What's up at Ravens March.

Vintage pens-Handmade books-Silly statements

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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