most of us – then equipped to communicate on paper, even though perhaps slowly and with difficulty. Practice makes perfect but it also leads to change. First to go were the light upstrokes and heavy downstrokes. Quite soon all the pressures were the same. None of our teachers seemed to mind. So long as they got a legible, reasonably tidy piece of work there were no complaints.
Change was imperceptible at first. With greater speed and confidence in writing the letters were less carefully formed but that was all then. It was later, when I was ten or eleven, that I decided to make my writing more personal and individual. Certain ascenders disappeared. The form of some letters began to change too, so that my handwriting became a mixture between cursive and italic which I thought really cool and smart at the time. Later, when I felt the necessity to improve my writing those were the first things I had to correct. It was a painful process after years of writing that way. I had to retrain muscle memory.
Now my writing is mostly legible when I’m not drafting. I write best with a stub or relief but I’m quite happy with fines and mediums. Broad nibs are not for me. Handwriting, though, is always a work in progress. I have no interest in calligraphy but I feel that my own, natural handwriting will always be capable of improvement
It was thoughtless of the Unique pen company to name their pen in that way. They should have realised that the Internet would come along one day and a Google search on *Unique Fountain Pen” would be made hopeless by everyone’s belief that their everyday pen is unique in some way.
Joking aside, researching Unique is difficult almost to the point of impossibility. That’s why I am so grateful to Peter Greenwood for his recent contribution which has moved things forward.
We tend to think of Unique in terms of their post-war pens, adequate but not outstanding.
These earlier, 1930s pen appear to be much higher quality, very similar to Parker Duofolds and in superb celluloid patterns. They give an entirely different impression of Unique. I am grateful to Peter Hinchliffe for these photographs of his glorious 1930s Uniques.