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Archive for March, 2011

Coming Around the Last Turn….

Posted by Dirck on 31 March, 2011

…or, if we’re honest, gone around the bend long since.  I’ve made no secret of the distance between “thinks this much about pens” and “normal cognitive processes.”

Ten Pens You Can (probably) Afford And Might Not Hate

7. Sheaffer Cartridge Pen.  The pen with no name!  Sometimes described as a Skripsert (which was applied, by Sheaffer, to just about anything that took a cartridge), they’re almost the VW Beetle of fountain pens in North America.  Made through four decades, with small variations in the body shape, there’s a ton of them out in the world, and they were never expensive to begin with– if you can’t find one for less than $10, you can probably find one in a lot of low-end pens on eBay for not much more than $10.  Like the Beetle, it doesn’t do much more than the very thing it was built to do, but extremely reliably.

Why you’ll like it:  Easy to find Sheaffer cartridges, easy to convert to eyedropper filling, easy to replace if you manage to lose it.

Why you won’t like it: It’s not a raving beauty.  There’s few converters to fit it.  Some kid really chewed up the end in 1968.

8. Sheaffer No Nonsense.  This is almost the same pen with a bigger barrel; the feed and point are pretty much the same, although this one had some calligraphy italic versions available.  Rather more variations than yesterday’s Parker entry on the list, but with rather fewer taunting luxury models.  While a more recent model than the earliest of the Cartridge/Skripsert line, the lines are almost exactly those of the flat-tops of the 1920s.  The less exalted versions can be found for much the same prices as the previous item, but if you look on eBay you’ll probably find them mis-described as “vintage old flat-top shaeffers”.

Why you’ll like it:  Easy to find Sheaffer cartridges, easy to convert to eyedropper filling, easy to replace if you manage to lose it…. gosh, this sounds familiar.  Much easier to get a modern converter to go into one.

Why you won’t like it:  Slightly nervous tabbed-in clip, almost too big to fit in a shirt pocket, may lead to people pointing and shouting “23 skidoo!”

Today’s pen: Quill 700
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Vert Empire

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Halfway There!

Posted by Dirck on 30 March, 2011

And for those of you who are fans of the Roman alphabet, you may be calling out “Halfwit, there!” in a moment, as I return to…

Ten Pens You Can (probably) Afford And Might Not Hate

5. Parker 45.  How does the Parker land after Pelikan?  Through simple human fallibility!  The barely-legible bit of scrap-paper I composed the list of initial contenders upon had rather more Parkers involved, and once the vetting process was complete this sole survivor was obscured.  I didn’t notice until typing time was done yesterday.  Anyway, this pen is one of the great Everyman pens of the last half of the 20th century, coming in a variety of trims and points.  It was meant from the beginning as a popular pen, and the combination of price (at the lower end of its diverse guises) and sturdiness makes it a darn good pen to look for.  Produced from 1960 through 2007, there’s a good chance that if you do get one it will qualify, guardedly, as a vintage pen.  I’ve seen unused late examples on eBay for under $35, and if you don’t mind a used pen you can definitely get them for less.

Why you’ll like it:  Sturdy, as attractive as any 1960s consumer-good could ever claim to be, interchangible points, accepts most of the converters Parker has ever made, and Parker’s cartridges have hardly changed in any way since it was introduced.

Why you won’t like it: You might fall in love with one of the exotic variations and go mad trying to get an example for your own, the points are generally less tolerant of roll than most other pens (a small “sweet spot“), and the later points are not particularly good as quality control started to slip in the final years of production.  Will only take Parker cartridges, if you’re not putting it on a bottle.

6. Pilot 78G.  I don’t have a great deal to say about this pen.  It’s a profoundly entry-level pen, with extremely conservative styling, but as functional object it’s all you can reasonably ask for in a pen.  The largest of the three points is about a 1mm italic point, which lends a little interest to your writing.  They cost about $20 shipped, although if you’re willing to look at Hong Kong vendors on eBay (which I did, without incident), you may get them for under $10.

Why you’ll like it:  It really looks like a fountain pen, doesn’t it?  Colours to please most, without being gaudy, extremely reliable Japanese manufacture, comes with a simple but reliable press-bar filler.  Screw-on cap!

Why you won’t like it:  Rather dry feed, which doesn’t necessarily agree with some inks.  Uses Pilot cartridges, which as scarce as yeti eggs in many parts of North America.  Screw-on cap!

Tomorrow– One manufacturer, two rather different pens.

Today’s pen:  Waterman Taperite Enigma of Mystery
Today’s ink: Noodler’s Walnut

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The List Continues

Posted by Dirck on 29 March, 2011

But first, why am I calling it…

Ten Pens You Can (probably) Afford And Might Not Hate

…because that’s hardly encouraging and possibly insulting?  The qualifier at the end I include because over and again I have said that there is a high degree of subjectivity in fountain pens.  I love some pens that I know otherwise rational people hate, and this is not because one of us is inherently wicked not contrary– it’s jsut a matter of taste.  The parenthetical inclusion comes about because the world economy is still in a dreadful state, and some of these pens may well be beyond the reach of some readers.  This is likewise not a comment on the morality of the sufferer, because one notices that most of the villains in the global economic collapse are still living pretty high, it’s merely a recognition that compressed straits can happen.

On with the fun, then:

3. Lamy Safari.  These comments apply to the technically-different Vista and aluminum-bodied Al-Star, also; you’ve got a world of choice, although some variants cost more than others.  Depending on where you look and which variant you’re after, you’ll pay somewhere between $20 and $40 for this pen.

Why you’ll like it:  A very good converter, an ink window that works with converter or cartridge, utterly reliable German engineering and manufacture, and a wide range of point sizes.

Why you won’t like it:  It’s sort of funny-looking, and that clip does not go with a lot of more formal outfits.  The section is cut with “thou shalt hold me THUS!” guides.  Proprietary cartridges, so you can’t easily find refills.

4. Pelikano.  The other German entry on the list, and also a school pen.  While my example was one of the earlier models, they continue in much the same pattern, and one can also look at the Pelikano Jr. and Future (lower down in the review) which have much the same business end.  Can be had for about $20.

Why you’ll like it:  Smooth points, decades of proven reliability, sturdy enough to stand up to school-children.  Takes international-pattern cartridges, or a converter.  Ink-level cutouts.

Why you won’t like it: Less strident grip-guides than the Safari, but they’re there (oh, those Germans…).  Rather shocking colours; quite looks like a school pen.

Tomorrow, the vintage market rears its head (sort of).

Today’s pen: Quill 700
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Vert Empire

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(Yet Another) Top Ten List

Posted by Dirck on 28 March, 2011

Recently, my attention was directed to an article in The Independent, a “news” source in England, which purported to lay out the ten best fountain pens.  No sign of criteria regarding either “best” nor indeed “fountain” (a couple of the inclusions could only be considered fountain pens by the greatest extension of the term to include any pen with an internal source of ink, as opposed to brushes and dip pens), although a couple of them are known to be pretty good pens (hint– they’re German and don’t cost a mint).  This put a bit of a bug in my ear about doing up something similar, and since if I arrange it properly it gives me a week of posts without raking my brain for topics, I am presenting my own list here.

These are not the best pens I know of nor even that I own.  They are what I would call the best bets for someone who has been looking at pens from afar but hasn’t made the jump for fear of expense (like The Independent’s Caran d’Ache Perles, a mere £2,950) or unreliability (various, numerous pop-culture references over the past 70 years).  I’ve restricted myself to pens I actually own, too, and unlike that “journalistic” “article”, I have all the names right.  The are also in no particular order beyond alphabetic, although you will find that the quality tends upwards towards the end.  When I have yet to work up my own review, I offer the work of the talented collective at the Fountain Pen Network.

Are we all sitting comforably?  Then I’ll begin:

Ten Pens You Can (probably) Afford And Might Not Hate

1:  The Dollar 717i.  I have the Demonstrator version of this pen, which is technically a different model but the difference lies only in the see-through-ness.

Why you’ll like it:  It writes well, and it’s cheap as can be.  I paid $10 for mine, shipping included, and that’s high-average.  It’s got a built-in filler of good capacity.

Why you won’t like it: It has a pretty unsophisticated feed, and this can lead to it acting rather like an eyedropper when the ambient air temperature is cooler than the human hand (it’s from a part of the world where that’s not often an issue).  Keep an eye out for dribbles.  The plastic is also rather low-grade and doesn’t give the impression of lasting for many years.

2: The Hero 616.  I could probably stuff this list with various Heros, and I should probably be suggesting a different one entirely, but I’m intent on offering the lowest-price options I can.

Why you’ll like it:  Slip-on cap, which is very convenient, and it’s one of the cheapest pens you can find– I paid just over $10 for a package containing ten pens.  Including shipping.  Once again, a built-in filler.

Why you won’t like it:  Not every pen in the package works particularly well.  This isn’t a big deal for me, as I can take ’em apart and fiddle with ’em, but not everyone can or is willing to do so.  The filler is a bit of a joke, too, and the “press-bar” cage is best done away with.  Not a huge capacity for ink, even when you do get rid of the useless cage.

Tomorrow– a complete change of continent and a dramatic change in both prices and durability.

Today’s pen:  Waterman Press-O-Matic Taperite Thingummy (I have yet to actually identify it after a year and a half, and I’m sick of letting that fact keep me from using it).
Today’s ink: Noodler’s Walnut

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Election time!

Posted by Dirck on 25 March, 2011

Well, it looks like the current government’s villainy is coming back to haunt it.  I hope the Canadian electorate is smart enough to not hands the reigns of power back to the same mob in a month and a half.

On a completely unrelated topic:  35 minutes between order and appearance of a plate of soup?  That’s entirely unacceptable, favourite pub!  35 minutes is, by the way, exactly the length of time I have available to me to spend in the joint for lunch.  Good thing I keep granola bars at my desk.

Today’s hungry pen: Sheaffer School
Today’s ink, devoid of nutritional value: Herbin’s Lis de Thé

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Alcohol Ink

Posted by Dirck on 24 March, 2011

For a change, I’m not doing a bit of clever word play which combines my enjoyment of fountain pens and liquour.  These are, make no mistake, things I do enjoy, but apart from the odd (extra-)incoherent letter I try to keep these two aspects of my life well separated.

My wife is working at expanding her jewellry-making by creating some of the stuff she slings on necklaces and ear-rings herself rather than buying it.  In this pursuit, she has stumbled upon alcohol ink as a means of adding colour to certain plastics and ceramics.  This stumbling initially took the form of slide-long mentionings of the stuff without any real explanation– the authors of what she was reading apparently assumed that if you were looking at their stuff you already have the context necessary.  She asked me, reasonably enough, if I had any.

My response:  “Wh….uh?  That’s a thing now?”

Apparently so, and after a bit of research we both now know what it is.  My only reason for commenting on it is that it’s got the word “ink” in it, which makes me interested, and “alcohol” which gives me concern.  I’ve mentioned in other places, and perhaps even in back-issues here, that alcohol is rather bad for your fountain pen.  It can dissolve internal parts and afflict finishes.  I mention it here so I can mention that you should not use it in your fountain pen, despite the fact that some of the commercial preparations (which I do not endorse, having never used it) have really nice looking colours.

As a concluding non sequitur, I’m going to mention a site I’ve just spotted today– The Impossible Project is a group producing film for the old Polaroid cameras, with the stated intention of preventing the necessary disposal through uselessness of as many as 300,000,000 otherwise functional cameras.  Given my own love of keeping “obsolete” techology functional, I can but applaud them, even though I have no more use for their film than I do for alcohol ink.

Today’s alcohol-free pen: Parker VS
Today’s non-intoxicating ink: Noodler’s La Couleur Royale

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THOSE People….

Posted by Dirck on 23 March, 2011

Well, that was nearly a full day before a complaint developed.  When sunny skies threaten and joy afflicts your heart, the federal government may be relied upon to upset all.  For those who are interested in anything but Canadian politics, today is not the day to look in here.

Yesterday there was a budget put forth by the governing party.  In an effort to cling to power, they have put a few items into the budget which if the various opposition parties defeat it, they can point to and say, “See, those villains hate RURAL DOCTORS and VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS!  We wanted to give them (a very little) money/tax break!  Vote for us!”  Now, I’m not a fan of the current governing party, but I’ll grant that this is the sort of thing that any minority government in a parliamentary democracy will try to prolong its mandate, and I can’t directly fault them for the effort.  However, in the item where they set up to be able to cry, “They hate OLD PEOPLE!” I am prepared to shout at them.

The thing they’ve offered is framed as a means of assisting the extremely impoverished eldery in danger of starving, losing their house, or both.  This is a fine goal, of course.  The means?  Adding $50 a month to the pension of specifically qualified old folks.  For your mathematical comfort– that’s $600 a year (apparently for couples it works out to $840, as we can’t be too lavish).

Now, part of what I’m upset about is the way in which it takes on the appearance of the federal government seeing a quivering oldster staggering along the street, fishing a fistful of change out of its collective pocket, and shouting as it flings a stinging hail of change into the wrinkled face, “That should hold you until you get a real job!”  However, that’s not what I’m really mad about, because as I said previously it’s nothing that just about any other party in power might pull.

What has quite gotten up my nose is a statement to the press given by the finance minister, which I can’t find in written form, but which I heard on the way in to work this morning, and which I paraphrase thus but in which I highlight the part I recall verbatim: “These are people who lived through the Great Depression– $600 is a lot of money to those people.”

Um… no.  I have been in a financial position quite recently where an extra $50 at month’s end would be very handy, so I won’t deny the utility of any kind of support to the poverty-striken, but to characterize $600 in a year as “a lot of money” is beyond disingenuous.  $600 in a year was a lot of money during the Great Depression, but in the modern context it’s less than a single month’s rent, or possibly as many as eight bags of groceries.  If the finance minister feels it’s a great big bunch of money, I should like to see him attempt to live upon it for even a week.

What set me off, apart from a functional sense of human justice and an ability to count, is the use of the phrase “those people.”  It is so frequently a means of applying otherness to our fellow humans.  “Those people will live ten to a two bedroom apartment.”  “Those people don’t understand how to get along in our society.”  “Those people have cooking which stinks.”  It’s very close to “I don’t mean to sound X, but…” where X can be replaced by racist, sexist, or any other kind of chauvinist you want to apply the beliefs of but wish to deny believing.  “No offense” is another good one.

The fact that a minister of the current government has used “those people” in that tone and so casually makes me more anxious than ever for an election.  The kind of thought process that leads to the use of the phrase is not one that should have control of hands anywhere near the levers of power.

There was also something earlier this week, ahead of the budget, in which any defeat of the current crowd in power was being described as a conspiratorial “tyranny of the majority.”  I’m in Winston Churchill’s camp on the actual value of democracy, but since that is what we’re living under in Canada, and since it’s a system the current government’s head has time and again spoken of his great regard for, it’s funny that the notion of majority rule should be so threatening to them.

Well, enough political nonsense for this month.  I’ll try to keep myself under control if an election breaks out.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer School (I was moved by yesterday’s entry to let it out to play)
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Lis de Thé

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Winning Stupid

Posted by Dirck on 22 March, 2011

I promised a funny story, but I did not promise it would be uproariously funny.  If I follow the “Ha-Ha” vs. “Ho-ho” school of thought, it is possibly “Ho…” funny, but more likely “Oh.”  I was getting myself ready for the week, pen wise, by looking at the big Roster of Unused Pens.  After working out the choices for the week, I then attended to the actual needs of the day.

Picture if you will, a vast inverted ziggurat of composed of tiny objects, held together with sticky notes all reading DON’T FORGET THIS (MONDAY!).  By a nearly superhuman effort, I got all of the things I needed to remember out the door with me.

Except my pen, which I had put down after filling.

Can you imagine?  A guy like me, leaving his pen behind?  Merely neglecting it?  I don’t even have last week’s excuse of painful influenza.  I am deeply worried about my neurotransmitters.

The result was a day of using the Hero 616, a pen I keep on my desk at The Regular Job to offer passers-by who ask to borrow a pen; if they break it, I’m out a couple of dollars, and if they like it, I’m not too worried about giving it away.  I have never used this pen for such a long time, and contrary to my usual behaviour (see yesterday’s entry), I am not going to complain about it.  It is a very cheap pen, but with that taken into account it is a perfectly acceptable item.  At no point did I stop short and contemplate the pen’s performance, good, poor, or otherwise.  But for this odd lapse of mine, I would not have applied myself to this very humble pen for so very long.

This is one of those times that finding oneself triumphant in victory or despondent in defeat is purely a matter of perception.  I could have spend the past… (looks down)… 285 words complaining about being cast upon a miserable lesser pen, but instead I choose to call it a win in being reminded that a cheap pen (cheeeeeeaaap!) made with a little attention can be nice enough.The irony of that discovery coming on the same day I spread so much vitriol about a crappy cheap pen is delicious, is it not?

It’s a lesson that should carry over into other parts of the day, too.  Many of our defeats and discomfitures are so only because we choose to treat them that way, and we’d be a much happier bunch if we could see the up-side, like the little old Japanese woman I heard interviewed who said of the recent earthquake that it was, radiation issue aside, not as bad as the war– fewer people killed, and over a good deal quicker.  Not an easy attitude to foster, but it makes for less moaning.

Yesterday’s pen, as should have been:  Parker VS
Yesterday’s ink, but for my error: Noodler’s La Couleur Royale

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My Viewpoint

Posted by Dirck on 21 March, 2011

I’m already lying to you, as it’s my wife’s Viewpoint I’m considering.  Viewpoints, in fact, as she has several, and the reason I’m thinking about them at all is that she’s lost some of them.  She has not lost her Perspective, as that’s a rather more expensive pen and she’s never had one to lose.  The Viewpoint is the bottom of Sheaffer’s barrel at the moment, a “mere” calligraphy pen costing about ten dollars.  She has several which are her habitual writing tools, and in the latter part of last week she mislaid a case containing three of them.  This eventuality moved me to buy her a replacement, by way of invoking the power of sympathetic magic to find the missing ones– spending money to replace things tends to make them appear, after all (perhaps I should have said unsympathetic magic).

A new one, though, means a mere approximation.  The last time my wife bought a pen, Sheaffer was still making pens at the old plant in Fort Madison, and since then the production has moved to China.  What I bought might be a “transitional” item of sorts, using up left-over parts from the old plant, as the package said “writing unit produced in USA”.  Whether there are some old-style parts involved, the new pens are rather different animals than the previous ones.  Let’s have a look:

The one at the top is a No Nonsense, the progenitor of the Viewpoint, and it’s useful to see the lineage.  Carrying over from the old Viewpoint is a squishy section, although you see that the trim item at the top of the section is red.  This is colour-coded on the new one to a size sticker on the sloped top of the cap.  That sticker is one of the first things I quite dislike about this latest incarnation, as the print-faces used and the mere fact that it is a sticker put one powerfully in mind of lipstick.  The White Dot of Dishonesty on the clip also bugs me, even if it stopped being a mark of guarantee a long time ago. 

My real issue with the new model is the barrel.  The old one is clear (thus, more or less, the name), allowing one to see that there is a cartridge fitted– the new cartridges being nearly opaque, peering at it to check ink level is pointless.  The new item has a cut-out in the opaque barrel for the same purpose, and this cut-out makes for a much worse pen.  To start, it is razor sharp, which is not a big issue while using the pen but extremely annoying when handling it otherwise.  The real villainy here is that the two older pens could be easily converted to use as an eyedropper with a little silicon grease at the joint, freeing the user of the over-priced cartridges (the less charming aspects of that mode of filling are all but done away with by Sheaffer’s well-developed feeds).  One can still get a converter for the new pen, but it holds less ink than the cartridge.  I despise this development, and all the moreso because it may be done merely with an eye towards using less of a cheaper plastic.  Bah.

The “writing unit” at least works as well at the previous… but consider my previous pondering about that.  This is generally a prime example of bottom-lining as an affliction of modern life– “cheaper” is not, emphatically not the same as “better”, no matter how much of a big box retailer’s advertising budget is directed to make you think that it is.  It’s things like this that undermine fountain pens as something Joe Everyman considers using, being either grossly expensive or working its way into being a shoddy toy.  It’s things like this that point out what a wonder the TWSBI is, and the Phileas was.

I will mention that Sheaffer is currently owned by BIC.  This treatment becomes obvious in that light.

Today’s pen, speaking of cheap:  Hero 616 (and it shouldn’t be– I’ll tell you a funny story tomorrow)
Today’s ink: Pelikan 4001 black

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Return to Brag-Dad

Posted by Dirck on 18 March, 2011

This being a truncated Friday, I merely state some valuable antics of my son:

First, he is apparently a better man than his dad in the area of vegetables, having last night pushed people out of the way to get at steamed pea-pods and the night before happily devoured about a third of an uncooked bell pepper.  Good job, that lad.

Second, he appears to have become something of a good citizen.  He insisted upon putting away all his toys before we could leave his maternal grandparents’ house, which is an astonishing display of personal responsibility in someone twice his age.

I wish I could claim some powerful parenting skills.  It seems to merely be the way he’s developing.  Not unlike a lottery win for ma and pa, and I bore the world at large with this small domestic bonanza as a reminder of the truly important aspects of life pro bono publicam.  If a deeply obsessed nut-job such as myself can see the truth in that, how strong then is that truth?

Today’s lucky pen: Parker Challenger
Today’s proud ink:  Quink Washable Blue

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