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Archive for February, 2011

They ARE Actually Worth That Much

Posted by Dirck on 28 February, 2011

I have more than once questioned the value of a pen costing above a certain amount, most recently in the comments following a little excursion into near-bolshevism caused by some insisting that pens costing below a certain level are worthless.  I was pondering one of my latest acquisitions when this recurrent theme of mine came back to me, and I thought I might expand upon it a little with what seems a moment of backpedalling– expensive pens are, in fact, worth what they charge.

…within certain limits.  The other thing you may have noticed about me is that I have a Buddhist’s horror of extremism.  I will stubbornly maintain that a pen costing in excess of $5,000 is indeed excessive.  I will also insist that the notion of “expensive pen” starts around $75 and reaches a sort of plateau of reason at about $300; I don’t have any $500 or $1,000 pens myself, but there are some whose opinion I respect who do and maintain that they’re darn good as pens.

With that as the starting point, I will repeat– an expensive pen is actually worth its cost.  Materials are a small part of the consideration.  I will maintain my quiet derision of Mont Blanc’s claims of “precious resin” as mere marketing puff, and while the cost of gold has gone up magnificently, there’s really not that much of it involved in a pen.  It is the effort of getting those materials into the shape and function of a pen that brings on the cost.

While a lot of the craftsmanship has gone from the making of pens, there is still some.  It is the maintenance of trained, skilled workers that introduces a lot of the cost into things like the higher Pelikan M-series, Nakayas, and even the self-important Mont Blanc.  A pen point is not simply a slab of gold cut into the right shape– the combined skills of an engineer and a jeweler come to bear on making it into a lively and willing instrument.

Even in lesser pens, and in other parts of the pen, while computers have somewhat replaced craftsmen there is still some very precise and fiddly bits of machining needed, and that is what drives the price.  Consider the price difference between an anvil and a Rolls-Royce engine– they may weigh about the same, but there’s rather more effort gone into getting one to do what it does.

I am not, in fact, retracing any positions in this.  A good pen is a good pen, in the end.  A cheaper good pen is remarkable, and an expensive pen should be good. While I object to a “pen” that costs a mint and is not meant to be written with, I also object to anyone who cries out that a pen should never cost more than $5.  “Cheap” and “good” are not equivalent terms.  Not mutually exclusive, but not equivalent– no matter what certain monolithic retailers may say.

Today’s good pen:  Parker 65 (just arrived Friday, and while not inexpensive in its day I will chortle a little at the price I paid)
Today’s inexpensive ink:  Skrip blue-black


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Posted by Dirck on 25 February, 2011

I alluded to it yesterday, and I’ll reveal as much as there is to be revealed– the excitement around out place is…


My wife’s internal upset is, according to a doctor with a humourous name but apparently good manner, the result of an upset appendix.  Apparently this is something which can go away on its own, but he instructs us all that if she’s ever in the same state that she was in on Wednesday to get along to an emergency room directly.

Less but more comfortable excitement in my own bosom about a recent installment of Get Fuzzy, which contains some extremely specific fountain pen references.  This suggests to me that the fountain pen is indeed returning to the popular imagination.  If not that, then Darby Conley is willing to do some research and expects his readers are capable of the same, which holds out hope for society in general.

Today’s pen: Waterman Carène
Today’s ink: Waterman Florida Blue

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Top It Up!

Posted by Dirck on 24 February, 2011

Of the many things I’ve seen fountain pen fanciers get bent out of shape over (sometimes, of course, because there was a mirror in the room), some are more trivial than others.  Given that we are really only talking about pens, there’s an upper limit to how non-trivial a concern about them might be, there being nothing in the line of earthquake-producing pencils nor ebola-markers.  “My black ink isn’t quite black enough to suit me!” is sort of the middle of the bell-curve, really.  Somewhat below that in terms of desperate threat to humainty is something I’ve seen rather a lot of this past week, I assume due to a statistical anomaly.  A butterfly in the forests of Borneo flaps its wing, and a particular foible appears!

The issue drawing complaint it this:  “My pen isn’t full!”  This is not quite the same as “My pen isn’t as full as it ought to be,” or “my pen isn’t filling.”  The expectation is, apparently, that the pen will finish its filling cycle with the reservoir containing not a single bubble.  Absolutely brimming over with writing fluid.  I don’t quite know why this is getting people so agitated, but I’ll tell you a couple of things– you don’t need your pen that way, and you don’t want it that way.

Need– How much writing are you folks doing in a day, anyway?  I had a very entertaining class in university in which I might over the course of two and a half hours fill as much as twenty pages with notes.  The pen I was using at the time fed from a converter of a volume even smaller than an International Short cartridge.  I found that on a night when the prof was really cookin’, it was best to refill during the intermission as not doing so usually saw me running out of ink in the last minutes of the class.  If I’d had any kind of self-filling pen then, I’d have never worried, and that’s a ton of writing. 

Want– look at any fluid available for purchase in a store.  With the exception of Noodler’s inks, there’s always a little air in the bottle.  Why is that, do you suppose?  Recall yesterday’s lecture entry, in which I mentioned the dire consequences of not allowing for pressure variances.  A little head-space in a container means that the first thing that comes out of a vessel if there’s a pressure imbalance is air.

Now, for those of you who are still concerned about this sort of thing and haven’t walked out in a huff because I’ve minimized your concern, here’s some suggestions.  First– review your actual writing needs.  If you honestly think you can’t get through a day on the amount of ink contained in pen, see about carrying some spare ink or even (shudder) look into non-fountain pens, which I will admit tend to have longer legs.  If you’re concerned about a converter, look into a self-filling pen or an eyedropper (some of the latter can hold up to 5ml of ink!).  Second– consider the point of your pen.  A stub, like I was using yesterday, uses a prodigious amount of ink.  Perhaps you’d be better off with a high-mileage fine point instead.

Finally, if your objection is one of looks, as in the case of a clear pen, I’ll let you in on a trick, but it’s a little pointless–  when you use the pen, air will replace the ink anyway, and presently you’ll be back at having a bubble.  Fill the pen normally, then remove it from the ink and turn it point up.  Work the filler to drive out air, hold it so air doesn’t get back in, then point back in the ink and take more on board.  Depending on the kind of filler you’ve got, this can lead to a pen with nothing in it but ink– it’s easy with a piston filler, possible with a bulb-filler (or something similar like a Waterman Ink-Vue or Parker Vacumatic), and extremely messy and slightly more pointless with anything else, as anything else tends to not have any way to see that there are in fact bubbles in the ink.  With a vacuum-filling pen, it’s essentially impossible thanks to physics.

Don’t take my word for it, though.  Give it a try.  Just be prepared for a mess when filling and when the overloaded feed lets a few drops go each time you use the pen.

Today’s pen, which would resist the above trick:  Sheaffer Valiant TM
Today’s ink, co-existing with a bit of air: Mont Blanc Racing Green

post scriptus– I was so busy with my prickiness above (I am sublimating some concern over my wife’s current health, but I’ll update as/if appropriate), that I didn’t mention the reason why one tends to get air as well as ink in the reservoir after a normal effort of filling.  In broad terms, the swept space of the filling mechanism is necessarily less than the total interior volume of the pen.  In all pens, anything beyond the section, like the feed, cannot be purged of air without resorting to the sort of gymnastics I mention above.  Any pen that relies on a sac’s compression by a bar of some sort will never see a 100% compression.  If the sac is compressed in some other way, as in the case of today’s pen, there is the difference in density between air and water to contend with– a column of air X wide and Y tall weighs rather less than one of ink, and the sac’s resiliency isn’t sufficient to compensate for that.  A vacuum-filler needs a certain amount of space at the end of the chamber for the piston to rest in, and that means more unswept space.  A certain non-fluid content to the interior of a pen, with the possible exception of eyedroppers, is expected by the designers, in much the same way as a certain loss of dough is allowed for by the baker of cookies in a house containing kids.

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It’s There for a Reason

Posted by Dirck on 23 February, 2011

I fear sometimes that I am becoming repetetive as I grind towards the second anniversary of this effort.  I don’t believe I’ve examined today’s item previously, but I don’t have either energy nor time to make sure.  What makes this sensation all the stronger today is that it’s related to a topic I touched upon very recently.

That recent mention came when I was looking at arguments— the focus of the discussion referred to there was cap-vents.  Today is about the other sort of vent one is apt to find in pens.  These vents are most likely to appear in Parker pens with the aerometric sort of filler or pens which have been… inspired by Parker, as one sometimes finds.  They keep the pressure inside the barrel equalized with that outside, which is important because the ink reservoir in these pens is compressible, and if the pressure is greater inside than out the reservoir gets squeezed and the ink flees in search of lebensraum.

The disparity of pressure happens in a couple of ways.  One is to change altitude– the higher you go, the less the pressure, of course, and that makes for a whimsical pen.  The other way is through heating– increase the temperature inside the barrel, you increase the pressure as well, and more funny ink tricks.  Since your body is rather warmer than most rooms you find yourself in, this heating is fairly common in pocket-borne pens.

The problem with these vents is that they can be very subtle, especially on black pens.  If you don’t notice it, you might not notice that it’s blocked.

That, for you literary fans, is clumsy foreshadowing.  Last week, I was using an aerometric-fill Duofold, and while I was aware of the vent at the tail of the barrel, I was not aware of some of the small bits of food my son had managed to slide into my shirt pocket.  The vent became plugged, and later in the day I found an unwelcome amount of ink in the cap.  This time, however, my son did not cause the inking of a shirt, so no harm done.  Do be careful, though, to keep an eye on those vents.

Today’s pen: Waterman Carène (the awaited satisfaction now brought to fullness)
Today’s ink: Waterman Florida Blue (I assume– it’s an unmarked cartridge which came with the pen, and it’s too dark for South Seas).

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Dream Pen

Posted by Dirck on 22 February, 2011

Shall I tell you about a dream I had on the rather extended week off I’ve just enjoyed?  I’m not one for public airing of the sleeping mind’s laundry, as it’s frequently extremely personal, and I’m certainly not seeking opinion on the possible meaning (anyone who suggests that a given item in a dream must always represent a given notion, regardless of the dreamer, is with all due deference to Jungian archtypes either a looney or trying to sell you something), but in this case I feel the venue and the dream suit each other.

I was walking through a local shopping mall in a state one would have found it in the late 1980s– fewer chain stores, more subdued lighting– although I was as far as I could make myself out at all I was much as I am currently.  I stepped in at a book store long since departed from that location, and was delighted to see that they had set up a counter for fountain pens.

Prominent in this display was the newest Parker pen.  I will pause here to dispute the popular notion that one cannot read in a dream (I don’t know where this got its start, as a cursory effort on Google turned up very little in actual psychology for dreams, and I didn’t feel like digging out my old text books to investigate), as the maker’s name was very clear on the barrel, picked out in silver capitals above a band of gold and turquoise chequer on an otherwise smooth matte black surface.  It was really very striking.

Picking one up to look more closely, I found that the point was extremely large and strangely shaped, like someone had committed an act of origami upon the point of a Rotring Core.   Odd but pleasing was a double ridge along the back of the point, creating a very sharp centre-line valley.  Odd and infuriating was a strange upward kink in the point as it passed the feed, a shape my waking mind can’t quite envision clearly, but which was plainly aimed at making the pen best suited to writing with the barrel perpendicular to the paper.  Holding it like a proper pen would make it if not useless then at least horribly uncomfortable and given to plowing up the paper.  About the time I realized this terrible thing, I awoke.

So, it seems even when I’m asleep, I’m crabby about how much modern pen makers seem to pander the to tastes of the ball-point set, at the expense of fountain pens.  Also, I am indeed frequently as tedious in the world of dreams as I am while awake… assuming I am awake now.

Today’s pen, which has not  turned into a spider even once: Sheaffer Valiant TM
Today’s ink, quite suggestive of reality: Mont Blanc Racing Green

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Post with Postage

Posted by Dirck on 18 February, 2011

I’m still not here. However, I am here, if you follow me, and here I have just received a pen bought from eBay which claimed to be in Germany, but which came bearing these stamps:

It seems that Lebanon’s post office is quite down on drugs and smoking, and that it costs 7,000 Lebanese Pounds to send a pen to Canada.  Isn’t that interesting?

Today’s pen: Parker Duofold Senior (yesterday’s, too!), although as the day progresses I may swtich to a Lamy Safari.
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Bleu Nuit (Safari, if it happens, will get Lamy Blue)

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Not Actually Here

Posted by Dirck on 15 February, 2011

Today’s pen:  TWSBI Diamond 530 (hey, look, he’s actually put a page together for it… but it’s somehow familiar)
Today’s ink: Diamine China Blue

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Happy Valentine’s Day (as appropriate)

Posted by Dirck on 14 February, 2011

For those who are in a position not to take Valentine’s Day as an offense, I wish you all a happy and so far as possible non-commercial one.  For those who are put into a crabby state by all the enforced couple-ness (if not coupling) where you’ve none yourself, I will steer clear of the “oh, there’s plenty of fish in the sea” nonsense and just wish you a day of not having unattached status pushed in your face too much.

My wife and I are off to the Vintage Tea Room for a prolonged lunch while sonny is being watched by a grandmother.  Slightly commercial, but it supports only local business.

Today’s pen: Parker Duofold Senior
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Bleu Nuit

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Hiatus (of Love)

Posted by Dirck on 11 February, 2011

The next week I’ll likely not be looking in too often, as I’m not attending the Regular Job and home’s manifold distractions are apt to reduce my internettery.  I may, if the timing is convenient, let you know what pen I’m using (since this is clearly the only reason 9/10ths of readers appear).

The fact that next week starts with Valentine’s day has some small bearing on the matter, but there is also the Regular Job’s period of serious effort just past, and a basement full of entropy that needs some order imposed upon it.  I may even update the website a little….

Today’s pen (which, for those who are interested in this sort of trivia, was borrowed by three people over the lunch break, and neither it, I nor the borrowers have suffered any damage):  Waterman C/F
Today’s ink (not quite what they were expecting in terms of colour):  Diamine Steel Blue

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Chilly Receptions

Posted by Dirck on 10 February, 2011

Today is the day for cold shoulders.  In a literal way, I arrived at The Regular Job to discover that the furnace had failed.  The indoor temperature stood, according to the non-metric thermostat, was 53 (for the non-bilingual, that’s 11.5C).  This is substantially warmer than outside, but it’s not what you’d call a convenient temperatures for data input.  This did not affect the whole building, but it did affect the presidential office, where the temperature is even lower as the corner office doesn’t share a wall with the brimstone-scented accounting department.  It’s always warm in the accounting department, for some reason.

I have noted previously my disinclination for extremes.  Last week we had too much fire, and now too little.  Can we not learn the lessons of Buddha and Goldilocks?

We’re informed that the repair is taking longer than it might otherwise, because the furnace is old and parts can’t be had quickly.  I forebear from suggesting that a local brass-working machinist be found to fabricate the needed parts.  I am happy I wore my pea jacket today, as I can wear it comfortably in my office chair.

Less personal is a story from the Fountain Pen Network, in which a chap recounts his daughter’s being marked down for having used a fountain pen on a school test.  The issue was not the pen itself, apparently, but the fact of the ink.  The possibility of infinite ink colours that is a strength of the fountain pen, has undone one of the users!

I’m not going to castigate the distant, anonymous teacher, by the way.  I have been a teacher myself, and I understand the need to get some regularity into the kids’ work to keep madness at bay.  I can only wonder at the patience of the teachers I had during my childish Skrip Peacock Blue phase.

Today’s pen: Waterman Thorobred
Today’s ink: Diamine Dark Brown

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