Ladies Swan Pen Pocket

I’ve had several of these leather pen pockets but the wording and layout of the text on this one is new to me.  It’s a little tattered but after 113 years it’s entitled to be.  It has a button closure – no longer working and at one time the pocket would have held a short Swan eyedropper.

An essential piece of ephemera for any Swan collector.

Sunday Rambling

I’ve spent the day repairing pens.  I only fixed five but that’s because they were all in a bad state.  Three Swans, a Waterman and a Conway Stewart, all with buckled nibs and other problems.  Many thanks to Laurence Oldfield for his nib straightening kit.  I bought the full set a few years ago and it has transformed my work.  I buy pens with badly bent nibs that other people don’t seem to want.  Keeps the price down for me and my customers.  I’ll try to straighten any nib, no matter how bad.  The ones I find most difficult and time-consuming are those with a sharp bend near the tip.  They take a lot of work and the fear is always there that I’ll detach the tipping.  I’ve done it a few times and it does bring out the language that my mother never taught me.  I suppose those particular bends come from a plummet straight onto a hard surface.

I plan to concentrate on Mabie Todd pens.  They’re what I enjoy working on most and they’re what I admire in a fountain pen.  I suppose if I see a pen of another brand at a bargain price I might buy it, but for the most part it will be Swans, Blackbirds and Jackdaws.  I might as well enjoy the time I spend on repair, conservation and restoration even more than I do now.  Mabie Todd pens will do that for me and they are what my customers want.

I will write here when I can but life is making more demands on me which means less time for the blog.  I was writing three or four entries every week for eighteen months or so and I covered a lot of ground.  I’m glad I got that done as it makes the blog more of a reference for anyone trying to find out about their new old pen.  I will also be pleased to write about any rarities and oddities you find, if you send me the photos.  It will always be done but it may take some time, as I’ve said above.  Even though I may not be able to concentrate on the blog as much as I have done, it will always remain online.

Does Platignum Deserve Its Bad Reputation?

The earliest Platignums I am aware of are hard rubber lever fillers, often in less usual colours like blue or olive mottled. They had perfectly usable steel nibs. Later they produced pen and pencil sets in bright celluloid colours. Again, these are perfectly adequate pens and they have become collectors items, especially in America.

Wartime and post-war pens like the Silverline and Quick Change with its variety of nibs were cheap, serviceable pens. Many have survived in good condition. Up to this point, I think Platignum stuck to their original stated intent: to provide good cheap pens. There are even were admirable bulb fillers in the Platignum stable.

It was later, during the fifties, sixties and seventies that Platignum turned out the really bad lever and cartridge fillers that are remembered today for their habit of leaking, breaking and blotting. Those pens were not only cheap, they were shoddy.

Even at that time, though, they were capable of producing good pens. I’m writing this with the Platignum Gold Nib Pressac, a squeeze filler with a durable sac. The gold nib is very pleasant, a firm medium with a modicum of feedback. This pen came in single or double jewel form, the latter known as the Deluxe. Mine is the former.

Had Platignum’s worst efforts occurred beyond living memory it might be better regarded but there are too many people around who experienced the cheap plastic horrors of the mid-century for their better pens to stand out.

To sum up, I think the company’s bad reputation is deserved, but that’s not all there is to the story.

Rosemary – That’s For Remembrance

I’ve written about the Rosemary before, mostly speculation about the very unusual name. The search box above will find previous blog entries on the subject.

It is in Hamlet, Act IV, Scene V, as Ophelia plans to end her short life, that the phrase occurs as she explains the symbolism of the flowers she gathers. For Shakespeare she had gone mad. Now we might say she suffered from clinical depression. It’s a famous scene, very sad and very beautiful.

This Rosemary pen isn’t sad but it is beautiful. I’ve seen many Rosemary pens and the design appears to have changed often.

This slender, clipless, mottled hard rubber pen is, I believe, a lady’s purse pen. Mottled hard rubber is always attractive and it sets off the 18 carat rolled gold band. The nib is small, warranted 14 carat gold. It’s a lovely pen made romantic by its Shakespearean tag.

Just Fountain Pens

As long as I am alive and able there will never be a time when I will not write about pens. Unfortunately I can no longer spend as much time on pens as I have done but every aspect of fountain pens continues to be what I do; they define me.

There is much pleasure to be had in buying pens. Hours can be passed in eBay assessing what’s there, what are possible purchases, which eventually are bid upon and which become successes. There is always the possibility that upon arrival some of these pens may disappoint. Much rougher, perhaps, than they appeared in cleverly deceptive photos and evasive descriptions. That’s okay; eBay is better now than it used to be. If they are bad enough, pens go back. Otherwise, it’s just a little more work and even greater satisfaction when a shabby relic of former times becomes a handsome, efficient writer.

There’s pleasure even in presenting for sale. I have taken photographs all my life. My subject matter has narrowed down to a pen, a slender object a few inches long that can still reward when the image is good.

I research almost constantly. I go online to check the Post Office’s opening hours and suddenly I’m chasing vague mentions of the latest rarity that has come my way. I can lose a lot of time that way, or perhaps it isn’t lost, only diverted for future use. Someone has had their name engraved upon a pen; I do my best to hunt them down and discover their story. An inscribed pen brings its former associations with it. When you write with it, you have the ghost of its original owner at your shoulder – benign, I hope!

And then there’s the communication and sociability. Pen people seem to be mostly gregarious. I live too remotely for fountain pen get-togethers or shows but there is correspondence in snail-mail and email. I have friends – and they surely are friends though we only talk about fountain pens – with whom I have been in communication for decades. Due to the Internet, the intervening thousands of miles are as nothing. Thank you, Internet!

Today has not been an especially pen day as there were other things that made more urgent claims upon my time and attention but I still managed to buy a few pens, fix a few, pack up several for dispatch and, between other essentials, scribble this.

Shellacking the Section/Barrel Joint

I never thought the day would arrive when I would disagree with David Nishimura. For years his blog and comments in the fountain pen boards have influenced my repair practices and my writings. However, I find myself respectfully differing from him about shellacking sections, something he does himself and advises others to consider doing.

He begins from a comment made by Parker in one of their 1919 publications for agents. They advise applying shellac to a screw-in section to “prevent the customer from unscrewing it.” That, frankly, is one of the more arrogant comments I have ever come across, made no better by the fact that I have seen it repeated by another modern misguided “restorer.” Most will know to whom I refer. He is well-known for his bad advice in other repair respects!

It is amusing to note that Parker advise the use of a gas jet to heat barrel and section in the same paragraph. It emphasises the point that what was acceptable a century ago no longer is best practice. Nowadays we respect the customer rather more. The pen he or she has bought is their’s to do with as they wish. If, for instance, the pressure bar on a button filler becomes dislodged as a result of the pen being opened, that’s not a tragedy. A repair person can put it right and a lesson has been learned at a small cost. Perhaps it’s time that we learned the lesson not to treat customers like children. That’s a truly dreadful mindset.

Another reason given for applying shellac to sections is to ensure that heat is used to release them, thus avoiding the cracked barrel that may result from forcing a cold section. I’m not sure that I follow this thinking. I know of no repair person who would not apply heat to a section, glued with shellac or not. We all frequently warn against forcing a cold section in the pen boards, but someone who has never worked on a pen before, or read our advice, may well try to open the pen without heating the barrel/section joint. If it does not give way because it is shellacked, he or she is just as likely to grab a pair of engineer’s pliers and ruin the section altogether. You can’t legislate for ignorance.

David rightly says that celluloid loses plasticisers when heated and that should be done no more often than is necessary. This is an argument for sealing with something other than shellac, but most sections are gripped so tightly by the barrel that heat is almost invariably needed. After a pen has remained closed for the lifetime of a sac, it’s likely to need a little encouragement.

Where the section is a little loose in the barrel, David recommends sealing the section with shellac. I would certainly use shellac in this case, carefully building up layers of shellac to make the section fit properly, and curing it thoroughly before fitting. He also mentions that a section sealed with shellac will prevent the ingress of ink when the pen is inserted too far into the bottle when filling. Quite so, but this is not a problem I’m particularly concerned about. The effect of the ink entering the joint and drying there would be to hold the section in place more firmly – like shellac! Most joints, whether friction or threaded, are too tight to permit the ingress of ink.

All in all, I don’t see a case for applying shellac to the section/barrel joint. I have never done so, and thousands of pens later I’ve had neither complaints nor reports of problems because of my practice. As in all matters relating to repairs I would be prepared to change if the arguments presented convinced me. So far, that hasn’t happened.

My hands are not as strong now as they were when I began repairing pens. Then, I opened all but the most stubborn of pens with my fingers. I developed a degree of muscular sensitivity that allowed me to apply the correct torque to get the job done and cause no damage. It has taken years of careful work to allow me to even approximate that sensitivity with section pliers. Most sections, whether threaded or friction fitted are released with very little heat and slight pressure. That makes for a safe procedure for the strength of the pen material vastly outweighs the heat and effort required. Adding sealant to the section/barrel joint changes that. That’s most obvious with certain Waterman pens where an unknown glue was used. In many cases it’s far easier to break the pen than separate the parts. Use of shellac doesn’t cause that level of problem but it does mean that more heat and effort are required. I believe the application of shellac is unnecessary and it is increasing the risk to vintage pens, even if only slightly.

The Corona Company

Though I handle others from time to time, most of the pens I restore are British: Swans, Conway Stewarts, Summits and Mentmores, those pens we know so well and rightly appreciate for their quality and style. However, there are older British pens of equally high quality that are rarely seen and are unknown to most people.

The Corona company made such pens for a few years between 1916 and the early 20s. The company was run by Henry Dixon and between leaving Mabie Todd and joining De La Rue. His brother James, later the originator of the Summit pen ran the Maxim pen company at that time. Both these companies were based in Southport.

Probably made for the British Industrial Fair in London in 1918, these amazing over-feeds were purely exhibition pieces; the pens for sale had ordinary nibs. The chasing on these pens is worthy of note, quite unlike anything else at the time.

This splendid matchstick filler is also beautifully chased. No matchstick was actually required. The turned spigot on the cap fitted the aperture exactly.

These pens are exceptional for that or any other time. Had Henry Dixon not moved to other things, how might Corona pens have developed in the era of lever and button fillers?

Many thanks to Andy Russell for information and excellent photographs.