For a long time I had the perfect pen for me. It was a long,slender black chased hard rubber Onoto with a flexible oblique stub nib. It weighed virtually nothing (a very good property in a pen for me) and the glorious nib allowed me to write fast and legibly and make all sorts of fancy swirls when the mood struck me. Alas, time goes by and what was perfect yesterday may no longer be today. Arthritis has made gripping a slender pen painful and I had to set the Onoto aside. After a time I sold it. A pen like that shouldn’t sit not being used.
What would my perfect pen be now? Nineteen-twenties or thirties Duofolds are about the girth I want and those excellent pens weigh very little, but it’s very rare indeed that I find a Parker nib that suits my hand. The nib would have to have some useable flexibility and I remain fond of a well-formed stub – medium, though. Broad stubs are too much. Aesthetics would matter too. I would only want BHR if it was fully black and crisp. Otherwise, some colour is essential. Something like Mabie Todd’s prewar russet/jade marble would be nice. That would imply one of the larger prewar Swans, which would do very well. An Onoto Magna in mottled hard rubber would be quite satisfactory, thank you. Red hard rubber would be even better.
While I wait for my perfect pen to come along I pick and choose among the stock, or use pens from my accumulation. At the moment I use my tiny Kaweco Sport. It meets absolutely none of my requirements and it has a hard, rounded broad nib. It’s a challenge to try to write well with such a pen.
What would your perfect pen be? Do tell!
For a time, it seemed to my husband that cartridge-fill pens were the only option and he bought a cheap Waterman with this filling system. It did the job quite badly, but he persevered with it. What made it so frustrating was that the junk-shops had excellent gold-nibbed pens for sale for mere pennies: Conway Stewarts, Swans, Onotos, Sheaffers, Parkers. All were in need of basic repair and he could source neither a repairer nor the parts that would enable him to do the job himself. He bought several of those old pens, though. Looking back now, it would have been better if he’d bought a whole lot more. To cut a long story short, he did eventually find some sacs and was back to writing with decent pens. The plated-nib Waterman was relegated to the drawer and never used again.
Now that he’s retired he has become less narrow in his estimate of what makes a good pen, and will write with cartridge pens and even those steel-nibbed, round-tip pens that he detested before for their characterlessness (is it a word? It is now.) and emulation of the ballpoint. He says it’s a challenge to write well with pens like that. However, back when he was working, a good pen with some flex and character like a Swan or an Onoto was essential so that he could write fast and legibly.
There has never been a better time for the fountain pen user than now. For those who are dedicated to the ballpoint style of writing, there is a horde of new pens at all prices, while for the more traditional fountain pen user, all the old pens are back as good as new. That’s a fantastic range of choice.
My husband was not unduly put out by being restricted to using a pencil. After all, it was much easier to control than that horrible dip pen. Anyway, it was soon after that that he moved to another school, one that was more liberal in every way. Pupils could write with whatever they wanted. In those days, ballpoints (or Biros as they were known here, regardless of who made them) were notable mostly for unreliability. Usually, they stopped writing while the refill was still full. Others developed the infuriating habit of skipping, but only intermittently, so that you hung on to it a little bit longer in the futile hope that it had cleared itself. The ones that wrote best tended to deliver a little too much ink. It gathered around the point and left a sticky blob every sentence or so.
My husband opted for the fountain pen, and his first one was an Osmiroid 65. It was a great pen and it lasted a whole week before he lost it, as was his way. The next one was the first of many rock-bottom Platignums, the kind that had a plastic body and a gold-alike plastic cap. It blobbed and blotted and sometimes refused to write. It was almost as bad as a ballpoint. The years went by and he grew out of losing things. His mother’s Conway Stewart was passed down to him and he began to really enjoy the pleasure of a good fountain pen. Ballpoints were much improved by this time and most of his classmates used one but they didn’t win him over. They were characterless, required a vertical grip and downward pressure. They hurt the hand after a page or two.
Those were just about the last of the days when you could get your pen resacced. You left it at the newsagents and picked it up a few days later for a very reasonable payment. A sac lasted a long time, and by time he needed another new sac, the service had disappeared. It seemed to be the end of the sac-fill pen. But was it?
(Further thrilling episodes to follow)
Long, long ago and not terribly far away my husband began school and among other things he learned to write. In those days, the kiddiwinks were seated at double desks and each desk had a hole for an inkwell. Splashes and trails of blue-black ink had stained the dark wood. Getting to play with that stuff seemed like a most attractive proposition but it was only pencils that were allowed for the first couple of years. But even for a youngster, the days roll by, the weeks accumulate and lo and behold the day arrived when the teacher inserted brown bakelite inkwells in the holes in the desks, applied the huge bottle of Stephens ink – strong both of colour and of odour – and issued each pupil with a dip pen. Seemingly endless instruction was given while the children quivered in anticipation of deploying the pen at last. Finally, finally, the teacher wrote a sentence on the board and left the children to write it in their copybooks. He dipped his pen, noticed that a quantity of ink had magically attached itself to the underside of the nib, and carefully applied it to the paper. On the very first upstroke, the gimlet-pointed nib dug into the paper and splattered blots across the paper and the desk. That was a bit disconcerting. Try again. Same result. He knew that this was unlikely to meet with approval, and he could hear the teacher approaching, studying each child’s work and offering praise or advice as required.
His efforts were met with neither praise nor advice but with a screech of outrage at the inkblots all over his copybook and the desk, followed by a good crack over the knuckles with the ruler, as those were the days when it was believed the children learned by pain and fear. Now a simple lack of dexterity was compounded by the shaking of the beaten hand. More blots were added to the total and the nib became bent, with tines pointing to different points of the compass. Further knuckle-thrashing ensued, together with a loud public announcement that henceforward he would be confined to using a pencil as he was too stupid to use a pen.
It was not an auspicious start. The surprising thing is that he went on to write, moderately legibly, with a variety of writing instruments. But not dip pens…
I think that’s Christmas over at last. There has been a succession of visitors, some from very far away. Good times – and huge meals, some cooked by me, others in restaurants. I need to get back to normal meals. And to pens, which I have been missing badly. So I’m gathering my energies for the New Year and a new burst of pen repair, pen sales and pen blogging. Watch this space!
Yesterday I fixed up five pens. Today it was eight. These are not large numbers, at least not in comparison with what I was doing before I became ill. The limitation is my legs which get a bit shaky all too soon. Not surprising, I suppose, as between hospital and gradual recovery at home I wasn’t very active, probably for long enough to lose quite a bit of muscle tone and it will take some time and gradual increase in effort to get that back. Nothing particularly spectacular among the pens I’ve been fixing – the usual Swans, Conway Stewarts, Watermans, Parkers and the like that people expect from me. Nice ones among them are a Swan eyedropper (either a 200 or a 1500, memory fails me at the moment) with a flexible broad stub. There’s a lapis lazuli Parker Junior too, and a splendid rose-marbled Kingswood.
Let’s see what tomorrow will bring.
I bought a beautiful Parker Big Red last week. It cost rather a lot but I thought it was money well spent. It arrived yesterday and inspection showed two hairline cracks in the cap lip. It’ll be on its way back to the seller tomorrow for a full refund. A full refund doesn’t include return postage, of course so I’ll be a few quid out on the deal.
The seller’s not a dedicated pen seller, but about every second sale in his feedback was for pens. He has a feedback count of over 400. That doesn’t make him an expert but he’s no novice either. He has sold a lot of Parkers and he should know to look for lip cracks. Admittedly, these cracks were not especially visible to the naked eye, but they were instantly perceptible to the thumbnail. Rechecking with a 20X loupe showed them clearly, gaping like the Grand Canyon. They were not new cracks. Both had accumulated enough dust and dirt to show as a dark line; one had eroded edges.
The last time I complained here about someone selling a sow’s ear as a silk purse, a reader replied in comments suggesting that I should name and shame the seller. I must confess that in that moment of incandescent anger on finding that I have been sold yet another broken pen, that’s a rather milder solution to the problem than those that initially cross my mind. However, naming and shaming here in my blog isn’t likely to be productive of much benefit to many people. Also, how can I tell which lip cracks were genuinely missed and which were passed over in the sly hope of getting away with it? Truth be told I can’t possibly tell. These are very different offences and it wouldn’t do to punish someone who just made an error with the vengeance you’d visit on a known crook. Let what happens in eBay stay in eBay (except for me whining about it here!). If I get all my money back including return postage I award no feedback. If I’m out of pocket, look out! Here comes a big black negative on your previously pristine account.
I’ve had sellers beg me to remove the negative and they’ll send me the return postage. Sorry, too late. That’s what feedback is for. Others have said that if they had been aware of the consequences they would have paid the return postage. Can’t help that. Ebay rules expressly forbid threatening with negative feedback to get your own way.
The cracked cap/cracked nib/hidden damage problem is not by any means new but it has become much more common at the same time as prices have risen steeply. I’m seeing a couple most weeks, sometimes more. Perhaps the prices have risen to the level where it’s worth digging out that cracked Duofold and putting it up for sale with never a word of the damage. There’s always a chance they’ll get away with it and if they’re caught they can just play the silly laddie and hand back the money with profuse apologies and protestations of innocence.
I’ll just keep trying to be patient and try not to dwell too much on the more condign punishments which involve lengths of steel pipe, baseball bats or force-feeding with a litre of Parker Quink Royal Blue.
I’ve mentioned here before that prices of old pens in eBay are rising steeply. By my calculations, over the last year ‘n’ a bit, the unrestored everyday workhorse type of old pen like the Swan 3260 or the Conway Stewart 286 has had an average price-hike of around 35%. That’s during the day and in the early evening. After about 7.30 pm things go a little insane. I saw an unrestored Blackbird BB2/60 – no clip, no trim – go for in excess of forty quid last week.
I don’t see a similar rise for restored pens. That suggests to me that some of the increase we’re seeing now is because of more repairers coming into the market. That’ll settle itself out in time and the market will establish a new, slightly higher equilibrium and there may be a few more competent repairers around. That’s good for the hobby. Higher prices for pens mean fewer of them will be thrown away or scrapped for their nibs.
That’s not all of it, though. Because I do a lot of my buying there, I’ve watched eBay closely for years and I see changes. As a proportion of all pens that come through, there are less that were made before World War II and more that were made after. The pens that I concentrate on (and enjoy most) the BHR pens and the thirties celluloid pens are getting thinner on the ground than they were. Is the cornucopia of old pens finite after all? Are we coming to the end of those pens that lay untouched in desks and drawers until now? The short answer, I fear, is yes. We’re not there yet, but as these items get scarcer the price is sure to rise even more. It will be a sad day when we’re reduced to selling each other fifties Platignums, and an even sadder one when we come down to passing the same reducing bunch of worked-over old pens around.
Among the common personal possessions, pens, like watches, were as near universal as we can get. There was a price to suit (almost) every pocket. For everyone who had a fountain pen, it was a significant purchase. It cost enough that you took good care of it. When they were superseded by the ballpoint, the thought remained that these were precious items, too good to throw away. No doubt many were actually discarded, but many went into drawers. It’s those pens we’ve been buying as they became available, often through house clearance and charity shops after their owners, or even owner’s descendants had passed away. To put it bluntly, many of those queuing up to pop their clogs today won’t be leaving any fountain pens. A Parker Flighter ballpoint or two, perhaps, but for the most part they lived through the time of the disposable pen, and their Bics hit the waste-paper bucket long ago.
Hang onto that old Queensway. It may be worth fixing yet!
I know I’ve written about this before and I know that, calm as I’m forcing myself to be, I know I’ll be in a bug-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth raving rant in about 90 seconds from now but I don’t care. Things need said.
This arrived this morning and that’s the packaging it arrived in: a reused paper envelope and a wisp of bubble-wrap. Without wishing to be unpleasant about the seller I think it’s fair to assume from the packaging alone that he hasn’t got the wits of a wool sock. Then we move on to the pen, part of which is a fine old two-band Waterman 52. The other bit? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s a cap with a crack in it and it doesn’t fit the pen. Not by a long chalk. The crack might have happened because of the ridiculously poor packaging though I have to say it looks older. The inner edges of the crack are fully oxidised and quite dirty. But let’s give the seller a break here and say that he didn’t knowingly send out a cracked cap. He sent out a cracked cap because he’s too (a) stupid or (b) cheap to pack a pen properly. Or it may be that he sent out a cracked cap because he’s too stupid, lazy or blind to check for a crack that you could reverse a tractor-trailer unit into. But the fact that the cap doesn’t fit onto the pen? We can’t excuse him that one. He knew it didn’t fit the pen. It wouldn’t fit the pen even if he used a hammer. He knew about that. And he sold it like that without disclosure.
So what happens now? Now, I go through the ebay dispute procedure. The seller may make an offer of refund right away but if he does he’s an exception. Most go into full fictional mode, pouring out tales like Charles Dickens on crack, wasting my precious time by forcing me to respond to their drivel. eBay allows this to go on for a week. At that point I’ll get my purchase price and initial postage back but then I have to send the pen back by a signed for service at my cost. At my cost! That’s £3.70 that I have to fork out because some crook or cretin sent me a broken pen for the reasons discussed above. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with me, but I have to incur the loss, not the seller.
“Boy,” you’re saying at this point, “She does make a fuss over a paltry £3.70!” And you would be right, were it not for the fact that I have no less than three of these disputes active at the moment. How many have I had this year? I don’t know. Fifteen? Twenty? Somewhere around there and it’s only August.
They may do things differently elsewhere but here in Britain if a seller sends out faulty goods he has to pay to have them returned, which is entirely as it should be. The fault lies with the seller, not the buyer. eBay is the only environment here in which this anomaly is allowed to persist. In fact, eBay themselves seem determined to keep it that way. It’s iniquitous.
And I didn’t swear. Not even once.
Looking at the number of twists in that sac, I’d say that not much writing was done with this Duofold after the last “repair”.
Non-pen demands on my time have been severe recently, so I’m getting little time at either the workbench or here at the PC. Hence the lack of entertainment in here and the paucity of uploads to the sales site, matters which I hope to put right soon. Anyway, here’s a pen joke:
Pat finds a pen in the street one day and he shows it to his pal Mick, and asks him if it’s his pen.
“Give us it here till I see,” says Mick, and pulling a scrap of paper from his pocket, writes on it.
“Sure, and ’tis my pen right enough,” says Mick.
“How do you know?” asks Pat,
“Cause it’s my handwriting,” says the bold Mick…