You may have noticed that over the past few months I have introduced a few new pens among my more usual vintage fare. I much prefer old pens. They have a history that we can research and talk about and sometimes they even have a provenance. There’s undoubtedly a romance about older pens that have been someone’s daily companion in a way that rarely happens now. Cell phones, perhaps, but fountain pens are no longer that most personal of personal possessions that they once were. New pens, it seems to me, lack a whole dimension simply because they are new and have not accumulated history.
That said, in my easily diverted way, I will often find my eye caught by something about a new pen that I find appealing or admirable or just plain interesting. If it’s cheap enough I’ll buy it. The “cheap enough” limitation is an important one; you’re not going to find an Omas or a Montegrappa suddenly appearing my blog. Not unless I win the lottery, which is quite unlikely considering that I don’t buy the tickets. However, cheap but good pens will appear from time to time, and maybe even cheap and bad. So far, I must say, I’ve been quite impressed with the quality of several of the low-cost modern pens I have bought. I’ve had a couple of Pelikan’s school pen offerings and they’ve been very impressive. Even some of the Chinese pens that have come my way seem much better than than their predecessors of ten years ago which were, really, not worth having at any price. The Italix pen I wrote about some weeks ago was very good and would have been a keeper if it was lighter. It was just too heavy for me to use for any length of time. However, some fountain pen users these days like a heavy pen so it has had no difficulty in finding a market.
There’s another point in the favour of new pens like the Italix: they’re providing employment and they’re a start-up opportunity for entrepreneurs. That’s something I approve of and would wish to support. I’ll never do that writing only about pre-1960 pens.
Fear not, though. This does not herald a major change of focus in this blog. My interest, nay, my obsession, lies with the older pens. Most of my posts will be about Swans, Conway Stewarts, (no, not the new ones), Mentmores, De La Rue Onotos, Parkers, National Securities, Stephens, Summits and all the other glories of the British fountain pen industry of yesteryear.
Well it’s a holiday so me and my assistant are taking it easy today. I’m listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble (on the headphones to avoid Easter disharmony) and she’s cat-napping.
By the way this is the claw that she uses to clear feed channels.
I don’t usually write about paper for the simple reason that I don’t know much about it. I use whatever cheap paper the supermarket offers for pen testing, in the belief that if I can make a pen write well on low quality paper it should be fine on better quality stuff. For writing samples I use Basildon Bond because it’s fountain pen friendly and it has remained consistent in texture and colour over the many years I’ve used it.
I’m writing about paper today because Nick Romer contacted me about a new paper he has developed. It’s quite revolutionary in concept and seems to tick most of the boxes I would want in good paper. You can read all about it on http://www.DavinciNotebook.com.
Nick provided me with a sample. I wrote on it using a pretty wet pen with the result you see here. There’s no feathering and the paper is pleasant to write on. It’s a subtle ivory colour and very smooth. Seems to be excellent paper. I would be pleased to use it. It’s heavy – I would be interested to hear what a ream would weigh.
Scotland has a long and honourable history of paper-making and, as a consequence, has had some of the most polluted watercourses in the world. Traditional paper manufacturers have done much to mitigate the harm they cause to the environment but paper remains an ecologically demanding process. Where Nick’s paper impresses is that it is remarkably environmentally friendly. It doesn’t use wood or water or emit toxic air and is composed of calcium carbonate (80%) and non-toxic resin (20%). The calcium carbonate is marble quarry waste.
This is a Kickstarter project which means that the person in the street can support it at a cost to suit their pocket, should they choose to do so. This seems an exceptionally worthy project to me.
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.