Monday, November 2, 2015

Measuring nib flexibility, continued

It has taken some time to follow up on my proposed method of measuring nib flex as a function of writing pressure. The sample above was done on Clairefontaine paper, using a classic vintage extra-fine flexible dip pen nib, the Spencerian No. 1 Double-Elastic. Once the weighting of the pivot arm was set, using a digital scale, the nib was inked and set down on the paper, which was withdrawn to make the sample line.  In this preliminary trial, four weights were used: 15, 50, 150, and 200 grams. Line widths were 0.2, 0.5, 1.4, and 1.85 mm. Since this is a nib prized by calligraphers for its flexibility, it offers us a handy benchmark. We will be posting further test results shortly.

UPDATE: Below are improved test sheets for three different nibs: the Spencerian No. 1 (again); an extremely flexible Ladd & Miller #4 gold nib; and a flexible Fairchild #6, also gold. The ink was blue washable Quink, and the paper was our usual testing standard, Rhodia with a 5 mm grid. Weights used were 10, 25, 50, 100, and 150 grams. In our previous test we pushed the Spencerian No. 1 up to 200 grams, which it can safely handle, but 150 grams was pretty much the safe limit for our two gold nibs. Less flexible gold nibs could easily handle more pressure, of course, and would be tested accordingly.


Note that the Fairchild is very similar to the Spencerian within this range of pressure, with similar snapback as well (not something we are attempting to measure here, however). The Ladd & Miller nib has a larger tip, but it opens up with markedly less pressure than the other two nibs, both of which would be classified as full flex.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sheaffer demonstrator packing unit

Lately I've been working on new techniques for disassembling Sheaffer plunger-fillers with Triumph nibs. Getting those nib units out without damaging anything can be very tricky. While testing different approaches on various pens, I came across the inner barrel shown above. It's not uncommon to see the reuse of scrap material in hidden components, but the scrap is usually not transparent, as here. As is, it gives a good view of how a Sheaffer packing unit was constructed, with stacked layers of rubber sheet and grease-soaked felt.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

"Polypoint" three-color magic pencil

Three-color mechanical pencils are not uncommon. Nearly all use some form of slider to extend and retract the three nozzles. Much less common are those which make use of other mechanisms: twist-action and drop-action come to mind, with a tripling of the standard single-nozzle version's complexity. Taking it to the next level is this three-color magic pencil, where pulling the barrel back extends one of three nozzles, depending on how the forepart is rotated.

As with other high-quality three-color pencils, this example is sterling silver with hard enameled color indicators in red, blue, and black. While most are English-made, this one appears to be of American manufacture. Construction is solid, with considerable heft and fine attention to detail, but the nozzles are one-piece and not marked with the lead size -- marking that was the norm in Britain.

The only marks are found on the inner shaft: "PAT. APPL'D FOR" and "STERLING", followed by an unreadably small maker's mark that at first glance might be taken for Hicks's acorn.

After a quick look through our writing instrument patent reference library (and with special thanks to the compilations of Jonathan Veley), however, it became clear that the minuscule maker's mark must be that of Edward Todd, for the pencil's distinctive mechanism is none other than the one described in John C. Haring's US patent 940,247 for a "Polypoint Pencil", assigned to Edward Todd. The application was filed August 17, 1908, patent was issued November 16, 1909, allowing us to date this example within that span.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Nib blocks for all

Our latest project is just in -- affordable nib blocks, made in clear acrylic. A nib block is an essential tool for pen repair, allowing one to straighten bent nibs against either a matching concave or convex surface, using an appropriately-shaped burnishing tool to apply the necessary pressure to straighten and counter-bend. Nib blocks have traditionally been made of tool steel, but vintage blocks seldom hit the market and newly-made blocks have only been made in very limited numbers, the expense of manufacture and finishing keeping their prices in the hundreds of dollars.

Some years ago, we bought a group of old nib blocks from a long-established pen repair service in England. Most were tool steel in various shapes, but a couple were made of acrylic. Though they had some superficial scuffing and scratches from decades of hard use, they were still as good as ever, which inspired us to use the same material for a new run of nib blocks, enabling them to be priced at a level affordable for every pen hobbyist.

In fact, while there are some applications where steel has no substitute -- hammering, for example, and heavy-duty burnishing for displacement and hardening of metal -- acrylic has the advantage of having just a slight degree of "give", just enough to allow one to use pressure to apply bending force, as when one wants to straighten by counter-bending. Metal doesn't allow this, which is why a strip of thin paper is sometimes laid over a metal block to provide that "give" that the bare block lacks.

The blocks are now listed in our website catalog here, at $25 each. They are also available on eBay. We'll be bringing some along to the next few pen shows we attend, which will be Madrid and Los Angeles.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Waterman five-color Ripple

When I was new to pen collecting, I heard of (but never got to see) Waterman Ripples in experimental colors, colors other than the standard red and black, Olive Ripple, Blue-Green Ripple, and Rose Ripple. So when I was offered such a pen at this last Washington, DC pen show, I counted myself lucky indeed -- not to mention thankful, since a number of fellow collectors kindly helped steer the pen my way.

The vivid colors seen in the photo at top were not clearly in evidence at the time. A better idea of what the pen looked like can be had from the picture immediately above. It looked like an odd Olive Ripple with streaks of green, though the section, protected from fading, gave some idea of the material's original appearance.

As it turned out, the pen cleaned up beautifully. In addition to the tan, brown, and green, there is red and a bit of black. It may seem nitpicky, but the patterning of the cap and barrel doesn't match especially well -- not so much in the shape of the rippling as in the balance of the colors. Nearly all multicolor hard rubbers use just two colors, for the difficulty of getting even and consistent patterning increases rapidly as more colors are added. This isn't so much of an issue for artisanal production or for items sold face to face. For mass-produced pens marketed primarily through print advertising and catalogs, however, too much variation in appearance causes problems. Although I cannot prove it, I do believe the desire for consistency of appearance was the main impetus for the move from the amorphous mottling of early 20th-century pens to the more regular woodgrain patterning of the 1920s, out of which Waterman in turn developed its "Ripple".

Our understanding of how Ripple hard rubber was made is still incomplete. It seems likely that the process involved extrusion of tubes, which were mounted on mandrels for vulcanization. Looking inside the mouth of the barrel, there is almost no patterning visible inside, just an even biscuit color. From my experience having had patterned hard rubber made, I would bet that the variation between cap, barrel, and section stock is no accident, and that this was the best matching that could be done with the material available. Indeed, with such an ambitious combination of colors, it is probable that much of the experimental stock was entirely unusable.

Restoration of the pen was conservative. The surface was gently cleaned with a fine abrasive paste, in a water-based medium, and the cap band was temporarily dismounted in order to remove a dent.. The only part replaced was the missing lever box, into which the original lever was mounted. Though they may not be visible in the photos, the imprints are strong, though there is no model number imprinted on the barrel end.

Sheaffer 18KP trim

It had been at least 20 years since I'd seen another, and very possibly closer to 25. I have only seen one other, and it's been so long I cannot remember who owned it -- though it wasn't any of the leading Sheaffer collectors of the present day, none of whom could recall ever having seen an example.

So what is this mysterious "it"? A Sheaffer with trim marked "18KP", "P" undoubtedly standing for "platinum" [see addendum below - D]. This set came my way this past weekend, sold out of a collection reportedly in storage for the past few decades. Clips, cap band, crown, and nozzle are all fully marked, and are yellow-tinged white in color. Paradoxically, the one example I had seen long ago had trim that to all appearances was gold. I recall the discussion that ensued, since the markings didn't seem at all consistent with gold or gold filled, while the color wasn't consistent with platinum. Perhaps the trim was mismarked, though it is possible it could have been plated by an owner who preferred the look of gold.

ADDENDUM: Another apparent inconsistency was the use of the18K mark with platinum, since platinum is normally at least 900 or 950 fine, but Daniel Kirchheimer has pointed out that the "P" must denote palladium, not platinum -- the mark therefore indicating 18K white gold.

Monday, August 31, 2015

California interlude

We had a fine time at the San Francisco pen show this weekend, and will soon be heading home with our purchases. It may take a few days to catch up once we do get back, but all should be sorted out by the end of the week. Thanks for your patience, as we've not been able to do much correspondence over the past several days.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A unique Moore self-filler

When I first saw this pen at the DC show, I assumed it was a Grieshaber. The knob at the end of the barrel, the chunky cap with a fancy extra-wide band, all are distinctive features of Grieshaber hump-fillers. So much so, that when I was informed it was in fact a Moore, my initial reaction was disbelief.

Yet the barrel imprint leaves no doubt about it, and though the nib seems outsized, it too is Moore-marked.

Whereas the Grieshaber hump-filler (produced under US patent 956895 of 1910) uses an end knob to lock the hump to prevent accidental actuation of the attached pressure bar, this pen's end knob turns in place to actuate a rotating cover plate. This Moore is a sleeve-filler, with a rotating internal sleeve akin to that used by Century, as covered by Mooney's US patent 879,296 of 1908 -- the difference being that Century attached the sleeve to a rotatable section instead of a rotatable end knob. And though I have not been able to track down a patent, I have been able to find a Grieshaber sleeve-filler with the very same arrangement, though with cap and barrel proportioned more conventionally. On balance, it seems certain that this Moore was made by Grieshaber, an experimental venture into self-fillers for a company built on safety pens.


I have collected Moores for many years, concentrating on unusual mechanisms and configurations. Models that others marvel at -- Twistouts, ink-pellet pens, stylographic safeties, safety-like sleeve-fillers with sliding sleeves, cutaway demonstrators -- I've seen and owned them all. This Moore, however, is something completely new to me, and a wonderful reminder of how many discoveries remain to be made in our field of collecting.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A most unusual English-market chatelaine Waterman


This pen recently turned up at auction, fresh to the market. Even at first glance it was something out of the ordinary, a short (11.1 cm) #2-size straight-cap with a silver overlay in a seldom-seen and uncatalogued pattern, with London hallmarks for 1903/4 and FDW maker's mark leaving no doubt about it being a genuine factory-original product.

The side-mounted suspension ring is also clearly original, as there is a break in the straight-line chasing leaving a smooth area for its attachment. Upon reflection, however, this arrangement didn't make much sense. Other early 20th-century pens designed to hang by a chain fastened to a pin -- Swans and Houstons, for example -- had the chain anchored to the cap, so that the pen could be used freely once uncapped. A short chain attached to the pen's barrel wouldn't allow the pen to be used without unfastening the clip. Furthermore, the barrel lacked a posting end, which would leave the user holding the cap in one hand while dealing with a dangling chain and pin with the other.

When something doesn't make sense, it's a good indication to take another look. The only way I could imagine this pen working would be in a manner analogous to the chatelaine pen carriers popular in Britain in this era, with the visible barrel acting as a carrier for a removable barrel inside. And sure enough, there was an inner barrel -- though it took some time and effort to extract it, as it was cemented firmly in place by encrusted ink.

The inner barrel, once revealed, turned out to be finely line-chased in the manner uniformly used by Waterman for the inner components of telescoping assemblies (most commonly, two-part caps). Once removed from the outer barrel the pen does appear a bit ungainly, as the inner barrel is markedly smaller in diameter than the cap. It is entirely functional, however, and the cap can be posted on the barrel end in the usual way.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Parker colored Bakelite pens

Today's second under-our-noses discovery was in another issue of Parkergrams, dated September 1918, also in the PCA Library. Key passage:
" . . .we are now making the Bakelite in a translucent barrel in two or three very beautiful colors. It has been practically impossible for use to get any more of the Ivorine [this casein-based plastic was imported from France], so we have developed two or three colors in the Bakelite. A very pretty shade of green, for instance, one or two shades in red and pink that are really very beautiful."

Green and pink Bakelite Parker eyedropper-fillers . . . has anyone found one?  I'll have to review my photos of the Parker Archives -- perhaps some of these have been sitting there, misidentified as Ivorines.