Monthly Archives: July 2014

Fix Scratchy Nibs

WARNING: The following repair advice can easily mess up your favorite nib if you aren’t careful and experienced.

You think you’ve found the perfect pen at a show, estate sale or antique store. The color is good. The filling system still works. And then you try to write with it. Although the nib looks good, it is a very scratchy writer.

Learn how to fix a scratchy nib with only a little water and some ultra-fine grit sandpaper.

Learn how to fix a scratchy nib with only a little water and some ultra-fine grit sandpaper.

You can fix that scratchy nib with some patience and nerves of steel.

It doesn’t take much effort to ruin or at least alter the width of your nib with the accidental flick of the wrist. DO NOT try this on your favorite pen that has just picked up a hint of a scratch. Get some junkers with which you can build up some experience.

Get to know your nib before you attempt anything. Is it gold? Is it tipped with irridium? Is it a steel nib? Look very closely at the nib. Use a loupe or magnifying glass. Are the tines even? Is the tip bent?

If the tines are slightly misaligned, you can push them back into place with just your thumb nail. Be careful, as misaligned tines often snap very easily. Often, I prefer to raise the lower tine to be even with the upper tine. To do this, push directly up on the single lower tine with your thumb nail to a position just above the other tine. Hold it for a second and then relax it. Check it, and repeat the process as needed. Sometimes, I push the upper tine down. Learning which to redirect really just comes with experience.

If the tip is bent, forget about it. We’ll save that for a different article.

If the tines are even but just scratchy…

Check to see if the tip is gold, gold with a metal (usually irridium) tip or steel. If it is plain gold, which is rare, the sanding process will weardown the nib super quickly. If it is tipped, check to see if the tipping material is still complete. If it isn’t, you’ll need to get it retipped. If the tipping metal is still there, then you will be safer to try to sand the nib into submission. The steel nibs are also pretty safe to try to smooth, although by their nature, they generally won’t smooth as well as the gold nibs. It is rare to find a truely smooth steel nib on a vintage pen, unless it is from the Esterbrook 9000s line.

If you are into freakishly extra-fine nibs, send your pen to a nib expert (and I am not that type of nib expert). If you aren’t so picky as long as you can have a smooth writer…continue reading.

To try to sand the nib into a sweet spot, you will need a small glass of water, a clean sheet of your normal writing paper and some very fine-grit sandpaper. I recommend 2500 grit or finer. You also will want a tissue or paper towel.

Set up on a hard-topped desk or table. A cushioned writing surface will have you putting holes in the sandpaper with the nib and putting odd edges on the nib.

To get started, I like to make sure the pen is full. Then spread a little water on the sandpaper. Next write a figure 8 with the scratchy pen on the watered sandpaper. The water helps to lubricate the sandpaper so that you don’t take off too much from the nib. Your figure 8 should be about the size of your normal letters when writing…maybe a little bigger. Don’t worry about the ink on the sandpaper. And don’t think that the ink will naturally lube the paper enough without water. It won’t.

I like to have the pen full of ink, so I can immediately test the nib on a clean sheet of paper. After your first figure 8, shake the pen in the glass of water and dry off the tip. This just clears the tip of any sand, as you don’t want to keep sanding the nib when you don’t want to sand it. Test the nib on the clean sheet of paper and see how it feels. Patiently repeat one or two 8’s at a time on the sandpaper and repeat the process.

If you find that you need more than a couple figure 8’s, start writing 8’s from different angles, as you don’t want to flatten out the nib in your normal writing position.

If everything is almost perfect but you are still having scratches at the top or bottom of your loops, try to work out those parts of the letter on the sandpaper.

REMEMBER, every time that nib touches the sandpaper, it is going to get wider. Often, it only takes an 8 or two. It is not uncommon for your fine nib to become a medium or a medium a bold nib while trying this repair. If you want to be assured perfection with little change to your nib’s writing characteristics, it is best to find an expert.

Inkwell Pages Fully Updated

Some inkwells are too beautiful for words. How can they do a better job detailing the beauty of this art nouveau masterpiece.

Some inkwells are too beautiful for words. How can they do a better job detailing the beauty of this art nouveau masterpiece.

For too long we neglected our commitment to finding really nice inkwells and blotters for our customers. It was trickier than we thought it would be to find good ones when we first started this website.

Luckily, we found a delightful cache of them in Atlanta this past spring. From a really old bottle of Waterman’s ink to a luxurious brass art nouveau inkwell, you will find something remarkable to complete the look of your desk on our inkwells and plotters page.

Now we just need to start finding good blotters.

Adding Character with a 1915 Underwood Typewriter

Every wonder what we use on our classic shipping labels? You are looking at our beloved 1915 Underwood portable typewriter. This machine is as dedicated a writer as any of our vintage pens.

Every wonder what we use on our classic shipping labels? You are looking at our beloved 1915 Underwood portable typewriter. This machine is as dedicated a writer as any of our vintage pens.

Several customers have noticed our shipping labels are always typed up on an “old skool” typewriter and have asked after it.

In addition to vintage pens, I have a fetish for classic, old-fashioned typewriters. It is amazing to me how past generations created these incredibly complex machines to type so smoothly.

My typewriter for mailing labels is a 1915 Underwood. The Qwerty keyboard hadn’t been 100% formalized and made uniform when it was made. Some of the keys are out of place with where they are on a modern computer. There is no key for the numeral one. I have to use the lowercase “L”. The ribbon must reversed by hand when it runs out in one direction. The poor thing often veers off on a different direction when trying to type a straight line. It adds lots of personality to the occassional letter that I write upon it. I hope I work as well when I’m 99 years old. If I make it that long, I sure hope I’m in as good a condition!

Believe it or not, I found it in a second hand store with its original portable case for $12. It needed close to $100 of professional restoration work, but it was worth it. If I can’t write with one of my favorite fountain pens, this is my favorite backup.

I cannot restore vintage typewriters, but I hope to learn how one day. They look like a ton of fun to rebuild…because that’s the way I geek out. Maybe one day I’ll show off my electric 1963 Smith-Corona typewriter that is robin’s egg blue and white.

Pen Collector Profile: Nan Sampson, Author

For the longest time, dead people were the sole focus of our “Famous People & Pens” series. Then I got it through my thick skull that many of our living customers are actual working writers, and…HEY!…why not profile them and their work?!

There is a reason I was never hired as a rocket scientist by NASA.

Starting today, I will profile the first of many writers and famous, or soon-to-be-famous, people who love fountain pens and other luxury writing instruments. I will absolutely continue to find the stories behind historical figures and their favorite pens, but my live interviews are hopefully going to rock your world.

Nan Sampson, author of Restless Natives, ponder's her next story idea while holding her Waterman Phileas fountain pen.

Nan Sampson, author of Restless Natives, ponder’s her next story idea while holding her Waterman Phileas fountain pen.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to Nan Sampson. Nan has just published her very first novel: “Restless Natives.” It is a murder mystery that is now available for a Kindle download on Amazon. Her book released last week. Although this is her first published novel, she has been writing for her entire life and is a marketing executive in the Chicagoland area.

As a pen collector, she has a penchant for Waterman and Pelikan pens. She also has a thing for green Sheaffer’s Scrip from the 1950s.

DRIPPY MUSINGS: Hi, Nan. Welcome to’s Drippy Musings. How does it feel to have your first novel published and available on Amazon?

NAN SAMPSON: It is amazing.  A lifetime dream come true.  Although the biggest realization has been that now that I’ve had my moment of celebration, the work goes on.  Book two in the series awaits, plus I’ve other projects lined up, like planes circling O’Hare!

DM: Tell us a little about “Restless Natives.”

NS: It’s a cozy mystery, set in a small fictional town in southwestern Wisconsin.  Oddly enough, the main character used to be a marketing executive in Chicago.  Hmm…  Seriously, though it’s a lot of fun, lots of quirky characters and a rather odd murder.  A poor fellow gets tarred with pancake syrup and covered with chicken feathers.  Oh, and gets a great bloody knife in the chest, too.  Details…

DM: Where did you first get the idea for this book?

NS: I’ve always wanted to create a series set in a town that I’d want to live in, like Long Piddleton (from the Richard Jury novels by Martha Grimes) or the village of Finch (from Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity series).  A place readers can escape to, filled with familiar faces and quirky problems.  And having spent a great deal of time in southwestern Wisconsin and meeting great people there, it just sort of fell into place.

DM: Every writer approaches their job differently. What is your process? What is your motivation?

NS: My motivation. [chuckles]  ‘I’m ready for my close-up now, Mr. DeMille.’  I’ll tackle process first.  I’m a life-long “panster” — meaning I do things by the seat of my pants.  I’m not one for long outlines — I find in creating those, I feel like I’ve “done” the book and I lose my enthusiasm.  So I start with a beginning, figure out my ending (although it can change during the actual writing process — it’s more of a direction to head in), and usually have a couple of juicy scenes in the middle that I’m anxious to write to keep me going.  Rewrites can be a bear as things are pretty loosey-goosey and the story I start out writing is often very different from the one I end up with.  It’s hard for me to see the whole of the tapestry until I’m finished with it.  So I’m not sure I’d recommend my process to others.  But it works for me.

My motivation?  Gosh.  Being a writer, telling stories, making up worlds and characters and languages and stuff…that’s just who I am.  I don’t know how to be any other way.  I cannot imagine living without doing those things.  It will be great to get paid for it, but I’d be doing it anyway, even if no one ever buys my work.  I love it.  But I’m also not one of those writers that thinks earning money will “cheapen my art”.  Please – go out and buy my book!  In fact, buy several copies and gift them to your friends and relatives at the holidays!  I have a child to put through college. [Laughs]

DM: How did you get into writing? Were you always a storyteller, or did you cultivate this interest over time?

NS: My mother said I told stories to my stuffed bear in my crib.  That is, perhaps, a slight exaggeration.  But I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t concocting stories in my head, trying on different personas and pretending to live other lives.  I believe clinical psychologists call that a “personality disorder”.  Or maybe delusional.  Either way, I guess I’m okay with that. [Laughs]

DM: Who were and are some of your biggest influences as a writer? Why?

NS: Oh, that is a long list.  I’ll try to just cover the biggies.  First and foremost was Roger Zelazny.  He was brilliant, innovative and knew the rules well enough to break them in clever, ingenious ways.  Carl Sagan and Asimov are up there too — they were both genius at taking complex subjects and making them both accessible and interesting to the ordinary person.  I cut my teeth on Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie — the grand dames of the cozy mystery.  I love [Sir Arthur] Conan Doyle, too.  I always have Holmes with me on my Kindle — a go-to for times when you just need the comfort of the familiar or a great character.

From a more contemporary perspective, I’m totally in love with Gini Koch — she has this wry humor, but knows how to keep the action flying as well.  Lois McMasters Bujold is also fab and taught me all about character arcs and unlikely heroes.  And I’ll read almost anything by Glenn Cook — more dry wit.  Gosh, most everyone I’ve mentioned is either fantasy or science fiction. I do read a lot in those genres.  James Rollins, action/adventure, is the master at interweaving story lines and pacing.

How much time do we have? [Chuckles]  I’ll stop there.  Suffice it to say I read widely.  But Roger… well, Roger was a god to me.  He taught me that my crazy ideas were okay.  He was simply amazing, and highly under-appreciated.

DM: Do you compose longhand or on the computer?

NS:   I compose on the keyboard.  I need to be able to type as fast as I think.  Revision is done long hand, and I make all my character notes and so forth in pen.  I do a lot of brainstorming and idea mapping by hand, as well.  And yes… all in green ink.  My fingers are always stained with green.

DM: What are your favorite pens? Why?

NS: I LOVE my Waterman [Phileas].  The barrel is wider, so my fingers don’t cramp, and it has a really smooth flow.  I hate scratchy pens.  My handwriting is atrocious. Only my best friend can read it, and I write very quickly.  The pen needs to be able to keep up and not skip or scratch along the page.  And of course, the barrel has that green marbling — the green thing again!  The one I have my eye on from your website it that gorgeous vintage 0655 Conklin Endura.  Wow.  Stunning. Love the coloration of the barrel.  But unless a whole bunch of your fans and friends buy my book, that’s a wee bit out of my league.

DM: How did you get into fountain pens?

NS: My pop used to take me to auctions and estate sales when I was little.  Back in those days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, there were always three things you could always find in large quantities — old keys (you know, skeleton keys), raggedy stuffed animals and fountain pens.  You could buy them by the box!  I would always get to buy one of each (kept me pacified, I suppose).  I’d bring along a notepad and scribble (without ink of course) with the pens, pretending to be a famous author giving my autograph to the stuffed animals.  There’s something magical about fountain pens that make you think anything is possible — they’re elegant and old world and for some odd reason they give me a sense of confidence.  Of permanence.  I guess I’m a bit old fashioned — heck I still have an old Underwood typewriter that I bang on occasionally.

DM: What types of ink do you like best? Why?

NS: I’m not much of an ink snob.  But I don’t like a lot of smearing (it’s always getting on my hands) so a quick drying ink is good.  And it has to flow smoothly and not clog up my pen a lot.  But most importantly, it has to be green.  Emerald green.  I’m open to recommendations, O Great Pen Guru. *nudge nudge wink wink*

DM: Okay. So, I know the ink is barely dry on “Restless Natives,” but can you tell us a little about what to expect next?

NS: No rest for the wicked, you know.  The physical copy of “Restless Natives” is coming soon (probably a few weeks) and the second book in the current series is written and awaiting revision.  That one is slated for publication in January, gods willing and the river don’t rise, as my Gran would have said.  I’m also working on a fantasy novel, and have the bare bones of a second mystery series set in a haunted bed & breakfast.  Oh, and then there’s this idea I had for an adventure novel set in the ’20s (a la H. Rider Haggard and Indiana Jones) only with a woman heroine.  Like I said earlier, I’ve got more ideas than time!

DM: It has been a pleasure speaking with you, Nan. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and pen passions with us at Drippy Musings.

NS:  No, thank you!  It’s been a joy sharing with you, thanks for inviting me.  And as soon as I sell enough books, we’ll have to talk about that Conklin!

Be sure to check out Nan Sampson’s book “Restless Natives” at It is a fun read, and a great summertime escape while you are lounging by the pool or chillin’ in the shade.

How Do I Keep a Journal?

Journals come in all shapes and sizes. The trick is to find one you like and just keep plugging away at it. Before you know it, you will have preserved many incredible memories and events.

Journals come in all shapes and sizes. The trick is to find one you like and just keep plugging away at it. Before you know it, you will have preserved many incredible memories and events.

Looking for a great new use for your vintage pens or luxury writers? Have you ever tried keeping a journal or diary?

Keeping a diary or journal is a fun way to create a time capsule for yourself or future generations. It also can be a great way to focus yourself and concentrate on any issue in life you want to hash out or better understand.

There are myriad ways to keep a journal, and none of them is wrong. The biggest trick is making sure to consistently set aside time to work on it. Whether you work on it every day or every week, it gets easier as it becomes second nature with repeated efforts.

For some people, keeping a journal is as simple as keeping a daily event planner listing the day’s happenings with a few scribbled notes in the margins. I knew one guy who simply listed every single expenditure he made on a given day. It might sound mundane at first, but imagine looking back on it in fifty years: “Oh my! Gas only cost $4.85 a gallon. And look at this! A candybar cost 99 cents.”

Some people keep their diary under lock and key for good reason. It is their one place to vent their emotions or express true feelings they might not otherwise mention in public. It is a place to cope with the harsh realities of their lives or to just blow off steam. I recommend giving it a try. It can be very cathartic to shed all of that built up emotional weight.

Similiarly, a journal can be a great tool for sorting out any issue from romance to politics to questions of faith to work issues to whatever you want. By taking some time with pen and paper, you can lay out all of your thoughts and analyze them. When you slow things down and work it all out by hand, you will be surprised by the clarity and resolutions you find.

Of course, not every entry needs to be that deep and thought provoking. Keeping a chronicle of your life helps you to remember all of the events, good times and struggles. Plus it more accurately delivers a represenation of the times in which you live. Years from now it can be great to rekindle those memories. If you choose to share it with future generations, imagine how they’ll better understand your life and times when reading about the time you fell in love or first used the internet or dealt with a divorce or how you experienced 9/11. Maybe it will even help them deal with similar issues and changes in their own lives.

“Well, if Great Grandma could get through it, I can.”

Who knows, maybe it’ll even help future historians better grasp human nature and the events that led to their future reality.

Or maybe it will simply, but more importantly, bring you pleasure to put pen to page as you preserve your favorite memories.

J-Pressure Bar Repair Update

A friend and reader of “Drippy Musings” named Harv S. from Palatine, IL, reached out to me this past May to thank me for last November’s piece about making your own J-springs (pressure bars) at home.

Not only did he find the article helpful, he shared with me his own modification to duplicate the action of other pressure bars with an extra “leg” that helps to squeeze out a few extra drops of ink. Below are his photo and advice.


Reader Harv S. from Palatine showed us not only the J-spring pressure bar he made after reading our column, he gives his own advice for adding a second leg to the spring to make it perform like some other vintage J-springs.

Reader Harv S. from Palatine, IL,  showed us not only the J-spring pressure bar he made after reading our column, he gives his own advice for adding a second leg to the spring to make it perform like some other vintage J-springs.

“Here’s a picture of the original, weakened, corroded spring and the one I made to replace it.  I couldn’t find brass flashing material so I went with galvanized steel, which should be fairly resistant to rusting though not so much as non-ferrous metal, agreed.  Although the picture doesn’t show it well, I folded over the material so that there’s a secondary leg of the spring just like the original riveted one.  I have some diamond grit files that I de-burred the new spring with and it seems to work well.” — Harv S.

What I love about the fountain pen community is how much we help each other out with this hobby and occassional obsession.

Thank you, Harv. I look forward to seeing more of your’s and other reader’s projects. Please let me know how I can help.