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.

Grab Some Popcorn: It’s Podcast Time

Since moving to Connecticut, I’ve befriended the artist and painter Jonathan Weinberg, who also happens to be the founder of the Charter Oak Pen Club and curator at The Maurice Sendak Foundation. (Yep, that Maurice Sendak who wrote “Where the Wild Things Are.”)

This week, he invited me on to his podcast, “Drawing with Fountain Pens.” It is a fun show in which he explores his passion for pens, ink and drawing. In this episode, he interviews me and we discuss some of my favorite pens and how I got into the hobby and business of vintage pens and modern pens.

I hope you like our discussion. If you do, please be sure to subscribe to his podcast. Thanks!

To see some of his artwork, check out jonathanweinberg.com.

A Nib by Any Other Number…Is Still Confusing

Even for experienced professionals, it is really difficult to gauge a nib by its number. We get calls and e-mail with some regularity asking for a nib of a certain number. The trouble is, we often aren’t sure what the customer really wants. If the nib brand isn’t specified it can be a really challenging to know what is really desired.

A number on a nib doesn’t always mean what it seems to mean. Here a #4 is larger than a #5.

Take this 14k gold Conklin #4 and 14k gold Sheaffer #5 for example. It is often assumed that nibs always followed a standardized system of sizing. After all, that would make the most sense. Unfortunately, especially in the golden era of vintage pens, many of the companies sized their own brands differently from their competitors. The only thing that seems uniform is that within each brand a #0 or #1 nib was the smallest and the sizes could go up to 12 or higher, though many seemed to top out around 8. Here you have a Conklin #4 being larger than a Sheaffer #5.

The closest to a standard setter in the 1920s and ’30s might have been “Warranted” nibs. These were usually 14k gold nibs that were used by a wide variety of 2nd tier pen brands and repairmen looking to get a pen up-and-running, again, if they didn’t have the proper branded nib. In some ways, these were the JoWo or Bock nibs of their time.

Nib sizes vary widely by brand in this photo.

Check out these nibs lined up together. From left to right: Sheaffer Feather Touch #5; Sheaffer 3-25; Waterman 2A; Unbranded #2; Mabie Todd #2; Star PE #6 and Diamond Medal #5. Note their lengths and widths in relation to their numbers and each other.

To size a nib properly, especially if it isn’t a branded nib, it is important to measure the nib. To do that, let’s discuss the anatomy of a nib. Let us start with the writing tip, which usually has a special tipping material to keep the nib from deforming with a lot of writing. The tip grows into the two (or three for music nibs) tines. The breather hole allows for the exchange of air and ink inside the pen, helping to facilitate ink flow. Usually the breather hole is centered at the widest part of the nib known as its shoulders. As the nib tapers down to its tail, that part is known as the body of the nib.

Here are 3 more numbered nibs muddying the waters of size referencing. The 6 is a little bigger than the 3, but it is definitely smaller than a JoWo 6, which I didn’t have in time for this article.

If you are looking for a good replacement nib, measure the length of your nib from tip to tail. (It is easier in centimeters and milimeters than 32nds and 64ths.) Then measure the shoulder. These two measurements will get you pretty close. Probably close enough in 90% of cases. Yet there is one last  bit to account for, which is the width of the gold. As the technology improved nibs got stamped thinner and thinner. It is easy to feel the difference between a 1920s Sheaffer Lifetime and a 1950s Sheaffer Snorkel nib of open design.

This brings us to some of the more confusing numbers on nibs. Earlier you saw a photo of a Sheaffer 3-25 nib. Although most 3-25 nibs are the same general size, that number referenced the price and warranty length of the pen from the date it was purchased: $3 and 25 years. You might also see Sheaffer 5-30 and 7-30 nibs. If you ever find a 7-30 nib, snatch it up. Those are pretty rare. It was a clever marketing tactic by Sheaffer. For an extra dollar, you got the Lifetime warranty pen. If someone back then could already afford the $7, they could afford $8. Yet, how many people really used their Lifetime pens for 30 years or more? That is a question I would love to know the answer to. I’m sure a few did, but, for many, pens were a fashion accessory and statement, as well as a useful tool.

Sheaffer Lifetime pens of the 1920s and ’30s had elaborate serial numbers, which had for more to do with fighting black-market pen dealing than tracking customer pens.

Showcasing the 1950s Sheaffer numbering system are two more nibs. M1 = Medium Steel Open Nib and F5 = Fine-Point, Two-Tone 14k gold Triumph Nib.

In the 1950s Sheaffer started an alphanumeric nib classification system, which was really quite inspired and gave a great deal of information about the nib. The first letter of the code was the point style: A = accountant (extra, extra razor-thin fine); B = Broad; F = Fine; G = Gregg Shorthand; M = Medium; S = Stub and X = Extra Fine. On hyper-rare occasions there could be two starting letters led by an F for flexible such as an FB5, as you will soon read.

The numbers that followed the first letter were: 1 = Steel Open Nib; 2 = Monotone 14k Gold Open Nib; 3 = Two-Tone 14k Gold Open Nib; 4 = Palladium Silver Triumph (conical) Nib; 5 = Two-Tone 14k Gold Triumph Nib and 6 = Palladium Silver Open Nib. And for those keeping score at home, the two-tone nibs were solid 14k gold with a decorative Palladium plating over about half the nib.

On rare occasions there was another letter that followed the number: L = Left Oblique and R = Right Oblique.

And there you have it. At the very least it is a start to understanding the numbers we see on nibs and what they might mean. I hope you found it to be helpful.

Don’t Get Fooled by Fake Montblancs: The Fauxeme

Is she? Or isn’t she? Can you pick out the real Montblanc Boheme in this photo?

One of my favorite additions to the Montblanc line-up in the past 20 years was the Montblanc Boheme. What made it my favorite was the retractable nib, which made it look similar to the classic safety fillers of yesteryear. Unlike the messy and unreliable vintage pens that still remain, this modern pen took a standard international cartridge. Another nice touch in the authentic Boheme was the realistic jewel placed in the clip. Genuine, factory-made jewels, they looked like convincing sapphires, rubies, emeralds and the like.

Or maybe one of these is the genuine Montblanc Boheme. Unless you are a really dedicated MB collector, it likely isn’t easy to tell truth from fiction.

We recently acquired a huge collection of pens. Making my life easier, this collector separated his collection of fake Montblancs from his collection of the genuine article. If you’ve read my past stories about fake Montblancs, you know I’m really saying something when I say these “new” fakes were extremely impressive.

Today we will look at the fake Boheme, which I like to call the “Fauxeme.” I’ve posted 4 pens in the photos here. Can you tell which one is the real Montblanc Boheme? Don’t read ahead. Seriously. Take a guess. I’ll reveal the real McCoy in a little bit.

Making it harder to tell the truth about which pens are real is the fact Mont Blanc made a ton of different options on this line of pen. The most easily recognizable Bohemes have retractable nibs. But, MB made some with permanent nibs. I once rejected one such Boheme as an option to buy for the site because I had yet to hear about the fixed-nib models. Montblanc also varied the jewel colors and various metals and pen designs.

Which is the genuine Montblanc Boheme nib?

Fakers had a field day offering up their own designs which look insanely convincing. Look at these nibs in this photo. At first glance can you really tell which is real? The sections, collars and logos are identical. The imprinted words are different but can vary sometimes by the markets they are sold in. The one on the right is the authentic MB nib. The biggest difference between them, to me, is that when you write with the two nibs, one is clearly a scratchier steel nib. But if you are buying online, you can’t test for that.

 

 

These two Montblanc Fauxemes share the same serial number, which is a well-known fake Montblanc serial number.

We established before that Montblanc sometimes recycles its serial numbers on the pocket-clip rings. However, if you look at the database we are developing of fake Montblanc serial numbers, you can cull two pens from this herd as fakes. It would be highly improbable to get two authentic pens with the same serial number. And the numbers on these caps are known fakes.

For as impressive as the fake Bohemes are, a lower quality of manufacturing gives away the pens, when you can examine them in person. The nib seems to be the biggest tell in many cases. First, if it is a scratchy steel writer that reminds you of a vintage Esterbrook, you know you are on the right tract to unmasking the facsimile. Yet, if you get to take an extremely close look at the two-tone version of the nib, you might see where the gold coloring is incomplete or worn off.

Can you see where the gold color has faded out on this steel nib?

When it comes to the operation of the pen, the genuine Boheme has a bump sensation as you lock the nib into place to write. The Fauxeme hasn’t this feature. Also, when fully retracted, the real MB has no exposed nib tip.

Another good indicator might be the setting of the “jewels” in the pocket clip. Montblanc will do this in a very clean and precise way. In the clip photo below, you can see the poorly set “onyx” that is glued in place and sports a big gap. Yet, the “emerald” version is snuggly fit without any mess.

 

 

The pen on the left has a bit of the nib’s tip still visible when fully retracted. The authentic Montblanc pen on the right has the nib retracted out of sight, where it won’t get injured by a closed cap.

If the photos and explanation haven’t given it away already, the only real Montblanc Boheme in these photos is the lovely green-jeweled model.

With any luck, this article has helped you have a little more confidence in identifying authentic Montblanc Boheme pens. As a reminder, I am not an authorized Montblanc pen authenticator. I am sharing what I know with the public to help as best I can. If you would like your pen authenticated, please reach out directly to Montblanc, as it has an authentication service, though last I heard they charge a fairly stiff fee for their time and work. To learn more about Montblanc (and pen collecting, in general), please feel free to read through our previous stories listed under “How Do I Start Collecting Pens?“.

Notice the shoddy setting of the “onyx” jewel of the Fauxeme pen on the left. See how the “emerald” on the authentic Montblanc is a much better fit?

Shopping for a Sheaffer PFM

The Sheaffer Pen for Men, more commonly known as the Sheaffer PFM, was a luxury fountain pen first released in 1959. Like the Ford Edsel, it wasn’t quite as popular in its time as it should have been and was made for only several years. Years later, it has become an iconic pen for vintage pen collectors.

From left to right are a Sheaffer PFM I, II, III, IV and V. Notice the changes in the caps and nibs.

Keeping a car analogy in mind, PFMs came in 5 trim lines counted out in Roman numerals: I, II, III, IV and V.

• SHEAFFER PFM-I—This was the most basic and inexpensive trim line. It sports the same plastic cap and body as in higher trim lines, but the cap clip and band are steel, instead of gold plate. Its inlaid nib is made of “palladium silver,” which today is likely more valuable a precious metal than gold. All trim lines of the pen filled with a larger version of the Sheaffer Snorkel filler.

• SHEAFFER PFM-II—This pen was identical to the PFM-I except for its cap. The PFM-II cap was made of steel. It also should be noted that the palladium nibs feel much firmer than their 14k counter parts.

• SHEAFFER PFM-III—Some collectors choose to focus the most on these pens, as they were a gold upgrade with a matching plastic cap and barrel. The cap trim was gold plated and the nib was an inlaid 14k gold nib. Many collectors find these nibs to feel a little softer and smoother.

• SHEAFFER PFM-IV—PFM-IVs sport a polished chrome cap with gold plated trim. You also spot a flat gold-plated plate on the back of the blind cap. The rest of the pen remains the same as the III.

• SHEAFFER PFM-V—The pinnacle of the line, Vs were the same as IVs, except they had a completely gold-plated cap that featured an etched pattern reminiscent of the New York skyline.

In addition to the five standard trim lines, Sheaffer made a “Demonstrator” version of the pen so that pen stores and traveling Sheaffer reps could show how these complicated fountain pens worked on the inside. These pens were not for sale to the general public and were made in very small quantities. Worse still, their fragile clear plastics are known to get little cracks in them called “fractals.” The pens, which are effectively PFM-III models that are clear, are valued on clarity, internal ink staining, cracks like a normal pen and these little fractals.

An average to bad PFM Demonstrator might still command more money than a PFM-V, which normally gets more money than the other trim lines. A near perfect Demonstrator can cross into $2,000-plus territory in the year 2023.

In addition to the clear model, PFMs came in black, blue, burgundy, green and grey. Grey seems to be the rarest of the colors and also commands the highest prices. A PFM-III in grey would likely get more money than a grey PFM-V because the grey caps are so hard to find.

Cracks in the pen are the bane of collectors’ everywhere. Sheaffer, and the world, was still experimenting with plastic. The plastic chosen by Sheaffer for the PFMs tends to get increasingly brittle with age. When shopping for a Sheaffer PFM, you want to look very closely for tiny hair-line cracks in both ends of the barrel, at the start of the section nearest the barrel, around the inlaid nib and under the nib around the feed area. A crack in the barrel all but guarantees that the pen won’t fill properly, as there will be too many air leaks for the pneumatic filler to function properly. Cracks around the section and nib might equate to seepage of ink. This bothers some people more than others.

Sometimes, whatever held the inlaid nibs in place to begin with starts to deteriorate, and the nibs can seep through no fault of anyone. Yes, PFMs are a little more high maintenance and problematic than many other vintage pens, but they can also the pen you want to turn to most.

Restoration of these pens is a bit complicated, as are all snorkels. The O-ring and sac replacement are basically the same as the thinner, earlier model Snorkels. However, the PFM requires a special tool to unscrew a part of the section to reveal an inner chamber to replace the point seal. Larger O-rings and Point Seals are required for PFMs compared with standard Sheaffer Snorkels. Replacing the point seal can be challenging and risk cracking the section through no fault of a restorer. Don’t be surprised to see restoration costs span $50 to $75 for a simple overhaul with a new sac, O-ring and point seal. Those 3 parts are cheap, but you are really paying for the extra-time and expertise that go into fixing these pens.

Reading ‘100 Years of Sheaffer’

One might think that a book written by the Sheaffer corporation about the Sheaffer corporation might be a definitive history of the company, but one might be wrong.

This is the book cover to “100 Years of Sheaffer.” It is a very attractive coffee table book that seems to get some of the facts and history muddled if not completely wrong.

“100 Years of Sheaffer” is a beautiful coffee table book published by Sheaffer in 2013 to celebrate the first century of the company from 1913, when it officially incorporated, to the then present 2013. The pages are thick and the photography is excellent. Clearly, Sheaffer intended for this book to last another 100 years.

Unfortunately, the information inside the book isn’t as accurate as one might hope. At the time, the Sheaffer Pen Company had been owned by Bic, after changing hands a few other times since the Sheaffer family sold it in the 1960s. Perhaps, their own archives were diminished or this became a side project that was more of a nuisance than a labor of love.

The book opens with a few bland, general statements by Bic chairman Bruno Bich; John D. Sheaffer (the founder Walter Sheaffer’s grandson) and Sheaffer’s general manager Tim Williams. Then the uncredited author begins the narrative for the book. True Sheaffer experts will be upset by some glaring mistakes, such as ignoring the Sheaffer Touchdown filling system and then calling those pens the Snorkel and Snorkel Thin Model of 1949 and ’50 and then getting into how the Snorkel was put on the market in 1952. It also discusses how the famous Sheaffer inlaid nib was first introduced on the Pen for Men, when I’m pretty sure it got its debut with the Sheaffer Compact pens a year or two earlier, which aren’t even mentioned in the book, which is surprising given how they were early cartridge pens. Much of the information in the book is accurate, but these inconsistencies and omissions chip away at its credibility.

Each chapter focuses on a decade of Sheaffer production, and it starts with a brief overview of the history of that decade. Yet, they seem to get some basic history a little wrong, too. As the history is more pop-culture based, it is weird how they refer to the movie “King Kong” as an early Technicolor film, in the same sentence with “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.” The latter two films were famously early color films from 1939, while “King Kong” was a black-and-white film from 1933. In the 1940s section it discusses how Humphrey Bogart and Ava Garner became huge stars in the classic film noir movies “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca.” Yes, Bogie became a household name for his performances in those films, but Garner didn’t appear in either of them. True fans of noir would also never consider “Casablanca” film noir, either.

While similar books focus heavily on identifying pens based on their production dates and model names, this book doesn’t get into as many of these details. It does feature some great pens and samples of original advertising, but the very best examples are of the pens and ads come from the Bic era from 1997 to 2013. Even though I cannot prove it definitively, it seems as if they get the production dates wrong on some of their own pens of that era.

The general errors in the book should have been corrected before publication, as the true facts were already well established and known by pen collectors in 2013. Another surprising element of the book is that many of the pens photographed were not cleaned up. While they might have been from Sheaffer’s archives, many were tarnished and/or even showing some corrosion on the metal parts. By 2013, there were already many well established vintage pen repairers who could have gotten those pens gleaming for their big day with the camera. The photos were well lit and focused. It just seems as if they could have done a better job prepping the pens for such an important book.

In the final analysis, it is a well-made book with some good information. Unfortunately, you can’t trust it as the definitive source material identifying and dating Sheaffer pens.

De Atramentis Starts Rich and Fades

Happy New Year! Let’s start the year right with a fresh look at some lesser known inks.

De Atramentis is the Latin word for ink. The company is based in Germany. It specializes in a series of specialty inks, including perfumed inks. We obtained 13 colors from a collection and decided to test them with 6 months of UV light. We also tested their pH level.

Here are the results of our UV light testing of De Atramentis inks. The left side is unexposed to UV light. The right side was in a sunny window for about 6 months.

The inks we tested were Black Rose, Red Rose, Gladiolus, Heather Violet, Elderberry, Lavender, Myrrhe, Field Flowers, Deepwater, Olive Green, Lily of the Valley, Tulip and Mozart.

Straight out of the bottle, I love the rich, vibrant, saturated colors of the inks. A blue-ink addict, I especially love the Myrrhe and Field Flowers. Lavender is lovely but it is a deep blue, not purple, as I would expect. Deepwater is a blue-black. Lily of the Valley stands out as a very pretty green, to me. Red Rose shades from reddish purple to a nice pinky-purple, fuchsia, maybe.

Click the photo for a close-up look at the DeAtramentis inks.

After spending most of autumn and winter in my sunniest window, the results surprised me. You can see the results in the photo, but there was a unique unevenness to how the colors handled the UV light. Most of them lost their special vibrant saturation. It always surprises me when black inks such as Black Rose fade a bit. Red rose took a hit but didn’t completely fade out the way Gladiolus and Heather Violet did. The deep, rich purple of Elderberry faded substantially but still held on. Lavendar, Myrrhe and Field Flowers faded heavily to what basically is the same color! Deepwater lost its blue to become more of a black. Yet Olive Green and Lily of the Valley didn’t lose much of their color or vibrancy at all! Tulip and Mozart seemed to have lost about half of their original color.

Vibrant and saturated colors often fare poorly on pH tests, as they are usually quite acidic or base/alkali. In our testing, the results were fairly pH neutral for these inks. As a brief reminder, pH neutral is 7 on the scale of 0 to 14. Pure distilled water is a 7. O is acidic and 14 is alkali or base. In theory, we want our inks as close to 7 as we can get them. BUT, it is important to note that we have no idea how the ingredients in these inks will interact with the rubber ink sacs, celluloid and elements of your converters. A 7 pH with ingredients that might cause some sort of chemical reaction with a rubber ink sac might be disastrous for a pen. Therefore, this is simply raw data that I hope you find interesting.

Black Rose………………….6.6
Red Rose…………………….6.6
Gladiolus…………………….5.8
Heather Violet…………….6.5
Elderberry…………………..7.0
Lavender…………………….4.7
Myrrhe……………………….4.5
Field Flowers………………4.7
Deepwater………………….6.8
Olive Green…………………7.4
Lily of the Valley…………4.4
Tulip………………………….6.0
Mozart……………………….5.4

Merry Christmas…but just in case

Everyone involved with ThePenMarket.com wishes you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah.

However, we understand the holidays aren’t always happy for everyone. It can be a difficult time of year for many. Thoughts of happier times and missing loved ones or health concerns or a non-existent gift budget make for a really difficult day…or season, even.

Just in case you need to hear it today. Even if we have never met in person, you are loved and things will get better. If you need to talk with someone, there is a national hotline established not too long ago that can help you in times of emotional turmoil. And if you’ve reached a state where you aren’t sure if you’re in need of help, you likely do. Don’t wait. Be sure to dial 9-8-8.

With love and warm wishes,
Nathaniel & ThePenMarket.com

Pen World: Sheaffer’s Future in India

Cross sold the Sheaffer Pen Company to a company in India called William Penn. “Pen World” magazine asked me to get to the bottom of this news event by interviewing the owner of William Penn, a smart, hard-working entrepreneur named Nikhil Ranjan. If you ask me, Sheaffer is in better hands than it has been in decades. Read all about it in my December 2022 story from “Pen World,” reprinted here with permission from editor Nicky Pessaroff. If you want to stay on top of all my stories and the rest of the news in “Pen World,” be sure to click here to subscribe. To more easily read the story below, click the individual images of the pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fake Mont Blanc Pens Part IV

Some days you just never know what you will find. Someone reached out to me with a collection for sale, and they told me the original owner was an avid Montblanc collector. Naturally, I was curious to see it. It didn’t take long to assess that this person had a huge collection of fakes. Sadly, they probably didn’t even know they had fake pens. Then again, maybe that was a good thing, as they were very happy with their collection until the day they passed.

This first batch of fake Mont Blanc pens has some really convincing models.

The fascinating thing to me was how some pens were extremely convincing, others were pretty obvious and some invented designs looked better than actual Montblanc pens! It was quite an education that I hope to share here.

In this first photo is a recreation of the Mont Blanc Writers’ Series William Faulkner. It (the bottom pen) looks very convincing…even better than the real thing, as the real pen’s color is a Spanish moss green-grey, and this knock-off pen is a cinnamon brown. The white pen behind it looks just like a Montblanc Tribute to Montblanc ballpoint. Only the real one has the exact same trim in a platinum plate not gold plate. Otherwise the serial number, Pix, small details were all identical. The red pen behind it looks just like some of the special edition MB pens that looked like the original safety fillers. However, the modern MB tribute pens were never made in red. I actually kinda like the red more than the official versions. The golden one in the back will look convincing to a novice, but on really close inspection the black cap bands were poorly painted on, and the black tail isn’t something an actual MB would have.

This second selection of false Montblanc pens shows is a little less convincing.

This second photo of fakes is also interesting. One of the things Montblanc does is make special or limited runs of slight alterations to its primary “Classique” design. Clever scammers can play on that variety by making their own unique version. Yet, with any experience with Montblanc pens and a little help from a search engine online will quickly reveal designs such as these four to be fake.

I don’t know the technical way to say this but the cap wring on the bottom pen is just worn wrong. The gold plating doesn’t wear like that on heavily used Montblancs. Plus, all of these pens have black bands around the cap bands when the pens are not black. Real Montblancs would have the black lines above show as the same color as the rest of the cap and/or remain gold. The bottom two pens might not show it in the photo, but their color and finish is far too cheaply made to be a real Montblanc. Also, not visible in the photo, some of the 6-point mountain top logos/stars are either rubbing off or poorly painted or unevenly inset into the caps. The black tails on two of the pens are another indicator they are fake.

These final two pens are much more egregiously impersonating Mont Blanc.

These final pens stretch the boundaries of faking Montblanc. The closer pen looks like it could be a pen from the 1970s, but MB never had a model quite like that…and it didn’t fit Montblanc refills. The distant pen has the outline, shape and clip of a Montblanc, but it doesn’t have the logo. Maybe technically it isn’t a fake Montblanc, but in all other ways it tries to look like Mont Blanc.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this latest segment looking into the wonderful world of fake Montblanc pens. With any luck, it helps you avoid the pitfalls of the stunningly large market of counterfeit pens.

Apologies to a Parker 51

Time and again, I’ve mentioned the fountain pen that got me hooked into this crazy lifestyle. It was my mother’s father’s Sheaffer Balance Lifetime. Yet, I have another grandparental pen that never gets much publicity. It is a Parker 51 from my father’s side of the family.

This Parker 51 once belonged to either my father’s mother or father. I suspect it was Granddad’s, but either way it is a treasured keepsake.

The Parker 51 showed up in my life about 15 years after the Sheaffer. It was right around the year 2000. My father’s mother was getting sick and had to live with my parents. As they packed up her house, they discovered a Parker 51 in a desk drawer. They knew I liked old pens and sent it to me in Montana. At the time my collection was meager. My only other pens were a Sheaffer Imperial, a Rotring, a Waterman Phileas, Lamy Safari and Cross Townsend.

I recently pulled out the aforementioned 51 to write a letter and was struck by how little I knew about pens in 2000, when it showed up in my life. It would be several more years before I learned how to restore pens. I had never heard of a Parker 51. I had heard of Parker Duofolds because I had seen a modern Parker Duofold MacArthur Special Edition at Marshall Fields in Chicago. It was well out of my price range, and although its literature mentioned the original Duofolds, I assumed that none were left in existence! Honestly, I assumed that my Sheaffer was such a rare treasure that no other old-fashioned fountain pens could possibly exist. Good Lord, when I saw that modern Duofold in 1994, I was 18, and my 60-year-old pen might well have been what the dinosaurs wrote with.

That’s how little I knew. The internet only barely existed. I didn’t know a single soul who liked fountain pens. My parents thought they were archaic and messy. My friends parents thought the same. My relatives thought the same. I had not stumbled into any of the early pen catalogs and mailing lists. Only bank presidents wrote with Montblanc 149s to show off. In my tiny world, I was the last hold out.

Enter the 51, and my ignorance was on full display. It still worked and had an Aerometric filler with a silicon (sorry, pli-glass) ink sac. I assumed it was some deranged promotional pen my grandmother must have gotten in the 1980s for one of her many charitable donations. It didn’t look like a vintage pen to me. I didn’t know how to look for and understand a date code then. I didn’t know that the 51 was originally released in 1941 with the advertising stating that it was 10 years ahead of its time! The design certainly fooled me, as I thought it was from the 1980s. The date code that I now understand said it was made in 1950.

My paternal grandparents were both very formal people. The black barrel and lustraloy cap could have belonged to either of them, but as my grandmother was far more into flowery and feminine design, this pen, I now understand, was likely my grandfather’s.

My granddad, as he was called, died when I was only 8 or 9 years old. I never got to know him very well. He was always nice, but he was of a generation and upbringing that children were meant to be seen and not heard. He wasn’t the type of guy to romp around on the floor with me, but I don’t have any bad memories. As I grew up, I learned he had a business in professional sales in New York City. He was into electronics, fast cars, Broadway, a little bit of baseball and cocktail parties with witty conversation. As an adult, I’m surprised at how much we have in common, and I wish I could have known him as an adult. Our similarities baffle my own father, who wonder’s how his father’s tastes could have so completely skipped a generation.

My own father and I share the love of writing. My dad prefers ballpoints and typewriters to fountain pens and computers, but, hey, nobody’s perfect. All the same, I don’t think my grandfather likely wrote much besides orders, quite possibly on carbon copy paper. This might explain why the Parker 51 has such a firm extra-fine nib. The pen barely looked used when I got it. I suspect Granddad put it away as soon as he could get his hands on reliable ballpoint pens. I wonder if in the things left behind were a first or second-year Parker Jotter. I can see him zipping down the road in his much-beloved candy-apple red 1955 Ford Thunderbird and a Parker Jotter in his shirt pocket.

Of course, it would be nice to have that Thunderbird or any one of the myriad Lincoln Continentals that he drove over the years. I am very happy with his pen, but he sure had great taste in cars, too.