Getting There!

One good thing about moving is the forced ‘opportunity’ to clear out, organize, and re-assess. The pen workshop is slowly taking shape – as a result, many items have resurfaced after spending almost a year in hibernation.

It’s been a joy getting back to some pen repair, some pen photography, and the odd upload here and there to the website.  It’s all a bit overwhelming, but we’ll get there!

Back Again!

I’m back in business if only in a small way. I’ve added a couple of choice items to the Odds & Ends section of my sales website. I’ve already managed to get a few pens ready for upload and they will be appearing in the next few days. This is without benefit of my workshop, which I’m still waiting to get together.

I’ve been in eBay buying a few pens. It’s a long while since I did that and my goodness how the prices have risen! There are less high-quality old pens around too, which is sad but I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. There isn’t a bottomless well of old pens out there. There are still plenty of excellent post-war Parkers, and very fine pens they are too but, for the moment, the demand for them is poor. I generally try to keep a few in stock and they do move, but slowly.

The days when there were hordes of Swans of all dates have gone, I’m afraid. Those that do appear sell for serious money now. Still, not to worry. EBay isn’t the only game in town and I’m sure I can find some pens that my customers will want.

Post-Move Update.

It’s been a while.  The house move, with Gordon just out of hospital, was a stress city the size of London and Tokyo combined.  Then our lives were all about boxes for at least three weeks but that’s all over now and our flat is beginning to look like a home.

Gordon is much better and is walking to and from dialysis most days.  He says it’s doing him a power of good.  Smartie the cat is distinctly displeased about the move and is finding life without her old territory rather difficult.  She was cock o’ the walk there and now she’s a newbie at ten years old.  There’s been some fighting and as far as I can tell she’s had one win and one loss.

British Telecom had promised our broadband would be back on at the end of February.  The man never came on the appointed day, nor on the rescheduled appointment two days later.  There were many phone calls and many lies.  Set-up is now scheduled for 23rd March.  I have a seething hatred for BT.

I have an unreliable and slow connection through BT “hotspots”, part of our contract.  Unfortunately it’s just not good enough for business but as soon as I have my proper broadband connection back I’ll be loading pens into the sales site and generally getting back to work.  I have missed this so much in recent months and I’m aching to get back to it.  Won’t be long now.

Gone, but not for long…

Well, the big move is this Friday.  I’ve got a million things to do and about (checks watch) 36 hours to do them.  As of sometime tomorrow I will be offline until 28th February, when the nice British Telecom engineer will come out to connect us back up with the world.  I’m already feeling a bit lip-quivery about being wrenched from Auntie Internet for that long, but the wheels of BT grind slowly and I’ll just be happy if we have an actual telephone number next week.

I will update contact details on the sales site once I have them – I’ve got an address but am awaiting a new telephone number.

See you on the other side, when I will be writing to you from an even-more-northerly latitude.

Light At The End Of The Tunnel

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here and I apologise for that. Our lives have been taken over by haemodialysis and travelling. It has been so frustrating that no suitable house appeared as a months went by. Both of us, I believe, lost heart and accepted that this was what our lives would be, for the foreseeable future. Winter closed in and we found ourselves driving in snow storms, danger being added to the hopeless mix.

Then, this week, a solution finally appeared. It’s a flat, not our ideal residence, but it’s ground floor and within walking distance of the hospital. We view it on Monday but by all accounts it should be fine. Perhaps this misery has come to an end and we can resume our lives once more.

It’s been so long since I’ve bought a pen or restored one. I’m looking forward to it tremendously, though it will possibly be a few weeks before we get resettled and back in business. Then I’ll have rather more to write about.

Writing

If we go back far enough, there was a time when there was no writing. The great Neolithic and Bronze Age remains that dot our landscape bear no writing. So far as we know, communication was limited to speech. That was a tremendous limitation. Traditions were passed from generation to generation, but real history was impossible until it could be fixed by writing. Financial and genealogical record-keeping also depended on memory. Communication over distance was equally fallible.

We have some knowledge of how written record-keeping and communication developed – the cuneiform tablets of the Middle East and the ogham inscriptions of Atlantic Europe are examples but doubtless different perishable material has been lost.

Throughout most of history writing remained exceptional. We have Greek and Roman inscriptions which hint at much greater use of writing than has survived, but there is nothing to suggest that literacy was widespread. Inscriptions on vellum and papyrus survive in the dry environments of Palestine and Egypt but they remain the occupation of the religious or the politically powerful, rather than the mass of people alive in those times.

In the Dark Ages and the mediaeval period, it was mostly the monasteries and royal palaces which kept writing alive and developed it into the early forms of the scripts we use today.

Paradoxically, it was printing and hence the wider availability of paper led to more widespread literacy and use of handwriting. As we know, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the use of writing in business and scholarship drove the technology through the quill pen, the steel dip nib to the fountain pen. Handwriting styles were also developed to ensure legibility, giving us the beautiful penmanship of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

When the fountain pen was the main means of consigning thought to paper more handwriting was done than before or since. Gradually, typewriters and eventually the ballpoint began to claim a proportion of recording and communication but it was the home computer that made handwriting a minor player in the field.

Of all the means of putting words on paper I still find the fountain pen the most comfortable and efficient. Because I am handwriting this in less than optimal circumstances, my writing is unfortunately not good enough to be scanned and published in that way. I’ll have to use my speech-to-text software to enter it into the blog, but it remains a source of enjoyment for me to handwrite it as it occurs to me.

Materials, Colours And Patterns

I’m sorry that I’ve been writing so little here recently. Life continues to be hectic and distracting and, to be frank, I struggle to find subjects for discussion when I have no pens passing over the repair bench. Any suggestions will be welcome!

Long ago – in the 80s – remember them? – I was a collector. It was mostly Conway Stewart, Swan and De La Rue. There was a strange notion back then that the best example of each model was a plain, black pen. They tended to be cheaper than the more colourful examples so I had drawers of shiny black pens.

It took quite a while, but it eventually came to me that colours and patterns had greater appeal. Gradually and expensively I began to replace my black pens with patterns, especially among the glorious Conway Stewarts.

I do enjoy the colours and patterns, and so, clearly, do most other users of fountain pens. In the early days it was plain black hard rubber, a machined finish or gold or silver overlay in wonderful finishes that have never been surpassed. Colour came with red or mottled hard rubber and Waterman brought in other colours in their admirable ripple finishes. The rosewood hard rubber that Wahl Eversharp produced was another beautiful pattern.

Celluloid transformed the market, both in the USA and Britain. Throughout the thirties, especially, colours and patterns were produced by particularly Waterman and Conway Stewart that were works of art. Parker’s thrift pens, too, were made in inventive and outstanding patterns. Waterman’s geological celluloids and Conway Stewarts wonderfully inventive patterns like Tiger’s Eye, Cracked Ice and Herringbone were, to my mind, the apex.

Which modern pens are most colourful and inventive? I’m asking because I don’t really know. There are some bright and beautiful acrylics around but I think that material lacks the subtlety and depth of celluloid and casein. I have no doubt that in time modern technology will come up with materials, colours and patterns as good as, or better than, our wonderful historical examples.

A variety of patterns gives the collector something to aim for and it gives the writer an opportunity to find an example that suits his/her taste and personality. There is more to the fountain pen than the practicality of good writing. A pleasing colour pattern warms the heart!