The Desert Island, Part 2
Posted by Dirck on 30 December, 2015
Now that the matter of ink has been dealt with, let’s consider the pens to put it into. I’m doing this in two phases, largely because I’m lazy and don’t want to work too hard today or tomorrow, and I’m dividing the selections into Vintage and Modern groups. As with yesterday, this is a rough order of preference. I am also leaving out of this consideration purely sentimental reasons– I have, for example, a couple of relatively early Parker Duofolds which are gifts and thus dear to me, but without that connection they’re not wonderful pens and so don’t follow me into my south Pacific exile.
I have said many times and in various places that I’m not a celebrant in the Church of The Divine and Perfect “51”, so it may come as something of a surprise to find it on this list at all. While I don’t take any sense of the numinous from the Parker “51”, or at least no more than from any other decent pen, I will admit to its virtues. They are, generally, very nice writers. They are made of profoundly durable materials, particularly those made just after the switch to the Foto-Fil with Pli-Glass reservoir– the Aerometrics as they’re known to anyone who isn’t staring at period advertising. They are, for those not too bound to the open point, handsome enough pens. Thus, one gets to come along.
The Vacumatic lacks some of the points that sees its successor on this list. They are not uncommonly durable. To keep the filler working, I’d eventually need to open up The Professor’s old lab, find a tree that produced latex, and also figure out where on the island Kirk fought the Gorn so I could lay my hands on some sulfur for vulcanizing. However, they are a very pretty pen, and even on an island paradise with its amazing sunsets and vibrant flora I perceive there will come a day when aesthetic satisfaction from the works of Man will be wanted. Also, whatever powers of writing performance the “51” has it came by honestly as a descendant of the Vacumatic. A Vacumatic was one of the first vintage pens I got my hands on, and I was shocked at how nice writing could feel.
Frankly, there’s not much to tell between the Vacumatic and the Waterman Hundred Year Pen, and a casual observer may think I’m being redundant in this choice. However, if I preface it by saying the Hundred Year I’d take is not the one shown here, I make a better defence. No, what I’d want would be the early Lucite form of the beast, which gives it some of the durability of the “51” at least, and a taste of the visual splendor of the Vacumatic. It also has a profoundly nice point, big enough to stand in for a shovel if pressed, and the sort of easy semi-flexible writing that a lot of pen enthusiasts dream of when they start considering the whole notion of vintage pens.
I believe I hear the slamming on of mental brakes. “What’s this? The Parker 75 isn’t vintage! What is this guy at/on?!” I can offer some persuasive arguments that the “51” isn’t vintage, either, but we’ll leave that aside for a moment. I decided when I began compiling this list that I would set the cut-off line between Vintage and Modern in 1966*. This is highly arbitrary, of course, but it’s based on what I view in my site’s history of pens as the beginning of the dark ages for fountain pens, and the end of a golden age seems as good a way to define “modern” as any other. That it coincidentally also allows for the bench-mark of “older than me” which many hold dear was not (consciously) an element in the figuring. Since there are a few years of production of the 75 before this utterly capricious watershed, and since those few years were full of what I find the most mesmerizing pen in the world, I’m setting it here.
And “mesmerizing” is the main reason for its inclusion. It is a nice writer, certainly, but it’s also a pen that I can sit and look at for hours if no interruption offers. What better bulwark against the growing tedium of island life than a means to escape reality entirely? Even better– unlike a cask of rum or a crate of opium packed in crab tins, either of which my childhood reading suggests as possible wave-tossed salvage, staring idly at the pen won’t damage my organs. There’s also a practical reason to choose this pen– it is at base a big lump of silver and gold, the sort of thing even a perfectly illiterate pirate might accept as payment for setting a castaway down at a port of some kind, the first step on the road back to civilization.
I said at the outset that I wasn’t letting sentiment do the driving on this list, but I stand now at the threshold of hypocrisy. This pen is here, in the final and premiere position on this list, because it fits into a space in my imagining of the world that describes the truest ideal of the notion of fountain pen… and if you think that’s a supremely irrational notion, I’m in total agreement. I have deflected myself somewhat in this bowing to unreason, in that the slightly more oval profile of the previous vacuum-filling pens is even more correct a fit into that hole, but the mechanism in them is a persistent source of worry. The early Touchdown gets the nod as most favoured vintage pen, then. It is, also, at least as smooth and willing a writer as any of the other pens in this list; I’m not completely swayed by looks.
You will no doubt be wondering at the entire absence of thinks like the Duofold or the Balance, or a whole bunch of Waterman’s early output. The last I can at least say respond to– do you really want to see a bunch of hard rubber pens exposed to the light and salt spray of an island paradise? I can’t cower in my two-story bamboo mansion the whole time! The others I can’t dismiss as easily. Anyone who has taken the time to look through my site at length will find that I don’t have a lot of dismissal in me as far as fountain pens go. The ones that are not here are absent not for any particular flaw, but from a combination of what I perceive as the strengths of these five, and of course for rather more subjective reasons of liking.
I’ll be applying the same dubious filters to modern pens tomorrow, just before I take my cask and crate of tins out to a party to see off the old year. As with the previous entry, I don’t just leave the door open to commentary, I actively encourage it.
*This policy is for the purpose of the current exercise only. I remain as open on the idea of “vintage” as the link in the sentence this footnote hangs from suggests, and outside today and tomorrow will continue to dodge any attempt to pin down a specific date to attach to the idea.