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Archive for May, 2013

The Week That Was

Posted by Dirck on 31 May, 2013

Today’s film is reflective of all the non-pen-related portions of this past Wednesday, which I forewent mentioning here as I’ve done plenty of whining in the past month.  Now, for your diversion and my son’s infinite amusement– a seemingly endless series of train wrecks:

Today’s pen (which, being pen-related, is working brilliantly, AND has a lovely fine/stub point): Sheaffer Balance Sovereign
Today’s ink (staying where I’d like it… so far): Herbin Vert Empire

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The Golden Age

Posted by Dirck on 30 May, 2013

I got around to listening to FP Geeks TV #72 yesterday (aside: this is ever a “listen” experience, as my weekly duties about the house preclude “watch” of any fountain pens I’m not actually holding).  The discussion between the assembled luminaries there got me thinking about the golden age of fountain pens.

Visitors to my site will know that my entirely arbitrary definition of this period opens with the introduction of Parker’s Vacumatic filler until the introduction of Biro’s goop-filled writing device to the North American market– roughly 1932 to 1945.  I stand by this entirely arbitrary definition, as this period has almost all the interesting filling mechanisms pens would ever enjoy appearing (capillary fillers absent hurrah) and the appearance of the most attractive and most durable barrel materials (not the same ones).  I also readily admit that other people’s entirely arbitrary definitions which disagree with this are probably just as valid, but are also just as incorrect in the light of my contemplation.

The question that the Geeks and guests were mulling was not one of history, but of personal chronology, as they were considering what age they were when they took to the fountain pen.  The answer was not universal, but is was near enough unanimity and close enough to my own response to the question that I realized that the golden age of fountain pens is not a set time in the past but a window of susceptibility during one’s development.  Pick up a fountain pen at a given age, and it will be very hard to put down– miss that age, and there’s a good chance that one will feel only indifference with a frosting of befuddled confusion at the delight of others in the item.

This is not an original thought, I’ll admit.  The notion, in almost the terms I’ve used above, was mentioned on the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast extending principle previously developed in connection with comic books, and I find that I agree with it (although I was a little past the best-before date for Lovecraft).  The discovery that the principle extends to fountain pens makes me consider other things that I got stuck on.  Star Wars, for example, hit at the right time and only George Lucas’s herculean efforts to wreck the franchise have cured me.  Tolkien… same thing, thanks to the cartoon rendition of The Hobbit, and my wife’s not touching any of his stuff until she was in university and her indifferent befuddled confusion regarding it bolsters the idea.  The golden age, the personal era of fascination, appears to apply to almost everything.

I haven’t done any studies, of course, so this is only an empirical suggestion; the golden age is 12 ± 4 years.  Roughly.  So maybe there is something in keeping kids out of stuff we don’t want people getting overly involved in, like drink, drugs and politics.  I think I may look into writing a cartoon series centered around some sassy-but-appealing anthropomorphic creatures who travel the world having adventures between rounds of an international calligraphy competition.  Dumber things have taken off….

Today’s pen: Waterman Carène
Today’s ink: Herbin Bleu Myosotis

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Accomplishment and Recognition

Posted by Dirck on 29 May, 2013

I’m in the testing phase, at long last, of my work to discover the knack of the Nishimura method of Sheaffer vac repair (which I go into a little more in the previous mention of the effort).  The long delay was prompted in part by the difficulty of getting at shellac locally, and isn’t that a sad comment on where I live, and also by having more pressing fish to fry in the realm of both pens and household tasks.

That’s behind me, though, and now this pen…

...which is, yes, rather showing it's mileage...

…which is, yes, rather showing its mileage…

…is resting upon  a sheet of paper towel, with 1.5ml of Pelikan Royal Blue within its walls.  If it doesn’t prove incontinent, I’ll likely take it out for a field test in the next couple of days.  The ink was chosen with this in mind, as it’s one of the most easily gotten out of shirt of all the inks I own; a static seepage test is usually sufficient, but the contrary nature of the mechanism makes me want belt, suspenders and a hazmat suit.  If it gets through the shakedown in good shape, I’ll probably refill it with a more festive ink for a long-term use, and then be very nearly ready to suggest it as a service I can provide.

Nearly.  Replication of the effect is needed; luckily, I’ve got two Vigilants and a bigger, cheaper Commandant to try my hand at.  I don’t quite know why most of my non-functional Balances are military clip models, but it’s probably mere coincidence.  I also want to get a lot of cycles on the filler before I entirely trust the cement that keeps it in place.

Next, check out the thing I saw on Etsy this morning:

Identity of seller hidden for diverse reasons

Identity of seller semi-concealed for diverse reasons, some of which may be thought of a laudable by a disinterested observer

I don’t usually look into postings for Eight Balls, since I’ve already got a couple, and in this case I don’t think it was altogether coincidence doing the driving.  My response to the above was to stock my beard and say quietly, “Say… that sounds familiar.”  Let’s have a quick look at my own site’s profile of the DB offerings of Esterbrook:


Highlighting not appearing in original… and you don’t get to see the (Edit Page) link, either.

Why, yes, that is familiar!  What’s more, that awkward second paragraph in the Etsy posting is explained if you see some of its content in the original context:


…although I’ll admit it’s not exactly Shakespeare come again.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about this.  I should probably be storming around and demanding a link or a citation or… something, but the effort/reward ration to that doesn’t really push me to action, and there’s also this amusement tamping down the warmer emotions the whole thing arouses.  The lifting of this little bit of my content is, after all, something of an acknowledgement of status– my site is worth having content snatched from it!  The seller is also not trying to get too much more than this sort of thing is worth out of it, which after seeing a Sheaffer “Dolphin” on the flog for over $300 about a minute earlier makes me better disposed towards him/her/them.

I may possibly leave a note for the person selling the thing along the lines of “Glad I could help.”  Passive-aggressive, the sort of thing that leads to prolonged waiting for a second shoe to drop, and that quite suits me.

Today’s pen: Parker 75

Today’s ink: Diamine Sargasso Blue

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Papery Pondering

Posted by Dirck on 28 May, 2013

Complaint is a generally-exercised human right, denied to unlucky folks like Jasper Beardsley or Dan Hollis but otherwise available to even the most beset of folks.  We of the “first world” are pretty quick to run out our complaining mechanisms, and the subset of that group who fancy fountain pens my be considered to have honed complaint to something like an art-form.  Who else, for example, will notice that a component of a commonplace tool is out of alignment by a matter to tenths of a millimeter, let alone howl at the terrible effect of that misalignment?  I’m not saying we’re wrong (Gah!  Scratchy!), but it shades into “Princess and the Pea” territory.

The interaction of paper and pen is a frequent head of this highly specialized and carefully shaped complaint.  “This paper is terrible!” we cry.  “It doesn’t take the ink nicely!”  Those who wish to vex us for this sort of attitude will frequently respond, “Why would you choose a pen that won’t write on most stuff?”

There is, again, a grain of truth in both these stances.  I know I’m a lot happier writing on something firm and restrained (frequently made by Rhodia or Clairfontaine) than on something that robs my letters of their coherence.  Feathering is, yes, an unwelcome manifestation.  Yes.

But… I was turning this notion over this morning, and I realized that there are things a fountain pen is capable of writing upon that a ballpoint will have some trouble with.  It’s a matter of keeping your hand light, and being willing to admit the unwelcome manifestation into one’s life.  Consider the old saw about someone taken by inspiration at a diner, and dashing off a sketch on a napkin.  That’s got to be a ballpoint, right?  Remember that there has to be sufficient purchase on the surface to get the ball rolling– a cheap napkin will buckle and tear under that sort of use.  A quick, light hand with a fountain pen, though, and you find the occasional blot but not much in the way of crumpling–


The urge to pursue that line of thought to its conclusion takes me quickly to a reductio ad absurdum.  What other unsuitable papers might one attempt to write upon, if driven by need?  The answer seems contained in the question– for where and to what is one most commonly driven by need?


Let’s see a ballpoint do that.  Of course, in either case, a really soft pencil is probably a better choice– one may ask “what of permanence?” but the medium suggests that the best answer is a theatrical eye-roll.

Today’s pen (which produced the above samples): Parker Vacumatic
Today’s ink (not archival, of course): Waterman vintage blue

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Posted by Dirck on 27 May, 2013

Did I mention last week something about improving my karmic outlook?  If I accomplished that, then I must have narrowly averted an inter-cranial meteorite over the weekend.

On the pen front, I’ll mention the X-Pen that I made such a big deal out of trotting out.  On Friday night I was giving it a bit of a run, and I noticed something odd– the point was wiggling.  As any idiot will when presented with an unexpectedly wiggly thing (teeth, hardware fittings, portions of rock-faces), I gave it a little more wiggling.  The wiggle had specific parameters, but it also brought out some tufts of stuff.

My usual experience with tufts of stuff in connection with pens is habitual writing on bad paper and perhaps with poorly aligned tines.  Those tufts, though, are found between the tines or sometimes between point and feed.  In this case, the tufts were on the back of the point.  In this case, that’s almost certainly bad news.

The X-Pen is, remember, a capillary filler.  There are no channels involved in the traditional sense, since unlike the Parker 61’s arrangement there’s no feed.  Replacing that usually-required part is what might best be described as a wick.  I surmise that what has happened in mine is that the wick has disintegrated, or at least begun to disintegrate.  The reduction of material pressing against the point in its socket renders it loose.  The prolonged soaking out of ink begins.

At some point in the future, I may see about breaking into this pen and trying to address the problem.  For the foreseeable future, though, it will remain a shelf-bound curiosity.  That is, of course, not the sort of thing that bears the marks of cosmic retribution, and so I consider it in conjunction with the Sunday night fun I got to participate in.

Picture, if you will, a man laying at his full length on a floor.  Why’s he there?  An few hours of carpentry, done on his parents’ behalf to address a door that Winter had made unwilling to close properly, followed by the traditional Sunday afternoon drink and Sunday evening meal– all conspiring to make for a guy willing to relax and seeing a hard flat surface as a good idea for his back’s sake.  Picture further, a sturdy all-teak Danish modern coffee table occupying a space parallel to the chap in question.  A table easily capable of supporting an active four-year-old boy.

And no one in the room realizes what the boy is up to until he leaps from one to the other.  His feet went in between ribs and navel.

My first thought after the initial, untranscribable sense-impressions was “Crap, this is what Houdini died of.”  Apparently my son’s cartoonish act of parent abuse missed all the important rupture-prone organs, as there appears to be no serious lasting damage (but sore, oh yes indeed!).  He was, remarkable for his unempathic age, solicitous to me, as I lay there gasping and clutching, rubbing my back gently.  A boy’s first lasting lesson in consequences?  Or perhaps in the physical limitations of poor ol’ pop?

I hope so, as I really don’t want to try that again when he’s heavier.

Today’s pen: Waterman Carène
Today’s ink: Herbin Bleu Myosotis

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Speaking of Current Favourites

Posted by Dirck on 24 May, 2013

I was rattling about a current fascination with a new pen earlier in the week.  As part of the dressin’ up and goin’ out that constituted wedding anniversary observations yesterday, that pen did indeed find its way to my pocket.  The dressin’ up was a little over-grand, given the relatively lowly Italian-style chain we ended up at (lacking a sitter for the son), but habitual over-dress is a way of life for me.  Said restaurant held more delights for the boy than just lashings of pasta and the spectacle of his parents consuming a bottle of wine between them; he’s a precocious flirter-with of pretty waitresses of whom there were many, and someone in the semi-exposed kitchen kept breaking into extremely over-done fake opera singer noises.  My son, you see, is currently working at becoming word-perfect in all the works of Warners, and though a restaurant sing-along was a great idea.

The following cartoon is one he could reproduce, were the sound left off.  He’s getting pretty good at the different voices, too.

Today’s pen: Pilot Elite
Today’s ink: Jentle blue-black

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A Free Market in Action…?…!?

Posted by Dirck on 23 May, 2013

I’m going to re-pose a question found in yesterday’s silliness, but with a rather different thrust.  First, though, some groundwork.

I’ve just finished reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and in general I recommend it.  It’s miles better than Dreamcatcher, less sappy than Bag of Bones, and avoids the last minute bed-pooping of Under the Dome and Tales from a Buick 8 (although there’s a little bit there that will make you want to change the sheets just in case).  No Shining nor ‘Salem’s Lot, but a good read and a satisfying conclusion.  Since the blurb and dust jacket give this much away, I’ll mention that it involves time travel, since the setting is germane to my pondering.

The precise mechanism of the time travel and the goals behind it have the protagonist hanging out without a break from 1958 to 1963.  During this time, because he’s not a sociopath (not really a spoiler), he meets and befriends people of the time/place he’s in.  At one point, some of them give him a fountain pen as a gift.  There is also mention of buying refills for it later… in the book, but not in time.  I’ll digress to mention that I suspect Mr. King is throwing an anachronistic Waterman into the mix, since the few specifics of description he gives don’t really line up with a C/F or a less-likely C/C, which were the sum total of available Waterman cartridge pens in the US in the year of the gift (and I have a distributor’s catalogue to lean on for that statement).

What struck me, when I was done enjoying the afterglow of the rather good ending and the excellent overall narrative, and also done lamenting the small, possibly bed-soiling farty bit that separated them, was something that only a loonie of my particular stripe would conjure.  The chap buys Waterman cartridges in 1958, to put into the pen he’s given in 1962.  Leaving aside the paradoxes this suggests, and focusing entirely on the pen business, that’s not a problem.  There is, however, a side-issue which lurks behind it, very like the sort of scary monster King built his empire upon, but more benign and definitely inhabiting the real world.

All the major pen makers in North America, led by Waterman, adopted cartridge pens.  Waterman, which was busy expiring as a US company even as they did so, appear to have given over to them entirely.  Sheaffer and Parker also got around to that point, as did at some length the French successor to Waterman.  And yet, all of them persisted the production of ink in bottles, even unto the present day.  So it is of them that I thought the question I posed yesterday and refer to above: what’s in it for them?

This is a mostly rhetorical question, of course.  There’s a lot of other models and older pens still about in the world; I’ve put inks from the three suspects mentioned above into pens decades older then the ink itself, some of those pens made by companies no longer active.  Why not take, if already producing the fluid in great big lots, put a quantity of it in bottles and get some extra sales that way?

That’s not a line of thinking that I’m used to coming from modern corporations, though.  The whole point of the proprietary cartridges Sheaffer, Parker and the earlier incarnation of Waterman offered was to make people use only their inks.  Support for past platforms?  Owners of pens calling for the slender Cartridge II which Sheaffer offered will attest that this is not much of a concern.  There’s a vast amount of pushing of consumers into things by corporations these days (can you say that you wouldn’t be brought to reasonable satiety by a 45g bag of corn chips and a 300ml bottle of soft drink?  Were people marching in the streets, demanding 90g and 444ml, or was that the idea of the suppliers? Hmm?) and this reticence on the part of pen-makers surprises me.

Is it mere inertia?  Is there, in fact, so much call for ink from owners of other companies pens that pen companies which offer ink see it as a valuable line to pursue?  I honestly don’t know, and to some extent I don’t really want to dig around for the answers.  Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and the churchmen of medieval Europe all agree; curiosity is a sin, the indulgence of which can lead to pretty brisk consequences.  I prefer a world in which bottled ink is at least as freely available as it currently is, and asking those in charge of the means of production about the current state of affairs might prompt them to alter it.

Forget I mentioned it, in fact….

Today’s pen: Long Life mystery pen (as a cure for yesterday’s terrible fixation)
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Lis de Thé

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Caution: Risk of Infection!

Posted by Dirck on 22 May, 2013

We are all, I’m sure, familiar from our various efforts at improving our several states of knowledge from the inter-webz, with the horrifying prospect of mind-control as a reality in nature; the first example I ran across was the “zombie ant” fungus, but there are many, many examples (several of which feature in a mid-game exposition scene in Resident Evil 4).  It’s enough to make a person question what they believe to be their own motivations.

What brings this up is today’s pen.  It’s the Parker 75 whose extra shipping charges I was bleating about last week.  It was, as expected, a bit squalid when it arrived, but the main contaminant on it appeared to be an over-abundance of dried Silvo or some similar polishing compound.  A little bit of work with tools designed for dental hygiene, and the majority of the pen’s issues were abolished– there was a bit of tine alignment to sort out, but that was a nothing.  Happily, whoever what applied the lashings of polish was enthusiastic only in that regard, as once the chunks of it were removed, the underlying finish was intact.  This was great news, because the means of re-patinating the low points and then re-polishing the high are available to me, but the whole activity would constitute a chore.  Here, then, is what my slightly too much shipping and slight effort has produced:

Look long and hard! Obey any impulses that may arise!

Nice. Very very nice. So nice I can hardly bring myself to put it down now.  Which brings about thoughts of imposition upon willpower.  After all my exposure to nice pens, one would be forgiven in expecting a degree of jading, and yet this one is really pushing my buttons.  It’s not vastly more attractive than, say…

“Flies? Why would I want flies?” quoth the Renfield.

…and yet it calls out so much more loudly.  Is the occasional dark residue it leaves on my fingers mere oxidation, or some… other substance?  I might be mistaken in the nature of the stuff I scraped off the outside of the pen, after all.

The more sinister question that arises is the evidently inorganic nature of the Parker 75.  Ant-directing fungus has its own reproductive agenda on hand when doing its eerie work; what, precisely is in it for a pen?  The answer starts to veer from the realm of science into that of the occult, and even as I’m working to wrap up the entry I wonder if my paradigm isn’t a fact-filled (if somewhat ucky) Wikipedia entry but rather something more along the lines of The Ring; bad news for the readers if that’s the case, as I seem incapable of editing anything above this point.

I suppose if we all meet each other later this summer on a train going out to the Akeley farm, each with a big box of Santa Mira green peppers tucked under one arm, we’ll have an answer.  If not… well, it’s a very nice pen, and it’s new.  I suppose that might give it some prominence.

Today’s all-absorbing pen: Parker 75

Today’s mind-control serum perfectly normal ink: Diamine Sargasso Blue

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Improving the Karmic Outlook

Posted by Dirck on 21 May, 2013

I hope everyone enjoyed their long weekend of attempting to placate the shrieking ghost of Queen Victoria… although I suppose if one lives outside the Commonwealth of Nations that’s not something that’s required.  When not chanting the first chorus of “God Save the Queen” repeatedly while making sure none of the furnitures’ ankles were showing, I was putting some energy in the rehabilitation of a wartime Duofold.  I’m reasonably pleased with the results, so I will bore you with some pictures:

It wasn't born in a barn, but it apparently spent some time in one.

It wasn’t born in a barn, but it apparently spent some time in one.

In this state, gold should not have a pick axe applied to it.

In this state, gold should not have a pick axe applied to it.

Happily, ugly was only skin deep.

Happily, ugly was only skin deep.

...unlike in the point's case, where scars remain.

…unlike in the point’s case, where scars remain.

The beautified whole.

The beautified whole.

The diaphragm in the filler also needed replacement, but the real effort lay in the only partially-successful burnishing out of the deep dents in the point (which the before picture, even once you’ve clicked on it to enlarge, doesn’t really show in their’full terror).  The point-burnishing tools I got last year have hardly ever had such a work-out.  I’m pleased with the results, even with some remaining visual damage, and I’m also pleased to be sending this pen back to it’s owner in expectation of no more recompense than the cost of postage.

Wait… how’s that?

Back in March, there was a posting on a forum; a student had come to a teacher known to use fountain pens, to show what his grandfather had turned up out in the barn (yes, the caption above held truth).  Teacher came to the forum to enquire about what it might take to get this sort of pen back on its feet.

I think I may have revealed once or twice in previous entries that I am given to wild romantical notions, and perhaps even to the odd flurry of Quixoticism.  That sort of story of a trans-generational pen is exactly the sort of thing that hits my “Sucker” button.  I sent a message off to the teacher, offering parts and service for free, and last week the pen appeared on my doorstep.  I won’t say I spent the whole weekend working on it (son and I were alone all day Sunday, and there was important popcorn-eating and Pixar-watching to get through), but the relaxing part of the long weekend was definitely that which included this pen.

I know there are those, like the founder of Reiki, who will suggest that in not charging for my service I will devalue the pen in the eyes of the lad who in a few days will be able to write with it.  I hope not, and I suspect not; it’s a smashingly pretty pen, it came into my hands because he and his teacher had seen the difficulties attached to refitting a Vacumatic filler, and there’s the family connection to give it intrinsic value.  That there’s a little act of stranger’s kindness also attached to the pen’s story might help a little, but in all honesty, I hope that’s the last thing that occurs to him when he writes with it.  Better by far to recall how he came to have the pen, and the context of the pen’s construction (V for Victory on the point, eh?).

I profit intrinsically as well.  That is a pretty pen, after all, which I got to look at up close and in person, and I get the good feeling of having pushed Entropy back just a little bit.  I also get the small idiosyncratic victory of having put a very good pen in the hands of someone under the age of 20 who might never have known a fountain pen otherwise.

Of course, I may also have done myself a small karmic injury at the same time.  After all, once he writes with the thing, he’s ruined for modern pens, and that ruination is on my head as much as anyone’s.

Today’s pen: Parker Vacumatic
Today’s ink: Waterman vintage blue

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Oh, What a Giveaway!

Posted by Dirck on 17 May, 2013

No film today, not even a brief Monty Python clip as the title hints at; I didn’t have a chance to look.  In an attempt to make amends, how about a chance to win a box of rather nice pencils from the eminent net-shop Jet Pens?  AND a sharpener!

As another distraction, there’s a trial sample of a little notebook by a Korean stationer; I’ve never tried them, but my time in Korea was attended by rather nice paper (in addition to the mingled smells of diesel soot and seafood) so it has promise.  There’s a limited element of chance down the link, since you will get a book but don’t get to choose the variation that gets sent, and they ask $3 shipping.  I gave it a flutter.

Today’s pen: Long Life mystery pen
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Lis de Thé

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