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.

Decameron 2020: Bad Blood

Bad Blood
by Art Cerf

Spring Peepers have nothing to do with this story, but we just like this photo.

Stories about him have been around as long as people have told stories…the undead, Nosferstu, Dracula. Perhaps the origin of the name came from Vlad Dracul…Vlad the Impaler, a man with so much blood on his hands that the Devil himself was impressed and offered Vlad life everlasting…but only by night and only to feast on human blood.

Dracula came to the United States after the Second World War, a refugee from Romania. And things went well in this land of milk and…uh, blood. Until 2020.

In late March of that year, he fed on another human only the blood tasted bad…like spoiled milk. And as the months proceeded, he tasted more and more of these poisoned vessels. He never cared about the news so he knew nothing of the pandemic. And when he finally learned of the plague, people were starting to get their vaccine shots.  And when he happened to bite on the them, it was even worse, rancid butter, rotting fish.

As the days went on, he became weaker and weaker, so few people either without Covid or without the vaccine.

In fear of starvation, he decided he must leave the States and even Western Europe where vaccinations also were ramping up.

Finally, he decided he’d go to a third-world country, poor and overpopulated with plenty to feed on. He narrowed his choice down to either Brazil or India.

 

Pelikan Edelstein Inks Go Under the Sun

I feel that the harsh news must be tempered.

I LOVE Pelikan pens. It is my favorite modern pen brand. I LOVE Pelikan’s Edelstein inks. They are so vibrant and beautiful. I had extremely high hopes for testing them and having far better results than standard Pelikan inks. (I wrote a travel journal at 17 when visiting Germany and bought my first bottle of Pelikan Konigsblau Tinte—King’s Blue Ink, or Royal Blue by regular English naming conventions. I can barely read it, the ink is so faded after nearly 30 years.)

Look how vibrant and beautiful Pelikan Edelstein inks look when fresh on the page. Do you see what happens to them after 3 months in direct sunlight?

As fate would have it, I bought out an ink collection this past winter. There were more than 270 bottles of ink. Among the bottles were 12 different colors of Edelstein ink and 3 bottles of standard Pelikan inks, which I had not previously tested. Also included in this test are two non-Pelikan related inks.

Assisting me in this endeavor was my ever-more talented fiancĂ© Dawn. You can immediately tell which test sheet is her’s by it being so much easier to see and read.

Pelikan inks were first started by German chemist Carl Hornemann in 1838, making Pelikan one of the oldest and most successful continuously operating ink companies in history. Yet, the company wasn’t really known as Pelikan until chemist GĂĽnther Wagner took over the company in 1871 and started using the Pelikan logo. The gemstone-inspired Edelstein inks were first launched with great success in 2011.

Our ink-fast test methodology remains simple. Put one sample in a sunny window for three months and one sample in a dark, cool place and check out the differences.

WOW!

Pelikan regular inks fare badly in three months of UV light. However, No. 5 Aonibi does very well.

None of the Pelikan inks withstood 3 months of UV light from the sun very well at all.  The beautiful Amethyst turned from purple to a faded brown. Blue-grey Tanzanite also turned colors to a faded brownish. My favorite Sapphire almost completely disappeared. So did Jade, Ruby and Topaz. When applied very thickly, Aquamarine, Olivine, Mandarin and Adventurine kinda held out. Only Garnet seemed to survive mostly intact.

Moving on to the standard Pelikan inks, Brilliant Red almost disappeared completely, turning a very faded yellow. Violet and Brilliant Green also lost about 70% to 80% of their color and visibility.

Our two non-Pelikan contestants were No. 5 Aonibi, which is a lovely blue-black when fresh and Organic Studio “N,” which is a stunningly beautiful sheening blue. Although I’ve never heard of No. 5 Aonibi, it held its own quite well in this test. Of the 17 inks sampled, it won the contest of looking the most like it did when it was first put to paper.

Organic Studio “N” could easily win the contest to be my new favorite blue ink, but it inexplicably turned black in the sun. That is way better than fading to near invisibility, but I really wish it held its true color when fresh on paper.

How Do I Start Collecting Pens: Fake Montblanc Serial Numbers

This is one of the most convincing fake Montblanc fountain pens we have ever seen.

After 14 years in the pen business, I have just encountered one the very best fake Montblanc pens I’ve ever seen. It came with a collection of vintage pens for appraisal. I had been told it was a Montblanc rollerball, and it looks very much like a Montblanc Classique. The appraisal customer told me it was a LeGrand.

A quick inspection showed it had a serial number in the clip band, Pix written under the clip, perfect cap band nomenclature. It came with a convincing box and set of papers!

My first clue something was wrong came when I tried taking off the cap. A true Classique has a slip cap. This cap was threaded…and LeGrands are supposed to be threaded…though this pen was too skinny to be a LeGrand. Open the pen, and it took an authentic Montblanc rollerball refill. But, inside the barrel was a metal threaded space when there are no metal threads in an authentic MB Classique. There was so much right and wrong with the pen.

That’s when my brilliant fiancĂ©e recommended searching the number on the clip band.

EN1340798 is one of the most frequently used serial numbers on fake Mont Blanc pens.

Lo and behold, this pen turned out to have one of the most faked numbers for faux Montblanc pens: EN1340798. Research quickly showed it on fountain pens, rollerballs and ballpoints.

In a security fail for the actual Montblanc company, they don’t track their serial numbers. As such, many, if not most, MB serial numbers are not assigned to a pen owner or provenance of any kind. Montblanc has even acknowledged that sometimes it reuses serial numbers! Ironically, this makes the very security measures the company uses to authenticate its pens that much less secure.

In an effort to help separate the real pens from the fakes, please write in the comments section any other serial numbers you know to be fake. Thanks!

Decameron 2020: Invasion

Invasion
by Art Cerf

Emerging from a fog, the New London Lighthouse symbolizes all of our emergence from the fog of pandemic.

The troops were nervous but well prepared…insertion at 0900 hours.

Intel had warned the enemy might already be in the area, so they must be prepared to fight from the instant they land.

However, the insertion went well, giving the troops time to examine the entire area, set up defensive positions and locate good ambush sites. They’d need to since they were told there would be no more troops coming for three weeks so they had to hold no matter what!

*************

“Now that wasn’t so bad,” said the nurse as she withdrew the needle from the injection area and placed a bandage on his arm.

“No, not so bad at all,” said the recipient. “See you in three weeks.”

Pen Collecting Time Capsule

Here are two 5″ X 7″ pen catalogs from 1994! I was intrigued by the Menash catalog as I don’t know what became of that company.

Leaving the pen-collecting life behind, a friend of mine has given me his stash of catalogs and advertising from 1992 through 1994. Its contents blew my mind.

Most of the material was from 1994, the spring I graduated high school. While it is difficult for me to comprehend that was 27 years ago, what is harder to comprehend was how big pen collecting was becoming that long ago!

I found my first fountain pen in 1985 when I was 9 and adored it. It belonged to my late grandfather, and it still worked: a 1928 Sheaffer Lifetime Balance. I used it until it finally broke down, and I became obsessed with finding other fountain pens. They just didn’t exist. Not in my 10-year-old world or the various circles I moved in. I asked adults for them, and all the adults laughed and said they threw their fountain pens out years ago because ballpoints were “so much better.” Even then, I knew that was heresy.

Sheaffer sent me an Imperial to replace my grandfather’s pen, which they could no longer fix. I snatched up those terrible Sheaffer Student Pens at the grocery store. Yet, I was the only person of any age I knew who loved fountain pens. Studying German while in a San Diego high school, my teacher told us that most German kids and adults still preferred using fountain pens. San Diego had no pen stores that I knew of, and the internet did not exist. I worked a part-time job and saved most of my money to pay for my trip as an exchange student to Germany. Most of my fellow American exchange students saved up their money so they could drink heavily in a nation where the drinking age was 16. I begged my German family to be taken to a proper stationary shop. I gleefully purchased a stub-nibbed elegant black Rotring and a bottle of Pelikan royal blue ink. I wrote with that poor beast until its threads wore off. It wasn’t until the internet got more advanced that I could search for fountain pens and finally start finding them in about 2005.

A 1992 edition of “Pen Finder” by Glen Bowen.

And sooo, it surprises me now to see that while I was searching the world over for fountain pens, there was a ground swell of people who did still love fountain pens…and vintage pens, at that! Plus, many of the people I know on the pen show circuit were innovators of the vintage pen revival.

For example, when I first met Glen Bowen, I did not know he founded “Pen World” magazine. He had already sold his stake in it, but his wife Susan was still the circulation director at Pen World. She and I bonded over the fact she went to journalism school at Northwestern with my father. When she later introduced me to Glen, I thought he was just a pen newbie helping his wife at the Pen World table. Ooops!

In this stack of publications is a protean “Pen World” magazine catalog he published in 1992 called the “Pen Finder.” It was printed at the same time as the early “Pen Worlds” but was a catalog of vintage pens he restored that collectors could buy. You had to subscribe to it. There were simply several glossy photos of capped fountain pens and some inner pages that served as an index of what the pens were and how much they cost. No nib photos. As people didn’t yet know the history of the pens as well then as they do now, I think I even spotted a few pens with mismatched caps and barrels.

The catalog index of pens for sale in “Pen Finder.” Back then it was too expensive to print color on every page of a magazine. As such there would be color pages and B&W pages.

Without the internet, vintage pen research was a slow and ongoing process. So many of those early collectors had to do their own research into the histories of pens. And much of that was very hit and miss. The internet really made it easier for everyone to get together and compare notes and research.

I love the low-tech feel of these publications. The world-famous Fountain Pen Hospital vintage pen catalog was just a photo-copier copy of pens and prices. Bexley Pens advertised new models with a beautiful glossy photo paired with a home-printer list of features and benefits.

The more professional catalogs for new merchandise were more sophisticated, but I sure as hell wish I could get my hands on some of this Montblanc and Omas at their original pricing. Brand-new, factory-fresh Montblanc 164 Classique models for $99. Omas fountain pens for $325 to $100! FPH was selling a stash of 14k gold #5 Waterman MUSIC NIBS for $50 a piece!

Vintage pen prices were all over the map. There were rare pens for $100 or $200. Really common pens for up to $800. And, yet, other pen prices haven’t changed. Standard Parker Vacumatics went for around $125.

Ads for the Bexley Giant. Note the glossy one-page sheet paired with a home-printer fact sheet. That was not unusual advertising back then. It was fairly slick and affordable.

When I finally got some guidance from my buddy Hans who taught me about vintage pens and how to repair them in 2005, I felt like we were the last two people on earth who loved old fountain pens. With his instructions, I felt as if I was somehow reinventing the wheel or reviving a long dead religion. Yet, this is evidence I was never truly alone back then. I was just searching in all the wrong ways and places.

It is easy to be glib and say, “Oh, gee, I wish I knew in 1994 what I know now.” While that wouldn’t be untrue, I really wish I knew my pen tribe then and could take the journey with them to where we are today. Fountain pens have always brought me joy, and they clearly bring many other people joy. And while I am very happy we have found each other in this grand and glorious age of the internet, it would have been nice to have learned and shared at an even earlier age.

 

Decameron 2020: Cheating Fate

Cheating Fate
by Art Cerf

Fate travels on the wind and a whim.

Birds are returning for Spring, and we thought you might like this Chickadee, even though it has nothing to do with this story.

It gives a New Jersey auto mechanic tens of millions of dollars in the lottery and a block away, it gives a child cancer.

It favors neither the young nor the old, the rich nor the poor, the red nor the blue, men nor women.

Suzanne LeBouff favors just one thing…Suzanne LeBouff.  She’s a beautiful young heiress with enough money to live in luxury ten times over. She travels the world, buying the best of everything–jewelry, clothing, men or women.

The average person can cheat Fate maybe once or twice in a lifetime. Suzanne LeBouff has cheated it 157 times and counting. If she’s in Istanbul, Fate follows but by the time it arrives, she’s off to the Costa del Sol in sunny Spain. From there, just before Fate’s arrival, she’s in Skagway, Alaska.

For Fate, it’s an irritant, like pebble in your shoe.  It followed her to Patagonia but missed  her by a few hours. The pebble grew in pain like a kidney stone.  Then it was onto Cape Town, Singapore and Perth. By now, Fate was ignoring its job and focused solely on finding Suzanne LeBouff, albeit with a migraine-sized headache.

But finally, it uncovered a tip that its quarry would next appear in Wuhan, China.  So Fate raced there for a final confrontation with Ms. LeBuoff. But after searching the city, she never showed up, apparently changing her plans.

Anger, frustration and pure hatred bubbled over in Fate and there was a toxic, though silent, explosion. And thus was Covid-19 born.

Morale:  Don’t let your anger stay pent up. And, wear a mask!

Bic Cristal Inks Get Testing

We tested these 8 Bic Cristal pens to see how ballpoint ink holds up to 6 months of sunlight. Blue, Pink, Green, Black, Grass-Stain Green, Purple, Turquoise and Red.

During my last visit with Ink-Fast Donn at the D.C. Pen Show in 2019, he said he was starting to test ballpoint inks to see how well they hold up to UV light.

Last summer, I discovered a collection of the famous and commonly used Bic Cristal ballpoints in my fencing gear. I taught a wonderful group of teens and tweens advanced competition maneuvers and strategy, and to help them remember their lessons and opponents, I insisted they keep “Diaries of Doom” and “Tomes of Terror.” To help personalize it more, I handed out colorful notebooks and pens.

Armed with 8 colors (blue, pink, green, grass-stain green, black, turquoise, purple and red), I created a sample on Rhodia paper and taped it to a sunny window of my home at the end of August. I took it down at the end of February and was surprised by the results.

This photo doesn’t really do full justice to the sample set and proof set. The blue doesn’t look as blue as it does in real life.

Surprise #1 to me was that the black ink faded. With fountain pen inks, you can generally count on black to be the most stable and fade-proof. While it didn’t fade away entirely, it had issues.

Side by side comparisons showcase the effect of 6 months of sunlight on Bic Cristal inks.

Surprise #2: Blue! Blue fountain pen inks fade something fierce under the withering sun. Bic Cristal blue got stronger! It lost some of its blueness and turned blacker, but it held on defiantly under the sun’s gaze.

Surprise #3: Grass-Stain Green didn’t fade as much as I thought it would. It faded a little.

Red and purple faded the most. Green, turquoise and pink faded a little, but survived okay.

Reflecting on this experiment, for some reason, I always assumed oil-based ballpoint inks would be far more permanent than water-based fountain pen inks. Yet, their chemical compositions all have their frailties. Some ballpoint colors react differently than fountain pen inks, but that shouldn’t surprise me as much as it did.

Introducing Adventure Pens

Click this photo for one of the most beautiful images of a sunrise you’ve ever seen: a sunrise over Antarctica by Nandi Kovats.

Time and again I talk about how blessed I am to know so many interesting people. Today I want to introduce you to my old friend Nandi Kovats, an Antarctic adventurer and pen maker…among many other things.

After returning from Antarctica several years ago, he dove head first into an obsession with pens, which culminated in him learning the art of how to make them…while back on station in Antarctica. But, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

Nandi and I first met on the University of Montana fencing team. Go Griz! Nandi was one of the most gifted fencers I had trained. He learned faster than anybody I know, and he was hyperkinetic. He was always moving and, better yet, he could instantly synthesize new information and put it into physical action.

Nandi stopping by for a visit after work several years ago just outside Chicago.

I’ll never forget a tournament in Spokane, Wa., where Nandi was in a direct elimination round foil bout. He was getting eaten alive by a more advanced and experienced fencer. During a one-minute rest break, our teammate and good friend Matt and I came to talk with him. We explained the move that was defeating Nandi, and then we explained how to defend it. Nandi and I, using our fingers went through the defense only once before the bout was supposed to resume. When the more advanced fencer came at Nandi again with that move, Nandi sprang the defensive move we just taught him like he had been doing it all of his life. He used it again and again until his opponent gave up and Nandi could defeat him with his favorite moves. Matt and I were stunned because almost nobody can process a complicated new defense they’d never previously heard about in the middle of a bout and use it to win and promote to the next round of the event.

In addition to being a gifted fencer, Nandi was (and is) a natural when it came to traditional partner dancing. Waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha, tango and myriad jitterbugs.

Seals rest on the Antarctic coastline while penguins hang out in the background. Photo by Nandi Kovats

After college he went to Boston where he got a job as an instructor at a Fred Astaire Dance Academy!

While on the East Coast he became fascinated with the idea of sailing classic sailing ships. And so, he joined the crew of a three-masted schooner as a cook and deckhand helping to run tours of the New England coastline from a ship based in Maine.

As there isn’t much sailing to do in the winter, he went up to Canada to learn the art of dog sledding!

After sailing in the summer and mushing in the winter ran its course, Nandi sought the biggest adventure of his life: Antarctica.

For roughly 12 years, Nandi has been a utility infielder on American science stations in Antarctica. He fills in on dozens of jobs from climate scientist to marine biologist to sanitation engineer! He has witnessed the brutal effects of global warming shrinking the ice and decimating wildlife populations. He has witnessed the miracles of scientific discovery in everything from starfish to penguins to sea leopards…which are surprisingly dangerous animals, no matter how cute they look.

Every work season for Nandi is 6 months during Antarctic summer, and then he is off for 6 months during Antarctic winter. In his off time he travels the world and revisits family and friends all around the United States.

Nandi surveys the craggy shore of Antarctica while penguins make their way back from the ocean near Palmer Station.

During down time at Palmer Station in Antarctica, the scientists and support staff pass the time by teaching each other all manner of skills. Several years ago, mastering the use of a lathe became a top activity. One crew mate began teaching Nandi the art of making pens. That’s when Nandi began falling down a rabbit hole so many of us know all too well.

And that is how Nandi’s Adventure Pens was born! Collecting interesting samples of wood from every camping trip, rafting tour and other travel adventure he goes on, Nandi has begun make a fascinating array of pens with a story to tell.

Today, we are pleased to showcase 4 of his creations: a beautifully cured and stabilized spalted maple from the backwoods of Wisconsin, an aromatic juniper from Missoula, Mont., cedar driftwood from Idaho’s Selway River and larch from one of America’s greatest natural jewels…Montana’s Bitterroot Valley.

Each pen is one of a kind. There is no other just like it. Plus, each ballpoint pen uses easily found Cross-style refills!

Our Latest Story in ‘Pen World’

I wrote a story featured in the February 2021 issue of Pen World Magazine. We have been given permission to reprint it here.

Check out the February 2021 issue of ‘Pen World’ Magazine! They loved our blog post about Parker’s Vice President of Foreign Sales Frank Matthay and asked us to write a more pen-centric story about Frank and Parker! Editor in Chief Nicky Pessaroff has given me permission to reprint and post the magazine cover and story here for your entertainment. It is different than the original blog post, and I hope you enjoy this new story. Also be sure to run out and subscribe “Pen World.”

 

Pen World Magazine has given us permission to reprint this story I wrote for the February 2021 issue. Click the image to see a larger, more readable, version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 2 of the story. Click the image to see a larger, more readable, version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 3. Click the image for a larger, more readable, version.

 

Decameron 2020: Four Guys Walk into a Bar

Four Guys Walk into a Bar
by Art Cerf

Sunset au Groton…Connecticut. As usual just a pretty picture to enjoy with the story.

A priest, a rabbi, a TV evangelist and an agnostic walk into a bar.

Sounds like the beginning of a great joke but in truth, it’s the beginning of a story.

The four were fast friends back in college some 35 years ago and once a year in the fall, they’d meet on campus to update each other, tell old stories, drink, play cards, curse and spit. They all agreed to get a Covid test before this year’s gathering and three of the four did so. The fourth meant to but got busy and forgot. But he was feeling great and had been nowhere near anyone with the virus.

The tele-evangelist was the last to arrive and saw his friends at a table down at Morrie’s…their agreed upon rendezvous.  After handshakes and hugs, they called the barmaid over. The  evangelist– a millionaire many times over–ordered the most expensive bourdon in the house and a double at that.  The priest ordered a white wine. The rabbi–a recovering alcoholic–stayed with a diet Coke and the agnostic had a beer.

After much laughter, a second round was ordered and after those drinks were finished, the TV preacher dropped a hundred dollar bill on the table and told the waitress to keep the change.

They then walked over to the best hotel in town where the evangelist had booked a suite big enough for the four of them. The agnostic said even if they split the cost four ways, he couldn’t afford it. The rabbi and the priest agreed but the preacher waved them off and said he’d pick up the tab and write it off on his taxes.

They went upstairs and soon were playing the game of Hell at ten cents a point like they had 35 years earlier, youthening as they played.

Hours later, everyone was hungry so the preacher called down to room service. He ordered a large Porterhouse steak for himself. The priest just wanted a bowl of soup. The rabbi said he’d have a Rueben and the agnostic said that sounded good to him and added a side of cole slaw. Then the TV preacher added a bottle of champagne.

The young waiter wheeled in the feast and the preacher opened the champagne with a pop and poured for everyone, including the young waiter. He thanked the group but said he wasn’t allowed to drink on the job. The minister said rubbish, tucked a $50 in his pocket and said, “Drink up.”

The young man removed his mask, took two sips, thanked everyone and left.

The weekend was fun for all and as they left their separate ways, the preacher thought though he loved them all, he was surprised on how depressingly ordinary their lives were.

The priest admitted to himself that he was jealous of the TV star for each week, he preached to millions while the priest drew 200 to Sunday services on a good day.

The rabbi just looked back on the weekend as a wonderful break from his real life.

The agnostic loved them all but thought the preacher was in for a big fall…making millions for his church, buying his own plane, a mansion, a Rolls and who knows what else, writing it all off as church expenses.

About a week later, one of the four got sick, really sick with Covid. A day later, two more of the group got ill and two days after that, the fourth was in the hospital. Two would die. The other two would face a lengthy recovery.

Contact tracers looked at all four and who they had contact with while on campus. They traced it to the young waiter who had shared a glass of champagne with them. He was doing fine.