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Compare and Contrast

Posted by Dirck on 16 May, 2012

What I’d meant to get up to yesterday before the last moment invitation was a comparison of two pens which are on paper quite similar; today’s and yesterday’s.

There comes a moment’s pause, while the reader examines the end of that last sentence.  A brand new pen made in China… and a reasonably iconic Sheaffer of the golden age of pens?  These things?

Yes, that’s the chaps.  They’re both big, they have (technically) the same filler, and they’re not of radically different MSRP, adjusting for 75 years of inflation.  The difference in original prices lies, for the most part, in the cost of the point material; the Sheaffer revels in a gold point.  From a functional standpoint, that material difference makes for almost no difference in sensation.  They’re smooth and stiff; in point of fact, the TWSBI has a little more spring in it than the Sheaffer.  Given that the Sheaffer has an extra-fine point and the TWSBI a medium, one has to make certain adjustments in appreciating them.

Technically the same filler, although the way they function is rather different.  I’ve gone into that on both the page for today’s pen and a previous entry here, so I’ll not repeat, but that difference makes for somewhat easier operation in the newer pen.  As I’ve just replaced the piston-seal in the Sheaffer (thanks to the new tools!), I’m assuming that the operation of that one is as close to original as one is going to find… and it still induces some nervousness.  The upstroke takes a certain amount of struggle, which it is hard not to imagine being transmitted onto the (still original) tail packing.  The TWSBI’s piston slips upward with hardly a hint of effort, which similarly becomes a freedom of care in the mind of the user.  The trade-off for this seems to lie in the efficiency of the fillers; I also mentioned previously that the TWSBI is less thirsty.

What else to say about these two pens?  The TWSBI reveals the tendency to hypertrophy in modern pen design; while theoretically compliant with the mid-20th century US military specifications which the Sheaffer offends, in most pockets it sticks up just as far as the Balance does.  That Statesman is not an oversize pen, but it’s only 3mm shorter than the oversize model of the same year, and the TWSBI is vast compared to it.  What, I wonder in a Zigmunt Freud agzent, do we modern fountain pen users feel that we’ve got to prove?

I’m also less concerned about staining the barrel in the new pen.  I may change this stance as the decades pile up, but for the moment, that seems a good synopsis for the day; newer pens make for less worry.

Today’s pen: TWSBI Vac 700
Today’s ink: Diamine Syrah

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6 Responses to “Compare and Contrast”

  1. blackangus said

    Is it possible that modern pens tend to be larger because we are in fact larger than our ancestors? Obesity epidemic aside, we’re just larger now, for the most part. I am approximately eight inches taller, five to six shoe sizes larger, a hat size and a half larger, and have much larger hands than either of my grandfathers. While I love vintage pens, I generally find them too small to use comfortably.

    • True, and my efforts to find vintage hats that suit me bear you out, but the “greatest generation” was hardly running about under the table. I frequently say that I have small hands for a guy my size, but I’m still on the big side of the modern height chart, and I don’t have any trouble with “small” pens like the Parker 75 or the Sheaffer Imperial.

      Also, while the Vac 700 is a great big pen, it’s about the same size as some of the large models of the 1920s, which were aimed at an even earlier generation. I don’t entirely dismiss your observation (although I can’t picture either of my grandfathers squeezing into a pair of size 4 1/2 shoes…), but I have a creeping suspicion that there’s a certain element of “Hey, lookit me! I’m usin’ a FOUNTAIN PEN!” in the general bigness off the moderns, just as there was in the similarly unweildy oversizes of ages past; “Hey, lookit me! I can afford a Waterman #60!”.

      I might also point to the Henry VIII armour standing at the Tower of London; nearly 500 years ago, yet stick him in a t-shirt and ball-cap, you’d never pick him out of the crowd at a NASCAR event.

      • blackangus said

        I have a size 15 foot, so my grandfathers were in 9’s and 10’s. And I’ve had the exact same problem finding a vintage hat of any kind. And, while I grant your point regarding Henry VIII, he was a large man of his day and would be considered barely above average now.

      • …and you must admit to towering over a lot of folks today. As a fellow sufferer of They Won’t Have That In My Size Syndrome (shirts rather than shoes, in my case), I applaud your luck in the decision of pen makers to build to your scale. I’ll still contend that a pen that bottoms out in most shirt pockets without its clip being fully engaged is bigger than necessary. Just to get away from generalizing specific examples, as we’ve both been doing, I’m going to quote something that’s more properly generalized (there’s a lot more down this link, along with some very annoying ads):

        A recent study conducted at Ohio State University, based on skeletal data from 30 previous studies, reveals that men living during the 9th to 11th centuries had an average height of about 5 feet 8 inches. Average height then steadily declined until it reached a low point of 5 feet 5.5 inches in the 17th and 18th centuries, rising again through the 19th century and only reaching prior heights in the first half of the 20th century. An article on the study by Richard Steckel appears in the Social Science History journal.

        According to the feature by Jennifer Warner at WebMD, Dr. Steckel noted that “Average height is a good way to measure the availability and consumption of basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and exposure to disease.” Frequent wars and a rise in the spread of deadly diseases impacted population health and height, as well.

        Today, average height in American men is about 5 feet 9 inches and in American women 5 feet 4 inches. According to a study completed in 2002 (see the article by John Carvel at the Guardian), Britons have similar average heights, while most Europeans are an inch or two shorter. The exception is the Dutch, who are about an inch taller than Brits and Americans.

        In the case of my line, the male height has been about the 6′ mark for the past three generations down my paternal line, and my maternal grandfather was about the current average. Also in my case, the generations who encountered the Great Depression were done with their growing during the effects it may have had on their diet (my father was born while it was underway, but his family was pretty well off… and Dutch).

  2. […] even the Brobdingnagian Vac 700 (which makes me slightly sheepish about the stance I took in the comments on this thread).  It’s also a sort of fun exercise to build a shirt, which is why I offer the plug as a […]

  3. […] about relative sizes of pen.  This reminded me of a little debate which appeared on this stage when I compared the TWSBI to a rather large vintage pen and got up on my hobby-horse regarding the unnecessary bigness of many modern […]

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