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MiG vs. Phantom

Posted by Dirck on 12 August, 2010

So, who remembers the Cold War? If you’re one born later than 1984, any memories you have are pretty much academic and you’re probably not so interested in fountain pens. For those of us who are older, the Cold War between the communist east and the capitalist west (which we westerners, in our innocence, called “the free world” as if capitalism wasn’t just as much of a trap as Marxist Leninism) was sort of the context and background of everything. And, let’s be honest, when we were thinking of “The Commies”, we were thinking more about the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, with China as a bit of an afterthought. China may take offense if it likes, but consider who’s got the big economic shoes on now.

One of the things which we western types pointed out as the folly of the Soviet system was the command economy, in which (so far as we knew) a factory would shift from churning out vast numbers of tractors one year to mountains of baby carriages the next, each with much the same level of care and finish. We were also convinced that all the stuff they made was simply a crude copy of something developed by brainy western folk who were unfettered and creative and blah blah blah.

There is some truth to this. The Lada, which saw some export (to Canada, at least), was an acknowledged copy of a rather crummy Fiat.  However, there were also some surprises, such as the unexpected effectiveness of the MiG-19 and -21 in the conflict in Viet Nam.  Sticking to militaria, the relative merits of the AK-47 and the M-16 are frequently debated (although the AK was really a development of a German rifle from the end of World War II).  So, in theory Soviet industrial output is somewhat primitive, but may in practice have some merit.

So… what’s all this got to do with pens?  Look what I got in the mail recently:

Soyuz pen

This is a Soyuz pen (Soyuz is the first C of CCCP, as well as the name of a Russian spacecraft– it means “Union”).  Does it look… familiar?  Something like a Parker “51” perhaps?  Well, mostly.  The clip is more like that on a 1940’s Waterman, but the rest of the pen is VERY like the Parker.  Everything under the hood is, frankly, a crude copy of a Parker “51”, very similar to the guts of a Hero 616.  Inside the barrel, things are a little different, though, as the filler is a length of thick accordioned rubber, worked by a clear button.  The same action as a Vacumatic “51”, but with a lot less machining required.  Crude, perhaps even primitive… but also durable.  Were the Cold War still on, I’m sure some chap from Minsk would take me to task for even suggesting that the pure originality of Soviet writing instruments was copied from an inferior and decadent American plan, but in this post-Cold War setting, I think may say that the genesis of the Soyuz is very obviously the drafting table of the Parker company, with certain concessions to the limitations of a washing machine production line.

The cap worries me.  The relatively complex clutch of the “51” is replaced by a simple friction ring, and the plastic of the cap doesn’t strike me as particularly durable against the constant pressure.  The point is also a source of concern.  It’s made of… metal.  Some kind of metal, certainly not gold (decadent western trappings of corruption!) but I don’t think it’s steel, either.  It’s a funny matte grey with a sight tint of yellow, which makes me think of bronze.  The only markings on it are “5-9” which really doesn’t get me anywhere, assuming they are in fact numbers and not Cyrillic letters which I’m misreading.

Like the iconic battles between MiG and Phantom in the air over south-east Asia, the competition between Soyuz and Parker tends to favour the technical sophistication of the American contender.  It’s a lot smoother, and has a higher level of trim.  The Soviet though, for all its low-tech nature, gets the job done pretty well.  I imagine it didn’t cost a mint to make, either, putting it within reach of the common worker.  After all, putting the means of production of marks on paper in the hands of the masses is what the Soviet Union was all about.  I may not be a fan of Marxism, but I am a firm supporter of marksism.

Today’s bourgois pen which taunts the working classes:  Parker “51” Aerometric
Today’s capitalist in-ink-uity:  Pelikan 4001 blue-black

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6 Responses to “MiG vs. Phantom”

  1. […] quite burly pen:  Soyuz thingy (yes, another one I need to get a page done for– notice there’s no resolutions on the […]

  2. […] pen: Soyuz (yes, I know Gagarin was in a Vostok, but Soyuz is as close as I get to a Russian Space Pen) […]

  3. […] pen: Soyuz Today’s ink: Diamine Steel […]

  4. Lim Justin said

    hurrah comrade!
    just stumbled across this post but hey it is an interesting article… would like to thank you and encourage u on ur work…
    from a teenager shy of 18 … cheers

  5. […] taken by people considering fountain pens on Reddit.  More to the point, people were looking at an old entry in which I write in a fairly loose manner about my Soyuz accordion-filler, and coincidentally […]

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