Last week, I was using a vintage and a modern Waterman. This week, I’m using a vintage and a modern Sheaffer.
…or am I? The notion of what constitutes “vintage” is a bugbear for fountain pen fanciers. I don’t think last weeks choices bear any real discussion– the 52 is unquestionably vintage in all its aspects, and the Carène is unmitigatedly modern. This week’s choices are more equivocal, though. Let’s have a look at the two pens for the week without having to climb down a link–
Visually similar, of course, and that’s why the newer of the two gives some trouble in hanging a label on it. The flat-top look is quite retro, and that throws off the judgement. Most people will call it modern, all the same (myself, probably, included); it’s a much newer object, and that’s what will move most people. I’d join the crown opinion for entirely different reasons, which are the same reasons that I have a little hesitation about hanging Vintage on the other one.
“Oh, come on,” says the ideal interlocquitor. “It’s OLD! It (or at least some parts of it) was made in the mid-1920s! How can you even think of using the word modern in relation to it?” The answer lies in the way it works. There is not a huge difference in the writing properties of these two pens; both are smooth, both are firm, both are rather wet. I do still resort to the Vintage label because of the body material and the filler mechanism, but it is, in my view, less vintage than the contemporary Waterman 52. It is, in fact, more modern in the way in interacts with a piece of paper than an Eversharp Skyline or even a Waterman C/F.
I don’t hold that vintage, in terms of pens, is strictly a matter of chronology. In my site, I mention that assigning a set date as the watershed leads, as years pass, to foolishness. Either one has to move that watershed every five or ten years, or one has to start fishing about for distinctions within modern: post-modern, early modern, near-modern, hyper-modern, supra-post-modern… the mind rebels.
Ideal Interloquitor demands, “Well, if you admit that the concept exists and has some value, define it.” I shall, but I think those who dislike subtlty and non-Einsteinian relativity will dislike it. It’s… not brief.
Age is a factor, of course. It’s utter nonsense to suggest a three-year old pen is vintage, regardless of how much effort it has been put into giving it the air of antiquity. It is not, as I intimate previously, the only factor. Materials come into play, but less so than one might think/hope; so-called modern plastics have been in use since the 1940s.
Technology is also an element. Is the filler mechanism more or less modern? This is a tricky question, as one can find extremely old pens that are technically cartridge-fillers, and there aren’t any mechanisms that haven’t been in use since 1960. How about the feed? Here again, there hasn’t been a lot of innovation since Parker’s introduction of the collector in the 1940s, so “modern” is still a very mushy concept on that head.
In the end, there is a strong element of gut-feeling in the matter of Vintage vs. Modern. To be vintage, it has to be somewhat old, but it also has to be somewhat quaint; there is some subjective element that becomes activated when presented with an actually vintage pen, and like a judge of ages past commenting on pornography, you’ll know it when you see it. I’d argue against having a firm border between the two concepts, frankly, or even necessarily considering them parts of the same spectrum. I’d say that vintage and modern are elements which can co-exist in a pen; one will wither in the presence of too much of the other, but away from the extremities one can have a pen that is both vintage and modern. Here’s some vintage pens of various ages:
Evans Dollar– very vintage
Parker Vacumatic– not quite as vintage, but still well stuck in
The rubber feed marks today’s pen as an early example of the run, and that’s long enough past to qualify as actual vintage
And on the other side of the coin, modern pens of diverse ages:
From 1941, possibly the first modern pen… but it’s a vintage example
Designed in 1966, but so very modern in shape and materials
All mod cons(truction), and yet it has “Vintage” in its model name. Very confusing.
Today’s pen of indeterminate age: Sheaffer No Nonsense
Today’s ink: Noodler’s La Couleur Royale
PS: the captions are a bit of a hash, but they’re less of a hash than what resulted from trying to do them the right way. Anyone who looked in before this late-on-the-26th edit will attest to that.