More Rambling

Small, old things do catch the eye and are perfect for collection: fountain pens – of course – watches, pocket and pen knives, snuff boxes, treen, thimbles, the list goes on. I confess to a fondness for many of those things. I have more pocket knives than I can use and there’s a lot of satisfaction in making the best of a battered example. Years ago I took to repairing pocket watches; wrist watches were too small for my clumsy fingers though I might have managed some of today’s monsters. My eyesight put paid to watch work.

Most of these little things have a value that may increase with age, especially with a well known manufacturer and good good condition. High quality mechanical watches fetch astronomical prices. Where pens, fountain and dip, gain is in the mixture of affordability and plethora of different types and manufacturers. To the ballpoint user a fountain pen is a fountain pen but to you and I a Japanese eyedropper with a cut-off valve or one of Lang’s enhanced bulb fillers is a valued item of endless appreciation.

When I began this fascination with old pens you could pick up many fine examples, if not for pennies, for very few pounds. At first I was buying out of practicality, to have a pen that wrote the way I wanted. Then, of course, I wanted more of those fine pens that wrote the way I wanted and I began to realise that some pens excelled and that a top of the range Swan, Onoto or Macniven & Cameron was a thing to enjoy in its own right. The very best of craftsmanship keeps on giving pleasure. That comes with the best of Duofolds, the Swan SF range and the top Waverleys but admirable quality can also come further down the price range. I am drafting this with a tiny 1950s Geha. The piston filling system, completely unrestored, works as well as the day it was made and the steel nib, which has lost its original gold wash, is among the best two or three writers that I have.

I know I’ll never tire of “small objects of desire” and the fact that they are fully practical is such a bonus. Bonbonieres, for example, are pretty but don’t have the everyday application of fountain pens.


I use Tiger A5 notebooks, hard-cover and spiral backed, to draft everything I write. That may seem like double work but it’s worth drafting my articles and correspondence because they improve on the edit – or at least I like to think that they do. These Tiger notebooks may only be available in the UK. I get them from Amazon and get through about one a month. I’m glad I found them. The paper is very good with no show-through and the spiral allows the paper to lie flat. I like to draft with the notebook on my knee rather than the desk. It works for me that way.

Of course the other part of writing is the pen you use. I have a couple of 1940s plunger-fill Onotos and they are excellent for the purpose. They hold a lot of ink and have first class nibs, especially the older ones. I don’t offer Onotos on my sales site very often because I never had much success restoring the filling system. I forget that they offered lever fillers too – from quite early. Rob Parsons has reminded me by sharing photos of a couple of fine examples.

This black hard rubber example has a delightful flex nib which Rob puts to very good use. The slip cap makes it an earlier example. This lever box is unique to Onoto.

This GP Onoto bears a personalisation “MD 12-12-38” which dates it nicely and suggests that it was a presentation pen. Like so many of these plated pens, ink has attacked the metal closest to the nib. Are inks so caustic nowadays? Rob tells me it took some work to get it right but it’s a pleasure to use now.

Open for Business

The Goodwriters Pens sales site is back open again! The web admin installed ‘Honey Pot’, an add-on that helps to identify false accounts, and further, my brilliant friend Brenda went through the settings to try to identify as many indicators of fake accounts as possible, as well as working some of her other magic so that hopefully I won’t have to spend an entire morning deleting 3300+ fake accounts ever again.

For customers (both current and future), this was not a site ‘hack’ in the sense that any data was breached. It was a spambot creating thousands of accounts over the course of a few hours, flooding the site. I believe they do try to find a way in but just by creating an account there’s not much they can do, unless the spambot would like to buy a nice vintage fountain pen.

I’m very glad that normal business can resume!

Sales Site Down (Temporarily, I Hope)

This afternoon we took a very nice drive to a very nice place, and when we returned home I noticed about a thousand new customer accounts. Considering most of them had long internet links as ‘names’ – charming ones like ‘Sindi wants to talk sexy to YOU’ and ‘Tiffani replied to your message’ – it was clear that something rotten was going on.

That something is some kind of relentless spambot attack which has been going on for hours. Literally a dozen new accounts a minute were being created. Worse yet, we were getting auto email replies from people around the world whose emails were used by the spambots to create the accounts. (When someone creates an account on the sales site, it generates a ‘Welcome to Goodwriters’ reply via email.) So basically it’s possible that hundreds – or thousands – of people have gotten unwanted welcome emails from me, for an account they did not create. This of course makes me worry that *my* site will be flagged as a spambot!

In an attempt to stop this madness I finally switched the site to ‘maintenance’ mode, while I wait for the website admin to install an addon called Honey Pot which should take care of the issue. It appears to have worked… and I wish I’d thought of doing it hours ago.

I can only delete accounts one account at a time. Spare a thought for my mouse-hand!

An Unusual Jackdaw

Jackdaws are the poor relations of Swans, the school pen of the Mabie Todd range. Both the nibs and the plating are thin. There was a period during the late thirties when they shared the colourful patterns of the Visofil but mostly they were rather plain pens.

This Jackdaw is a basic model but has survived in good condition. It has a stepped clip that is unusual ( to me, at least). As it is an inserted clip it seems likely that it was fitted at the factory.

Its user wrote with it strangely, writing with the nib almost on its side. It has worn in such a way that it is almost unusable for anyone else. All the same, it’s good to see a Jackdaw nib. So many of them have been damaged because of the thin metal.

I would guess that the Jackdaw was once much more common than the few survivors today would suggest. Unlike Swans or Blackbirds, when they developed a fault they were just binned.

Many thanks to Rob Parsons

Just a Pen

Whether old or new our pens are precious things. We either buy the best we can or restore to a high standard. Many of us have our collections on show under glass. Even those who buy old pens to write with keep them in good order and take pride in them.

It was not always so. There was a time when a pen was just a means of putting ink on paper and so long as it worked it didn’t matter how it looked. Just because the cap was held together with sticking plaster didn’t detract from the pen’s value to its owner. Judging by the colour of the plaster the pen continued in daily use for years.

Thanks to Paul Leclercq for sight of this excellent pen!

A Waverley Nib

I’m still playing with the dip pen. Some of my correspondents have had to put up with my scratches and scrawls and have been kind enough not to complain. I flatter myself I’m getting better – perhaps a little. I had confined myself to the Esterbrook Relief nib which seems to make the most of my writing. I thought it was time to be brave and try something new. I have a wide variety of nibs, some from my own purchases and others from Rob Parsons who kindly sent me a selection of nibs.

I bravely chose a pointed nib, A Macniven & Cameron Waverley. It requires a delicate touch and feels somewhere between an everyday fountain pen nib and a paintbrush. Being very careful with the nib at first, until the nib took on a little polish, I managed to avoid digging into the paper or depositing any blots. This Waverley is a lovely nib and on the right paper I can write with it quite well. An interesting point: not all Waverleys have the tilted tip for which they are famed. This one’s just a straight, pointed nib. It’s capable of some flexibility – a semiflex, I’d say. But that’s more than I’m capable of.

Another Forward Pen

Another Forward, a very uncommon pen. I wrote about one once before and as ever the search box above right will take you there if you wish to see the other one. Spicer Bros. Ltd. are credited with the pen’s manufacture, as with other models and styles. This example differs markedly from the last one and is more attractive, being in lovely mottled hard rubber with barrel bands.

This pen turned up in Australia and I have to thank Mark DeBono for the splendid photos.

The Forward is a well-made pen and one would have thought it had every chance of success. Its rarity suggests that it was not a good seller, for whatever reason.

Spicer Bros. Ltd. were a manufacturer of paper and, like Dickinson’s with their Croxley, included pens in their stationery range. There’s a degree of complexity in the Spicer’s companies. Originally one company, a disagreement between the brothers led to a split, Spicer Bros. Ltd and James Spicer & Sons being the result. They amalgamated their companies once again in 1922.

More Rambling

Though I did man (or woman) the tills of a supermarket as a schoolgirl, it never occurred to me that retail was a career option. A secretarial course and a fast and accurate typing skill determined where I would go and what I would do. I became a legal admin, mixing with those shady characters, lawyers, for most of my employed life.

It was purely as a hobby that I became a habitué of junk shops in search of old pens, British ones if I was lucky, though I loved my Wahl-Eversharps, Conklin Crescents, Parkers and Watermans too. That was how it would have stayed forever if I had not married another pen enthusiast from the other side of the Atlantic.

We both wanted to see all the vintage pens we could, to handle, use, repair and write about them but we are not collectors and in any case, we couldn’t afford to amass the quantity of pens that we wished to see. The answer, though it didn’t occur immediately, was to buy, repair and sell pens. Obvious!

Of course it wasn’t quite so simple as that. Nothing ever is. There were years of gradually acquiring the essential tools, gradually learning repair before Marshall and Oldfield’s essential repair books came out. Of course there was Frank Dubiel’s repair guide but that was mostly limited to American pens and some of his advice was not of the best. That’s not to condemn Frank. Someone has to be the pioneer.

Also we had to find the best way to sell pens for a price that at least allowed us to break even. For a time we did well in eBay, selling lots of pens to the USA. Then eBay changed the rules and we were no longer making money or breaking even.

We decided to set up an online shop and went looking for programmers to build it for us. We were unfortunate in the company we chose; once we were committed to working with them they were better at telling us what couldn’t be done than what could be done. It took a tense and wearing few months to bludgeon them into building a working site. With the help of a second company and a talented programmer and friend, we’ve been amending it ever since and now it almost works as well as it should have done ten years ago.

As soon as we were able to put that behind us it became all about the pens and it has been a great pleasure. Buying and restoring are most enjoyable as is writing about the pens and our thoughts about them. We have learned an immense amount and written with some wonderful pens – not just the expensive ones but everyday users like the nameless old Pilot I’m drafting this with. It’s an EF with perfect flow – never a skip or a hard start. It’s pens like these that make the fountain pen the supreme writing instrument.

I hope we can continue for many more years. Doing what you love as an occupation is a dream.

Army & Navy Stores, 1907

No shop or store today can equal the stationery stock of the Army & Navy stores in 1907.

They had pens, of course, and things like polished brass inkwells in the form of crabs and lobsters that still appear in auctions today.

One expects folding writing slopes, but perhaps not in leather rather than in wood; silver card cases and pen wipers are less frequently seen nowadays.

There were splendid desk pens and quite a range of fountain pens. “The Army & Navy CSL Fountain and Stylographic Pens” take pride of place. These were eyedropper fillers with cut-off valves. Though the Onoto had been around for a couple of years by 1907 it was perhaps too new-fangled for the Army & Navy. They did have De La Rue’s Pelican, though, in a variety of finishes.

Which things would I love to have from the store? First, silver cases for fountain pens in delightful engine-turned patterns. These turn up now and then today – but not at fifteen shillings and threepence! Or a silver taper pen holder by Sampson Mordan for four shillings and sixpence. A heart shaped silver bonbonierre for a mere eleven shillings.

And finally (lest you think I’m too greedy) a silver stamp box lined with cedar with three divisions, for thirty shillings.