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A Green Marbled Unique

I’ve written about Uniques before and there have been knowledgeable comments made to those posts. The little magnifying glass above will lead you to those discussions if that is your interest. This time I will avoid the more general stuff about the brand and confine myself to discussion of this pen.

I would guess that it is a product of the early nineteen fifties. It is a handsome pen in very good condition. The gold plating has held up well except on the lever where there is some loss. The clip is stepped in the Art Deco style and the cap band is moderately broad and pierced. The pattern of the celluloid is marbled dark and light green with an overlay of randomly aligned striations. I have seen this very attractive pattern on Uniques before. Those pens were made from wrapped celluloid sheet. I can see no seam here and I assume it was machined from the rod. The tassie is made from some form of plastic, hard rubber having been finally laid aside for that purpose. I’m not sure about the material of the section. The feed may well be ebonite.

The nib is small, perhaps a little smaller than a Swan No 1. It is warranted and probably made by Unique themselves as they had a gold nib plant. The lettering on the nib is instantly recognisable. I come upon these warranted nibs frequently and they are always of very good quality.

This is a very handsome pen indeed. Uniques are not as collectable as Conway Stewarts but this is a sound, well made, well designed pen. Aesthetically, all the parts come together in a very satisfying way. Though there are some later Uniques that are of lesser quality, perhaps giving rise to a poor reputation for the brand, this pen and many of its predecessors are as good as anything produced by Unique’s competitors.

My thanks to Paul S for this pen.

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Esterbrook M2 and The Veteran Stylo

 

A couple of points of interest today: first is this beautiful American stylo stamped “The Veteran”. The hard rubber is coal-black and shining, the engine-turned pattern is sharp enough to cut you and the gold plating on the barrel bands is pristine. Both in general shape and in detail this instrument appears to be old. The rope-work before the front band speaks of the late nineteenth century to me – at least that’s how I would date it on a fountain pen. It’s a real gem and I would appreciate any comments or advice on this little mystery.

 

Esterbrooks are not uncommon here in Britain but it’s usually the J-types one sees. This pen, the M2, broke with tradition in a variety of ways. Made after 1950 the M2 was created from a softer plastic than the utterly impervious J-type. Thus many have lost the information imprinted on the barrel but this one has not. It was made in Canada; I have seen English-made ones too. The Parker 51 was a major contributor to the popularity of the metal cap. This pen’s cap is very handsome with its machined finish and indented top. The smooth band at the base of the cap is a reminder of the actual cap rings of the past. Someone has compared the indent in the cap to that of a gentleman’s hat and that’s accurate. It is a style that has remained unique to this pen.

Mixing metal and plastic threaded closures has not proved to be a good idea. Swan, with their plastic caps and brass barrel threads reverted to all-around plastic, possibly because of cost but almost certainly because of damage to the cap also. This reverse arrangement has not worked out well either. Some M2s no longer close well though this one does.

In another change Esterbrook has gone for the squeeze-filler. It’s well made and very similar to Parker’s Aerometric. It appears to be equally successful though the sac is not as durable and needs replaced from time to time.

The one place where tradition won was in the choice of the Renew screw-in nib. This one is a 2556 – a firm fine. Plastic threads and soft plastic ensure that this pen is not quite the equal of the admirable J, but it’s an excellent pen nonetheless. It’s less often seen than its predecessor not because of any great inferiority but because the times were against it. It was not only competing against other fountain pens but against the ballpoint.

My thanks to Paul S for both of these writing instruments.

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Tools

Sometimes I get lucky and the pen I have bought only needs a sac, hand polished and maybe a little nib adjustment. Usually though, old pens demand a little more love and attention and some are downright challenging. That’s okay though. Over the years I have amassed the tools to deal with almost any situation. A few, like my collection of tools for nib straightening, are specialist but most are the kind of thing you can buy in any hardware store. I have just about every kind of pliers imaginable, for instance, and many of my tools were created for use in dentistry or the operating theatre. Others have been so adjusted and tailored to suit the specific need that it isn’t obvious what they started as. A set of tiny jeweller’s files finds regular use, as do various scraps of rubber inner tube that provide grip.

There are days that I sigh for a lathe. I had a rickety old one years ago when I messed about with motorbikes. I was far from expert with it but it made my life easier on a number of occasions. The cheapest one that would be any good at all comes in around £600 and a decent lathe would be about £1500 second-hand. I can’t justify that and I would have nowhere to use it, not even a tabletop version.

I make do with my Skil power drill, a poor man’s Dremel, together with a vice and several gripping devices. It’s amazing what you can do with a bit of planning and ingenuity. The Skil has a variable speed motor and a host of accessories. I love it.

My most commonly used tools reside in a box that once held German wine. Then there are a couple of drawers of slightly less often used bits and pieces and a shelf in the shed holds some more. Also in the shed is a polisher/grinder. I don’t routinely machine-polish my pens – that glaring shine is inappropriate for hundred-year-old hard rubber pens. It’s good for pens that have been abused and for crusty old accommodation clips.

As I found early on, you can never have too many tools. Needle-nose pliers with different profiles all have their uses, and some have met the grinder for adjustment to make them fit a specific requirement. Screwdrivers that rarely turn screws are perfect for other jobs.

As you can tell I love my tools. The whole collection, taken together, make my life simpler and more satisfying. My husband tries to head me off at the door of the hardware store but I usually find a way in. You never know what gem you might find for that problem that’s been bugging you for weeks.

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Collecting Pencils Booklet

When I began this blog seven years ago I went through my bookshelf and wrote about the various pen books I had accumulated. There comes a point when you don’t need any more general pen books but as the occasional more specialist publication has come along, I have included reviews of them.

Pencils, as I often comment, are the poor relations of the writing instrument world. Thankfully that is not reflected in the literature and Collecting Pencils by Sue Courtier, Jane Marshall and Jim Marshall is a splendid introduction to this aspect of our hobby.

Though it’s a slender booklet of 67 pages it gives comprehensive coverage of the types of pencils you might come across and the copious illustrations are very clear and colourful. Everything from cedar pencils to the highly collectable nineteenth and early twentieth century novelty pencils by Mordan, Edward Todd and Hicks are covered.

Given the large number of different types of mechanical pencil the section on repair can only be an introduction but there are helpful diagrams throughout the work.

This booklet is no longer in print but can be found at various places on the Internet. This is the second edition and it’s on sale in Waterstones at £12 and the Pendragons have it at £14.99. I would regard it as an essential item for the bookshelf of anyone serious about writing instruments.

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The FPR Indus or Demonstrators, Who Needs ‘Em?

It is appropriate that the word “demonstrator” begins with “demon”. I have never liked pens of this type. Their skeletal appearance has no aesthetic charm for me. Their benefit, supposedly, is that they show how much ink remains, not something I have ever cared about as I always have several pens available.  Originally the intention was that a salesman could show how the pen worked.  I know how a piston filler works, having pulled loads of them apart.

I bought this one because it was a cheap piston filler. It’s a Fountain Pen Revolution Indus, which I think is a rebadged Click Tulip. These pens have proved popular, both because they are quite well made and because they offer the opportunity of using alternative nibs, something which has become popular recently.

Where the “demon” part comes in is in that the section stains readily. Because these stains offend my eye I made a determined effort to remove them. I set up a little jig in the ultrasonic cleaner to immerse the section while keeping the rest of the pen out of the fluid. Several hours later the stains had hardly moved. Ink trapped in the cap did eventually succumb to the ultrasonic but the section remained intractable.

This wouldn’t matter a bit if the pen was not transparent. Every pen I restore has a coating of ink in the section. I remove most of it with water and cotton buds but I am sure that permanent traces of ink are left behind, but who cares? Out of sight etc. It seems that with demonstrators we give ourselves problems that outweigh any notional benefits the thing might have.

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Queensway 75

My husband tells me that when he was a kid going to school in the fifties and sixties there was a fountain pen class system going on. If your parents were wealthy you had a Conway Stewart or a Parker. A bit less affluent and you might have an Osmiroid or a Burnham. Below that was the despised Platignum. If your parents were really poor, as my husband’s were – they were trying to get a farm going from scratch – you had a Queensway.

Nobody seems to know about their origins. Queensways were cheap because they were shoddy. There were several models in the sixties, none of them very good. If you were lucky, you got one that wrote reasonably well and kept its ink where it was supposed to be. Most of them broadcast ink over paper, skin and clothes. They didn’t look very good either.

By the seventies when this Model 75 was made, they were a little more reliable and some concessions had been made to style. This one has survived remarkably well. The gold plating – which may not be gold – has bubbled a little on the clip and lever but is better on the cap band. Judging by others I have seen, this pen is remarkable in having retained its cap band! The barrel is very tapered coming almost to a point like the Skyline. The clip screw echoes that, pointed rather than domed.

The section is black, tapered and bearing a very decided “stop”. It has a traditional style of nib that wraps around the sides of the feed. It’s a plated nib of course. When I was Googling for information on the brand I came upon another example of this model on Etsy. The seller said it had an 18 carat nib. 18 carat gold-washed! This pen actually writes well and doesn’t spew ink, which may be why it has lived so long. There are signs of plastic shrinkage as you would expect but it isn’t too bad. It’s an adequate pen but you wouldn’t flash it around and boast about it.

I think this was the last of the sac-fill Queensways. Some of the later ones I’ve seen had semi-hooded nibs. I don’t know which cartridges fit, if any, but it may be that the Conway Stewart ones do, because an unholy alliance developed between Conway Stewart, Roll-Tip, Penkala and Queensway, all bad pens which, when amalgamated, made for even worse pens. Some later Queensways are pretty much indistinguishable from some Conway Stewart models.

If these pens are so bad, why bother writing about them? For one thing, anyone finding themselves with a Queensway might want to know what they have. Secondly, they’re fountain pens. People bought them in huge numbers and cheap pens like these are probably more typical of what the ordinary Joe or Jane used at school, college or work than the Swans or Onotos. They have their equivalents today, not in the reliable and durable BICs but in those ballpoints that charities and businesses hand out, that work for a while, then no more.

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