Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Adventures in fountain pen ownership

I love fountain pens.  I always have.  Ever since I first wrote with one, I liked the feel and flow.  I remember buying my first one, which was a cheap one at Wal-Mart or some other department store in the stationery aisle.  It was dark green and took ink cartridges.  When I could no longer find cartridges, I stopped using it and threw it in a storage tote along with other pens I owned.  Recently I found it and can't even find the brand name on it, so I don't know what brand of cartridges to seek or if it will take an international cartridge.

A few years later, I bought a Waterman gift set that had a nice Waterman Phileas that came with different color ink cartridges and a bottle of ink.  It has been reliable, writes well, and has been my favorite pen for almost two decades.  Sure, it was nothing fancy.  What would I expect for a meager $40?  Of course that forty bucks was a lot to me at the time.  I still use it often.

Recently I decided to buy some more pens and see what ones I liked.  I bought a JinHao fairly inexpensive pen from China.  It was a sturdy pen that wrote fairly well, at least for the first little bit.  Then it stopped writing.  I may work on it some eventually.  I tried some cartridges from JinHao since the converter would not pull in ink, but it still won't write.  I probably need to work on the nib feed path some.

For Christmas I bought my wife and my mother-in-law each a cheap fountain pen to see if they liked them and would figure on getting more expensive ones if they like and actually used them.

I have been doing a lot of reading online, joined some Facebook groups, bookmarked a lot of pen web sites, watched YouTube videos, and read some more.  I learned about nibs, filling systems, brands, and found that not every pen is worth the money, but many are.  I found that some less expensive pens can out perform more expensive ones.  I found that some pens that write well are inexpensive ones that I might want to use when I travel since they were only about $5 and I won't fret over losing one.  From personal experience shopping in fine jewelry stores, I found that Mont Blanc pens are still considered some of the finest and along with that comes a high price tag.

From there, I decided that since I no longer have any real hobbies, I might want to collect a some pens.  I bought a few of them and tried them one by one.  I asked for some recommendations from friends on Facebook in case anyone was into fountain pens.  I got a few suggestions from one guy in particular.   He had two primary suggestions for a Pilot Metropolitan and a Lamy 2000.  I got the Pilot Metropolitan a while ago and I like it so far. For the price, it is hard to beat.

I did some research and found that just about every big time collector and pen expert rated the Lamy at the top of their list of quality for the price and some of them, it's their favorite of any pen they own. I kept searching for a decent deal on one, and especially for a medium nib. I seem to like medium more than the fine or extra fine nibbed pens I have purchased so far. I have bought some cheap pens, some "not as cheap", and been looking for a new favorite. I kept looking and waiting while picking up some pens by Parker, Hero, an old Sheaffer (that turned out to be unusable), JinHao, Platinum, and EastVita. Out of those, the Platinum Preppy and the Pilot Metropolitan were my top picks. Still, my old $40 Waterman that I have had for nearly 20 years has been my favorite, though those other two are nice and I reach for them as well. Yesterday my Lamy 2000 arrived with a medium nib. I inked it and tested it. So far, I really like it and will keep using it to see if it becomes my new favorite.

Many of the pens that I have I simply ordered on ebay.com.   If you are willing to wait, you can get cheap pens from China for a dollar to five dollars.  Beware, though.  I bought a pen from IsleofPens.com that purports to be a Parker Sonnet but is instead a cheap Chinese knock off.  Well, I could have ordered a Baoer 388 from China for an eighth of the cost and that is the exact same thing, just sold under a different name.  It even has the Parker clip on it and came with a medium nib instead of that cursed extra-fine one that the Parker impostor pen had.

The Sheaffer Imperial I mentioned earlier as unusable came in the mail just fine.  I bought it off ebay and it is from pre-1947, which means it is pre-Touchdown model production (1949).  The reason I know it was circa 1947 was that it had a written note on the box of being a gift to someone in 1947.  It came as a set with a mechanical pencil, which is still in excellent shape.

The Imperial was full of crusted, dried ink.  The lever was hard to move on the lever fill and I heard crunching.  I moved the lever again and again, freeing it more and more from the crusted ink.  I could not disassemble the pen since it was crusted together and I figured it was just junk at that point.  I messaged the ebay seller to let them know that the pen was pretty much crapped up and unusable.  He offered to refund my money if I returned the pen, but I just held onto it as a lesson learned of caveat emptor and as a personal challenge.  I got all sorts of ink dust and dirt out of the pen as best I could and soaked the nib trying to clean it up and see if I could ink it.  Nope.

I put a Pyrex measuring cup of water in the microwave for two minutes and got the water to about boiling then set my pen in it.  I had already been wondering about its anatomy since it had to come apart somehow.  I was reading about what a pen sac was, having seen the term used by a seller on ebay.  He is selling "vintage" fountain pens, i.e. old and used pens.  He kept saying that his pens had a new sac.  I saw it especially on the lever action pens, and my Sheaffer is one of those types.  Well, if the sac can be replaced, my pen must come apart, hence the soaking.  I figured that I had nothing to lose and I was not willing to pay for someone else to fix it.  I looked at this as a learning experience.

I ordered some new sacs online, along with a sac sealer.  Those will eventually arrive, but for now I got to play Mr. Disassembler.  I got some rubber jar lid grippers and worked with the nib housing in one hand and the pen barrel in the other and finally the pre-soaked pen came apart.  Just as I was figuring at that point, there was no sac left.  It was probably original to the pen, some seventy years ago.  I soaked the parts a little more and scraped off what was left of the sac neck from the pen and even used some brake parts cleaner (I know that some pen aficionados are cringing right now) and tried cleaning out the nib path and any crusted up ink in the barrel.  Hey, what did I really have to lose?  I know that videos listing mistakes that pen owners make included soaking the nibs or pens in rubbing alcohol or turpentine.  I figured that I am not soaking the pen in this stuff and the brake cleaner was really helpful in getting dirty firearms clean for me.  Well, no crusty ink or ink stained liquid came out.  So, I went back to soaking it in water for a while after thoroughly flushing the pen with water in the sink.

The lever action now works much better than previously, the pen seems fairly clean, and I am waiting on the new sacs and sac sealer to arrive.  I am hoping to give putting it back together a try and seeing if I can resurrect this old gem.  If it writes finally, I will have a sense of accomplishment.  If not, I learned something about fountain pens.

I still have my sights set on a nice Mont Blanc Meisterstuck pen.  I fell in love with its elegance decades ago.  I have bid on some on ebay but have let people outbid me since I am in no hurry to get one and I want to get a bargain, especially if it is used and there are no guarantees as to its quality.  I did OK with the Lamy 2000.  I saved anywhere from $40 to $80 by getting the Lamy used.  Maybe I can find a good one.  I am nowhere near being a major pen geek, but I do like nice writing instruments and do prefer fountain pens over ballpoint ones.

A few pens that are already on my hit list are
Pelikan M800 or M1000
Lambrou LB5
Sheaffer Ferrari series
I am sure that I will add many more to the list over time.

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