Onoto 4601

I’ve written before of my admiration for Onotos – all Onotos except the very last ones which are spoiled by a tendency for the hoods to crack.  Those long, slender pens from the 1920s have some of the best nibs I have ever written with, often flexible, sometimes stubbed or oblique.  The quality of the pens and nibs remained consistant until late in the company’s history.  I’ve had several 4601s over the years and there is always one in the box of my own pens.  Though it’s around 70 years old, I think it has quite a modern appearance.  The long, slender section may be the most dated part of the pen, but I find it makes for a comfortable fit in the hand.

It has been said that the reason that the plunger-filling system was abandoned in favour of the German style piston filler was because the plunger was outdated.  I don’t agree with that.  Filling systems don’t date.  I believe the cause of the change was economic, not practical.  You only have to look around at the plethora of filling systems available today, almost every method of getting ink into a pen that there has ever been.

The 4601 is a fine example of the Onoto.  As always with this filler it takes a barrelful of ink which lasts even me for ages.  I like colourful pens but the engine-chased black celluloid is appealing, too.  Catching the light as it does, it’s a subtly beautiful finish.  Like other Onotos, those pens fetch a premium price, not because they’re especially rare – thankfully they are not – but because they are of the very highest quality.

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Baystate Blue

The postman delivered an unexpected package this morning.  It was a large bottle of ink and an accompanying letter, from which I quote:  “I offered to give it away on the Fountain Pen Network forum and someone suggested I send it to you.  So here it is.  I hope that you love (or at least don’t hate) it.  If not then feel free to throw it in the bin.  I don’t recommend pouring it down your sink unless you are prepared to replace your sink and possibly your entire kitchen.”

So this is the famous, or perhaps infamous Baystate Blue, one of Nathan Tardiff’s more controversial inks.  I remember Tardiff from many years ago when he was an expert in re-tipping pens and produced some highly unusual nib tips.  Where he upset some was in re-tipping uncommon vintage nibs, an absolute no-no in the collector world.  He went on to produce a new range of inks with great success.

I believe Tardiff is a species of genius, highly original and very capable but he is also a troubled spirit, constantly seeking controversy.  The titles of some of his inks unnecessarily reflect his politics which some would refer to as patriotic while others, including me, would say he is aggressively right wing, which I regard as a thoroughly unpleasant creed.

Leaving that aside, this is the first of his inks that I have used.  It is very beautiful, a startlingly intense blue, clearly a super-saturated ink.  I am not unaware of its reputation for staining everything it comes near and destroying pens.  It is said that the process whereby it damages feeds and sections is that it reacts with traces of other inks that remain in the pen.  A warning is given on the bottle to ensure that the pen is absolutely clean.  I am taking no risks and have filled a cheap Chinese pen that has never been used before.  Hopefully it will survive and become my Baystate Blue pen because I love this ink.

Normally I pay little attention to ink.  As I may have mentioned before, I have some Parker and Diamine inks and several bottles of very old inks, Stephens, Swan and some others.  I stopped buying ink quite a while ago.  That makes it all the more surprising to me that I am very impressed with Baystate Blue.

Yet Another Osmiroid

I’ve always liked Osmiroids. The 65 and 75 are very basic pens, almost an afterthought by Edmund Perry, the manufacturer of the excellent nibs. Therein lies their great practicality and even charm. They are there to write with and nothing else. They are not objects of admiration or collector’s items. Nowadays, they are regarded purely as calligraphic pens but that was not always so. My husband used one as his everyday pen in his schooldays.

A kind friend gave me this Osmiroid 65. It comes fitted with a soft medium nib, the kind you would use for ordinary writing, and a very good writer it is too. It can even be induced to provide a little line variation. I’m sure I have other Osmiroid nibs somewhere and I must hunt them down.

The Osmiroid writing system is often compared with the Esterbrook. They will accept each other’s nibs, which is handy. The nibs will fit some Burnhams too, as well as a few German school pens. Looking at the pens themselves, the Esterbrook is the clear winner. Whereas both 65 and 75 Osmiroids are subject to plastic shrinkage, the Esterbrook is generally stable. It is better made and comes in more attractive finishes.

When we come to the nibs, it is by no means so clear which is the better. The build quality of both is good though the Esterbrook may have an edge. I am no calligrapher but some of those who are tell me that they prefer the Osmiroid nibs. I can’t really go into why this should be so, being a shade ignorant of the subject. It isn’t a silly nationalistic thing though, because some of those who favour the Osmiroid nibs are American. If you would be interested in following this further, the search facilities of the pen discussion groups will assist.

A good 65 with no shrinkage, like this one, is a real asset to the calligrapher. The later versions of the Osmiroid, though no longer compatible with the other pens, have their followers too. The later filling systems, squeeze and cartridge fillers, may attract some. The cartridges are becoming hard to find.

I suppose that those 65s and 75s whose plastic hasn’t shrunk so far are likely to remain stable. If that’s the case the 65s will go on forever, just needing the occasional sac replacement. So far as I know, the piston system of the 75 can’t be repaired but it doesn’t seem to need it, provided the barrel hasn’t shrunk. It doesn’t have a huge capacity of ink but being so easily filled that probably isn’t a serious failing.

The other calligraphic system, popular in its day, was a Mentmore product under the Platignum name. The screw fitting of the nibs to the section is different from that of the Osmiroid/Esterbrook. Those pens, or at least nibs, still have their users though nowhere near so many. The various Platignum models which accept them vary in quality though most are undeniably poor. The nibs lack the clean, sharp edges of the Osmiroid. Nonetheless, some splendid calligraphic work has been done with them.

My Frankenblanc

I like this pen. I can use it for swank value. The bird-splat on the cap is very noticeable.

It isn’t really a proper Montblanc. Many years ago, I bought a huge box of spares from a restorer who was retiring. Among the several kilos of pen bits there were parts of several Montblancs. I found a working piston-filler barrel and a cap, section and feed that fit. There was no nib unfortunately but I found a flexible Waterman fine-point nib that slid into place perfectly.

It’s a great writer and I use it a lot. I kind of enjoy using this Frankenpen to counterbalance the snobbery that surrounds Montblancs. Not that I’m criticising older Montblancs, those of the age of this pen. They are superb writers with great nibs. I just think my Waterman nib is even better!

Whither Fountain Pens?

We know what fountain pens were.  What are they now?  Until about, say, 1955, they were an essential tool and had been for the previous half-century.  Most adults had one, and in a society that used the postal system much more than today, fountain pens were heavily used at home as well as at work.  It is true that the wooden pencil was much used then, but when a permanent record was needed, the fountain pen had taken over that role from the dip pen.  They had other roles to play, such as indicating the owner’s wealth by display of an expensive pen, but that was at the margins.  The millions of pens that were out there were, like the Bic ballpoint today, primarily for practical use.

That was what fountain pens were.  What are they now?  Is there any job in the western world today, that demands the use of a fountain pen?  My husband, as a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, had, by law, to use one with indelible ink, to make entries in ledgers and to create certificates.  That ended about 2003 when the function was computerized.  Was that the last occupation that required a fountain pen?

There are many of us, still, who hand-write by choice.  Though the circumstances in which we do may well obviate the use of a keyboard, we could equally well use one of the other kinds of pens that are available today.  We just prefer to use fountain pens, and the reason for that will vary from person to person.

Calligraphers may use fountain pens.  Many fine dip pens serve their purpose better.  Certainly for those calligraphic styles that require flexibility, even the most flexible fountain pen is a poor competitor to the variety of highly expressive dip pen nibs available.

There will be fountain pen users who don’t care what their pen looks like as long as it does the job well.  I used to be in that category but I must confess that now I like a good-looking pen.  That doesn’t mean that I need to have an expensive pen or a pen that other people would recognise as expensive.  It does mean, though, that I am in that broad category of fountain pen owners who appreciate their pens, at least in part, for their good looks.  What you regard as good looks will likely be different from the next person.  For me, a faded BHR Swan is still a beauty because it retains its great design and the fading is a part of its history.

However we appreciate the beauty of fountain pens, old or new, they fall into the category of “small objects of desire.”  There are many other items in this category, often called “collectables.”  Watches, snuff boxes, some kinds of jewelry, inkwells, even firearms have that attraction to people with the collecting bug.

There are pens, especially Japanese Maki-e, for instance, that are undeniably works of art.  Other highly priced pens may arguably fit that category.  The fashion for limited edition pens, often associated with famous and creative people, may be seen as an attempt to make pens works of art.  How successfully, you may judge for yourself.

How do I wind this up?  Have I come to any conclusion about what the fountain pen is today?  Not really, and I’ll be interested in what you think it is.  I suppose one conclusion is that the fountain pen is a technology that is no longer necessary (at least in the West) but is still produced for a tiny minority that is prepared to assign enough of their income to this hobby to make it profitable for manufacture to continue.

The Transitional Slimfold

With the exception of the Maxima, most English Parkers don’t sell well. The quality is very high and there’s a good range of pens to choose from. The difficulty is a perceived dullness and lack of flair, at least among the 50s and 60s Duofolds in their various sizes.

The Slimfold, of course, suffered from that view too, at least until it was redesigned to look somewhat like a Parker 45. That made it a rather elegant little pen. Some (including me) might regard it as better than the 45 in that it has a fully exposed 14ct nib.

That change in the Slimfold’s design was initiated in 1968. The first version retained the squeeze-filler. In 1971 the design was changed again and the Slimfold became a cartridge/converter filler. Some now call the 1968-71 version with the squeeze-filler a transitional model. That’s this one. A kind friend sent me a photograph of it and asked me if I wanted it. At first sight I took it to be a 45, and I did want one. I’ve always admired the Parker 45. Many have passed through my hands but I’ve never kept one for myself. When the pen arrived I realised that it wasn’t a 45 and it took me a little puzzling over it before I recognised it for what it was. The first clue was the “5” on the nib which declared it to be a Slimfold. That didn’t seem quite right to me. I assumed that a Slimfold with a Parker 45-style cap should be a cartridge/converter. Parkercollector.com , as ever, explained things to me. That’s a wonderful site. This Slimfold is a handsome little pen, in dark blue, measuring 12.4cm capped. I understand that these pens had no barrel imprint. There’s certainly nothing there now and the barrel doesn’t look worn. In fact the pen is in very good condition. It’s a screw-on cap and those threads and the barrel threads that open the pen for filling, are sharp and unworn. The filling system works well and it takes a decent charge of ink. This one needs it because it’s a wet, generous medium, close to being a broad. It lays a lot of ink on the page.

As a small, quite slender pen, it will not appeal to everyone, but I find it quite comfortable to write with. The barrel, section and nib remain the same as its predecessors but the updated cap changes the appearance completely and in a good way. I prefer the squeeze-filler to the later cartridge pen. This, I suppose, is just about the last of the self-filler Parkers. I think it’s a fine addition to my accumulation of pens, a useful writer with an interesting place in Parker history. Many thanks to my kind friend.

Conway Stewart 205

Among my accumulation of pens is a Conway Stewart 205. I can’t date it exactly but it was made some time in the early 1920s. I prefer Conway Stewarts from this period to the even earlier ones which were bought in and re-badged as Conway Stewarts. By time this pen came along, Conway Stewart had their own factory and the designs had begun to take on a style and appearance that made the pens recognisably Conway Stewart.

This is a black hard rubber pen measuring 13.6cm capped. Originally clipless, it has had an accommodation clip fitted. The cap has no bands and the only decoration is the knurling on the clip screw. The section is distinctly convex and beautifully sculpted. The barrel tapers subtly at the end. It has Conway Stewart’s instantly recognisable ‘flange lever’, a practical and pleasing design. These pens can appear with either Warranted 14ct nibs or Conway Stewart ones. I don’t believe that the Warranted nibs are necessarily replacements – there are too many of them for that. This one has a Conway Stewart nib. It is medium and very smooth from long years of use.

Indeed, the pen is well-worn. The barrel imprint is so faint from use that it can only be read under strong light and magnification. The gold plating on the lever has held up quite well, but the chrome plating on the clip, which may have been an inexpensive one, shows considerable wear. The black hard rubber has faded slightly to a rich, pleasing chocolate brown.

I bought this pen in eBay many years ago. I’ve kept it ever since as a good writer and an example of one of Conway Stewart’s best periods. The 205 isn’t a common pen by any means but that doesn’t make it especially valuable because there isn’t any great demand for it.

The only fault so far as I’m concerned, is the accommodation clip. I like to post my pens but the weight of this clip unbalances the pen. I have tried to remove the clip though without any great determination. It has been there for a very long time and it isn’t going to part company with the cap easily. I just have to break the habit of a lifetime and set the cap aside while I write.

(Perhaps I should have given the nib a wipe, but it’s an everyday user and this is how one looks!)

Conway Stewart nibs are good but Swan and Onoto nibs are better. Nonetheless, there are Conway Stewarts from several of their periods of production that I like to have. After this one, I like the pre-war 286, in any of the pleasant patterns one can choose from. In the immediately post-war period, the 388 and 55 are great pens and pleasant writers. Among the cigar-shaped pens of the 50s and 60s, the 27 is my choice. After that the pens fell away rapidly and disastrously. When the company rose from the dead like a shambling zombie, it produced pens that were prohibitively expensive and bore little real relationship to the pens of the glory days. I don’t want any of them.