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Here’s Hoping

Posted by Dirck on 16 June, 2014

I’ve mentioned a couple of times in the recent past that there’s a review I have been meaning to at, as soon as I remembered to process the pictures.

Well, it turns out it was “picture”, singular. I thought I’d snapped more.

No, I have not shown you this picture previously. It just looks rather like a lot of other pens.

What we have here is a bit of an enigma, and I have little to offer on it other than my own particular flavour of speculation.  The word, offered by none other than Dame Rumour herself, is that this is a company set up in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation, and that the production was aimed at sales to the occupying forces.

I have no evidence for nor against this.  However, it doesn’t sit quite right, for a few reasons.  First, there’s the very notion of a new business setting itself up in wartime Holland.  Amsterdam, unlike Rotterdam, was not particularly worked over in the invasion, so it’s not an impossible prospect, but it seems likely that anyone doing so would be apt to be tarred with suspicion of collaboration even if they were not collaborating with the invaders.  That would make it hard to hire much of a workforce, if my father’s stories of the social forces in the Netherlands at the time are valid.  However, like certain current national governments, the Nazis were great friends to business, so it’s not absolutely out of the question.

With an eye specifically on pens, established makers in Germany like Pelikan and Montblanc were rather oppressed by the demands of the wartime economy, and it seems out of character for the Reich to smile upon an effort to set up new enterprises which weren’t given to at least nominally military goods.  If the target market were the Dutch population itself, it might be a little more likely, but since the Dutch population was having trouble getting enough to eat, the pen market was probably not so big.  There were the occupying forces, of course, but (1) they were busy with the occupation, (2) they also didn’t constitute a huge market (non-comms and other ranks got more mileage out of pencils, officers weren’t so thick upon the ground), and (3) I suspect they’d prefer a German pen, just to keep the Gestapo from asking pointed questions about loyalty.  One is led to believe this last item became extremely pointy as the war went on.

Then there’s the name– “espero” is Spanish for “I hope”, on the face of it a likely name for a company set up under the shadow of the Nazi eagle, and the sort of thing the Dutch have gotten up to since at least the time of Napoleon when very unlikely family names were offered to tax collectors (things like “of the Salmon” or “the Ribbon“– ridiculous!).  Spanish is a very odd choice, though, as if there’s any nation the Dutch have a historical grudge against, it’s Spain– the yuletide threat against naughty Dutch children is the prospect of being spirited off to Spain by the helper of St. Nicholas.  Now, this may have been a way to disguise subversion, and the same word is used in Portuguese, so this may be another front of speculation that can’t stand up to scrutiny, but I still harbour doubts.

Espero

“The better fountain pen made in the Netherlands”

There is, however, evidence that Espero is an actual Dutch company.  The image to the right is, according to the scanty information provided at the source, from March of 1949, so if the brand wasn’t wartime it might be a post-war employment builder like Merlin.  The slogan is a bit of a slag upon other Dutch pens, because the examples I’ve seen on the internet prompt one to ask, “Better than what, exactly?”  One may usefully compare Espero to Wearever of similar age; an exterior of perhaps slightly better than average attractiveness, filled with works that aspire to nearly being adequate.

The actual pen I had in hand, for example, is a generally robust button filler– it seems a reliable rig, but the whole inner mechanism was gone.  I don’t think it actually dissolved, but if someone took the trouble to shake it out, it can’t have been in good shape.  The clip is interesting, as it is mounted on a very flexible bit of steel in such a way that it can be opened like a clothes-pin, similar to earlier Conklins and the later Sheaffer Stylist.  However, that very flexible spring also gives a little tremulous feedback, as if it is only just holding itself together; “hope springs eternal” does not seem applicable in this case.  The plating is very nearly a res ipsa loquitur;  it might be gone merely due to a long and interesting career, but it’s more likely a result of having been no more than a couple of molecules thick.

The point… how can I hope to comment on it?  If this is a post-war rather than a wartime pen, it might be the original.  If the pen is pre-1945, though, it almost certainly can’t be– it’s of English manufacture, and the rules governing gold-use under the Nazis were essentially “Send it all to Goebbels; he’ll put it somewhere safe.”  Pelikan and Montblanc were having trouble getting any.  A start-up in Amsterdam was unlikely to get special dispensation.  Having said all that, it’s a delightful example of a loose flex point, and I was very happy to have a chance to play with it, however briefly.

And that’s about all I’ve got on the topic.  I hope I wasn’t too contrary, and I hope the owner of the pen enjoys it for a good long time.  Hopefully it’s such a tissue of nonsense that someone with firmly grounded facts will swing in to explain the truth of it all.  We live in hope!

Today’s pen: Cross Century II
Today’s ink: Diamine Sherwood Green

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One Response to “Here’s Hoping”

  1. Before I get a quantity of Dutch people complaining about one of my links– I know it’s “het” rather than “de” when looking a ribbons. I cannot know what was going on in the offices of those French-backed tax gatherers.

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