A Telescopic Eyedropper Filler

Mario Kaouklis kindly sent me photos and information of this telescopic eyedropper in black hard rubber with a metal overlay. It was described initially as Mabie Todd, probably because it has a Swan nib but it clearly isn’t.

The pen measures 95mm (without ring) closed but extends to a generous 135mm. There’s no indication of a manufacturer but The Sterling Fountain Pen Company, USA may have made a similar pen as well as ordinary BHR eyedropper fillers.

A very handsome and practical curiosity!

More On Ink

My husband tells me that in 1957 when he and his fellow-pupils were issued with dip pens the big bottle the teacher filled their inkwells from was Stephens Blue/Black. Later, when there were still shops that sold ink there was a choice: Parker Quink Blue or Parker Quink Black.

Since then there has been an explosion in the inks available. What used to be fountain pen discussion boards are now mostly devoted to talking about inks. I like ink and have quite a few bottles, old and new but for practical purposes I don’t use many: Quink or Aurora Blue, BSiAR or Diamine Oxblood for red and Herbin Lierre Sauvage for green. They stand out well on the textured paper I prefer for correspondence. I don’t have much use for pale, shy and retiring inks. I like the simplicity of Indian ink for my dip pen.

Chinese calligraphers were even more simple in the ink they used. They used lamp black (soot) with a binder. This came in the form of an ink stick which was rubbed on an ink stone with water. It was part of the calligrapher’s art to work the ink up to the correct consistency.

I suppose it’s worth saying that Chinese calligraphers traditionally used a brush to create their characters rather than a pen but at least they share the use of ink and paper with us.

Paper

I have enough writing paper to last me this lifetime and the next one but I can still be tempted by a good batch of vintage paper at a reasonable price. I don’t buy new paper. I’d much rather get something made when the fountain pen was king.

I’ve been lucky recently. I found two large boxes of excellent paper, one more textured than the other. After that I found a box of paper in the quarto format, lovely paper but softer than the other two. It makes a very bold statement with a medium nib though there is no feathering and little show-through. It’s ideal for a fine nib and would work with some of the paler inks.

Paper, like cotton, is destructive of the environment in its manufacture. My husband remembers the huge paper mills of the south of Scotland, mostly closed now. Those that remain have cleaned up their act – at least as much as it can be cleaned up. Many of the watercourses of Midlothian ran foul for generations and took a long time to recover. Those mills churned out cheap paper for newsprint and hand towels but also the beautiful laid paper and bonds I search for now.

They knew how to make writing paper in those days. Much of today’s paper is made with the ballpoint in mind and even the supposed “good stuff” is often disappointing. I’m grateful for all the unused vintage paper that continues to appear.

Swan Minor SM1/58

This pen was advertised as green marbled, something you don’t find among Swan Minors. The photographs were no help but I placed a bid anyway. I got the pen and when it arrived it turned out to be Marine Bronze which, admittedly, has some green in the mix.

Marine Bronze is a mixture of russet (or bronze), green and black but saying that doesn’t begin to describe the subtle allure of the pattern.

Minors are always great pens with the elegant stepped clip and invariably a lively nib. This one is no exception, a stub with flex.

A Guest Post From Chloé: My First Pen Restoration

‘Your first?’ regular readers of my blog will ask in a surprised fashion – yes! While I regularly completely disassemble, clean and polish pens, I only bought the parts to repair some three days ago. Once the sacs and shellac that I needed had arrived (yesterday, as Vintage Pen Parts were startlingly efficient) I immediately set to work restoring a ring-top Parker Duofold, a Wahl-Eversharp desk pen and a Sheaffer Balance Lifetime to full working condition.

I had read countless articles about how to do this. It is not impossible. I decided to believe I could do this.

Lever-fills, I knew from research, are the simplest ones to fix. Just take the sac, cut it to the correct size, and allow to dry. Taking this into consideration, I started with the lever-fill Sheaffer.

My only fault when affixing the new sac was an overabundance of caution. I was afraid of making the sac too short. Also, the Sheaffer has a tapered barrel, so you can’t just line up the sac with the end of the base; the taper means the last centimetre or two is too thin to allow it enough room.

As such, after trimming, the sac Would Not Fit.

I resorted to cutting it down two millimetres at a time until it did.

My lofty goal having been attained, I applied a thin layer of orange shellac to the mounting peg, before sliding the sac over it. I wiped off excess shellac, and left it to cure for half an hour. I then set to work on the not-so-easy ring-top Parker.

It’s a button-filler.

Many a novice pen restorer has been defeated by this infuriatingly tricky filling mechanism. You must attach the sac, slide in the section, and then from the other end, poke the pressure bar into place without puncturing the sac.

Basically the pen repair equivalent of trying to perform a backflip on a tightrope, for a beginner.

First step, simple. I managed to cut the right amount off the sac this time, then I used the shellac to attach it to the correct part of the section.

After letting it, like the Sheaffer, cure and harden for half an hour, I set Stage Two of the operation in motion. To give myself some confidence, I started on the simple Sheaffer.

After the application of some silicone grease to help the section slide into the barrel easily, I pushed the whole thing into its original place in one gentle but firm motion.

I lifted the lever. It felt springy insead of loose, and it didn’t say ‘crunch’ like it did the first time I tried to fill it and found out there was a mess of perished rubber inside. Only one true test though. I gingerly filled it with Black Pineider ink, then wrote my name.

IT WORKED. I had actually fully restored a pen! Without any of the common newbie mistakes such as cracking the barrel, warping the barrel, setting the barrel on fire, or bringing any other miscellaneous misfortune upon the unfortunate writing instrument.

Encouraging to be sure, but I still had the button-filler to go, and this one is special to me. You are meant to begin restoring cheap pens at first, but I didn’t have any to practice on. I only have very nice ones in near mint condition. This leaves no room for error when I’m trying to fix them, as I would never forgive myself for ruining a pen so old when it could easily last into the next century.

To help myself, I broke the repair into smaller, more manageable steps.

  1. Remove blind cap and button. Done.
  2. Insert nib unit with new sac attached. Successful.
  3. Insert pressure bar, without puncturing the ink sac. Fiddly, but I did it!
  4. Re-attach button. Easily done, a quick push got it back into its usual place.
  5. Press button. If steps one to four were done properly, the button will pop back up. It did!

Before getting started on the desk pen, I needed to see if my latest repair had worked, so I filled the Parker with the same black Pineider ink I used in the Sheaffer. The moment of truth.

At last! The nib is in good condition and writes beautifully, too.

The desk pen was easily fixed in the same manner as the Sheaffer, and it too functions perfectly now.

Maybe I just had luck on my side, but I found these repairs quite easy, if a bit scary, and if I can do it anybody who can handle small pen parts can. You might be best to avoid practising on a family heirloom, but pick up a few cheap pens and give it a try.

Reviews of these pens will soon be published on my blog, KraftyCats, and I hope you enjoyed reading about my first pen restoration. Thank you to Deb for allowing me to guest post on her wonderful blog again!

Chloé Stott is a blogger, freelance writer and product reviewer with a fountain pen obsession. She is the founder of KraftyCats, where she blogs about pen restorations, guitars, cats and coffee, and publishes reviews for companies all over the world.

https://ratherbechloe.wixsite.com/kraftycats

The Turkish/Persian Divit

I sometimes think that over the last ten years I must have covered everything that people choose to write with but of course that’s not true and probably never will be. Part of it is that there’s writing and writing. There’s the thing I do when I put pen to paper to draft articles like this and then there’s calligraphy. Calligraphy is a small niche interest here but it is more mainstream in some other cultures.

Someone drew my attention to a thing called a divit. I had been vaguely aware of it, having seen them in eBay over the years. The one that was pointed out to me was solid silver and beautifully decorated. It was up for auction (not eBay) with a recommended price of £350.00 and doubtless it would go higher. I used to consider buying one years ago but never did. My chance has gone: even the brass ones go for about £60.00 now.

The divit is a Turkish/Persian calligrapher’s tool. The small side piece holds ink and the long part holds pens. I don’t know whether or not it is intended to be portable. The pens Turkish calligraphers use are seasoned reeds, cut to a point somewhat like a quill. Calligraphers there are artists whose work is often very public. A poorly judged cut of the reed will change the characteristics of the writing and this is regarded as a serious fault, so the artists have to be skilled in shaping their reeds to suit the work they have to do.

I can’t really see the superiority of the divit over a simple case for the case for the reeds and an inkwell, even a travelling one, but that goes to show how little I know about it. Some of the divits I have seen for sale have some age. Those tools were developed to fit the calligrapher’s exact needs.

One of these days when I am flush with cash (that’s a laugh – have you seen the price of gas?), I will acquire the cheapest divit I can find and maybe some treated reeds to go with it.

Parker Superchrome Ink

Oh hi! It’s me, the delectable Tuppence again. It’s been a very busy day and it’s time for a nap! Deb was writing a letter with her dip pen and those little nibs are ideal for chasing around the floor. There are now several in every corner.

The main reason I took this job of Assistant Pen Restorer is that things are not good at home. You see, before I had the op I had kittens. You’ll meet them all around our street as neighbours adopted them. Unfortunately my owner kept one and it grew to be twice my size and is a BRUTE and a BULLY. Would you believe she lies across the window and won’t let me in! So it’s much nicer here with Deb.

Someone kindly gave Deb a sample of Superchrome ink. This stuff has a bad rep, even worse than Baystate Blue. Deb has filled a very cheap piston filler with it. Seems the main problem is that it destroys celluloid and metal, so we await the demise of the steel nib.

The Queensway Dainty

When my husband was a schoolboy Queensways were the cheapest fountain pens money could buy. There was a reason for that: they were absolute rubbish. Nonetheless they sold in their thousands. Have a look in eBay, and not only in Britain; there are Italian and German sellers offering Queensways for sale.

This Dainty was probably aimed at the Conway Stewart Dinkie market. It measures 9.8cm capped. Perhaps it was left in the sun or maybe it’s just due to shrinkage but it has developed an interesting banana feature. The box is in very good condition but sadly there are no papers and I don’t think that there ever were, which is a pity as they might have cast some light on the mystery of Queensway’s original ownership.

The pen was probably little used. The cap retains its “gold-like” plating, as does the lever. The nib declares itself to be 18k gold plated, and it may well be – but very thinly!

In the unlikely eventuality that I have a quiet day I might service this little pen and see how well it writes. I have to say that despite the bent barrel it looks better than most of its ilk.

Thanks to Paul Leclercq for this interesting pen.

More Dip Pen Stuff

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have been practising with a dip pen for several weeks now. I find it very satisfying but of course it is no real substitute for a fountain pen. Nonetheless, it entertains me and it has enabled me to move to a second stage in improving my handwriting. The first stage happened many years ago when I worked on making my handwriting more legible after years of ballpoint use – not by choice, I hasten to add.

Now I would like to use the dip pen to make my handwriting more regular and return to the cursive I was taught in school if I can. Also, I want to explore the similar but different world of the steel nib. There are many nibs, old and new, that invite the use of flexibility. I can’t see me going down that road. I was never very good at the proper use of line variation and even if practice enabled me to improve I don’t really like it. I admire it in the writing of those who are good at it but it isn’t for me.

At the moment the nib for me is the Esterbrook Relief. It suits me so very well but I am a little more adventurous than to limit myself to one nib forevermore. There are so many – perhaps hundreds – of other steel nibs available which invite at least an attempt with them.

As you are probably aware I’m a busy person and I can’t really afford to set aside time daily to work on improving my use of the dip pen but I correspond with friends around the world and I hope that they will tolerate dip pen composition from me.

For both my husband and I the most attractive reason for using the dip pen is pleasure in something new. My husband had the dip pen forced upon him at the age of seven and it was an absolute disaster. He helplessly sprayed ink around the page and was quite brutally punished for it, as was the way in those days. He is charmed to find that he can write well with the dip pen when allowed to use a nib of his choice – and a new one at that – unlike the worn old horrors of his school days.

Being a little younger I never met the dip pen or desks with inkwells when I was a child. For me it’s just a delightful surprise to find that it is a really excellent writing instrument.

Another Rambling Post

Anyone reading this blog is involved with vintage pens in some way: collecting, restoring, writing with them or reading and thinking about them. What is it that we’re doing and does it matter in the grand scheme of things?

It’s true that many things are not allowed to sink into oblivion after their time appears to have passed. There are many more reasons than one for this: admiration of the technology, nostalgia, a belief that fountain pens are the best writing instruments, their beauty, and because of the quality of their nibs, old pens are best of all.

It requires lots of money, skill and knowledge to restore old cars, aeroplanes, motorbikes and tractors. Restoring small things like fountain pens, pocket knives and cigarette lighters is undoubtedly cheaper an easier. Some may regard collecting fountain pens as an investment and in some very few cases they may be right, but mostly it’s a bad financial choice, I would say.

Those of us old enough to remember when the fountain pen was king of communication may well hark back to those days, essentially of their parents and grandparents rather than themselves – most people alive today are too young to have participated in the heyday of the fountain pen.

I think it is debatable that vintage fountain pens are better than modern ones but it’s certainly cheaper to buy top quality in pens of yesteryear. It is constantly said that for flexible writing some old fountain pens are better than any of the new flexible nibs but most calligraphers of my acquaintance use dip pens.

What, I believe, fountain pens and old fountain pens among them are vastly better than their most popular successor, is in writing at length. For most people ballpoints are note-takers and no more. Whereas the fountain pen was an improvement on the dip pen carrying out the same work better, the same is not true of the ballpoint. It does not do the same job better. It is more convenient for a limited subset of what fountain pens do. I could go on about this at great length but let’s leave it at that. You get what I mean.

There’s another way in which old fountain pens are better than new ones. Most modern fountain pens are cartridge/converter fillers. They have their uses. I won’t dispute that but they’re downright boring, deleterious to the planet and mostly a means of improving pen manufacturers’ bottom line. All those lever, button, plunger, piston fillers and so on are admirable solutions to the problem of getting ink into a pen, not getting plastic into a pen.

There are hundreds of reasons for us to do what we do. Mine won’t be the same as yours in all probability. If I try to be as accurate as I can mine is a mixture of nostalgia at about 20%, admiration of self-filling systems and pleasure in restoring them at about 40% and pleasure in using them at about another 40%. Though not for me, many of you will enjoy the whole area of ink and paper, maybe making that even more important than the pens for you. There’s room for all of us here in the fountain pen broad church.