Author Archives: Nathaniel Cerf

About Nathaniel Cerf

Nathaniel Cerf is the owner of ThePenMarket.com. He has been a fountain pen junkie since the age of 9, but his addiction got out of control around 2004, when he began to learn the art of fountain pen repair.

In addition to his pen activities, Nathaniel is a professional writer with a master’s degree in journalism from The University of Montana. A former Gannett newspaper editor, he has also been published in magazines as diverse as Montana Journalism Review, Nostalgia Digest, American Fencing (that’s swords not barb wire or picket) and True Confessions. His photography has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Argus Leader and American Fencing.

The blogosphere knows Mr. Cerf from “The Hat Chronicals” at www.hats-plus.com, where he created and currently maintains a blog committed to fedoras, pork pies and the history of headwear. He also originated a movie review blog for DVDPlanet.com.

Nathaniel is currently shopping an expose novel he has written about the children’s mental health industry. (Yep, he has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, too.)

If that isn’t enough to keep him busy, he coaches and competes in fencing. He maintains a national rating in foil, but he also dabbles in epee. (That’s the weird sword crossword puzzles always use.) He also continues perfecting the formula for peanut butter and mustard sandwiches and Flaming Hot Orgasmic Tacos from Hell.

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!

 

Win this Lamy Lx!

Helping us celebrate 100 blog posts, Mike D., our Lamy candyman, has given us a brand new Lamy Lx Au (Gold) to give away! This shiny, medium-nibbed wonder comes complete with its special case and papers. It also includes a free ink cartridge. It has a retail value of $70.

Win this brand new Lamy Lx Au (Gold) fountain pen. It is the brand new pen from Lamy. Each purchase of a writing instrument in the month of June enters you to win!

Our native Chicago is a pay-to-play city, and our contest works the same way. For every pen or pencil you purchase between June 1, 2017, and July 1, 2017, at 6 p.m. Central Daylight Time, we will enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in a hat. The winner’s name will be drawn at random from that hat and announced on Independence Day.

If you buy 10 or 100 or however many writing instruments you want this month, your name will be entered that many times. Ink, refills and other writing ephemera do not qualify for entry. Items purchased from our Trading Post do not qualify for entry, either.

The winner wins this pictured Lamy Lx Au Fountain Pen. No substitutions will be allowed. The retail value of this prize is $70, but we will not grant a cash equivalent to the winner. You are stuck with a supremely awesome pen that writes smoothly, takes a lickin’ and travels extremely well on most any summer vacation adventure!

Seriously, we don’t vacation without a Lamy! I’ve taken my Lamy to Germany, Paris, Hong Kong and all over the United States. Their reliability and durability is why Lamy was the first new line of pens I decided to carry. Remember we have great bargains on Lamy Al-Stars, Safaris and 2000s on our new pens pages. Plus, we have a complete line of Lamy ink and refills.

Delving into Diamine Inks

It seems strange, even to me, that in spite of a lifetime using fountain pens, I had never previously gotten all that into inks. I used whatever was available, eventually falling in love with Waterman’s Florida Blue and Aurora’s black inks. And then Waterman went and discontinued Florida Blue. Sure, I bought up a bunch of it before it disappeared, but I found myself in ink crisis wanting to find something that I liked as much.

Witness the way sunlight fades fresh Diamine ink. The left writing sample spent 4 months in direct sunlight. The right writing sample is fresh out of the bottle. I was particularly impressed by the color, clarity and resistance to harsh UV rays.

Witness the way sunlight fades fresh Diamine ink. The left writing sample spent 4 months in direct sunlight. The right writing sample is fresh out of the bottle. I was particularly impressed by the color, clarity and resistance to harsh UV rays in the Diamine Ancient Copper ink.

This coincided nicely with a new generation of people exploring the wonders of many ink colors and brands! Now I have the bug, too. While still questing for my perfect Florida Blue replacement, I’ve been branching out trying new colors.

A penpal in Germany turned me on to the many wonders of Diamine last autumn. I picked out 4 colors to order and try on my own. I also performed an ink-fast test on them to see how they held up after spending 4 months in my window, during winter’s weaker light. Here are the results:

SHERWOOD GREEN: I’ve always loved Robin Hood stories, since I watched the Errol Flynn flick as a kid. Fresh on the page, it is a little darker and more yellow than I would have preferred, but it made a great ink for my Christmas cards last year. Given how dark and rich it is, I was surprised when it faded this much.

KENSINGTON BLUE: This is a beautiful dark blue with aqua accents in the shadowing, which you can’t see as well in this sample. Unfortunately, it suffers the same fate as many blues by fading too much over time.

PRUSSIAN BLUE: Given some German ancestry and an appreciation of their cheek-scarring fencing tactics, I had to try this ink. It is a good blue-black with some very nice shadow effects. As I am finding with other blue-blacks, it holds up a little better under the sun’s harsh rays.

ANCIENT COPPER: Hands down my favorite new ink of the past year! It’s rich, dark orange looks incredible when spread thin with a stub and then brought to a thick, darker clot when laid down thicker at the top or bottom of a loop. Its only downside is that it does seem to clog a bit in the pen over time. If I give my trusty Pelikan 800 a thorough flushing between refills, I have no troubles whatsoever. Best of all, it hardly fades at all, unlike my beautiful but fickle blues.

Catching Up Part II: Writing for ‘Pen World’

The editor of Pen World was reading through this very blog as he and the staff were working on the story about me in December and found my 4-part piece about helping to connect the generational divides by pen collectors. He really liked it and asked me to write my first story for Pen World Magazine!

The story featured in this April’s edition is a more journalistic approach uniting the generations. Having worked in newspapers for years and written for about a dozen different magazines, it was pretty easy to put that hat back on to report the story. Hopefully it will only be the first of many stories for Pen World. It is fun to write for magazines again.

Here it is with permission from Pen World. Most of the photography was provided by the delightful Laura Solon who is a big help at the Chicago Pen Show.

The cover to the April 2017 issue of "Pen World."

The cover to the April 2017 issue of “Pen World.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catching Up Part I: Our First ‘Pen World’ Write Up!

It has been a crazy year for us at ThePenMarket.com. As some of you might know, I was working a full-time job…in addition to working full-time hours on ThePenMarket.com…while also coaching youth fencing competitions…while also writing a novel, seeing it published and ultimately being nominated for (and losing) a Pulitzer Prize. Toss in lots of pen repairs and a handful of pen shows…it was tough keeping up with these Drippy Musings.

I am very excited to say that I am now working full-time for myself at ThePenMarket.com. Good-bye, corporate America.  All the thanks goes to you, our customers, for helping me to live out a dream as a full-time pen entrepreneur!

The joy of the freedom of working for myself means that I can bring this blog up to speed. As such, it is time to thank “Pen World Magazine” for writing a story about my novel “Little Victories” in the December 2016 issue. With their permission to share it, here it is:

The 'Pen World Magazine' cover December 2016.

The ‘Pen World Magazine’ cover December 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexandre Dumas: The Man & The Pen

Alexandre Dumas wrote some of the greatest novels in history. It is difficult not to love “The Three Musketeers,” “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Man in the Iron Mask.”

Alexandre Dumas is my favorite writer of the 19th century. Nobody comes close to his adventures, characters or ability to capture the human condition. If you spend any time with his most famous novels, all of his characters are easily recognizable as people you can identify with in modern times. That is the secret sauce that elevates his writing to a timeless status.

My love of his work started at the age of 13. I picked up “The Count of Monte Cristo” on a bit of a whim. Before I knew it, I was hooked. It was pure literary crack. In spite of its length, I could not put it down. The tragic tale of Edmond Dantes and his need for vengeance is still rivetting. I teach fencing classes to junior high and high school students. Every 4 years or so, as new batches of kids rotate into class, I give them an end-of-the-year gift of a copy, and those who read it…even the 12-year-old girls…all come back grateful for a read that rocks their world as much as any Harry Potter or “Hunger Games” novel. (The highest praise of youth today.)

And honestly, Dumas only gets better with age! If you only read his works as a youth, you NEED to revisit them. Since turning 30 more than a decade ago, I’ve made a concious effort to reread at least one of his novels every year. There is soooo much more depth and realism that I missed my first time through as a teenager.

Here’s a small selection of my books by Alexandre Dumas featuring early translations and modern reprintings.

“The Three Musketeers” take on an almost cartoonish quality in our modern pop culture, but to revisit them, you find a complicated story of love, sex, loyalty, honor, war and true friendship. The musketeers are ordinary men in extra-ordinary circumstances. Clever, hard working, mostly honest (you really can’t trust Aramis much), these are 4 fellows who know how to game the system and make the most of the life of warriors. Dumas first wrote the novel as a serial in newspapers in 1844. It took Paris, and then the world, by storm. He actually followed it up with 4 more books: “Twenty Years After,” “The Vicomte de Bragellone,” “Louise de la Valliere” and “The Man in the Iron Mask.” The last one is my absolute favorite, and its symbolic significance–no spoilers, I promise–completely held me in its grasp. Not only did it fully reveal the truths of all the main characters to me, it really helped me to make better sense of the world around me at the time I first read it. Pretty impressive for a novel that came out 170 years ago in 1847.

A new book of the Musketeer series called “The Red Sphinx” was just rediscovered. It was in serialization when Dumas died in 1870! Technically, it doesn’t have an end, but some of his notes divulge how it was to end. Although I have yet to read it, it is supposed to take place about 20 days after the original “The Three Musketeers” novel ended.

More than this, Dumas wrote 300 books! He also wrote many plays, newspaper, magazine and fictional short stories. Another of his most famous stories is “The Corsican Brothers.” Here nobel twins, who were separated at birth, can feel each other’s nervous systems and emotions from across great distances…eventually learning of their parents tragic murder and uniting to extract revenge.

I own and have read dozens of his lesser known works. Most of them are as good as his biggest hits. The real trick is finding good translations! For me, the tranlator helps to be from the late 19th century or early 20th century. They try to capture the English language of the time period in which Dumas was writing. This builds a rhythm and poetry that Dumas conveyed in the original French. Modern translations fail for me because they try too hard to make it sound like modern, American English language and times. It destroys the cadence of the language and the romance of the 1800s, as well as the eras in which Dumas was writing about.

These are 2 of three volumes that I own of the original source material of “The Three Musketeers.” These are “The Memoirs of D’Artagnan” in an early 20th century translation!

How big a junkie am I? I found an early 20th century translation of the 3-volume biography of the actual 4th musketeer D’Artagnan! I have yet to read it, but I can’t wait. It supposedly gave Dumas the inspiration for writing the adventures of the musketeers in his fictional masterpieces.

Dumas also was a fascinating man, even without his incredible skill as a writer. He was a biracial man born of a white mother and black father in 1802. His father was one of Napoleon’s top generals…until they had a falling out during the Egypt campaign. (Any number of historians thought that Napoleon’s not listening to Gen. Dumas was one of his greater blunders in Egypt.) Although his father died in exile, young Alex got to encounter Napoleon as Napoleon changed horses while beating a hasty retreat from Waterloo.

Alexandre started writing as a young man, primarily for the stage. His early plays were often political and controversial. (France was undergoing several revolutions during his lifetime.) He didn’t really find success until he wrote a play about Henri III. Historical fiction was practically his invention. (Shakespeare mastered it on the stage, but Dumas really developed it into an art form in novels.) With great success, came great loves and travel adventures of his own. Ultimately, no matter how much money he made, he spent far more. He died heavily in debt and fairly poor.

This is a 1996 Mont Blanc Writers Series Alexandre Dumas fountain pen with the wrong signature on the cap and box.

Mont Blanc wisely chose to honor him in 1996 with one of its early limited edition writers series pens. The pen was handsomely trimmed in classical French style accents, such as a fleur de lis on its nib. Collectors especially love this pen because it features a significant mistake on the part of Mont Blanc. The company’s early releases of the pen featured not Alexandre’s signature but the signature of his son, Alexandre Dumas fils, who famously wrote “Camille.” The company scrambled to recall these pens and replace them with the right signature. As such, the wrong signature pens are worth more than most of the other writers series pens.

Farewell, President Obama

After faithfully serving the country for 8 years, for better or worse, through thick and through thin, President Barack Obama hands the reins over to Donald Trump today. Judging by the uproar online and everywhere else, it will be a sadder day for some than others.

President Barack Obama signs a bill into law using a black-and-sterling-silver ballpoint Cross Century II. During his first term in office, we noted he was using Cross Townsend pens to sign bills.

President Barack Obama signs a bill into law using a black-and-sterling-silver ballpoint Cross Century II. During his first term in office, we noted he was using Cross Townsend pens to sign bills.

However, as we put aside politics for our shared love of pens, we noted earlier in his presidency that President Obama was signing bills into law with Cross Townsends. As we have noted the changes in presidential pens from Esterbrooks to Parkers to Cross pens, we to must acknowledge one last change in President Obama’s signing pens.

Some time during his second term we spotted this photo of him using a different Cross pen. These are the Cross Century II ballpoint pens in black lacquer with a sterling silver cap. It is a handsome pen and nicely weighted, while being a little thicker around the middle than the more common Cross Century pens each of us likely has two dozen of rattling around a desk drawer or shoe box.

With that observation, we wish the Obama family well and thank them for their service to our country … while wondering what pens President Donald Trump will use.