Debra Messing Writes with Montegrappa

Debra Messing, the TV star best known for her roles on “Will & Grace,” “The Mysteries of Laura” and “The Starter Wife,” turns out to be a fan of fountain pens. She once posted on her Instagram account about one of her favorites being a white and rose gold Montegrappa Fortuna.

TV star Debra Messing will be reprising her role from the hit show “Will & Grace.” If you want to write like Ms. Messing, might want to pick up a Montegrappa Fortuna.

She clearly has incredibly good tastes.

Montegrappa pens are Italian works of art. Most of their pens use intricate celluloids that take a full year to cure. Plus, they are decked out with gold and sterling silver trim. Completing each fountain pen is a hand-tuned 18k gold nib.

Now that her hit series “Will & Grace” is slated for a comeback, we thought you might be interested in her favorite pen.

Follow the Leader

We have seen tons of Mont Blanc knockoffs over the years, but now it looks like even the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is getting in on the act. I just got my annual request for a donation…got a soft spot for our 4-legged friends…and they gave me a disposable click pen.

Everybody wants to be Mont Blanc, and now disposable pen makers are copying them. Although it doesn’t say Mont Blanc, it sure looks like one in design.

As I took a closer look, I noticed that its design looked exactly like a Mont Blanc 164 Classique ballpoint. NO. I realize MB’s don’t click…nor come in that red, but look beyond those differences. The shape, cap rings, nose cone, clip and topper are almost identical. Clearly, MB was the inspiration.

Yet, unlike any Mont Blanc, this pen was free. I’d love to see Mont Blanc sell a new pen for only $100, once again.

How Do I Start Collecting Pens? Vintage vs. Modern

You can’t go wrong with vintage or modern pens. In either case, it is best to do a little research to know what to look for to get the best deal. It also helps to know if you intend to use or display them.

MODERN PENS

Most people who are new to collecting pens start with more modern pens, and this is a great place to start. When you buy new, you aren’t buying into any problems not covered by a warranty. Plus, you can frequently find less expensive pens that help you get acclimated to the hobby while satisfying your jones for awesome writing instruments. If you’re enjoying your TWSBIs, Kawecos, Heros and Lamys, just revel in the joy they bring and don’t let any pen snobs get you down.

Lamy calligraphy nibs range in size from 1.1mm to 1.9mm. Each provides a distinctive nuance to you handwriting. The Lamy Joy fountain pen set is a great way to try all three sizes for fewer than $70.

The aforementioned brands are all great places to build up a daily-use collection on a budget, and you typically get great steel nibs with the Lamy pens and TWSBIs. Experiment with nib sizes and inks. The more you write with them, the better you will understand characteristics of fountain pens such as smoothness, feedback, flex, flow and the size grips (In more technical fountain pen parlance, the part you grip is usually called the section.)  that feel best.

Once the collecting bug has bitten, you might be tempted to branch out into vintage users, luxury users or vintage or luxury collectible pens. We will get to vintage in a minute, but for now we’re sticking to modern.

Like any car you buy brand new, the second you buy a brand new luxury pen, its price drops the when you bring it home. If you buy new, you get all of the joy of being the first to use the pen and are guaranteed it will be displayed without any damage. Yet, there is a great deal of money to be saved by purchasing luxury pens from Cross to Montblanc on the second-hand market.

To safely buy second-hand, it is best to have two checklists of things to investigate before spending your hard-earned money: the dealer and the pen.

As far as dealers go, check to see if they are established and reputable. Ask around on social media forums. Investigate the website. Check out their social media accounts and reviews. Is there a return policy? Do the descriptions honestly address damage and wear on the pens? Some pens might be perfect and listed as new old stock. But if a pen was clearly a daily user and is still described as absolutely flawless, get suspicious. Ask questions of the dealer. Most should get back to you within a day, unless they are traveling to a pen show. Feel free to ask for more photos. If you are buying from an auction site, never pay “buy it now” prices, as they are usually hyperinflated. Check the seller’s rating. If they have a few hundred or more sales with a 98% or higher approval rating, you’re probably pretty safe. Some bad vendors just keep creating countless new accounts to shed their old bad ratings. Don’t be afraid to buy from a brand new auction vendor, but don’t go crazy-high bidding. Also, especially on auction sites, set a budget for a pen. Even some fairly rare pens come up pretty often. Don’t be afraid to let them go until the right one comes along for your budget.

Montblanc pens are often authenticated by their serial number, “Pix” written under the clip and by coming complete with their box and papers.

If you are buying a pen as a user, make certain that the pen is in good working order. Get a good description for how the nib writes. If you are buying for display, make sure the pen is complete with minimal or acceptable wear. If you are at a store or pen show, ask to dip the nib and give the pen a scribble. Research ways to authenticate that the pen is not a fake. Most modern Montblanc pens since the mid-1990s have a serial number on the clip band, the word “Pix” in high relief under the clip and various models have other telltale signs of authenticity. For example: The black “precious resin” of the caps and barrels is really a translucent merlot red when held to sunlight or another strong light source. Most fakes of any brand also don’t have the original box and papers. Pens with boxes and papers typically carry a premium compared to ones that don’t.

VINTAGE PENS

Do not be daunted by the world of vintage pens. It is a ton of fun. Start slow. Get a feel for what you are doing. Do lots of research, and grow as you feel more and more comfortable. Unless you are independently wealthy, don’t start by spending $1,200 on a mandarin yellow Parker Duofold Senior that needs a complete overhaul. Start safely with a few fully restored $50 Parkers, Sheaffers or even Esterbrooks.

Sheaffer’s early nibs of the 1920s featured heart-shaped breather holes. Who says fountain pens aren’t romantic.

There are tons of great books and websites dedicated to vintage pens that can help point you in the right direction. Whether you want to restore, write or display, it won’t take long to get into the swing of vintage. Plus, most of these pens were designed specifically for daily use. Hardcore vintage pen lovers are convinced their nibs are better than most modern nibs. Plus the pens are more lightweight and designed not to let you cramp up during the writing of a long letter or journal entry.

Unless you are collecting for display, it is vital to know if the pen has been restored before you purchase it. Restored pens will cost more than unrestored, but there is no worse surprise than thinking you’re buying something that works only to discover it doesn’t. Even vintage new-old-stock pens might have some wear from rattling around a desk or drawer, so be sure to know what type of damage it has. Also find out about the pen’s nib? Is it original and/or in great working order? What size line does it write? When buying online this can be tough to gauge. The dealer might honestly find it is perfectly smooth because of the angle she or he writes, and you might write from a different angle that has feedback with the same nib.

If buying a vintage pen in person, always ask to see the pen before you pick it up. It is a very nice courtesy that saves dealers many broken or misplaced pens. When examining it, look it over closely for wear, discoloration and stains. Gently place the cap on your thumbnail and pretend to screw the pen on to your thumb. If there is a crack, your thumbnail will likely snag on it long before you can see it. Run your thumbnail over the threads of the barrel, too. Some cracks hide there, too. Ask to gently work the filler without ink to make sure it works. Again, ask to dip the nib to see how it writes. Try to get as close to your usual writing position as possible. Also check to see the strength of the barrel and/or cap imprints. Is there brass shining through the gold plate on the clip, cap band or lever?

PRICING

Comparison shopping is easier than ever in the age of the internet. Every site has its own pricing strategy, some offer better deals on certain pens than others. Follow pens on auctions sites to see what they are going for, too. You can even look up pens and check their “sold price.”

Mandarin Parker Duofolds are very fragile and rare. They are among the most expensive vintage Parker Duofolds.

If you see what look like two similar pens of drastically different prices, feel free to contact the vendor to ask why. Sometimes, subtle differences between pens can have huge effects on the price. One orange hard rubber senior Parker Duofold with two cap bands might look almost identical to the same pen in an early orange hard plastic, but their prices are going to be vastly different. (The old orange hard rubber is a lot rarer and more expensive.)

 

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Dealers are not usually hard, cruel keepers of pens. We like getting to know our customers. Don’t be afraid to e-mail or call with questions. If you build a good relationship with a dealer, they are likely to keep a lookout for pens you want at better bargains…giving you the first option to buy. Who doesn’t love dibs on great pens before the rest of the public can see them?!

Ink Fast Test #3

Attracted by the many colors and properties of Noodler’s Inks, I just had to start exploring.

Finding the right orange ink for me became an obsession last winter. Loving the color samples online for Apache Sunset and Habanero, they were the first in my cart.

The top portion of this photo showcases fresh writing with Noodler’s Apache Sunset, Habanero, Polar Blue and Anti-Feather Black inks. The bottom of this photo shows how much or little they faded after being exposed to 6 months of summer sunlight.

Noodler’s Apache Sunset looked much darker in the online sample. In real life it was more of a running Pumpkin-Gut yellow-orange. It doesn’t offer much by way of shadowing effects unless you use a really wet nib or more preferably a wet, wide stub nib. In the six months it was posted in my sunniest window, it faded the most heavily, which really wasn’t surprising.

Friends know me quite well for my obsession with fiery hot tacos (My buddy Adam and I invented the notorious Flaming Hot Orgasmic Tacos from Hell while in college.), and I could not pass up a Noodler’s Habanero ink. This one looks spectacular and is the darkness that I thought Apache Sunset would be. It became my favorite of my 4 new Noodler’s inks. Unfortunately, its blazing color doesn’t hold up well to the blazing fury of the summer sun. As much as I love the color, I have noticed it is rather viscous. Generally, I have to thoroughly flush my pen every time between fillings of the Habanero ink. If I don’t, the pen gets too clogged up to write by the time I am half way through the second fill.

Since beginning these ink fast tests, I’ve been desperately looking for inks that won’t fade heavily with time or light. Noodler’s Bullet Proof inks are perfect for archival writing. Six months in the summer sun did little to diminish the strength of Noodler’s “Polar Blue” and “Anti-Feather Black.” These inks are promised to be UV resistant, water resistant, chemical uneraseable and many other incredible features. Our tests proved that out. When we soaked one sample in water, the paper disintegrated more than the ink.

Noodler’s Anti-Feather Black ink only gets a smidge fuzzy after being soaked in water. It holds its properties incredibly well in sunlight and under water…once it has been let dry, that is.

Yet, there is a cost to these inks as well. They clogged the living daylights out of two juicy writing pens. It was a matter of time more than of use. If I were to fill a pen with Anti-Feather Black and write it to empty in one day, there’d have been little problem. If I wrote out half of the ink in one day and then waited a week to use it again, then problems developed. Ink would dry out on the ink feed and start gumming up the works fairly quickly.

As much as I love the deep, rich black of the Anti-Feather, along with its archival qualities, I only reserve it for special occasions, using only a glass dip nib. The Polar Blue was so frustrating, I gave it away to a friend who wanted to try it.

How Do I Start Collecting Pens? Know Thy Obsession

Starting a pen collection isn’t always easy. There are soooooo many great pens out there in need of a good home. Where do you begin?

There is no right or wrong way to begin, but sometimes it helps to narrow your options.

Do you like dip pens, fountain pens, ballpoint pens or rollerball pens? Do you prefer vintage pens or modern? Do you want to write with them? If so, do you want to use them for everyday writing or do you want to perform calligraphy or Spencerian scripts? Do you just love their design and aesthetic? Are you collecting for an investment? Are you looking to make an impression during special signing ceremonies? Are you dedicated to a specific period in history and only want pens to go with what is perhaps a larger collection of that era? Do you love to tinker with things and want to learn the art of pen restoration? Do you simply love the fact that millions and millions of dollars were spent researching and designing many complicated ways to fill a fountain pen with ink?

It is not unusual at all to find yourself drawn to one or more of these questions. Over the course of this series we will begin breaking down each of these questions and discuss the pertinent issues with each of them, along with other elements of collecting pens.

TYPES OF PENS

Defining the four major types of pens is a good way to find common understanding and definitions of what you are interested in collecting. Most of this might be what many of you already know, but you would be surprised by how many people are still learning. I especially want to encourage people to learn as much as they can about this fun hobby…and obsession.

Some dip pens are made of glass, gold, silver, wood and even ivory.

This is a modern dip pen made of Murano glass. It is great for testing new inks.

Dip pens are the most basic type of pens that use water-based inks. You can still find many beautiful examples dating back as far as the 1700s when ornate metal pens began replacing feathered quills. A dip pen can be typically made of metals, glass, wood or ivory. The writing point is called a nib, which was usually made of gold, glass or steel. To write, you simply dipped the nib in ink and started scribbling. Depending on the pen, you could write about two to ten words per dip. You can find many base-level dip pens with steel nibs for around $1. Yet, some dip pens are ornately made with silver, gold, mother of pearl, ivory and other precious materials. Big flexible gold nibs from the late 1800s are prized for their ability to create works of art with the Spencerian handwriting method.

Mug Shot of Shelby Foote: historian, author

Author Shelby Foote wrote his comprehensive history of the Civil War using an authentic dip pen of the era.

FUN FACT: The famous American Civil War historian Shelby Foote wrote the rough draft to his extensive two-volume history of the war using an authentic Civil War-era dip pen and period appropriate nibs! He said he did it to feel a closer connection with the people about whom he was writing and to slow himself down to really think about what he was writing.

Fountain pens, also known as ink pens, use gold or steel nibs like dip pens, but these pens were the first to carry an internal reservoir of water-based ink. Originally made of hard rubber, these pens first came on to the scene in the late 19th century. Fountain pens seemed to enter their glory days in the 1920s through the 1950s. Myriad mechanical systems were invented to fill a pen with ink. Pumps, levers, buttons, pneumatics, diaphragms, pistons, cartridges and converters have all been used to load a pen with ink. Another feature unique to fountain pens was the inkfeed. This is a special assembly under then nib that delivers ink to the nib while regulating its flow. Typically, fountain pens can hold 8 to 12 legal pad pages worth of ink. Some pens can hold a lot more ink and others much less.

American author Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain, was the spokesman for the Conklin Pen Company in 1903.

FUN FACT: Mark Twain was the first celebrity to be paid to endorse a pen company. The Conklin company of Toledo, Ohio, paid him to speak well of their Conklin Crescent. Twain claimed he liked their early fountain pen best because it carried its own ink reserve, and its crescent-shaped filling system prevented the pen from rolling off his desk. He left out the fact that he was the first author to ever write a novel on the marvelous new invention called the typewriter…and had no intention of going back to pens to write novels. Faster and ultimately easier to use and easier to read than a fountain pen, both writing instruments remained vital for myriad needs.

Ballpoint pens were first invented during World War II. Fountain pens use water-based inks drawn, normally, from glass inkwells. They are also gravity fed. Thus, while running around under fire in combat, it is difficult to keep your pen from making a mess and your inkwell to keep from breaking. A ballpoint pen uses a (typically) tungsten ball bearing at the base of a cartridge full of oil-based ink. The ink is more viscous and less likely to slop around and make a mess. The ball lets the pen write on most any surface. The early generation ballpoints had a lot of issues, primarily due to the ink drying too quickly inside the cartridge. Yet, once ink cartridges were perfected, these pens became infinitely cheaper and easier to mass produce than traditional fountain pens. The ink lasted much longer, dried instantly on the page and took a much longer time to dry out inside the cartridge. Soon the pens were gussied up with great designs that employed twists, clicks and caps to protect their writing points. These days, ballpoint pens rarely have caps and are more readily identified by being either twist or click pens.

FUN FACT: Parker first introduced its Jotter model click ballpoint pen in the 1950s, and it is still one of the most popularly sold ballpoint pens today!

Rollerball pens were the last major evolution of pen designs. Many pen users found that they missed the smooth, fast-writing action of water-based ink but preferred the ballpoint style compared to fountain pens. As such, the rollerball was born. It combined the best of both worlds by having cartridges that hold water-based ink that is delivered with a very smooth, fast and efficient ballpoint.

What type of pen is your favorite?

Me? I love all pens, but my greatest passion is for fountain pens. After discovering my late grandfather’s Sheaffer Lifetime when I was 9, I was hooked. It wrote better than anything I had ever experienced. I was a particularly strange child. I clearly remember resenting my first grade teacher who made us write with pencils. Dirty, ever-shrinking and inconsistent pencils. The sloppy, ugly stains left by erased mistakes. “Only adults can use pens,” my first through third grade teachers insisted. I genuinely resented them for it, and I routinely asked special permission to use pens on homework that was especially important. Weirder still, I would try to rally my classmates in protest of pencils. Honest to God! And I resented them when they preferred pencils and being shackled with the label of irresponsible children not yet ready for something as clean, dignified and mature as pens. I actually rejoiced when Ms. Bartuce permitted those of us with especially neat handwriting to use ballpoint pens toward the end of fourth grade.

You can ask my parents. I am not making this up.

I never dared bring my precious fountain pens to school, but I was particularly devoted to my clickable Parker Jotter in junior high. When I was an exchange student in Germany during my junior year of high school, all of my classmates saved up their money to drink themselves blind in a country that served alcohol at 16. Me? I knew that most Germans still use fountain pens and that I could get real bargains on brand new fountain pens that would be way too expensive in the U.S. Instead of getting drunk every night, I insisted my host family take me to a quality stationary store where I fell in love with an elegant stub-nibbed Rotring. (I wasn’t totally square. I also fell madly in love with a beautiful blonde fraulein who liked me as much as I liked her. We just never drank to the point of vomiting in the gutter.)

Sex Doesn’t Always Sell

Some ads get so ridiculous we have to laugh. The advertising campaign for the Cross Verve is always good for a chuckle, but it sure didn’t seem to help sell any pens. It isn’t difficult to imagine the ads as pinups for teenage boys, but the sales for the Cross Verve were awful. I don’t think the pen lasted in production for more than a year or so.

Failed fountain pen advertising for the Cross Verve.

They say that sex sells, but sometimes too much sex distracts from the product. Cross Verve sales never seemed to rise to the occasion that this couple did.

The ad featured a hot young couple wrapped around each other in only their underwear, and the woman is trying to write a card using a Cross Verve ballpoint pen. The man is reaching under her cami to advance their foreplay.

The woman looks mildly perturbed that her letter-writing is being interrupted. I always like to image the caption of what she’s saying to him.

“Stop squirming. I’m trying to write Mother.”

“God, you suck as a desk.”

“Do you mind? I’m trying to write a postcard.”

“How am I supposed to wrap my supple thighs around you and write a letter, if you’re going to get all handsy every time?”

The Cross Verve was actually a good writing pen, even if it was a bit on the ugly ultra-modern side. Sadly, it didn’t seem that even a hot young couple in the mood could sell it…although people might have been a bit too distracted by the hot young couple to notice or care much about the pen.

DC Pen Show Was Din-O-Mite!

ThePenMarket.com just celebrated its 10th birthday in style at the Washington DC Pen Show! I can’t believe we have never gone in the past. Despite some organizational hiccups, it was phenomenal. So many pens! So many collectors! So many new and old friends!

This is a Neuport 28 fighter plane used by the Americans against the Germans in World War I

My four days at the show were my four hardest working days of the year. Surrounded by so many great folks, it was all pens from sun-up until well past midnight some nights. It was especially great meeting several long-time Mid-Atlantic customers for the first time in the flesh.

So many pens, supplies, ephemera…

Working my table, I don’t have time to shop much at the show, so my one real show purchase for myself was my long-desired Mont Blanc Boheme with the rarer emerald clip stone. I’ve always loved these modern recreations of the “safety” fillers. Who doesn’t love retractable nibs on fountain pens?

Three WWI planes rest side-by-side when 100 years ago they would have been in a desperate fight to the death. Please note the excessively frail design of the twin-engine observation plane on the top of the photo.

For me the trip to and from is also part of my vacation time. On the way down to DC, I stopped at the Civil War battlefield of Antietam. It is breath-taking to stand on the site where more than 23,000 Americans were killed or wounded in a single day of combat. Sept. 17, 1862. The battlefield has been beautifully preserved by the National Park Service, which tries its best to recreate exactly the way the battlefield looked on the morning of Sept. 17. Kudos to them for their efforts. I won’t bore you with all the bullets and history this time around, but I learned so much from the rangers that most books seem to leave out.

It was a far more political battle than normally gets described, and while the soldiers basically fought to a tactical draw, the North crushed the South’s political goals and ambitions with its incursion into Union territory.

On the way home, I visited my other historical obsession: aviation! I went to the new branch of the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum out by Dulles Airport! This was absolutely fantastic. From an only-one remaining and phenomenally frail looking twin-engine World War I trench observation plane to the Space Shuttle Discovery, it is truly impossible to grapple with all of the rare planes that broke myriad records and the gear from some of the most famous people in aviation. I loved seeing the uniform of America’s top WWI ace Eddie Rickenbacker. Seeing one of Amelia Earhart’s flight jumpsuits was great. There are even items from Charles Lindbergh.

Okay. It isn’t that disappointing. The P-40 is easily my favorite plane from World War II, although this is not a genuine original used by the famed Flying Tigers. It still looks pretty nice hanging from the ceiling!

World War II aviation is my favorite, and the museum did not disappoint. Okay, I was actually really disappointed that they mocked up a P-40J Kittyhawk to look like a real plane used by the Flying Tigers when it never saw that actual action. BUT, the collection of insanely rare and limited German and Japanese planes was especially mind numbing. Many were the only remaining examples.

It is difficult to imagine any such museum where an actual space shuttle is just not as impressive as the rest of the collection. Nevertheless, I was surprised at how huge the space shuttle is. Plus, looking into the restoration hanger means that even more great rarities will soon be on their way.

President Trump’s Pen of Choice

(DISCLAIMER: This is part of an on-going series of posts and not a political piece intended to stir any ire of pen collectors. Please do not flood the comments section with your love or hatred of the man. It will not be published.)

President Donald Trump signs an executive order with a black-and-gold Cross Century rollerball pen that uses a felt-tipped refill.

This week we head to Washington for the DC Pen Show! It will be our first time there, and it is only fitting that we look, once again, into the pens used by our presidents. As we have covered most of the signing instruments of presidents dating back to John F. Kennedy, it is time to look at the pens most used by Donald Trump.

The early days of the Trump administration saw several pens used to sign his initial executive orders.

Six months into the new presidency, it appears Trump has settled on Cross Century pens that are black with gold trim. These are the iconic skinny pens most associated with the Cross brand. Trump appears to use the rollerball version with felt-tipped refills.

Although most of these pens are made in China, Cross is still considered one of the few remaining truly American pen brands. Now that Cross also owns the iconic Sheaffer brand, I had wondered if we might see Sheaffers in the White House.

We Have a Winner!

Happy Birthday, America!

More than 50 names were dropped into our trusty panama hat. Lucky John L. won our June Lamy Lottery. Congrats, John!

To start the celebrating early, John L. was the winner of our Lamy Lx Au fountain pen! We had more than 50 entries this year, and John was the lucky one whose name was pulled at random from our hat!

Congratulations to John on his epic victory.

Also, we’d like to send a special thanks to our Lamy rep Mike D., who so kindly acquired this brand new Lx for our June lottery!

And happy 29th birthday, America. No seriously, you don’t look a day over 240.

On Battlefields & Pen Shows

Now that I have the time to travel to pen shows by car (and after an airlines put $20,000 worth of pens on an extended vacation in cargo before returning them), I have determined to make the most of the road-trip experience.

Driving to the Atlanta Pen Show this year was particularly fun. In addition to loving pens, I also have been known to marvel over the American Civil War. As the drive through Tennessee and Georgia is rife with Civil War battlefields, I decided to stop in for a visit.

From the battle of Stone’s River / Murfreesboro (Tennessee) are a .69 cal. Minie ball, 2 .58 cal. Springfield rifle Minie balls, a .577 Enfield rifle bullet, 2 .58 cal. Wilson’s Cleaner Bullets, a .52 cal. Union cavalry carbine round and a piece of shrapnel from a 10-lb. Union Parrot gun (rifled cannon).

On the way to Atlanta, I made Murfreesboro my rest stop for the night. It is a surprisingly large and thriving city. I only knew it as a sleeply little junction during the war and assumed it had stayed that way. Far from. It isn’t quite Nashville or Memphis, but it is one of Tennessee’s biggest cities.

The national battlefield park at Stone’s River has been beautifully preserved. Stone’s River was a really big win for the Union as 1862 became 1863. They effectively swept the main Confederate Army out of the state, snatching a big victory from the jaws of an almost crushing defeat. The battlefield is known for landmarks such as the rocky-top terrain of the “Slaughter Pen,” Hell’s Half Acre (where a Federal brigade held off what should have been an overwhelming Rebel assault…among the members of that brigade was a young Ambrose Bierce, who would become a famous writer…a bitter wit and contemporary of Mark Twain) and the river crossing.

The national park is smaller than the full battlefield, but what is preserved is great. Plus, the guides at the info center are extremely friendly.

Just outside of the battlefield park is a Civil War antique shop. It was here that I lost my mind in Civil War relics bliss. The place is filled to the rafters with authentic rifles, pistols, swords, ordnance, spent bullets and more. The owner very kindly spent an hour with me, teaching me how to identify bullets, cannonballs and even bits of shrapnel! The inset photo features my Murfreesboro treasures. From left to right you have a .69 cal. Minie Ball (which could have been used by both the North or the South. These are, apparently, rarer to find. The Union was mostly armed with .69 cal rifles at the start of the war. As the South raided Union arsenals, they stole a big chunk of them. However, these rifles weren’t that great. Both sides replaced them as soon as they could with the superior…), .58 Minie Ball from a Springfield rifle (the Yankees’ primary weapon for the war), a spent .58 cal. Minie Ball from the battle, a .577 Enfield rifle slug (these smuggled British rifles were the primary weapon for the South), a .58 cal. Wilson’s Cleaner Bullet (a Northern bullet that was fired every 10th shot to rid the rifle barrel of sooty black powder residue and build up), a spent .58 cal Wilson’s Cleaner Bullet and a .52 cal. Union cavalry carbine bullet. In the background is a piece of shrapnel from a 10-lb. Union Parrot gun (rifled cannon). The bullets found in nearly perfect condition, he said, were likely dropped by nervous soldiers while trying to reload. You can imagine how terrifying it must be to see a line of several thousand men firing at you at once or running at you with their bayonets gleaming in the sun.

After several hours of getting my Civil War jones on, it was time to finish the drive to Atlanta. It was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve been on in years. Cutting through Appalachia was stunning. Spring had already long sprung down here, while Chicago was still just starting to turn green.

The Atlanta Pen Show was a ton of fun, as always. Jimmy Dolive and his daughter Suzanne put on quite a show. There isn’t much time for a vendor like me to wander and marvel over the pens, but it is always great seeing old friends and making new ones at the show. Many of the show’s highlights happened after trading had officially closed for the day. One of my favorite events was an informal after-hours get together in the hotel bar with many of the younger and newer bloggers and collectors. We all took turns showing off our favorite finds and latest ink samples. Plus, we all got to get to know each other much better.

Another fun night out had me at visiting the BRAND-SPANKIN’-NEW Suntrust Park, as the Braves took on the Washington Nationals. It was a ton of fun seeing the new ballpark with my Texas pen buddy Joe. The new stadium is quite nice, although I think I preferred the old one. (I’ve also been to their much earlier stadium known as Fulton County Stadium). The funny thing for me is how new it was. The vendors didn’t have their routines down, yet. The ushers weren’t really sure where anything was. The fans hadn’t developed as many rituals with the park, as they had in their old one. These things will all come and improve, but it was fun to see it opening week!

Once the show came to a close, I was on my way back home. I wish I remember the call numbers, but I listened to the greatest country honky tonk channel ever as I passed through northern Georgia. I stopped for the night in Franklin, TN.

Franklin was one of the last big battles for the Western theater of the Civil War. The Confederates were making a last-ditch, suicide effort to take Nashville and force the Yankees into a peace. The problem was that they suffered an overwhelming lapse of judgement and competency…letting the reinforcing Union Army march right through their lines without a single shot fired. Once the farming town of Franklin was reinforced, there was no chance for the doomed Confederate assault. In a charge over 1.5 miles of open terrain (a half mile longer than Pickett’s failed charge at Gettysburg), roughly 7,500 Rebels were cut down. A night of horrifying hand-to-hand combat ensued. The Union suffered minor losses compared to the full third of the Confederacy’s killed and wounded.

The townsfolk were so aghast at the carnage, they did all that they could to put it behind them as soon as possible. Very little land was preserved, unlike other major battles that became national parks. Here only three private pieces of property were preserved. I went to visit all three and was given incredible tours and insights into the battle. One farm house is still riddled with hundreds of bullet holes!

Although there was no national park to preserve it, I think I enjoyed Franklin even more than Stone’s River.

Two weeks later, it was time for my home show in Chicago! This, too, was great…and there was far less travel involved.

Later this year, I shall be attending both the Washington D.C. Pen Show and the Dallas Pen Show for the very first time. I cannot wait, as I’m told both are unforgettable experiences. I hope to see you there!