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.

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.

How Do I Start Collecting Pens: Why Are Some Pens More than Others?

A good friend recently asked me why some pens cost more than others. The cheeky, glib and true answer is supply and demand. But, it is more than that. Sometimes it is marketing. Sometimes its trends in the marketplace.

This is a “Big Red” senior Parker Duofold made of orange Permanite.

However, he was asking for something more specific. When looking at vintage pens, he saw wildly fluctuating prices for pens that looked almost the same to him. Why does the average super-famous senior Parker Duofold “Big Red” (orange) go for $100 or $200 and the average senior Parker Duofold in Mandarin Yellow go for $800 or $900?

Big Reds are pretty common, especially the later 1920s’ version made of “permanite.” Most vintage collections have several of these pens. Mandarin Yellow versions of the same pen are fairly rare. They didn’t make as many, and the material used to make the yellow turns very brittle with age. As such, a large percentage of the senior Mandarin Yellow Duofolds broke. Nevertheless, these are still beautiful pens, and their scarcity makes them all the more desirable. Senior-sized Duofolds cost the most back when they came out, so many people bought the smaller Junior and Lady Duofold models to save money. As such, collectors have chosen the rarer senior models to be the favorite, which is why junior and Lady Duofold versions of the pen in mandarin yellow sell for much less than the seniors.

Mandarin yellow was a much more fragile substance to make Parker Duofolds, and it didn’t age well. These Mandarin Duofolds are much more sought after because they are more scarce.

This also is a good place to demonstrate trends in the marketplace, too. I am writing this in October of 2022. Where as a reasonable price to pay for a senior Mandarin Parker Duofold is $800 to $900, five to seven years ago, these same pens were getting $1,200 to $1,500. These pens were in higher demand back then, and dealers couldn’t keep them in stock. The market has softened some since then. Why? 2 factors. 1.) Just about everybody who wanted one of these pens back then got one if they could afford it. 2.) Sadly, we are starting to see a passing of a generation of vintage pen collectors. There are more and more of these pens on the market, and younger generations of pen users and collectors are not as excited about vintage pens. ALSO, the younger generation is paying off insanely large sums of college debt and paying tons more for skyrocketing housing prices. In their hierarchy of stuff to pay for, a rare 100-year-old pen is not as pressing as next month’s rent or feeding a young family.

Staying in the Parker Duofold family, Senior Big Reds made of orange hard rubber are usually much more valuable than the more common and less fragile “permanite.” Streamlined Senior Parker Duofolds are rarer and tend to get more than the “traditional” flat-top designs. Pristine Lapis (blue) Senior Duofolds can command a lot more money due to the fact most Lapis Duofolds turned dark and nearly black in some cases. The same goes for the Pearl and Black Duofolds. They turned brown with discoloration. If you find a pristine one, those are going to get a lot more money. Another feature on a Parker Duofold that is highly regarded is the bandless senior Parker Duofold Big Red. These pens are also really hard to find. Most Duofolds had one, two or even three bands near the lip of the cap. The bands help to protect the cap when posting it on the tail of the pen. Bandless models weren’t common, and the caps often broke when people posted them. Soooo, many people will pay top dollar for a bandless senior Duofold.

We haven’t even left the Parker Duofold family, yet.

Flexible nibs, such as this Conklin #4 nib, are in high demand in 2022.

Flexible nibs are king right now. Everybody wants one, and so few pens came with flexible nibs over the years. All flex nib pens command top dollar. Basic Waterman 52s would sell for maybe $50 ten to fifteen years ago. Yet, many of their tiny #2 nibs have a little to a lot of flex, and these same pens now get between $100 and $150.

Conversely, one of the several Waterman pens that really draw big bucks are early 1920s Waterman #7 Pink pens. These were oversized…or close to it…. The distinguishing feature of these pens is a pink ring around the top of the cap AND the word “Pink” imprinted on the 14k gold nib. Waterman made these nibs specifically to be very flexible writers. All of the color-ring Waterman #7’s are fairly desirable, but Pink is the most sought. As such, these pens command much more money. You can probably find a Waterman 56 or 58 in black hard rubber from the same general time period for less…with the same basic flex nib…and save a bundle over the Pink.

Apparently, even cheap TWISBI fountain pens made in China are falling down this pricing rabbit hole. You can buy most TWISBI Eco fountain pens for around $15 to $20 brand new. However, just the other day I saw a “limited edition” transparent orange cap TWISBI Eco sell at an auction for more than $230! It was a discontinued color that people love enough to get into a bidding war over.

Most TWISBI Eco fountain pens are pretty inexpensive but this rare color model goes for more than $200 on some auctions sites.

There are probably hundreds of vintage pens (and modern) such as these to ask these questions of, and so I shall revisit this topic and question from time to time to help sort out why some pens are so much more valuable than others.

Caran D’Ache Chromatics Face the UV-pH Challenge

Swiss pen maker Caran D’Ache is most famous for its precision engineering on its line of ballpoint pens. They make nice fountain pens, too, but it is the company’s ballpoints that the world knows best. Yet, as so many pen makers now do, it also decided to enter the lucrative fountain pen ink market.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of Caran D’Ache Chromatic inks before and after undergoing 3 months of UV sunlight testing.

Caran D’Ache Chromatic Inks are a daring entry, indeed. From their hexagonal bottles that tip to fill to the last drop to their bright and cheery colors, Chromatics made an instant splash on the scene.

Naturally, we wanted to know how well these inks hold up to UV light from the sun and where they register on the scale of a pH test. We placed this sample in our sunniest window for 3 months. We also used our pH meter, which was calibrated to the heat and temperature of our testing station before testing the inks.

The results of our test were surprising. I falsely suspected that there might be some heavier pigmentation in the “Chromatic” inks that would make them shine and dazzle a bit on the page. However, virtually all of the ink colors lost seemingly 85 to 90% of their color, fading heavily from view. “Electric Orange” all but disappeared. Even a stalwart color such as “Cosmic Black” faded to a medium brown, and it had the most staying power.

The pH test results ranged all over the map. As a quick refresher on chemistry, a pH number of 7 is pH neutral like pure water. The closer to 0 something becomes the more acidic it is. The closer to 14 it goes, the more alkali or base something is. In theory, you want an ink that is pH neutral, BUT we have no idea how the chemicals in each ink will react to the chemicals of the ink sacs, converters, inkfeeds and the like. We have found some “neutral” inks to eat through ink sacs rapidly, while some seemingly alkali or acidic inks don’t bother a pen’s parts at all. The following is simply raw data for you to do with as you please.

COLOR:                              pH Score:
Cosmic Black                      6.9
Electric Orange                  8.9
Vibrant Green                     4.4
Idyllic Blue                          3.1
Infra Red                             8.2
Ultra Violet                         7.6
Magnetic Blue                    3.7
Organic Brown                   4.5
Hypnotic Turquoise         N/A

A few of the things that stand out to us are that Cosmic Black is almost perfectly neutral. Aligning with more of our past experiments, the blues were fairly acidic. Yet, playing against stereotype, the red and purple were closer to neutral. Green remains quite acidic, which is expected, but the brown also was acidic, which wasn’t expected.

As always, I hope you found this snippet of ink data helpful to your quest for the perfect ink for you.

Fun with Refills

You can see a Pilot G2 refill next to a Pelikan standard rollerball refill in this photo. Look closely, and you can see that a G2 will fit most rollerball pens that take standard RB refils.

Quite possibly the most popular disposable pens on earth are Pilot G2 gel pens. They are so incredibly smooth and fluid for any type of ball-tipped writing device.

About a year ago, in an act of refill desperation, I was out of standard rollerball refills and trying ship out a pen I had just sold, in which I promised a fresh, working rollerball refill. That is when I noticed that I had some spare Pilot G2 refills lying around, which I had gotten and ignored from a large collection I had purchased.

On closer inspection, I realized that the two refills were close enough alike that a G2 might fit in the Waterman that needed it. Lo and behold, it did. It wrote magnificently! Pretty soon I was popping them into Auroras, Pelikans and every other rollerball that needed a similarly sized refill.

Not all pens take them easily. As you can see, this Pelikan replacement refill is a little longer than the G2. BUT, if it turns out the G2 is too short, just wad up a little tissue and fill the back end of the pen with it until the G2 fits and writes without any jiggling.

I like rollerball refills just fine, but none compare to a G2…for me…in the writing experience. I don’t see using regular rollerball refills, again.

Pen Books: Waterman Past & Present

Staring at a shelf full of pen books, it struck me that I ought to share with you some of what these great tomes have to offer. As such, I would like to start with a pen-collecting classic.

Here is the cover to “Waterman Past & Present,” a definitive guide to Waterman pens spanning 1883 to 1958. It is a great resource for identifying each model of Waterman pens.

“Waterman Past & Present: The First Six Decades” by authors Max Davis and Gary Lehrer.

If you are just getting into vintage pens and/or Waterman pens, this book is an absolute must. Most professional collectors and dealers I know still use this book as one of their favorite references to identify classic Waterman pens.

The book’s authors are among the most trusted dealers in vintage pens. Max Davis once owned a pen shop in New York City, before moving to Europe to start several very successful websites. According to the book, he contributes most of the European advertising for Waterman and most of the ink displayed in one chapter. The rest of the book was completed by renowned pen expert Gary Lehrer, whose personal Waterman collection was possibly second-to-none. He also created with his wife Myrna one of the most successful vintage pen catalogs online and in print. I had the good fortune to know Gary and Myrna on the pen show circuit, and I was very sorry to learn of Gary’s passing earlier this year. He was an honest, kind and hard working pen man who helped to build pen collecting into the hobby it is today. He also was an excellent pen repairman.

Published in 2008, “Waterman Past & Present” is a 236 page book. Hardbound and coffee-table book size, it sports full-color on almost all of its thick, quality paper pages. After a very brief history about Louis Edson Waterman and his pens from 1883 to 1958, there is very little writing in this book.

Instead, it is a feast of images from common Waterman pens to some of the only known remaining rare models. Most of the pen photos are printed at their actual size, with specific details called out to help differentiate between models that might look similar. Along with the photos of pens are clear, easy to read images of original Waterman catalog pages AND magazine advertisements. Additionally, many of the original bottles of Waterman ink are present.

The only thing missing from this book appears to be Waterman pencils. Some appear in the ads and catalog pages shown, but few are photographed or given much thought.

Nevertheless, this remains a phenomenal resource for identifying Waterman pens, and it is wonderful to be able to see real samples of some rare pens that you and I might never seen in real life.

Plenty of Good ‘Ink’

I am happy to announce that “Ink CT” magazine just profiled ThePenMarket.com and my friend and Master Penman Hong Nhat Nguyen, owner of Rose Art Creative, for a story about vintage pens and handwriting styles.

Publisher Jeff Lilly has given me permission to share PDFs of the story here, but he says you can read the print more easily on his magazine platform, which let’s you blow up the print to read it more easily: https://issuu.com/inkpublications/docs/ink_magazine_-_august_2022/20.

Special thanks also goes out to my pen-loving friend Brenda Miller for being a part of this story.