Philip Hensher: The Missing Ink, How Handwriting Made Us Who We Are

This is a book about writing rather than pens though there is some stuff about fountain pens toward the end.  It’s a persuasive argument for the preservation of handwriting but it doesn’t go so far as to say it will survive.

Hensher takes us through the history of writing in his own inimitable way.  He’s quite emphatic in his beliefs about the subject and he doesn’t spare those that he regards as foolish.  The book really isn’t for the faint hearted.  He can be pretty explicit at times.

His central concern is that handwriting is generally not taught in either Britain or the USA with the result that kids grow up without the ability to write legibly.  Keyboard skills are all very well but they don’t help you when you are faced with a many-page form as happens in all sorts of circumstances.  Of equal concern is that kids can no longer read their elders’ cursive writing.  It’s a bit of a bind when Mama leaves a note on the fridge and it makes as much sense as Arabic to the kids!

The book is scholarly, funny and quite convincing in its central argument.  It’s also a very good read and I recommend it to everyone.


Soaking Pens And Other Stories

I hate to drone on about this but it maybe does need re-emphasising.  Do not soak entire pens! In fact, before you soak any part of a pen, have a good think about it.  Water will liquefy dried ink and that’s about the only benefit it has.  On the downside, it can discolour black hard rubber, destroy casein, discolour some celluloids and rust metal internals.  Heat will soften and expand  BHR, casein, celluloid and other plastics, allowing you to pull things apart without damage.

My assistant went out in the rainstorm to try soaking.  She didn’t like it.
I bought another book from Andy Evans of Andy’s Pens.  This time, on the basis of “know thine enemy” it was The Incredible Ball Point Pen by Gostony and Schneider.  I haven’t really read it yet but at first glance I can tell you that it’s mostly American and stops at around 1980.  Fair enough, I don’t think that there have been any ground-breaking developments since then.  The point I want to make, though, is how quick Andy’s deliveries are.  I’m sure it isn’t Royal Mail that delivers it.  They deliver nothing else as quickly.  No, I think Andy has a wee guy with a monster sports car – maybe a 1933 aero-engined Napier Railton, and the wee guy has goggles, a flying helmet and a white silk scarf.  And an expression of seething madness.  He sits outside Andy’s shop awaiting a purchase in need of delivery and instantly takes off in a burst of wheel-spin and a cloud of dust and races to deposit his parcel on, in this case, my welcome mat.  He breaks every speed limit and most of the rules in the Highway Code to get here but that’s OK.  The police have nothing fast enough to catch him.

That’s enough crazed rambling for today.  I have pens to describe if I’m to upload them in the next few days

Marshall & Oldfield: Pen Repair Third Edition

I bought the first edition of this book, skipped the second and now I have the third.  There are many changes.  The third edition is much larger, 280 pages to 194.  Though there are some new sections, most of this increase in size comes from expansion of the chapters that were there in the first edition.  The inside front page is a detailed contents list and there’s a useful index at the back.

Though the book now has a smart outer cover, it retains it spiral-back format, which means that it lies flat on your bench if you need to consult it during a repair.  It’s not for repairers alone, though, there’s a mass of fascinating information about, for instance, different filling methods and about British pens.

Having only received the book today I can’t give a thorough review but I thought it was important to write about it right away.  If you want one, now’s not the time to hesitate – go and get it, because the last new edition went pretty fast and a lot of people were disappointed.  It will be £30 well spent.

Stephen Hull: The English Fountain Pen Industry 1875 – 1975

I’ll be guessing and speculating a little less in future. I won’t stop it entirely because that’s not in my nature, but I’ll have more of the answers.

Last year it was announced that Stephen Hull was to bring out his long-awaited book on the English fountain pen industry. It was to be on sale for the first time at one of the pen shows – I forget which one. It duly was, and it must have been a sell-out because none was available thereafter. I know, I searched the internet for it weekly. Last Tuesday my diligence was rewarded: Andy’s Pens had the book in stock. Within two minutes it was bought and paid for. Since then I’ve read it from cover to cover twice – the first time for the general impression and the second time with attention to detail.

I’ve written about the economics of publishing in the “old fountain pen” world before but it’s worth reiterating. If your hobby is a popular one like, f’rinstance, gardening, you can buy quite cheap books and magazines on the subject, because the publishers know that they will sell in the millions and they can keep the cost low. But you chose to be a pen aficionado, and it’s going to cost you. This book is priced at £55.00 plus postage, and it doesn’t come with Moroccan leather bindings and gold leaf titling. No, it’s spiral bound with cardboard covers protected by clear plastic. Even so, I don’t suppose Mr Hull will do much more than cover his costs.

I don’t care about the bindings. I didn’t buy it to admire it on the bookshelf. I bought it to read it, and good reading it is. The book covers everything from the industry greats like Mabie Todd and De La Rue down to pens I’ve heard of but never seen and even pens I’ve never heard of, that existed for a few years before disappearing. It fleshes out the dry bones of the fountain pen industry with the characters that made it what it became. The landscape of the industry becomes criss-crossed with links between one manufacturer and another. Shady deals and scandals are revealed and mysteries of the English pen world are laid out before us to puzzle over.

It also has that most precious thing, a really comprehensive index. That makes it a not just a reference work, but a truly useful one. In time to come, there won’t be many days when I don’t consult this book.

If you have an interest in English pens or even just a curiosity about how the pen world worked, back when it was a booming industry, this is for you. It’s my pen book of the decade.

Fountain Pen Books – Dragoni & Fichera (Eds): Fountain Pens History And Design

This book has received a bad press within the hobby. I can’t argue with its detractors; there are egregious errors of pen identification and the information given about some pens is wrong. Also, the text from one page to another doesn’t follow on in a couple of instances, which I assume is a layout issue.

Nonetheless, I like this book. It takes a more discursive form than other fountain pen books. It stands back from the minutiae of the subject and comes to conclusions of its own. It’s profusely and beautifully illustrated, with many examples of pens in art that you won’t see elsewhere. Lots of advertising posters are illustrated too, though sadly few of them are dated. Still, it’s good to see them and quite a few are unique to this book.

There are, I think, around a hundred pages of individual pens from the beginning to the present day. The selection is eccentric and the information unreliable in this section, making it useless as a reference. The illustrations here, as elsewhere, are excellent.

I don’t regard this book as an essential for the pen enthusiast, but it is entertaining and may give the reader pause for thought. Priced at £29.40 new, it isn’t worth the money, but it often appears second-hand for very much less. If you get it cheap enough, I think you may well enjoy it, despite all its faults.

Fountain Pen Books – Marshall & Oldfield: Pen Repair

People quite often say to me that they would never attempt pen repair because they fear they would break a valuable pen. Fair enough. Pen repair’s not for everyone, but in truth, fountain pens – all fountain pens – are low-tech and routine repair of the simpler types should be within the reach of us all. That said, it’s important to know before you begin what difficulties you might face, what tools and spares you will need and what method of working is most likely to ensure success.

That’s where this book comes in. Marshall and Oldfield’s Pen Repair will give you all that and a lot more. In the opening general section, all the parts of a pen are discussed, potential problems are listed and repairs are explained. The second part covers the various pen brands and models, giving methods of repair for each type. The final section deals with the more advanced repairs like replacing cap bands and cutting threads. Everything is carefully explained and well illustrated with photographs and drawings. The tools you will need are listed and discussed and there’s quite a bit of pen history here as well.

Numerous pen repairers’ and manufacturers’ service manuals are listed in the bibliography, so this book is the distillation of the work of many skilled professionals. It builds on the work of Arthur Twydle and Frank Dubiel, and surpasses the latter’s work with all the additional knowledge and techniques that have accrued since that was published.

The book is spiral-backed, which makes it easy to keep it open at the page you want on your workbench. It’s now in a second edition with additional information and costs £30.00 plus postage. If you repair two lever-fillers that you would otherwise have sent away, the book will have more than paid for itself. Even if you never repair a pen, the additional understanding of fountain pens that you will gain from this book will greatly increase your enjoyment of them. It’s a must for the bookshelf, and probably the most important fountain pen book to have been published in twenty years.

It’s out of stock at Amazon for the moment, but various fountain pen retail sites have copies. A Google search will quickly find you one.

Fountain Pen Books – Peter Twydle: Fountain Pens

Initially, this book surprised me. Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s a very generalist, introductory publication, and the hobby is already well-served by books of this standard. I wondered why Mr. Twydle, a second-generation pen repairer with many years of experience, would choose to write such a book. The answer lies in the publisher: Crowood Collectors’ Series.

The Crowood Press publishes books on collectables, everything from British Army Cap Badges to Vintage Radios, some comprehensive, others introductory. No doubt they have a template for introductory works, and it is this format that Mr. Twydle has had to conform to. Given his background I feel sure that Peter Twydle has a great fountain pen book in him; sadly, this is not it.

The book has chapters on understanding the fountain pen, its history, brief notes on some of the manufacturers, guidance for collectors, pen care, and how to choose a pen to suit your hand and writing style. There is an appendix on Arthur Twydle, Peter Twydle’s father. He was a pioneering pen repairer who taught many of the current generation of British pen repairers and restorers.

With a list price of £19.95, it’s an inexpensive introduction to the hobby for an absolute beginner. It can be found deeply discounted at Amazon Marketplace and Abebooks. If you are completely new to the hobby and would like to see a general overview before you commit, this might provide an inexpensive entry for you. Otherwise, put the money towards something more specific and informative.