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Thanks!

Many thanks to all of you who helped to puzzle out what the Duovac is.

I really should try to get to know US pens better.

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Pencils Again

The vintage mechanical pencil, as I have often sadly observed, is not held in high esteem. Even the very best of them, the Yard O Leds and the Fyne Poynts, are barely saleable. So far as I am aware, there is no well-represented mechanical pencil hobby with forums of its own. It has an association with the pen hobby but only as an adjunct like inkwells or accommodation clips. There are one or two slender publications and a few blogs and that’s about it.

It wasn’t always so. I often acquire pencils as part of lots. There will be the occasional solid silver one that turns up but the majority are either gold or silver plated. That’s useful because the amount of wear on the plating indicates how much the pencil was used. Some are very worn indeed, just where the user’s fingers rested and where it came into contact with the desk.

Some pencils were sold as part of a set but many were sold individually. To go out and buy a pencil on its own indicates that it was seen as a useful possession. Most writing done, whether at work or at home, was not intended to be a permanent record. For note-taking or drafting the pencil was more convenient. No cap to remove so it could be picked up off the desk to be writing instantly. Those pencils were low-maintenance. Lead lasted a long time and was easily replaced. The Yard O Led would continue writing for a very long time, much longer than any fountain pen or later, ballpoint.

I think, though, that it may have been the ballpoint which led to the devaluing of the mechanical pencil. Though the very earliest ballpoints had caps those were soon dispensed with and the ballpoint became used in just the same way as the pencil. Pen and pencil sets began to be replaced by fountain pen and ballpoint sets. It is much less common nowadays to see new pen and pencil sets offered.

One cannot change what people desire and I have no wish to do so. Fountain pens are central to my life whereas pencils are on the periphery. However, pencils offer a very high quality collectable at a low cost. The fancy silver pencils from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are collected and fetch high prices but the practical pencils of the last hundred years and more have an attraction all of their own.

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Over-and-Under Feeds

One of the more intractable problems facing the fountain pen restorer is the over-and-under feed. Considering that it is just a forked piece of rubber, it works better than might be expected, sometimes with the help of a piece of twisted silver wire in Swan eyedroppers.

The difficulty is that, delicate things to start with, the passage of a century or more with all its vicissitudes means that many are broken. There are no replacements except from other pens. Cannibalising parts from later black pens to rescue patterned ones is all very well, but all these century-and-more-old black hard rubber pens are precious and I believe that it is wrong to sacrifice one to save another.

It would not be all that difficult to reduce a redundant, more modern feed to fit the small aperture of these pens, but there are two difficulties. I would have no reliable means of splitting the feed so that it could perform the over and under function. Secondly, these old feeds are flexible and would appear to be made from a different grade of rubber from later feeds.

What is to be done? Though it would take some experimentation, I believe I could shape a later feed to fit under the nib and fit the narrow aperture of the section. The original feed channels would be retained. The pen could then be used for writing once again but it would lose originality. Collectors might say that it would be better to leave the pen as it is. That’s a valid point of view but many of these earlier 20th century nibs are crying out to be used. They are beautifully made, precise and often flexible, for those who value that attribute.

Of course I have not exhausted all the possibilities of producing replacement over-and-under feeds. There may be other materials or sources of soft rubber that I am unaware of. I have confined myself to things that I can do. Others, with greater skills and ingenuity might come up with a better solution.

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FrankenVac

This thing turned up in a lot some time ago. I looked at it, felt somewhat puzzled and set it aside. Coming back to it today, all I have added to it are a nib I had lying around and a pressure bar. Otherwise it’s as it came to me. I’m not very happy with the section which doesn’t seem right. Apart from that, what is it? The barrel says it’s a Vacumatic but it’s a button filler. The average amateur couldn’t make that conversion. Any thoughts on the matter? Lots of photographs to let you see what it is.

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Whither Cursive?

This is just a question. It doesn’t pretend – or even aspire – to provide an answer. To what degree,  if any, does the popularity and utility of the fountain pen depend on cursive writing?

I think it’s worth saying that the decline in popularity of the fountain pen is now historic. Without exact figures to support it, I would say that the popularity of the fountain pen has stabilised. It may even be increasing slightly. Both modern and old fountain pens seem to be doing well.

Cursive writing, on the other hand, seems to be dying a death. In many schools it is no longer taught and it is the case that many younger people have difficulty reading it. Of course calligraphy, which includes versions of cursive script, is probably more popular than it has ever been but in a way that’s an irrelevance. Any style of writing can only be regarded as in good health if it is a commonly used means of communication.

Many younger people, when they write at all, seem to use a script somewhat similar to what they see on the printed page. It may or may not be easier to write in that fashion with a fountain pen, but ballpoints rule the roost, with other forms of nibless pens in a minority.

What do you think?

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Wyvern Perfect Pen No 60

Wyverns are always interesting and sometimes a little annoying: annoying because of the occasional left-hand thread and the confusing re-use of names and model numbers. They are particularly interesting because of their long history and extensive model range.

This pen re-uses both a name and a number but it bears little resemblance to the earlier pens that bore them. This new style of Perfect Pen went into production in 1951 and remained available until the end of fountain pen production in 1955*. It appears to have sold quite well and is not uncommon today.

The designer of this pen attempted to straddle two horses, as it were: tradition and modernity. It shows the influence of the Parker 51 in the long section and partially hooded nib. People were impressed by the modern lines of the Parker 51 and looked for something similar though retaining brand loyalty. The appearance of tradition in the pen was perhaps inescapable. It’s a celluloid pen machined from solid stock, this at a time when injection moulded plastic was taking over. This choice of an older type of material may have been dictated by what was in stock that had to be used up.

Despite its appearance this pen is technically entirely traditional, using methods that go all the way back to the early 1920s. It is a lever filler with a traditional nib, feed, pressure bar, lever and sac. This would certainly have been due to the cost of re-tooling to produce a pen with more modern internals.

It has been said that the more modern-looking British pens like this one and some Mentmores ultimately failed because of their dated filling systems and ink delivery. I don’t see the evidence to support that view. It wouldn’t have mattered how truly modern the fountain pens were made, their future was bleak anyway. The ballpoint was accepted even earlier in Britain than in the US simply because of the advantages its practicality conferred.

Personally I rather like the Perfect Pen No 60. I like the fact that initially, with its patterned celluloid, black end to the barrel and black clip screw, it appears a perfectly traditional British fountain pen. Then there’s a little surprise when the cap is removed to reveal the long, tapered section and semi-hooded nib.

*Stephen Hull: The English Fountain Pen Industry 1875 – 1975

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