Beautiful pen, isn’t it? Green lizard – or is it snake? I’m never sure unless it’s numbered and this one isn’t. It’s unrestored. I can brighten up the metalwork. But wait… What’s that?
Could it be a crack?
Yep! It’s a crack. About the size of the Grand Canyon. I can’t believe the seller didn’t see that, and yet he was happy to take my £48.90 and £2.60 postage! I’ve contacted him and he’s going to refund me in full including return postage, so that’s not so bad. Some sellers blow up the minute you mention that there’s a fault, and the claim becomes very confrontational. I’ve never had an occasion where I didn’t get my money back for a damaged pen but I’ve had a few threats. I take those with a pinch of salt and the husband growls, “Bring it on!” from his armchair where he sits sharpening his machete and flipping through Classic Arms & Militaria magazine.
I’m negotiating a major upgrade of the sales site and a move to a better web host. If I get my way, there won’t be any change to the site, either in appearance or function. The one or two things that don’t work now – like the routine for forgotten passwords – will finally be fixed but otherwise I’m not looking for change. I hope to keep downtime to an absolute minimum. Anyway, it’s early days and the changes probably won’t happen for a few months.
It will be nice to get away from the miserable bunch of crooks I’ve been stuck with for so long. I won’t name them here but you will see their name on the sales website. Avoid at all costs if you value your sanity.
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
I have an app for BBC news on my tablet and I was working my way through the daily dose of drama, incompetence and misery when I came upon an article about spying. Since computers have been so thoroughly taken over, both by Google and the authorities, many diplomats and senior civil servants have taken to using typewriters. Unfortunately they are no safer, it seems. Whole reports can be restored from a typewriter ribbon, and with concealed listening devices crafty spies can tell which part of a typewriter ball is striking the paper and thereby transcribe what is being written. In some cases customs inspectors have attached bugs to typewriters when they were imported.
As a suggestion for a post, Stuart said,”I hear that fountain pens are enjoying a resurgence and I’d be interested to know how and if that impacts you.” I think that sentence goes a step too far too soon. The interesting question, for me, at least, is, “Is there a resurgence of interest in fountain pens?”
It’s certainly true that prices for unrestored pens have leapt in the last year or so. I’m thinking here of eBay UK; the same may not have happened elsewhere. Anyway, a price rise of around 50% across the board certainly means that something’s going on. However, it may not just be increased demand because there are more new people trying to buy old pens. It seems to me that there are far fewer good quality really old pens on offer. Ebay’s numbers are kept up by a proliferation of newer pens, nineteen-sixties or later. Are we coming to the end of the supply of earlier pens, and is that spurring people on to pay more? Another factor is the training courses that WES has mounted. In these difficult times it may be that many are trying to turn their new skill-set into a business and vying with each other for pens to restore. Or it may be that all of these factors are contributing, including an influx of new pen fanciers.
I read the Fountain Pen Board and Fountain Pen Geeks. Both of these discussion groups have seen a significant rise in numbers over the last year. Admittedly, some of that was from the trouble in Fountain Pen Network which caused many people, including yours truly, to leave and look for somewhere else to discuss pens. However, that was the best part of a year ago, and the numbers of those joining remain high. That’s the most positive sign I’ve seen that suggests that there is a resurgence of interest in fountain pens. True, Pentrace is in a “it’s closing, no, it’s not, yes, it is” phase at the moment but that doesn’t reflect a loss of passion for pens, more an outburst of frustration at some of the internecine warfare that goes on there. There is a suggestion that even if the owner does walk away someone else may keep it alive. I do hope so; pendom hasn’t been good at picking up its casualties: Lion & Pen, perhaps the best board of all despite its faults, lies moribund today with no sign that there may be a recovery.
All in all, I think there are signs of an increase in interest in fountain pens, both old and new. How does it affect me? Rising prices make my life more interesting than I would want it to be, but overall I welcome and applaud more people joining our hobby. I’d like to see numbers and interest rise a lot more, perhaps even back to the glory days of the late nineties.
Many of you will know these sites already, but they may be helpful to others.
Sites I refer to all the time for pen identification:
For Burnham pens:
For Swan pens:
For Conway Stewart pens:
For Summit and other Langs pens:
For Parker pens:
For American pens:
For a most entertaining and informative blog:
For pen discussion:
I don’t go there, but to each his own.
For UK pen repair:
For nib work and USA pen repair:
For pen repair tools and supplies:
That’s a start. Tell me your most useful pen URLs.
I expect that however long I continue to write this blog, there will always be old pens coming along that I haven’t written about before. Less all the time, though, I’m afraid. I’ve covered all the major manufacturers and quite a few minor ones too. Also, I’ve written about the main models made by the various manufacturers. Frankly, it’s becoming quite difficult to find subjects to write about. Where do we go from here?
I’ve written about pen books, or at least quite a few of them. Given the cost, it’s unlikely that I’ll be buying many more. Anyway, not all that many publications that deal with our subject come out in a decade , never mind a year. I’ve discussed some of the issues that surround our hobby but it’s not every day that something newsworthy comes up.
I have, I am happy to say, a large and varied readership. I would be delighted to hear suggestions from any of you and I’ll be happy to take them up if I can. The blog is a two-way street and it never would have lasted this long (since October 2010!) without feedback. Your input has been invaluable and it could help to rejuvenate the blog.
There are parameters within which I must work. My knowledge and interest lies with pre-1970 British pens. I can dabble a little in American pens and I like European pens, though I know very little about them. Modern pens hold no interest for me. Also, it would be pointless for me to cover subjects that have been comprehensively covered by other authors. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit!
Someone in FPB raised the subject of writing samples. Not many sellers do them, it seems. There could be a couple of reasons for that: if your writing is a chicken-scratch you might be reluctant to expose it, though I would have thought a cross-hatch illustration of line width might still help. Also, if your customer base is collectors rather than writers it might be a bit pointless.
Admittedly we all write differently and this can affect how the pen performs. Different inks and papers can make a big difference. My own view is that with all its shortcomings, a writing sample still gives an idea of the line a nib would produce under normal writing circumstances. I think it’s better to provide a writing sample and from the feedback I get from my customers, many find it helpful.
What do you think?
There’s a widely-held view of cultural history that sees development as being early, worthy beginnings leading to a great flowering, followed inexorably by a descent into works that are technically and morally inferior. Applied to Italian painting it gives us the worthy early beginnings of, say, Cimabue and Giotto who rose above their contemporaries and tried to make an art more representational of the world they saw around them. Then there’s the great florescence of the High Renaissance, when the practical difficulties of representing space and the human figure were behind the great masters, the Piero della Francescas, the Botticellis and the Leonardos who turned out a masterpiece a week, it seems, and whose paintings still make us gasp in astonishment today. Then the decline creeps in with Mannerism where artists like Parmigianino, Pontormo and Bronzino are seen as not only representationally less accurate, distorting forms to serve an emotional purpose, but also morally a little suspect, with a whiff of perversity in the air. Then painting sinks into the Baroque, over-worked, over-theatrical and overbearing. Art has lost its high moral purpose and become spectacle.
I don’t want to get into whether this is an accurate description of the progress of an artistic movement. As paradigms go it’s adequate and it’s a view of Western Art that prevailed some years ago and probably still does, to a great extent. But (and you’ve waited long enough if you’ve got this far) does it apply to pens? Could be said that the early, hard rubber eyedropper-fillers were the Giottos of pen history, striving towards a perfection that remained out of their reach? That would make the pens of the Golden Age, when the technical difficulties had been overcome – the colourful Conway Stewarts, the Dorics and Patricians – the High Renaissance. Baroque, of course, would be today’s pens, when purpose so often gives way to form, when limited editions are produced that will never leave their boxes.
Is that right, or might it be done another way? Might it be that the over-engineered pens of the thirties to the fifties, the Vacumatics, the Touchdowns and the Snorkels are the Baroque, and today’s pen industry is something else? Maybe. Maybe today’s industry is the Jack Vettriano of the pen world, cynically turning out expensive and tasteless anachronisms for an undiscerning public.
I don’t know, but I do like the idea of a High Renaissance of pens, pens so good that they still make us gasp in wonderment today.
Colum Cille The Scribe
My hand is weary with writing,
My sharp quill is not steady,
My slender-beaked pen pours forth
A black draft of shining dark-blue ink.
A stream of the wisdom of blessed God
Springs from my fair-brown shapely hand:
On the page it squirts its draft
Of ink of the green-skinned holly.
My little dripping pen travels
Across the plane of shining books,
Without ceasing for the wealth of the great –
Whence my hand is weary with writing.
Tr. by Kuno Meyer