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: Love Against the Odds

“Oh my God, Ray,” said Valentine, sliding into his side of their usual booth with a tumbler of craft bourbon. “I just had the worst date of my life.”

Ray cooly swirled his bourbon around an impossibly oversized single ice cube.

“Worse than the blind date your boss set you up on with a high school student who had never been on a date and showed up with her mom?” Ray asked.

“Technically, she had just graduated,” Val corrected. “But, yes, even worse than that horror show.”

“This ought to be good,” Ray sipped. “Who was it with?”

“Remember that teacher we met at Josh’s New Year’s party? Lexi, his sister?”

Ray laughed, “Yeah. The party that ended when it turned into a drunken vomitorium.”

“That’s the one. But, if you will recall, you, me and Lexi were the only ones who didn’t spew.”

“Yeah,” Ray agreed. “But, I thought you said she could be the one.”

“I did,” said Val, exasperated. “She’s pretty, outgoing, smart, helps people, loves movies and literature. Nobody reads any more, but we spent hours talking and texting about not just books but the classics from the 20th century back to ancient Greece.”

“She sounds perfect for you, so far,” Ray said. “What happened?”

“Well, I set up a nice dinner on the town for our first real date. I put on a jacket and tie. The works. Then, just as I’m walking out the door, she texts that she is at some party her brother is hosting at a sushi place and wants me to meet her there.

“I can’t stand sushi, but I want to look spontaneous and fun. ‘Sure,’ I say.” Val took a sip before continuing. “I stroll into the place like I own it, and a party of two dozen people start cheering me on and welcoming me to the party with handshakes, hugs and encouragements like ‘Go get her, Tiger,’ ‘She really likes you’ and ‘Great to finally meet you.’

“At the end of the gauntlet sits Lexi, red-faced but beaming.”

Ray shrugs, “Aside from the venue-change ambush, not hideous, yet.”

“Hang in there,” Val reassures. “I sit down, and, before I can order a drink, Josh is like, ‘Hey, we should go dancing.’

“You know I’ve got some moves, so I’m down and we all pile into a bunch of cabs. I’m with Lexi, some blonde chick and her boyfriend. Lexi and the blonde are smashed out of their minds and giggling at total nonsense. Me, the driver and the boyfriend are just hopin’ the girls don’t puke before we get to the club.

“Once there, some 60-something-year-old guy with our group gets us all in for free, which is great because the cover was insane, like 50-bucks a head. The inside of the joint is more like a movie night club than a real-life-people-spillin’-drinks-all-over-the-dance-floor night club. It’s clean, swank and chill.

“Before you know it, Lexi’s got me on the floor, and she’s ridin’ my thigh like a derby horse and rubbin’ her breasts on me like she’s trying to set my shirt on fire. Then comes some deep French kissing, and I’m thinking this has to be the best first date ever.”

Ray’s smiling. “That’s what I’m thinking. So, what’s your problem?”

“Well,” Val explains. “The music stops and she whispers, ‘Hey, that guy who got us in looks a little lonely. Mind if I have a dance with him to thank him for getting us in, and then we can get outta here.’

“She gave me a naughty grin, and I said sure with a naughty grin of my own.

“I head for the bar and order a double to catch up a little to her. When I get back to the edge of the dance floor, she starts mackin’ on the old guy.”

“Uh-oh,” Ray interjects.

“Yeah,” spit Val, incredulously. “The dude I rode over with in the cab with the girlfriend is the old guy’s nephew. He looks nervously at me and starts trying to peel Lexi off his uncle.

“Before you know it, Lexi is all over the nephew, and he clearly is not into it as he looks back and forth between me and his girlfriend.”

“Why aren’t you doing anything, man?” Ray asks.

“By now it is like a train wreck, where I can’t stop staring. So then the nephew’s blonde girlfriend intervenes. She and Lexi start dancing like girls sometimes do to ward off unwanted guys…and then they start makin’ out like some kind of porn movie. Deep kissing and aggressively groping each other.

“The nephew and I exchange befuddled what-the-fuck glances, and Josh walks up with his girlfriend and absolute astonishment on their faces.

“Josh says, ‘Oh my God, Val. I have never seen my sister like this before. I swear she talked about nothing but you all dinner.’ His girlfriend agreed with a stutter, ‘It’s true. I’ll, I’ll dance with you if you want.’ But mostly the four of us just stood there staring in disbelief.”

Ray interrupted, “I don’t know, man. Sounds like a lot of fun to me. I can see you going with a nymphomaniac.”

“I wouldn’t mind a nympho,” Val explained, “as long as she was exclusive. Remember, I went into this thing thinking she’d be my future wife and soul mate, not the main attraction at the Playboy mansion. Anyhow, there’s more.”

“There’s more?” Ray asked, signally to the waitress for another round.

“Lexi and the blonde walk over, and Lexi grabs me by the belt and takes me to a table. I knock what’s left of my double back as she catches her breath. ‘I guess nobody puts Baby in a corner,’ I said, regaining my senses, and she laughs. ‘You’re the coolest guy ever,’ she said. ‘Get our coats and take me home.’

“I get our coats, with every intention of pouring her into a cab and sending her home alone. I don’t have a big enough medicine cabinet to cure all that she might be carrying.

“When I get back, our group has put a bunch of tables into an oval for everyone to sit around. It is dark in the club, and I don’t see Lexi at first. Her brother–a dude–holds my hand and asks that I be a gentleman. I promise, he lets go and I spot Lexi with the blonde at the other end of the oval. As I get closer, it is obvious they are Frenching. Standing next to them, I see the blonde has her hand up my date’s sweater, fondling Lexi’s left breast.

“Lexi opens her eyes in near ecstasy and just whispers, ‘Ice.’

“Yes, she’s getting an ice-cube nipple massage in front of a table of 24-people and whoever else is in the club.”

“Holy shit,” says Ray, snorting out a laugh. “Happy wife, happy life. What did you do next?”

“I was kinda still letting it all soak in, when Lexi grabbed my tie, pulls me down, Frenches me and purrs, ‘I hope that wasn’t too weird for you.’

“‘Nah,’ I said. ‘Happens to me all the time. Here’s your coat. I’m outta here.'”

“You didn’t,” Ray cackled. “You coulda had the freakiest sex of your life that night.”

“I didn’t want the freakiest sex of my life,” Val said, still injured from the experience. “I wanted this to be true love. I was in wife-hunting mode not porn-star hunting mode. I was really pissed and hurt.”

“Man,” Ray explained. “That’s your problem. You’re always looking for true love and a wife.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing, but you’re looking for perfection, a fantasy—not a real woman.”

“I am not,” Val protested. “I have tons of quirks, and I want a quirky woman who matches my quirks while being perfectly funny, charming, brilliant, hard-working, carefree and witty.”

“Right,” said Ray. “You want a character in a movie—someone played by Meg Ryan, Reese Witherspoon or Drew Barrymore—not even the real women who play those characters—you just want the characters.”

“Hey, if somebody can write and portray those types of characters, there has to be some basis in reality for them,” Val countered.

“No there doesn’t,” Ray disagreed. “Only Germans go to movies to see hard, cold reality. Most people want to escape. They want fantasy. Those romantic comedies are huge hits because they are about what we all want to experience and believe.”

Val gave Ray a dubious look, so Ray pressed ahead.

“Did you ever study psychology in college, Val?”

“No. Not really.”

“It was my major,” Ray explained. “The number one thing it taught me is that we’re all crazy. Crazy isn’t a girl thing. It isn’t a guy thing. Everyone is bat-shit crazy. I kinda like the term, fith. Fucked In The Head.”

“No we’re not,” Val blew Ray off.

“Seriously,” Ray said. “Who knows? Lexi and that blonde probably think that you’re off your rocker. Why? Because you are crazy. I’m crazy. Everyone in this bar is crazy in some way or another.”

Val looked around the intimate setting of the trendy, urban bourbon distillery and shook his head. “The only insane person here is you.”

“Emotionally disturbed would be the more politically correct phrase to use, but to counter your point: No. We all are.”

“How?” Val asked.

Ray finished his drink and ordered another round, thinking about his answer. After a minute, he asked, “Let’s say you can magically find true love in this bar tonight. Okay?”

Val shrugged. “Sure. I’ll play along.”

“Okay,” Ray said. “Let’s calculate the odds. First, it should be noted that this a not a well-represented selection of the American public at large. While it is close to a 50/50 split of men and women, they range from their late twenties to early forties, appear single and affluent enough to blow $15 per rocks glass on hand-crafted bourbon in a major American metropolis.”

“That’s a fair assessment,” Val agreed.

“How many people do you think are in here?” Ray asked.

“Maybe around 100.”

“Perfect,” Ray said. “Now, can I assume you’re still straight?”

“Be my guest,” Val invited.

“Great. Let’s get started,” Ray began, while scanning the room. “Right away we can eliminate 50 people from this room as mates because you don’t want to sleep with a dude. But, the odds are that roughly 10% of people are gay. That eliminates 5 women who would never want to sleep with you.”

“My gaydar isn’t perfect,” Val confessed, surveying the bar, “But, you haven’t lost me, yet.”

“Did you know that reports show and predict between 25% and 75% of women and 10% to 50% of men will experience sexual abuse in their lifetimes. That alone will mess with anybody’s mind, but that doesn’t even begin to factor in other forms of abuse and issues with somebody’s parental upbringing, religion, peer-to-peer problems and simple biochemistry. That doesn’t mean that anybody who experiences any of these problems can’t love, enjoy sex or be the perfect lover for you or me—or we them. BUT, most people aren’t going to be the problem-free people we see portrayed on screen in rom-coms.”

“Really? That many people are abused?” Val asked, squinting to see if he could identify the people in the crowd who might be victims.

“Sadly, yes, the numbers are high, but it isn’t as if everyone is going to wear a badge proclaiming what happened to them.”

“Huh,” was all Val said, letting the information sink in.

“Of course,” Ray said, with a dark little laugh. “The statistics get pretty outrageous when you do the math.”

“What do you mean?”

Ray took a deep breath and wound himself up.

“I love stats, and, well, I’m kinda obsessed. In fact, did you know that about 1 in 100 people have obsessive-compulsive disorder, 2.5% have Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, 2% are bipolar, nearly 10% are dealing with some other clinical form of depression, up to 2% have separation anxiety, up to 1% have selective mutism where they won’t talk under various circumstances, up to 9% have a specific phobia like spiders or heights, 7% have social anxiety disorder—they likely self-selected out of this sample set, up to 3% of people have random panic attacks, nearly 3% have general anxiety disorder, 1.7% agorophobic—again, self-selecting out of this bar, 9% have post-traumatic stress disorder and up to another 20% are dealing with a milder form of PTSD, 1.5% have multiple personalities, nearly 2% of people have some sort of amnesia, up to 7% are hypocondriacs, roughly 3% of people have eating disorders, up to 10% have insomnia and 1% are hypersomnolent, 3.6% sleepwalk, up to 15% have sleep apnea, oh, this one’s fun…1% of American adults pee on themselves at least 3 times a week when there is nothing wrong with their urinary tracks…like bedwetting or even peeing on themselves in the middle of the day.”

Ray took a breath before rattling off more. “3% are oppositional defiant, up to 7% have clinically significant anger issues, 1% are pyromaniacs, 4% have addicitions—again, we might have a skewed sample set here, up to 4% are paranoid, roughly 13% have anti-social issues, up to 6% are narcissists, up to another 6% are impulsive and unstable to the point they can’t maintain a consistent, meaningful long-term relationship of any kind, up to 30% of men are frotteuristic, up to 30% of people get off on sexual sadism and it is estimated that up to 33% of Americans have at least one sexually transmitted disease.”

Ray took a drink. “And don’t get me started on diseases. Did you know that 10% of Americans have toenail fungus, 10% diabetes, up to 15% irritable bowel syndrome and 23% arthritis. I’ve also read that 7% of Americans don’t bathe, 6% can’t ride a bike, 33% of adults sleep with a comfort object like a Teddy bear or security blanket, 15% honestly believe that the world will end during their lifetime, 45% believe ghosts and demons are real, 25% still think the sun goes around the earth and, for Christ’s sake, 2% of Americans really think Sen. Mitt Romney’s real first name is Mittens!

“Do you know how many percents of America all of that adds up to?” Ray asked, cooling down and taking another sip of bourbon for effect.

“A lot of percent,” Val said, still trying to catch up.

“That’s 443.3%,” Ray stated.

“How’s that even possible?” Val asked. “I thought you can only have 100% of anything.”

“There are more problems and diagnoses than people,” Ray explained. “Maybe that blonde over there is a sexual sadist with irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia and explosive anger issues. Perhaps that redhead is a hypochondriac who is terrified of bunny rabbits and sets fires while losing control of her bladder. Maybe that brunette is a depressed alcoholic who will fight you for the next 4 hours, insisting that Mitt Romney is really Mittens Romney, not Willard.”

Val laughed.

“Okay, Ray. What’s the point? True love doesn’t exist?”

“That’s not the point,” Ray replied. “While I admit Lexi probably isn’t the right girl for you, you’ve got to stop looking for perfection and accept that everybody if fith in one way or another. Look for the crazy that matches your crazy, and you might find some lasting happiness.”

Author’s Note: The statistics cited in this story come from the American Psychiatric Association, Centers for Disease Control, National Institute of Health and other reputable sources. Also, if Val’s dates sound too unrealistic, although the names and places have changed, those really were dates I went on. No other details were changed. Thank goodness I’ve finally met a woman as charmingly crazy as myself to marry.

Decameron 2020: Mr. Hobbs

MR. HOBBS
By Art Cerf

This is a story about Mr. Hobbs.  Not Roy Hobbs, the baseball phenom played by Robert Redford in “The Natural.” And not Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Hobbs in “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation.”  Robert Redford is handsome. Jimmy Stewart was charming. Our Mr. Hobbs was neither.

He was a solitary man, an only child who lived his entire life with his mom and after she passed away, he continued living in their home.

Hobbs was a teller at the local bank for 37 years until a bank merger forced him into an unwanted retirement. Still, he had his Social Security, a small pension, his mother’s house and a small amount of money that she had willed to him. Altogether, it wasn’t much but it was enough for his needs.

Hobbs would sleep in late and go to bed early. During his waking hours, he would watch the news and old movies, thumb through about a hundred books in the house although he had read each multiple times. And he would pick up and hold his mother’s possessions.  Some of them were probably worth some money but it never crossed his mind to sell them.

He seldom went outside and then, only late at night, so he could roam the neighborhood without running into neighbors.

And then, the pandemic.

It started in Washington state, then New York. Soon it spread to Chicago, Los Angeles and New Orleans. And then tendrils of the virus reached out around the heartland.

Finally, it arrived in Pennyville. He saw that Sue and Walter Borowicz had died. They had been regular bank customers for decades.  A few days later, Harvey Ingle succumbed.  While they weren’t friends, Harvey had been in grade school with him.

But Hobbs had not fear of the virus. For one thing, he was socially distanced from everyone. And second, he had been dead for seven  years. And ghosts seldom get viruses.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For those of you who wonder where I get my macabre sense of humor, this story by my father might be a good clue. And to her credit, my mom can get pretty dark, too.

Decameron 2020: The Pangolin’s Lament (or, The Birth of Covid-19)

Author’s Note: A.) I’ve always enjoyed short-story contests of 50 words or fewer. B.) As of this writing, pangolins are one of the animals most suspected of giving humans this strain of coronavirus.

The pangolin hunter smiled, looking at his wriggling snare.

“Listen,” the defiant pangolin said. “I’ll make you a deal: Let me go, and I’ll let you live.”

The hunter said nothing, reaching to strangle the little anteater.

“Okay,” the pangolin resigned, blowing a juicy sneeze in the hunter’s face.

The Decameron 2020 Project

Even under the age of 10, I was one morbid kid with a dark sense of humor that would have suited me to be leading member of the Addams family. Among my youthful obsessions was the Bubonic Plague that wiped out a third of Europe in the middle of the 14th century. It terrified and fascinated me. I comforted myself as a kid that a pandemic like that could never happen in my lifetime. It has been about 100 years since the Spanish Flu pandemic and modern medicine and sanitation have come so far. Oops. How wrong I was.

Since when did a respiratory disease need this much toilet paper? People be crazy, but you can help keep your sanity by following our project called “The Decameron 2020.”

As yet, Coronavirus is no Black Death, but it doesn’t look pleasant, either. The 24/7 coverage of the disease sure isn’t setting many of our minds at ease.

To alleviate our stress and worries, I want to completely take my mind (and hopefully yours) off the dreadful subject.

To do that I want to turn back to the Black Plague for guidance. More specifically, I want to rekindle the memory of a brilliant Italian author named Giovanni Boccaccio. Not only did he survive the Black Death, he wrote one of the most modern, journalistic narratives of it to survive. He included it at the start of his famous book, “The Decameron.”

After the first 80 pages of the book describe the lead-up, duration and aftermath of the plague, he wrote the European equivalent of “101 Arabian Nights.” The remainder of his hefty tome is the story of 10 young nobles (7 women and 3 men) in Italy who decide to survive the plague by sequestering themselves together, feasting at their various estates for 10 days while telling each other stories. Every single day, each person had to tell one story. 10 stories a day for 10 days.

I finally read the complete “Decameron” in my 30s and was stunned by its humor, honesty and humanity. So much classic literature from that era feels stilted and formal but not Boccaccio. While I only found about 15 of the 100 stories to be profoundly entertaining, I was amazed how dirty and hilarious some of those stories were. (The book was mostly completed by the end of the Black Death in 1352, but Boccaccio’s revisions of 1370-71 are what got saved and handed down.) Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen would have actually been a huge hit in the late 14th century, just as they were in the beginning of the 21st century.

I spent my early years yearning to be a professional writer. I earned my master’s in journalism and worked in newspapers. I wrote a novel that got published and 2 that didn’t. I’ve been missing my storytelling ways for the past couple years. And, well…

I want to flex my storytelling muscles, once again. As we ride out our sequestrations and quarantines, I hope to entertain you with some brand new short stories. I also hope to entertain you with some short stories from my talented friends and parents—both of whom made their livings as professional writers.

With luck, my project will take your mind off your worries for a few minutes and make these days a little brighter.

As I’m no Boccaccio, I won’t be able to come up with 10 stories a day or even 1 story a day, but I hope to keep these Drippy Musing updating on a somewhat regular basis with fiction and fun for everyone. Pen news and research will continue once the crisis has abated.

In the meantime, check in regularly, be safe and stay well.

Arkansas Pen Show Cheats Covid-19

Have you ever lived through a hurricane? I was visiting my grandmother in Cocoa Beach, Florida, in 1995 when Hurricane Erin struck. It was a minor, catagory 1 hurricane, but it was impressive for this Midwestern boy to witness and experience.

Whereas hurricanes strike a much smaller location than a global pandemic, hurricanes were all I could think of as I drove from Wausau, Wis., to Little Rock, Ark., and back.

Keeping busy with friends at the Arkansas Pen Show in 2020. It was a great show in spite of the pending pandemic.

There was a nervous tension and anxiousness in the air. Everybody knew what was coming, but nobody knew exactly what, where or how. Panic buying. Cautious interactions between strangers bracing for the worst and some remarkably kind and gracious interactions between others. And, yet, a hollow sense of dread and waiting persisted in the quiet moments or as people listened to or watched broadcasts of the latest news.

The pending pandemic of coronavirus felt a lot like waiting for Hurricane Erin to strike that coastal community 25 years ago.

And like before, during and after that hurricane, the folks at the Arkansas Pen Show rallied for one heck of an experience. Tim Joiner and the other folks who helped at the Arkansas Pen Club kept a steady hand on the tiller for a smooth operating show that was a lot of fun. The vendors and attendees pushed past their concerns about the pending pandemic to enjoy the passion for pens that brings us together through thick and thin.

Lisa and Mike Vanness, of Vanness Pen Shop, hosted an incredible after-party Friday. Taking much stricter health precautions into account, they still delivered great food and drink for a genuinely joyous evening dedicated to pens and, especially, ink.

Good friends from as far as San Francisco, Houston and Memphis stopped by to say hello and/or share a drink.

Little Rock, itself, was greening up beautifully. The temperature upon arrival was 70-degrees Fahrenheit. The grass was green. Flowers were blooming, and trees were blossoming. After a cold winter with up to 5-feet of snow on the ground, Little Rock was enchanting.

As Covid-19 now sweeps the country, it looks as if the Arkansas Pen Show might very well be the final pen show of the season. While we hate to see the other shows go dark for the year, we appreciate the courage of the show owners for making the wise decision to keep their vendors and patrons safe, and we can’t wait to return when the disease has run its course. In the meantime, I want to thank every single person who made the Arkansas Pen Show such a fun show to slip in ahead of the pandemic.

Arkansas Pen Show or Bust!

Honestly, I haven’t even caught my breath from the Baltimore Pen Show, and now I’m heading out the door to attend the Arkansas Pen Show in Little Rock! Wowzers!

If you are anywhere within a few hundred miles of Little Rock this weekend (March 13 – 15), you have got to come out and see the Arkansas Pen Show. It is the biggest little pen show in the world! It is

A.) Hyperfriendly
B.) Very Well Organized
C.) Loaded with Amazing Vintage & Modern Writing Instruments & Ephemera
D.) Chocolate Bacon! Vanness Pens, who is the most famous ink seller online, hosts an after-hours party in its shop every year, and they always have a healthy supply of chocolate-dipped bacon. If you have never had such a delicacy, I can understand if you are skeptical. But, once you’ve had one bite, you will be addicted and a choco-bacon believer.
E.) Springtime! Every year I attend, flowers are blooming in Little Rock. Greenery is coming back to life. If you’re tired of winter, get your frozen butt down here to enjoy a little of what us northerners won’t see for another month or two.

As for pens, we’ve reloaded with dozens of new pens not yet available online. From vintage third-tier pens to Sheaffer TouchDowns and Snorkels to Parker Vacumatics to preowned luxury Waterman and Yard O Led, we’ve got tons to please pen lovers in the western portion of the American South.

I told you. I haven’t had a chance to catch my breath since the Baltimore Show. And Baltimore put on a fine pen show, indeed. This was my first year in attendance, and I was amazed by the organization, friendliness and crowds. Bert Oser and his crew put on a delightful event that was great for shaking off the winter rust as pen show season springs back to life.

Customers I’ve known for years but have never met in person came to say hi. We met a lot of new-to-us pen lovers. And it was great seeing so many younger, newer-to-collecting pen enthusiasts at the show. It was a blast introducing people to vintage pens, while learning about the tastes of more seasoned veterans in the world of pens.

Thanks to all those who made Baltimore so special, and I can’t wait to see y’all in Little Rock!

Baltimore Pen Show, Here We Come!

For the last several years, we have heard about the splendor of the Baltimore Pen Show. This is what we’ve heard: It is well organized by our buddy Bert Oser. It is a premier place to buy and sell premier luxury pens. It is well advertised to the public, and it is becoming the premier pen show in the country.

This year, we are going to experience it for ourselves to see if it is all true. We have spent the past month restoring dozens of vintage pens and prepping never-before-seen-on-our-site luxury pens.

PLUS, for showgoers, we have dropped some of our prices to clear out some of our luxury inventory.

On a personal level, this is my first trip to Baltimore. I bemoan the fact the Orioles aren’t yet playing, as I’d love to see a game at Camden Yards, but I hope to have some fun exploring the waterfront and old Fort McHenry, home of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” if there’s time.

And, of course, the very best part will be getting to hang out with old friends at a new location, while also making new friends at a show I’ve never seen before. Please be sure to come check it out and say, “Hi.”

Search by Nib Size

You can now search for our pens by nib size. Although this box is just an illustration, the one near the top left column of the vintage pens or pre-owned pens pages is live and will show you the way.

Size matters…at least when you’re writing and want to use a specific nib point.

Following the advice of my brilliant and beautiful fiancée, we’ve added a new way to search for pens on our site by virtue of the nib size and writing qualities.

Clicking on a blue letter is all you need to do to pull up all of our pens with the nib you want. You’ll still need to read the description to find out how wet, dry, smooth or scratchy a nib might be, but this new nib-search box will help you winnow down your options much more quickly. The only other detail to look for is whether the pen is a tweener pen—a fine-medium or a medium-broad, that sort of thing.

All of our vintage pens and preowned pens will get pulled up by nib together! Who knows what treasures you might find that you weren’t initially looking for! You can find the nib search box on the top of the left column on our home page, vintage pens pages and preowned pens pages.

In case you need help translating the letters into nib sizes, here’s our guide:

XF = Extra Fine
F = Fine
M = Medium
B = Broad
BB = Double Broad
Stub = Awesomeness
O = Oblique
SF = Semi-Flex
FLEXI = Flexible, somewhere in the vicinity of wet noodle

Priority Postage Hike

As many of you have probably noticed over the past couple years, the United States Postal Service has raised its rates three or four times. Our payment processor, PayPal, has also raised its rates. We have resisted raising our shipping & handling rates for as long as we could, but, we finally had to give in for our U.S.-based insured, Priority Mail.

The good news is that we have not raised our rates for standard, uninsured U.S. shipping, and we have not raised our international shipping rates. To our friends in Canada and Mexico, please remember that we refund the shipping amount not used from our international shipping rates. Our programing only recognizes foreign and domestic, and we cannot, yet, identify which country gets which rate.

In spite of the rate increases, we have found that the United States Postal Service remains the most affordable and secure shipping option that we have. UPS and FedEx cost nearly double the amount for us to ship with them, and our company is still too small to qualify for their bulk discounts to be competitive. Furthermore, almost every time we have shipped a pen using UPS for a customer special request, UPS has either lost or damaged the pen. Out of the hundreds of packages we ship every year, the United States Postal Service has been nearly perfect now that they’ve added tracking to all of its parcels shipped.

How Do I Re-Sac a Vintage Pen

You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, the old saying goes, and it is true for learning how to fix vintage pens. Today, we are going to learn how to restore a lever-filling fountain pen…or re-sac it, as they say. But first, you are going to have to get used to the concept that you’re going to destroy a few pens along the way—even if you’re careful.

Find a few good, cheap vintage pens to practice restoring before experimenting with more expensive models. This deformed Sheaffer Balance 350 is a great starter pen.

When you are starting out, don’t begin with an unrestored version of your grail pen. Find some broken-down cheap pens such as Wearevers, Esterbrooks or even this banana’d Sheaffer 350 Balance. The longer you are on the hunt, the more you will find vintage pens that turn into the shape of bananas. The deformation happens when the pen is left in the sun or near a heater for too long, which warps the plastic/celluloid.

In addition to a good practice pen, you will need some ink sacs, a pair of spark-plug/section pliers, a long dental pick, sac shellac or rubber cement, scissors that can cut through rubber ink sacs, a jar or cup, clean water, polish, a cloth rag, paper towels, a hairdryer, a razor blade and, if at all possible, an ultra-sonic cleaner. You can get most of these items pretty cheaply. One trick of the professionals is to buy a pair of rubber coated spark-plug pliers, instead of formal “section pliers” that you can find on many pen restoration sites. Why? Spark-plug pliers can be had for less than $10 at most auto parts stores. Section pliers are almost always the same, exact pliers but marked up to $20 or $30. In the early days of pen restoration as a hobby in the 1970s and ’80s, a lot of guys used regular pliers and cut off two one-inch sections of hose to cover the teeth of their normal pliers. That’s how I was first taught.

Attempting to keep this simple, I’m going to break this down into what I hope are very simple steps to make this as fun and easy an experience as possible.

  1. I like small mustard or baby food jars to use for filling with just enough water to get the pen wet from the tip of the nib to just over the threads of the barrel.

    Fill a cup with just enough room-temperature water that you can stick your pen in and go just a little bit over the section and past the cap threads. (Sections are the writing grip into which the nib and feed are inserted in one end.) Let it soak for at least an hour. (Never use hot water.) This leaches out a lot of the dried old ink in the nib and inkfeed, while also potentially softening any glue or shellac used to hold the section tightly into the barrel. Many of the old factory repair manuals encouraged repairmen to use a dab of sac shellac to hold the sometimes loose pressure-fit sections into the barrel. WARNING: Water is necessary, but it also isn’t your friend. Black hard rubbers turn chocolatey brown in water fairly quickly. (An hour might be too long for some rubbers.) Some celluloids get more brittle or discolored when in water too long. Be sure to dry off the pen as soon as you remove it from the water.

2. Use the hairdryer to warm up the space where the section and barrel meet. DO NOT melt the plastic or set the celluloid on fire. All you need is a little warm to the touch. Until you get comfortable, keep the heat to barely noticeable to the touch. Grip the section, and only the section, with your rubber coated pliers. Very gently and slowly begin to twist counter clockwise as you hold the barrel in your other hand. It is common to hear some very scary cracking sounds. Usually, that sound is the petrified rubber ink sac in the pen breaking apart as you open. Sometimes it is the pen barrel breaking. Experience will teach you the difference. If you feel the section coming loose,

Grip only the section with rubber coated pliers, such as these spark-plug pliers. Don’t grip too tightly, just enough not to let go.

keep twisting slowly and gently. If you do not feel it turning or you feel it actively resisting, stop twisting. Some sections—especially Parker Duofolds and Vacumatics—were threaded into the pen barrels, which is why we usually start with a twist. Most pens of all brands were straight pressure-fit sections. HOWEVER, some brands—especially Wahl-Eversharp, although they were extremely inconsistent—used little pins in the barrel or section to hold the section firmly in place. You CANNOT twist those sections without destroying the barrel or section. If a section resists twisting, hit it with a little more heat and very gently start trying to wiggle it in teeny, tiny side-to-side motions while pulling straight out.

This is the most dangerous part of the entire restoration job. This is where probably 80% of all pens break, if they are going to break. ALSO, celluloid is insanely flammable. DO NOT get it hot. If it catches fire, it burns like a magnesium flare. It is an extremely hot burning flame that burns extremely quickly. Early on, I accidentally set a Vacumatic on fire. It scared the hell out of me, and it was a miracle I didn’t burn down my house. Even after getting it under running water it didn’t go out right away. I had to drop it in the steel sink and flood it to put the fire out. In about 10 seconds, it burned away the majority of the barrel. Be careful with the heat.

Use a razor to scrape the old sac pieces off the section nipple.

3. Once the section is free, scoop out the old sac guts from inside the barrel with the dental pick. Sometimes those guts stick pretty good to the inside of the barrel. A flashlight or gun light can help you see in to make sure you got it all. Do not put water in the barrel to clean out the sac or old ink. This will likely ruin and rust-out the pressure-bar assembly.

4. Use the razor to scrape the remnants of the old ink sac from the nipple of the section. Be careful not to cut yourself or split open the nipple.

5. Fill your ultra-sonic cleaner with clean, room-temperature water. Sometimes a drop or two of ammonia will help badly clogged pens. Put enough water in to completely submerge the cap and section assembly. Before you turn it on, let the cap soak for a minute or so. This allows the water to penetrate the inner cap, where a lot of old ink is usually trapped. After the cap and section have had a minute to soak, turn on the ultra-sonic cleaner for no more than 2 minutes.

If feasible, an ultra-sonic cleaner is the easiest way to remove old ink.

You might not see a lot of “action” with your eyes, but the vibrations are practically violent to the parts that are submerged. It can shake free most of the old ink in two minutes or less. If a cap lip is cracked, I’ve seen some caps crumble in the ultra sonic cleaner. That’s how powerful it is.

NEVER stick your fingers in the ultra-sonic cleaner when it is turned on. It can damage your fingers and their joints. Also, don’t leave your parts in for much longer than two minutes because the cleaner will get hot and potentially damage or discolor your parts.

Turn off the ultra-sonic cleaner, collect your parts and drain the old dirty water. Then rinse the parts under the faucet with room temperature water for a few seconds. Shake the parts dry, and then dry them with a paper towel on the outside. Q-tips are perfect for drying and removing the remaining ink from inside the cap.

6. I like to polish the pen next, especially the nib. It allows me to see any major flaws I might need to work on, such as replacing the nib while the section is exposed. I use a pin-head dollop of MAAS metal polish on a Q-tip to get the nib shining like new. I use the clean side of the Q-tip to wipe off the remaining polish. Then I dip the nib in water and dry it with a clean rag to get off the remaining, invisible polish remnants. I repeat the process with a pea-size drop of MAAS metal polish on the rag and polish up the rest of the pen, rubbing it down several times with the clean parts of the rag…avoiding water.

Every repairman I know seems to have a different process for polishing a pen. The method above is adequate for most pens. Yet, if you’re a detail-oriented person, there are myriad methods of multiple polishes or wet sanding that do a much more factory-fresh looking job. Yet, those methods take up to an hour and are worthy of their own article.

This photo illustrates how to eyeball the spot you need to trim the ink sac.

7. Sizing an ink sac. How detail oriented are you? You can easily research what size sacs went into what pens. You can measure the nipple with a fine ruler using increments of 1/64th of an inch, the way old pen repair manuals did to find the right aperture width of the ink sac. Or, you can eyeball it.

The real trick to eyeballing it isn’t fitting the sac to the nipple but finding the right sac to fit inside the barrel. You do not want the edges of the sac to snug against the inside of the barrel. It is best if the sac can easily slide in and out of the barrel, preferably with a little space all around the sac. If one is to carry a pen in their shirt pocket, the goal is not to transfer body heat through the barrel to the sac and ink, which might effect the interior pressure of the ink in the pen and have it leak a bit on you with a full pen.

Regardless of how you choose the sac size, you will likely need to trim the ink sac before installing it. Most ink sacs are longer than the pen barrels. My rule of thumb is quite literally a rule of thumb. I stick the sac in the barrel as far as it will go. I then pinch the end of the barrel at the threads, with my thumb having just enough reach to go past the threads. Pinching awkwardly down on the sac, right where it exits the barrel, I remove the sac. Gaging where my thumb tip is, I trim the sac at the tip of my thumb. Usually, this allows just enough room for the section and nipple inside the pen so that the sac can be as long as it needs to be. You can double check the length by putting the section and sac next to the empty barrel, as they would fit inside it.

Use Talc to powder and preserve your new ink sac before final re-assembly.

8. Most modern pen restorers use orange shellac to affix the sac to the nipple. Before most of us learned how to make or knew where to find orange shellac for sale, rubber cement was the go-to adhesive. Orange shellac is nearly perfect, as it can harden and still be water soluble. Rubber cement forms a good seal at first but can be more easily effected by heat and aging. Yet, it better fills-in tiny hairline cracks in the nipple, hopefully extending the functional life of the pen. (NEVER use super glues of any kind. The rubber ink sacs will give out long before the super glue ever does and you can ruin the pen by forever getting the section stuck in the barrel…or sticking other wrong parts together.)

On this pen, we painted only the nipple with a thin layer of shellac. Then we slipped the sac over it. After that, we dusted the sac with pure talcum powder, which helps to extend the life of the sac.

9. Fitting the section back into the barrel is the second most dangerous part of the restoration process. Sometimes the barrel opening shrinks while the section is out and cracks open if you put the section back in too quickly or roughly. If the section feels like it is having difficulty going back in, maybe warm up the barrel end a little and gently wiggle the section back into place. Although it doesn’t really matter, I like twist the section into place where the top of the nib is even with the lever on the pen.

Congrats! Your pen is fully restored, looking beautiful and ready to write.

If the section is too loose, you can tighten it up with a tiny cut out of a piece of onion-skin paper. Or, like the old repair manuals, you can use a small drop or two of shellac on the section. Just wipe off the excess shellac and keep it out of the threads.

10. Let the shellac dry. As the shellac is water soluble, I wait about 24 hours before I test the pen with water or ink. Once the shellac is dry and the pen tests well, you’re all done. Congrats!

It took longer to read this article than it likely will take you to restore a pen—at least once you get used to the process. Fixing and writing with vintage pens is my favorite part of the hobby. If you like seeing how things work and getting your hands dirty, you’ll love pen repair. The only thing that improves it for me might be repairing pens while listening to a Cubs game on the radio and nursing a cold beer.

Always feel free to write in with questions. And always remember to go slowly and take your time. It isn’t a race. Enjoy the zen of pen repair, and best of luck to your future projects!