A ‘Guest’ Writer Speaks (Writes)

My husband wrote this piece a couple of days ago whilst ‘enjoying’ an unexpected stay in hospital. In his words:

“A few days in hospital for a service and oil change. Doesn’t matter where I am, I’m never far from fountain pens. The nice young doctor who is saddled with me for his sins is a fountain pen man, as are most doctors (and my optician, for another). He has a Lamy 2000, one of the nice mid-range Pilots and his “work pen” is a Platignum Preppy.

I often wonder about doctors and fountain pens. Quite convenient for the GP at his desk, scribbling a signature, but the hospital doctors have a bit of writing to do, patient to patient, pen in and out of pocket. I have an impression that a clicky ballpoint or Bic could be more handy.

Perhaps it’s a class thing – no, nobody likes that word nowadays – let’s say status. The inconvenience of the fountain pen is overcome by the impression it makes among one’s colleagues – and even the more discerning patient.

Patients in hospitals can be pretty anonymous – even insensate, to be pushed, prodded, measured and tested. A common interest in fountain pens makes a link and it perhaps reminds the doctor that you are a person as well as a patient. I must say we did have a spirited chat about fountain pens, and the good doctor said he looked forward to perusing this blog. Always nice to meet a fellow pen enthusiast!

They’re banging intravenous antibiotics into me by the pint. I’ll soon be horribly healthy and back home to my beloved – and my pens.”

[Note: My husband is home after his thankfully brief hospital stay. As always, he received excellent care from everyone at our local hospital at every stage from dialysis to A&E to the ward. It has been a rough few days but – fingers crossed – he is feeling quite a bit better.]

The Scribe

What lovely things
Thy hand hath made:
The smooth-plumed bird
In its emerald shade,
The seed of the grass,
The speck of the stone
Which the wayfaring ant
Stirs — and hastes on!

Though I should sit
By some tarn in thy hills,
Using its ink
As the spirit wills
To write of Earth’s wonders,
Its live, willed things,
Flit would the ages
On soundless wings
Ere unto Z
My pen drew nigh
Leviathan told,
And the honey-fly:
And still would remain
My wit to try —
My worn reeds broken,
The dark tarn dry,
All words forgotten —
Thou, Lord, and I.

Walter de la Mare 1918

Matters Mentmore

Rob Parsons challenged me about my reticence to identify the Golden Guinea as a product of the house of Mentmore. Really, I have no difficulty in saying it’s a Mentmore pen but so far as I know, no invoice or advert has turned up making the attribution incontrovertible.

Styles of machining and methods of assembly together with nib types assure us that Mentmore made the Golden Guinea. That will do for me. More of a mystery is why anyone was prepared to pay £1.1/- for what is really a fairly ordinary pen when better pens were available for much less. That’s the power of advertising, I suppose.

Platignum is the other house brand of Mentmore. These were proudly sold on their cheapness and undoubtedly outsold all the Swans, Conway Stewarts and Onotos put together. You don’t see them now because they didn’t survive; maybe not always because of poor quality. When the ballpoint came along you would be reluctant to part with your gold nib Onoto and would put it away in a drawer but you would have no hesitation in consigning your old Platignum to the bin.

Platignum’s early claim to fame was its “special alloy” nib. Judging by how few of these have survived and the poor condition in which they have done so, there was nothing very special about it. Like many other base metal nibs of the early days Platignum nibs succumbed to the inks which seemed especially caustic then.

In their last days Platignum took over from Mentmore as the company’s main brand and became respectable, gaining a gold nib. These pens are good writers but still often suffer from plastic shrinkage. That was too much a Platignum tradition to leave behind.

Regret

This begins in reply to Mario’s comment on the “Getting the Right Nib” article. As I’ve said before, I began selling pens so that I could see more of them, not being able to buy every vintage British pen that came along. That worked. I saw, handled and wrote about most British vintage pens.

But there has always been a hint of regret about the whole thing. As I sit here I can think of many pens that I let go reluctantly and have thought about ever since. It wouldn’t be so bad if I forgot those exceptional pens but I don’t. There are so many pens that pass through my hands that I could describe in detail, even though they were in my possession for maybe a fortnight, ten years ago.

I’m not short of pens and those I have are great writers but I remember the Macniven and Cameron in lapis lazuli with the leaf-shaped nib. I do wish I still had it. It was such a mistake to let it go.

Getting the Right Nib

Back in the long, long ago, when there was an Edward on the throne and you filled your brand-new, high tech fountain pen with an eyedropper, buyers were often quite fussy about the nib that they wanted in their new pen. Mabie Todd, like other manufacturers, wanted to be sure they were satisfying their customers’ needs, so they requested that they send in the dip nib that best suited their hand. This enabled Mabie Todd to choose the correct gold nib from their wide selection. Perhaps they adjusted the nib to further suit their customer but I don’t know that.

That this worked as well as it did was due to the almost unlimited range of dip nibs that had been made over the years. There was such a refinement of choice that every writer had the dip nib that suited him or her perfectly. Of course many writers just used the nib that their company ordered and weren’t too particular about it, but those who wanted Mabie Todd or other companies to supply them with the exact nib of their choice were those who knew exactly which dip nib suited them.

Oh happy days! Now most pen manufacturers offer three choices of nib. For some it is fine, medium and broad but others offer EF, F and medium. In any case the choices are very limited today. That’s a pity because the full range of dip nibs is still around today and a person can find what exactly suits them there but the fountain pen nib equivalent almost certainly does not exist. When I found that I could write with a dip pen – much to my surprise – I tried many different nibs. I had a good selection that I had almost accidentally built up over years and I was given a varied lot of nibs (thank you, Rob Parsons!) and though I could write adequately with many, the one that really flattered my hand is the Esterbrook Relief. It should be straightforward to transfer that to the fountain pen as Esterbrook made such a Relief nib. Problem solved!

Except it isn’t. Esterbrook’s fountain pen Relief nib isn’t at all like the dip nib. I also tried the oblique nib for the Osmiroid and it isn’t bad but it’s not quite right. The annoying thing is that I have had oblique Swan nibs in the past and I believe that they were perfect, but in the belief that there would always be another one coming along I sold them. Of course I haven’t seen one in ages!

It would be nice if I could send an Esterbrook Relief dip nib to Pilot as an example of the nib I want but that was a different time, a time when manufacturers were prepared to offer true service to their customers. Now it’s take it or leave it.

I could, of course, send an appropriate Swan nib to a nibmeister and he/she would grind it into the nib that I want. But that’s a very expensive way of going about it. With very great care I could probably make the grind myself but I am against altering vintage nibs. They’re not making them anymore. Best to leave them alone.

I suppose I’ll just have to wait until I get lucky and a sharp oblique Swan nib happens along.

Breakfast at Tuppence’s

Not much happening on the pen front except the male human had some difficulty getting an ink cartridge into a Moonman pen. Hard words were said about defective filling systems and modern pens. I retired under the desk until the air became a little less blue.

He was up at six this morning and I came in and deigned to eat some food. I checked out the apartment to be sure it was all still there, then asked out again because it was dark and still time for cat adventures.

I returned at 8:30 and yelled for food. He said, “But I fed you at six.” My reply was (if the yells were translated), “This is my usual time for coming in and I always get fed. Any change in my usual routine will lead to increased yelling.” I got my second breakfast and this is a ploy I will salt away for future use.

Winding Down

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.

Tuppence’s Pen of the Week.

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!