Monthly Archives: November 2013

Make Your Own ‘J’ Pressure Bars

See how the needle nose pliers have started making a box in the end of the brass flashing as I restored this Sheaffer 5-30.

See how the needle nose pliers have started making a box in the end of the brass flashing as I restored this Sheaffer 5-30.

When I first learned the art of fountain pen restoration, there weren’t as many readily available modern replacement “J” pressure bars to fix most standard lever-filling vintage pens. You could try to scavenge J-bars, but they were so old and brittle, they were prone to breaking.

Fortunately, the man who taught me the art of pen repair was a master of improvising repair work. He taught me a lot about do-it-yourself repairs and engineering. As our goal was fully restored pens that worked as good as new, instead of featuring only all original parts, we had a lot of leeway.

Probably the best and cheapest trick he taught me was to fashion a J-bar out of brass flashing that sells for about a dollar a foot at your local hardware store.

Insert the new pressure bar J first, and make certain the length of the new spring is resting on the lever. Pulling out the new J-bar can risk damaging the lever-filler assembly, so try never to pull the new J-bar if possible.

Insert the new pressure bar J first, and make certain the length of the new spring is resting on the lever. Pulling out the new J-bar can risk damaging the lever-filler assembly, so try never to pull the new J-bar if possible.

I suppose you could use steel flashing, but brass has the advantage of not rusting. Either way, be sure to select a very thin piece that has a lot of flexibility. You will also need scissors that can cut it and a pair of needle nose pliers. Once you get everything together at your work bench, follow these steps.

1. Cut the flashing to be the same length as the barrel of the pen you are restoring.

2. Trim the edge of the flashing along its length to get it to fit in the pen barrel. Remember, keep it wide enough to be engaged by the pen’s lever. Some levers don’t push straight down. Some slip to either side. Make sure you cut the flashing so it is wide enough to accomodate this deviation.

3. Test the flashing by inserting it–still straight/unbent–into the barrel to see if it fits well and gives the lever enough space to manuver.

4. Slip the flashing back out of the barrel.

5. Using your needle nose pliers bend one end of the flashing into an arc. You will only want to bend the last 1/4 inch to 1/2. I like to bend the flashing into 2 90-degree angles. This makes a boxy J. It is perfectly fine to make an arched J.

6.  Test to make sure the J is just wide enough to slide into the barrel, while also providing enough resistance against the barrel walls to anchor it.

7. MOST IMPORTANT: Before final installation, remember to line up the J-bar J first into the barrel with the outside portion of the pressure bar against the lever.

8. Insert the new pressure bar assembly into the pen with your needle nose pliers. Push it all the way into the tail. Be careful not to push the pliers deeper than they are meant to go into the pen. They can easily split or shatter the barrel.

9. Insert the resac’d section, and make sure it all fits okay. If it doesn’t you can either trim down the sac or pull out the new J-bar with care and trim it to make room. *** It is important to note that many lever fillers have a pin or pin-ring that holds the lever in place. Pulling out the new J-bar can snap or ruin that thin piece of metal holding in the lever, and that is a lot harder to fix.

It is always best to make sure you got all of your cuts measured correctly the first time.

Your new J-bar will likely never be as effective as the old one, but it will fill your pen reasonably well. Plus it will also have saved you plenty in parts and labor. Believe it or not, you’ll feel a lot closer to your pen once you’ve restored its guts on your own.

‘Out of Africa’ into the Pen Blog

This still from the 1985 movie "Out of Africa" shows Meryl Streep holding a gold pen given to her by a character played by Robert Redford. Is it a Waterman 52? A Wahl?

This still from the 1985 movie “Out of Africa” shows Meryl Streep holding a gold pen given to her by a character played by Robert Redford. Is it a Waterman 52? A Wahl?

Last week we had a request from loyal reader Karen P. to find a picture of the pen used by Meryl Streep in her Oscar-winning movie “Out of Africa.”

Finding a picture of the pen was relatively easy. Identifying the pen is a different story.

For those of you who are not familiar with the film, it is based on the true story with the same title by Danish baroness Karen Blixen, who initially wrote under the pen name Isak Dinesen. Autobiographical, it is the saga of Blixen, played by Streep, marrying for convience and title, moving to Danish colonial Kenya, establishing a successful coffee plantation and ultimately having an affair with a big game hunter played by Robert Redford. (As her husband has slept with half of Africa, she’s owed Robert Redford.)

The film was directed by Sydney Pollack and earned 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture. Most remarkable are the sweeping shots of Africa. Few movies will make you want to book a flight to Africa faster.

Anyhow, after their second encounter, Redford’s character gives Streep’s character a beautiful gold or gold-filled fountain pen. It looks like a clipless lever-filler that looks to be about 13 to 15cm when capped. Sadly, there are no close ups on the pen, as Blixen writes in the film. Therefore, I cannot fully I.D. the pen.  It might even be an eyedropper pen, as it is given in 1914, and this movie has paid close attention to the details on vintage everything.

This is the closest vintage pen we currently stock that looks like Streep's pen. It is a lever-filler by Hutcheon.

This is the closest vintage pen we currently stock that looks like Streep’s pen. It is a lever-filler by Hutcheon.

Taking the easy way out, I could recommend that it might be a Waterman or Wahl, as they made plenty of slender gold-fill pens. The closest pen I have for sale is a faux gold Hutcheon lever filler that looks to be from the 1920s.

If anybody has a better idea of what the movie pen is, please write in and help Karen. Thanks.

When Hard Rubber Misbehaves

A Waterman's #15 eyedropper soaks in water to help loosen the old ink sealing its threads.

A Waterman’s #15 eyedropper soaks in water to help loosen the old ink sealing its threads.

Old hard rubber pens, especially eyedroppers, can be a difficult repair because the pens are so old and frail. It is very easy to overtorque them and crack or crush them.

The problem, especially in eyedroppers, is that old ink effectively turns into glue on these old pens. Eyedroppers are so problematic because the ink always seeped into the threads that held the section to the hollow barrel that served as the pen’s ink reservoir. Other pens with ink sacs get ink-glued when the old sac gave out flooding the inner barrel with ink.

Lucky for you, the solution is really simple. Once again H2O comes to the rescue. Fill a cup with room-temperature water and soak the pen over the line separating the section from the barrel. Let it soak for 12 to 48 hours. This is usually enough time to loosen the old ink and allow the pen to open the way it should.

Sometimes it takes a little heat. Heat is the enemy of your old hard rubber pens. Open flames will melt or burn the pen very quickly. Hot water will discolor the pen, too. If you need the heat, just hold the pen briefly under warm to hot water flowing from your kitchen tap. Don’t expose the pen to the heat for more than a couple seconds, and keep an eye out for discoloration. It doesn’t take a lot of time or heat to start the discoloration process.

Was Mark Twain the First Pen Pitchman?

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

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

Samuel Clemens, better known to lovers of classic American literature as Mark Twain, was possibly the first famous person used to sell a specific make and model of pen.

Twain was the writer of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “Life on the Mississippi,” “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” and what might be my favorite “new” find of the year “On the Damned Human Race.” (I have yet to read it, but with a title like that it has serious potential.)

His pen of choice…at least when paid to say so…was the Conklin Crescent. In 1903 he was quoted as saying, “I prefer it to ten other fountain pens because it carries its filler in its own stomach, and I cannot mislay it even by art or intention. Also, I prefer it because it is a profanity saver; it cannot roll off the desk.”

You can see on this gold-fill Conklin circa 1900 the crescent that would keep the pen from rolling off Twain's desk.

You can see on this gold-fill Conklin circa 1900 the crescent that would keep the pen from rolling off Twain’s desk.

In addition to being the paid spokesman for Conklin, Clemens was the very first author to start composing novels on a new fangled invention called the typewriter. The novel was “Tom Sawyer.” Can you imagine writing a book that long with a pen? Can you imagine being the poor editors back in the day who had to decifer the handwriting in hundreds of manuscripts?

The Conklin Pen Co. was originally located in Toledo, Ohio. The unique part about it was that instead of an eyedropper or lever filler, it used an ink sac activated by a crescent protruding from the center of the hard rubber pen body. That crescent was connected to a flat metal bar that simply squeezed the ink sac. It was prevented from being accidently activated by a hard rubber ring that served as a safety that had to be spun to a clearing that would allow the crescent to be depressed.

Roughly a decade ago, the Conklin Pen Co. was revived. As part of their revitalization, the company restored the Crescent model to the selves of pen retailers. They even made a special model dedicated to Mr. Clemens.

At ThePenMarket.com we have an original early 20th century black hard rubber crescent filler and a much rarer gold-fill Conklin Crescent.

Treat Yourself as You Write Your Christmas Cards

With its striking greens and golden browns, this beautiful Parker Duofold fountain pen from 1941 would make an ideal pen for writing your Christmas cards. Not only does it look good, it is fully restored and has a very smooth fine-medium nib.

With its striking greens and golden browns, this beautiful Parker Duofold fountain pen from 1941 would make an ideal pen for writing your Christmas cards. Not only does it look good, it is fully restored and has a very smooth fine-medium nib.

I love writing Christmas cards. I don’t do group letters or holiday e-cards. I don’t care if you think it is hoaky. I love sitting down with some hot chocolate, my favorite holiday CDs and writing actual Christmas cards.

It is part of the holiday ritual that helps get me in the mood for the season’s festivities. It is a cathartic time to reflect on the past year and reconnect with my family and friends who are flung to the 4 corners of the map. For many of these people, this is the only time I hear from them…and they me.

The smell of vintage Sheaffer green ink for the cards and modern Parker red for the envelopes is heartwarming.

Plus, part of the ritual is selecting a new, or new-to-me, fountain pen to add to the collection and joyously write up each card and letter.

While it is way too early for me to buy the cards, let alone start writing them, this is the time I pick up my new or vintage pen. I’m already winnowing down my options…a restored Snorkel, a brand new Pelikan, or maybe that Cross Century II midnight pen with little pin-point stars that came out a couple years ago. The process of making that selection is half the fun.

Whether you are planning on sending out your first Christmas cards or 70th season’s worth of them, treat yourself to a new pen to make the most of your holiday writing experience with our more than 200 fully restored vintage pens and lightly used modern pens.

We Don’t Want No Fountain Pen Drama, Ladies

Despite the beautiful watercolor painting and classic 1930s fashion, this vintage pen ad is loaded with sexism that seems sure to guarantee the Lady Duofold never sold.

Despite the beautiful watercolor painting and classic 1930s fashion, this vintage pen ad is loaded with sexism that seems sure to guarantee the Lady Duofold never sold.

Seriously, how effective was this catty Parker Duofold ad from 1931?!

The ad headline reads like a movie synopsis for a cheap melodrama about a bunch of bitchy women who haven’t got much else to complain about in life. In case it is too small on your computer or mobile device it reads: “She laughingly apologized whenever she borrowed a pen, but she left a trail of ill will.”

It is hilarious for all of the wrong reasons.

The copy block only gets better…I mean worse:

“She had an ‘inexpensive’ pen, but it never seemed to work. In buying it, she thought she was saving money. But she only ran into people’s debt by borrowing pens.

“Because her request always met a courteous smile, she little suspected herself of being a nuisance.”

Is it any wonder Parker stopped making “Lady’s” pens not long after this ad came out in 1931?

As bad as the marketing was, the Lady Duofolds were and still are remarkably good pens. They write smoothly and are easy to maintain. We have a very nice one for sale, if you don’t mind a little discoloration. It still works perfectly. CLICK HERE to see this fully restored vintage pen.

Fountain Pen Ink 101

This is just an "inkling" of ThePenMarket.com's private collection of vintage and modern fountain pen ink. It includes Sanford ink, Sheaffer towers of ink, Carter's ink and Parker V-mail ink from WWII!

This is just an “inkling” of ThePenMarket.com’s private collection of vintage and modern fountain pen ink. It includes Sanford ink, Sheaffer towers of ink, Carter’s ink and Parker V-mail ink from WWII!

Many people ask me about ink and what they should use in their pens, and it is a great question.

The best rule of thumb is to never, ever use India ink. It has sediments that will clog your pen faster than a diet of Big Macs will clog your arteries. While these pens can be unclogged, it is often a time consuming mess that could potentially damage the pen.

Most of the major name brands make very reliable fountain pen inks that are specially designed to help clean your pen as you write. They might slowly clog your pen over time, especially if you routinely let the ink dry inside your pen. However, they are easier to unclog with a simple flush.

Brands such as Parker, Waterman, Sheaffer, Mont Blanc, Cross, Pelikan, Lamy, Aurora and other major pen makers are always safe bets.

Many modern pen lovers swear by a brand named Private Reserve. These specialty inks offer a zillion different colors that are truely vibrant and beautiful. My trouble with them is that they have always clogged my pens within one or two fills. Personally, I don’t feel they are worth the trouble. Other collectors I talk with insist they never have the trouble with clogging, but I am far from being alone with that issue.

Ink color should also play a role in your decision. Black, blue and blue-black are always safe choices. Red inks have a notorious past for more quickly rotting ink sacs. Even modern red ink shouldn’t be left to set in pens for very long. It is safe to use, but flush your pen when you are done with the ink. Other colors such as greens and purples have a checkered history of ruining ink sacs and pen seals if left in the pen for too long.

One of the many great myths about Mont Blanc pens is that they can only use Mont Blanc inks. The company line is that their inks are specially formulated to preserve and protect their fountain pens. That might very well be true, but most of the other major brand inks are just as safe. Mont Blanc just wants to cash in on their overpriced ink.

Can vintage pens use modern inks? Absolutely. That is virtually all I’ve ever used on my vintage pens.

Can you still use vintage inks on your modern and vintage pens? Certainly! Despite the fact it is a liquid, there are still huge reserves of fresh bottled ink from the 1920s up to present day. Most of the inks in the photo above are from the 1950s and ’60s, and they are still very nice. The #1 vintage ink you want to avoid is “Parker 51 Ink” or “Super Chrome” ink by Parker. It was designed for use in the Parker 51 pens that used latex/silicone ink sacs. The chemicals in the ink very quickly rot traditional rubber ink sacs, diaphragms and piston seals.

Vintage inks can go bad every now and again. When buying vintage ink, check it for “oil slicks,” stuff growing on or in the ink and color separation. Sometimes the old ink loses its pigmentations. Don’t use it if it has any of these issues.

One of my favorite hoaxes in history used vintage inks from the 1880s! In the 1990s, the supposed diary of Jack the Ripper was discovered in London. The diary was to have belonged to one James Maybrick who was never on the radar of “ripperologists.” The initial results on the paper and ink proved they were genuinely from the 1880s. Later tests realized that the diary had been written in the 1950s and cleverly tucked inside a wall of some old building or house, not to be discovered for another 40 years when new owners discovered it during a remodel. I think that makes the hoax all the better, as whoever perpetrated it was likely dead by the time it hit the book stands. That type of patience for a laugh deserves respect.

The Pens of Presidents Kennedy & Johnson

This collection of pens signed 50 iconic American laws into effect by President John F Kennedy and President Lyndon Baines Johnson from 1961 to 1967. It appears Esterbrooks and Parker 45 were the go-to pens of choice.

This collection of pens signed 50 iconic American laws into effect by President John F Kennedy and President Lyndon Baines Johnson from 1961 to 1967. It appears Esterbrooks and Parker 45 were the go-to pens of choice.

How’s this for the ultimate pen auction? 50 pens used by presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to sign bills into law from 1961 to 1967!

Attentive reader Linda Greenstein sent me the link to this amazing pen collection.

The auction catalog descripes the pens thusly:
“A Golden Era in Legislative Achievement 1961-1967” (50) Pens that “were used to sign into law (50) landmark Bills enacted during the administrations of President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson and were presented to Henry H. Wilson, Jr. in recognition of his efforts as their assistant for Congressional relations for the House of Representatives during these years.” Included are pens used to sign the 1961 Area Redevelopment Act, 1961 Expanded Space Program-Man on the Moon, 1961 Peace Corps, 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1965 Voting Rights Act, 1965 Establishment of Housing and Urban Development, 1965 Immigration Act, 1966 Establishment of the Department of Transportation etc.,etc.,etc. (1) 10 1/2 x 8 1/2 inch photograph of Henry H. Wilson, Jr., President of the Board of Trade with his collection of Presidential pens taken by Bob Kotalik on July 5, 1967 for the Chicago Sun Times which was printed on July 9, 1967. (Presented in toto within a framed shadow box annotating each pen)

Can you imagine owning one of the pens that signed the Civil Rights Act? Or NASA’s Moon Shot program? Or started the Peace Corps?

The starting bid is only $20,000.

What the catalog copy doesn’t mention are the fact Kennedy’s pens are Esterbrook dip writers, and that Johnson’s pens appear to be mostly Parker 45s with his signature imprinted on them. Both seem curiously economical choices.

The Esterbrook nib Kennedy used on the majority of these pens was the 2668. That is the firm-medium steel nib.

In the meantime, here’s the link to this auction.

Buy Museum-Quality Pens

Sleek black elegance is breath-taking in this seemingly new old stock Parker 17.

Sleek black elegance is breath-taking in this seemingly new old stock Parker 17.

In the past month or so, ThePenMarket.com has added many museum quality and/or new old stock pens to its vintage pens pages. These pens are not necessarily the go-to pens all collector’s feel as if they must have, but they are great pens at good prices that will round out any collection perfectly.

For example, there is an English-made Parker 17 that appears never to have been used. Its original aerometric filler is pristine.

Possibly used, you would be hard pressed to tell it with this near mint condition Esterbrook LJ series pen.

Possibly used, you would be hard pressed to tell it with this near mint condition Esterbrook LJ series pen.




We resaced a beautiful copper-colored Esterbrook LJ-1551, that was likely used, but it is in such good shape with so little wear, it will be a beautiful a display piece.

And then we come to our impecable Sheaffer Imperials. These cartridge-only fillers are beautiful pens, many in near mint condition. They will look great in a case, and they still work with modern Sheaffer ink cartridges. How do you not love those classic 14k gold inlaid nibs.

Often overlooked, what's wrong with the Sheaffer Imperial? It is a handsome modern design that is light weight and easy to use with that remarkable 14k inlaid gold nib.

Often overlooked, what’s wrong with the Sheaffer Imperial? It is a handsome modern design that is light weight and easy to use with that remarkable 14k inlaid gold nib.