Elvis Impersonators

There have been several companies which have resuscitated the names of former fountain pen manufacturers.   I’m not talking about companies which took over active pen makers like Parker or Sheaffer.  I mean companies which began using the names of long-defunct brands.  I’ll probably miss some but there are (or were) Onoto, Conway Stewart, Mentmore, Swan and Conklin.  Forgive me any omissions.

Onoto and Swan are in a category of their own, in that their original companies were not known by those names.  Those are model names.  I haven’t handled an example of the pens recently made under the name Swan but I’ve seen the photos and read owners’ comments.  It isn’t a good pen and it traduces the name of Swan.  To avoid confusion, I’m not referring to the Swan pens historically made in Japan, probably with some connection to the Mabie Todd company.  I mean pens produced in the last few years, maybe still in production.

The Onoto is a different case.  Though their website does refer to the pens made by De La Rue, they don’t pretend that they are a continuation of the same company.  It is to their credit that they have resuscitated the wonderful Onoto plunger filling system.  Of course their pens are extremely expensive, putting them beyond the range of most people, but that was true of many of the historical Onotos.

I don’t know what the legal grounds were for the producer of the recent pens to call them Mentmores.  I assume the company bought rights to the name.  I bought one of the pens out of curiosity some years ago.  It was the worst sort of cheap Chinese rubbish, much worse than most of what is produced in China today, being made of plumbing-grade brass tubing, ill-fitting and with a bad nib.  It would have been infinitely better to leave the honourable name of Mentmore alone.

The most recent version of Conway Stewart pretended, for a very long time, that it was a continuation of the historical company.  Mary Whateverhernamewas who was an admin in FPN as well as an officer of the company, eventually gave in and changed that, but only as a result of constant pressure from those who cared about the reputation of the original Conway Stewart company.  To this day Fountain Pen Network lacks people with experience in British pens because they were all kicked out for daring to suggest that there were problems with the Conway Stewart revival and its products.  Those products were, for the most part, poorly made, judging by the number of complaints fielded about their performance.  Many were in appallingly poor taste, glitzy, solid gold vulgarities.  The original Conway Stewart company priced its products in the middle ground, so that there was something in its product line for everyone.  The revived company was not run in the spirit of the original whose name it used.  They even re-used model numbers for pens that bore little or no resemblance to the original models, causing confusion that remains today among newcomers to the fountain pen hobby.

Conklin also falsely lays claim to being a continuation of the original company, even to impriting their pens ‘Conklin est. 1898’.  That to my mind is an irritating dishonesty.  I bought one of their pens, a Conklin Duragraph.  It’s not a bad pen, somewhat similar to my Monteverde Prima.  The crescent-shaped breather hole in the nib is a reminder of the historical pen but there the resemblance ends.  I don’t want to be hyper-critical about this revival.  It could be said that this is the kind of pen that Conklin would be producing if it had not failed years ago.  That may be so, but history tells us that the company was liquidated in 1948 and for that reason alone, I have difficulty in accepting that this worthy but unexceptional pen is a Conklin, like my Crescent filler and my Endura.  Putting that lie on the top of the cap annoys me to the point where I struggle to like the pen.

I know that historical re-badging goes on in other areas.  There’s a car out there with a Ford engine called a Jaguar.  Back in the 80s someone shoved a bunch of German and Japanese motorcycle bits together and called it a Matchless.  Have I got it wrong?  Is my dislike of this practice just a prejudice?

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Thoughts on English Duofolds

I sold an English Parker Duofold the other day.  What’s so special about that?  Well, the Aerometric and AF Duofolds just don’t sell that well.  It’s a strange thing.  An English Duofold, in terms of quality, is as good a pen as the best of the 50s Swans, and that’s real quality.  They don’t have any special problems.  The sacs in the aerometric ones seem to last forever and the AFs are very straightforward to repair should they need a new sac.  Some say they have a tendency to crack in the cap lip but I have handled lots of them and I can’t see that it’s a common problem.

They are perhaps a little bland to some eyes, but you could say the same thing about many self coloured modern pens which sell well enough.  The nibs are generally inflexible but again, most modern pens are the same.  The AF, in particular, has some nice features like the aluminium pushbutton and the better section.  The plastic that they are made from, which I understand to be a form of Perspex, readily takes a beautiful shine with just a rub of a polishing cloth

When new, these were quite expensive pens, associated mostly with doctors, lawyers and other professionals.  Now they go for buttons.  It’s a strange old pen world.

What’s Going On, Ebay?

Over the last month or so I’ve noticed something rather strange and disturbing happening in eBay.  Quite often, I will buy several pens from the same seller.  Naturally enough, I expect them to combine postage and I contact them to request that they do so.  That has never been a problem until recently.  What is increasingly happening now is that when I go through the procedure to request a reduced total to allow for combined postage, the dialogue ends with “This seller does not offer combined postage.  Proceed to payment.”  And this is despite the seller stating clearly in his listing that he is happy to provide combined postage for multiple sales.

Of course, I don’t leave it there.  One way or another, I manage to contact the seller directly and in each case the seller has been surprised by what eBay is doing and has willingly combined postage.

If this just happened once I would be prepared to accept that it might be a teething problem in the software but last night was the third time this has happened.  I would contact eBay to raise this question with them but they make contact so deliberately difficult that I lose the will to live trying to get through all the barriers they put in one’s way.

I have a vague recollection that some time ago eBay started to take a percentage of postage as well as selling price.  I could be wrong there but I don’t think I am.  Taking that together with this strange software behaviour, do you think I would be entitled to suspect eBay’s motives?

A Bad Pen And A Worse Seller, Chapter 2.

I refer you back to the first post in this series if you haven’t already read it.  This will take a little time so you might want to pop some popcorn.

Well, folks, this saga goes ever on and on – a bit like “The Archers” or maybe “Eastenders”.  Hardly had the pen arrived back at the seller when he re-listed it, as Andy kindly informed me.  I, apparently, am a non-paying, overseas buyer, it would seem.  I’m not sure where the benefit to him in that particular lie lay but it’s perhaps because he cannot breathe without telling a porky.  He did deign to mention the fact that the barrel and cap do not screw together but he omitted the other egregious faults such as the cracked nib and multiply-cracked cap.  If you’re looking for it, it’s 251581507796 on eBay.  My advice is to stay away unless of course you’re the kind who baits bears and tigers and enjoys playing with fire.

Having received my refund of the purchase price and initial postage I was, of course, left out-of-pocket to the tune of the return postage of £3.90.  I’m not keen on having my pocket picked by shady eBay sellers so I left him a negative and the comment, “Did not list damage, cost me £3.90 return postage. Dishonest and argumentative.”  He made a formal request for me to revise the feedback and also sent the message, “I am writing to ask you to revise your feedback.  As you can see I work very hard to keep my feedback 100% positive. The pen was sold as SPARES & REPAIRS and in need of some TLC and I feel the descriptions was fair, and the pictures were a true reflection of the item. Should you not revise your feedback I will have no alternative to to report this to ebay for malicious feedback.  I will send a feedback revision request.”

I replied, “As you will see, I have declined your request.  The feedback is accurate, not malicious, and I am quite prepared to make that argument for eBay if you wish to report me.  The pen’s description was so poor as to deliberately mislead.  It’s all very well using vague terms like “needs TLC” or “for spares or repair” but it’s not anything like an accurate listing.  An accurate listing would have included the fact that the barrel and cap do not screw together (a fault it is impossible to put right), the fact that the nib was cracked on the lower part of the left tine which renders it useless, and the fact that the cap had a crack on one side and a piece missing from the lip on the other. All of these faults are very serious and any one of these faults would cost more than the pen is worth, to have repaired.  Such a description is easy to do and I can see no possible reason for the vague manner in which you described the pen other than to conceal its faults.  I am £3.90 out of pocket because you didn’t describe the pen accurately.  That cannot be allowed to pass without comment.  I am running a business as a pen restorer and I cannot accept additional postal charges which are of no benefit to me, particularly when I am not the one at fault.

I note that you have relisted the pen.  I note also that you have only mentioned the fact that the barrel and cap do not screw together, and you have omitted the other major faults.  I note also that you have blatantly lied about the reason for relisting the pen.  You wrote in red caps, “RELISTED DUE TO NON PAYING OVERSEAS BIDDER.”  I did pay – indeed I paid extra in that I had to return the pen – and I am not an overseas buyer.  What possible motive you had for that bit of fiction I do not know.  By contrast, in our communications, I have been nothing but factual.

While I was writing this, you telephoned me to discuss changing my feedback.  I see no reason to do that.”

While I was penning the above missive the telephone rang and it was – yes, you guessed right – Mr devonshire-sales.  My husband had answered the phone, and recognizing the name given, he admonished the seller to not be rude or unreasonable, to which the seller agreed.  The telephone call was, as you might imagine, an attempt to impress upon me how valuable his feedback was to him and the effort that he put into keeping it at 100% positive.  His unpleasantness in the first eBay message was blamed on “a member of staff”.  He was, he said, unable to change what had gone before but he was anxious to come to an arrangement that would remove the negative.  We did not come to such an arrangement.  Despite his wheedling tone and ingratiating manner, I suspected he was attempting to play upon my emotions since, as we all know, girls can’t be businesswomen, as we are all ruled by our hearts.  He soon discovered otherwise.  I pointed out to him his blatant lie regarding my buyer status in the relisting as well as the fact that he still had not disclosed all the faults of the pen, and he once again blamed that on “a member of staff.”  My husband said later, “Oh… I didn’t do it!  A big boy did it and ran away!”  It really was just like that.

The seller kept saying, “Of course I can’t force you to change your feedback,” as if I needed to be told.  And to his surprise, I didn’t.

This morning, in need of a laugh, I checked the seller’s feedback and mine.  In response to what I had said his reply was, “A PATHETIC AND CHILDISH BUYER, DOES NOT READ LISTINGS, USES BLACKMAIL, AVOID!!” (Shouty caps his, not mine.)  He had already given me positive feedback but had added a follow-up comment of, “VERY RUDE BUYER, USES FEEDBACK BLACKMAIL AS A TACTIC – FINDS FAULT WITH SPARES”.

It was hardly a surprise.  I had already formed the opinion that the seller is a malicious individual who won’t stop until he is stopped.  I reported the matter to eBay – it sounds easy when you say it like that, but what actually happened was that after going through a veritable Encyclopaedia Britannica’s-worth of eBay help files, I finally got hold of a number to phone.  eBay, I have to say, comes out of this with full marks.  They were able to automatically identify my account and the item/seller I wished to complain about.  They made no bones about the fact that calling me a blackmailer was going into forbidden territory and they promptly deleted both of the seller’s comments.  The kind lady also told me that he had been warned for doing this before.

This may be the end of it, and then again it may not.  I’m still waiting for the other shoe to fall, but perhaps Mr devonshire-sales has learned the virtue of caution and called it a day.

A Bad Pen And A Worse Seller

I’ve grumbled here before about sellers who do not disclose faults in a pen.  Here’s an example of one of the worst.  The seller is devonshire-sales, who has feedback of 2302, so cannot make the excuse that he is a novice.  Here’s the description of the pen:

Vintage Conway Stewart No45, Duro Nib 14 ct Gold Nib
A Great pen in need of some TLC
The inside filling sack appears to be damaged
selling as spares or repairs

The “spares or repairs” tag means little or nothing.  Quite a large proportion of the pens I buy include that in the description.  It’s what is known in the trade as “covering your butt” but it does not absolve the seller from the requirement to make clear any faults or damage on the pen.  The seller acknowledges this by commenting on the fact that the sac will need replaced.

So I open a case and say:

I received the Conway Stewart 45 today. There are numerous faults which were not disclosed in the description – the cap does not screw onto the barrel, the end is broken off the lever and the nib is cracked. I would like to return the pen for a full refund, including reimbursement of my return postage as there is no reason why I should be out of pocket over an item that was not described properly.

CS45NAD.

That, to my mind, is a factual description of the state of the pen together with an additional claim for a refund of return postage as the fault lies with the seller.  I didn’t even bother to mention the cracks in the cap.  Quite polite, I would have thought.  The seller has a different opinion:

Hi there, Thanks for your message and demands. The item was fairly described, and selling as spares or repairs as stated. You are welcome to return it for a refund, But you will not be re-imbursed for the return postage as we are not obliged to. We might have though had you been more polite. Best Regards,

So there we are!  I would say that being argumentative and unpleasant on top of having quite deliberately concealed the faults of the pen isn’t conducive to getting good feedback.

Sharing

In one of the pen discussion groups (we won’t say which one) someone posted before and after pictures of a well-chewed pen.  He had made an absolutely perfect job of removing the bite marks.  Not unnaturally, several contributors asked how he had done it.  He replied that it was done by a proprietary method and he was not at liberty to divulge how it had been done.

Thankfully, this attitude is rare in our hobby.  Most people are happy to share the knowledge.  Certainly, it is probably the case that pen repair is how this person makes their living, but one repair technique will not make their fortune; it is their entire skill-set and the reputation for good work that they have developed that is their bread and butter.  Trying to corner a part of the market by being secretive is unlikely to work.

Every day, in all the pen discussion groups, you can see people sharing information freely with each other.  Quite often, that information isn’t in the public domain, but it is shared because it’s good for our hobby, brings more people in and ensures that those who are learning about pens and their repair will continue to do so.  The benefits of freely sharing knowledge vastly outweigh any tiny individual gain made by selfishly guarding a technique or knowledge.

In other news, unusually for the Highlands of Scotland we’ve had long days of unbroken sunshine.  It tempts one outside, and I and my assistant have spent the day installing trellises and preparing for the arrival of climbing roses.  Well, to be precise, I fixed up the trellises while she lay on the shed roof, watching me and napping.  All good things must end and I had to go in and get some pen work done.  I invited her to come and help – after all, she is my assistant – but she yawned and licked her paw and stayed where she was!

IMGP2006

Moaning And Griping

I still suffer from the recurrent problem of sellers not disclosing faults in the pens that  they offer for sale, but eBay has finally begun to see sense. Sellers may say that they  will take no returns but eBay now adds the rider that sellers may be forced to accept returns  if their items are not as described. That’s a major victory, and I think that I, probably  along with many other buyers, can take some credit for that.

My biggest gripe has always been that I ended up out of pocket to the tune of the cost of  sending defective items back to sellers. When sometimes there are two or three “not as  described” items in a week and they have to be returned by a signed for service, this is  not an insignificant cost. I had taken, in my boilerplate claim to sellers, to adding the  phrase, “I will require a full refund including return postage as there is no reason why I  should be out of pocket over an item that was not correctly described.” EBay seems to have  taken some note of that as well. Whereas at one time they made it clear that sellers would  not be responsible for postage costs for returned items, that has now disappeared and in  one or two instances eBay administrators have actually made a refund of postage to me themselves!

This does reduce my loss over these defective items but it does not address the problem of  the time wasted in making and pursuing claims. Some sellers make it as difficult as they  can for the buyer to be compensated, arguing about the facts of the case and using time-wasting tactics in the hope of wearing the buyer out. Though with great reluctance, I have  taken to giving negative feedback to sellers who have not been cooperative. I’m not sure  that this does anything to address the issue and I believe it remains a gaping hole in  eBay’s feedback system. Perhaps there should be a penalty for inaccurate listing. In many  cases, I have no doubt that the deficient listing is unintentional, but even there a  penalty would encourage greater attention to the condition of the item they wish to sell.  In many other instances the damage is so blatantly obvious that there can be no doubt that  the seller has taken a chance in full knowledge and in the hope that a buyer will accept  the item despite its defects.

A penalty which formed part of the feedback report and was visible to all would be likely  to have a beneficial effect in reducing the number of defective items offered for sale.  Either that, or we hang, draw and quarter them and place their heads on a pike as a warning  to the rest.