Category Archives: Pen News

Changes at The United States Postal Service

We love the United States Postal Service. It is cheaper and faster at sending pens across the country and around the world than any of its rivals. After the early pandemic problem with international mail, everything is going great! (It also is one of the only governmental services mentioned and mandated by the U.S. Constitution.)

BUT!

Fight the huge postal rate hike and intentionally slowed service of USPS by its own Postmaster General Louis DeJoy by writing him and President Joe Biden to stop this shameful mismanagement of USPS resources to enrich DeJoy who is heavily invested in the USPS’ biggest delivery rivals.

The USPS just announced it will be — just for the holidays! — RAISING its RATES annnnnnd SLOWING SERVICE! This new policy goes in effect October 3.

We are sorry, but we likely will have to raise our shipping charges to keep from losing money.

Why is the USPS spiking rates and slowing service for the holidays? As a former journalist, I can tell you the old rule of “Follow the money” is never more true than now.

Look no further than Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Prior to becoming Postmaster General, DeJoy had a political axe to grind against the USPS and wanted it privatized. Why? U.S.A. Today points out that he has between $30 million and $70 million dollars invested in 3 delivery corporations in direct competition with the United States Postal Service. Those corporations are United Parcel Service (UPS), XPO Logistics and J.B. Hunt (Freight).

I don’t think it matters what your politics are, that looks a lot like hiring the fox to watch the hen house.

No. Maybe it doesn’t matter if a pen takes 2 or 3 days longer to get to you. BUT, what about critical medication to the elderly and sick? What about vital real estate, tax and business records where a lot of money is changing hands or peoples’ lives are put on hold as these items, for legal reasons, must be sent via the mail?

And why raise rates and slow service just before the holidays? Could it have anything to do with bringing the USPS down to the overpriced, slow service levels of UPS and DeJoy’s other corporate interests to help bolster their sales at the expense of the USPS? He’ll say no, but I’m not convinced when he has $30M to $70M at stake to make his investments do better.

I have already written DeJoy and President Joe Biden, demanding the service disruption be stopped and preferably to have DeJoy sacked. Yet, my two lonely letters won’t get much attention. Please write to both men and demand better of the United States Postal Service. The more letters they get, the more results we might get.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy
United States Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza, S.W.
Room 4012
Washington, D.C. 20260

President Joe Biden
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC
20500

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!

Holiday Shipping 2020

The holiday postal rush is on! Our primary postal service remains the United States Postal Service. You still have plenty of time to order inside the United States for delivery by Christmas…and the end of Hanukkah. Overseas customers must ship by FedEx if they have any hope of their order arriving by Christmas.

These are the Post Office’s guidelines for timely shipping for Christmas, but we’re recommending that you give yourself more time as Covid-19 delays have occurred since this notice was printed.

Inside the United States, we are seeing weeklong delays for uninsured first class shipping. Upon contacting the USPS, they blame Covid-19, which makes sense given how out of control it is in the U.S. With that said, take the postal service’s posted shipping guidelines with a grain of salt.

The Post Office says:

Mail First Class by DEC. 18 for delivery in time for Christmas

Mail Priority Mail by DEC. 19 for delivery in time for Christmas

We say you’d  be safer to mail first class packages at least a week earlier than that. With hope and luck, if you mail a package DEC. 12 via first class mail it will arrive in time for Christmas. We can’t guarantee that, as we have no control over the post office, but we hope it is a useful rule of thumb.

Happy Hanukkah! Super Solstice! Merry Christmas! Have a great Kwanzaa! And enjoy any other holidays I left out.

International Mail Update…Again

Our new international insured rates from FedEx are about as bad as finding a dead fish in your bed, but you’ll love having your pens arrive in about a week, once again. We think these are alewife fish or shad left behind with the tide.

Good news, bad news. Our international orders have been taking 4 to 6 months to arrive due to Covid-19 and its effect on the United States Postal Service. As nobody wants to wait that long to get an awesome new pen, we have had to switch to FedEx for international deliveries.

The good news is that FedEx will get your pen almost anywhere in the world in about a week. The bad news is that it costs three times as much money for their services. As we can no longer guarantee the timely delivery of international orders through USPS, we have switched our international shipper to FedEx. Sadly, that means a drastic spike in insured international rates. It will now cost roughly $150 to send a pen anywhere in the world. If it costs less, we’ll refund the difference after FedEx and PayPal fees have been accounted for.

The good news for American customers is that our current uninsured and insured USPS rates remain unaffected.

To our international customers, as soon as USPS resumes normal international service, we will revert back to the cheaper rates at the same speedy delivery rates you were used to before Covid-19.

More COVID-19 Postal Updates: Central Europe Edition

Time seems to drag on forever when waiting for a pen in the mail. Packages to central Europe are now traveling by ship, so expect several months of lag time.

Further shipping delays to central Europe have prompted me to check in once again with the United States Postal Service. A shipment to Switzerland is more than a month overdue. (Luckily for customers in the United States, the United States Postal Service is on time with their regular 2- to 5-day delivery.)

Thus, I spoke with an international mail agent at the USPS. We have long been accustomed to daily flights to and from Europe for the mail in all of its countries. COVID-19 has completely disrupted that service and forced the USPS to adopt an old 19th century way of doing things: SHIPS!

According to the woman I spoke with, the USPS is chartering a cargo vessel to service central European nations. It picks up all of the accumulated mail from about 10 nations it services in New York. Then it sails them to the Netherlands (for Switzerland, at least) and several other ports around The Continent. The packages from the U.S. go through customs in port and then get driven by truck or train to their final destination countries that sort them and deal with them as they normally would. The ship then sails back to the U.S. with all of the mail to be delivered here from central Europe.

The whole process takes about 2 to 3 months, it would appear. Once we have successfully dealt with COVID-19, the old modern way of using planes will resume. It appears that letters might still be going by planes but not packages.

For those looking for faster service to Europe, it looks as if DHL and FedEx are shipping at their usual times, but their rates are insane. Whereas it costs the USPS $45 to ship a pen in a small box, these other services are chargeing $150 to $200 or more, depending on the size and insurance levels.

We’ve Moved…Again…& Whatever Happened to the Great American Motel?

We have a guard toad, so watch out. He might spray you with toxins. Nature lover that I am, I love having an “American toad” living on and near our front porch.

Greetings from Gales Ferry, Connecticut! What a crazy, unpredictable journey life is. My fiancé found her dream job, and I sure wouldn’t say no. I have now lived from coast to coast. When I was just a lad, I used to spend a lot of my summers on the East Coast. My dad is from New Jersey, and we’d visit relatives most summers, with a final destination often in Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. My Great Aunt Florence lived in Connecticut, and while I remember visiting her and her sister Helen with regularity, I can’t say I really remembered much of Connecticut besides them and Florence’s rambunctious dog.

(Even as a really little kid I was a total history buff, and I loved that Florence and Helen–who lived deep into their 90s–were the daughters of a Civil War veteran. Their dad, who fought for the Union at Manassas and Gettysburg, was in his forties or fifties when they were born, and their earliest memories were playing Teddy Roosevelt charging San Juan Hill with the Rough Riders. I loved listening to their stories, and they loved having a little kid around who would actually sit and listen to them.)

In all fairness, the last time I was in Connecticut was likely 35 years ago. I really don’t remember it being this hilly…and natural! I lived in Montana for nearly a decade, and it took me years to see as much wildlife as I’ve seen in a week in Connecticut. I swear. Although I haven’t seen them, yet, I’ve heard at least two owls hooting up a magnificent storm over several nights now. There are plenty of deer. My fiancé has seen a fox. We have bats eating all of our bugs at night. A marble salamander lives in our backyard and an American toad lives on our front porch. Little red crabs live not 5 miles from here in the brackish waters of the mouth of the Thames River as it connects to the Atlantic Ocean. And to think I was expecting massive urban sprawl from New York City. I love it.

Best of all, even though it is hot and humid, people understand that wearing masks in public during a pandemic will save lives! The results: yesterday made two days in a row with Connecticut not reporting any Covid-19 deaths. When we drove through Ohio virtually nobody we saw was wearing a mask. Virtually everybody we’ve seen wears a mask in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Aside from grocery runs, we’ve had to quarantine for 14 days, but that’s nothing compared to the lockdown this past spring. We have far too much to do unpacking our lives and the pen business.

Our move was a bit harrowing, especially driving through Tropical Storm Fay. Yet, what really got me was the decline of the classic American motel…and hotels, in general. Pre-Covid I traveled the country to at least 7 different pen shows a year. Plus, I have done a ton of traveling throughout much of my life.

We found this Marble Salamander living in our backyard. I had never seen a real, live wild salamander before. This place is awesome.

As a kid in the 1980s, we traveled every summer by car. We stayed at motels all of the time. Days Inn, Super 8, Holiday Inn, Knights Inn and any number of mom & pop operations were the norm from Midwest to the East Coast to the Deep South to the vast expanse of California. With only one or two exceptions, they were all clean, safe and homey. Yeah, the towels, sheets and blankets were a little scratchy from too much bleach. No, we didn’t have all the space to lay stuff out like at home. BUT, there was no mold, the paint was never peeling from anything, we never worried about bedbugs or cockroaches, everything worked as it should…and if something didn’t, they sent a maintenance man right away to fix it. These establishments were definitely nice enough to want to go out and explore the great American highway, but they were also just different enough that you’d also be super happy to be back home in your own bed by the end of the trip. Even though the value of a dollar was different in the 1980s, you could get a good, respectable room for about $30 a night in 1985…which comes out to about $65 today.

On this specific trip, we couldn’t find a hotel room for less than $100 a night. (Admittedly, we were traveling with a cat, which I never did as a kid.) Yet, every hotel we stayed in was bad to terrible. Apparently, nobody wants to bleach out a hotel bathroom any more. Every single motel had a ton of mold in the bathroom. Even at pen shows in Double Tree and Hilton hotels, which are supposed to be the classy joints, I find mold all around the bathtub…and those places start at charging around $150 a night. On our trip we stayed at mostly name-brand motels. Paint was peeling off the showers and walls. Stains were all over the carpets. One hotel where we ultimately didn’t stay had boogers all over the wall of one bathroom and mud in the bottom of the tub. In the second room they offered us the room had cockroaches. All for the low, low price of $100 a night plus taxes! We had another hotel where the A/C didn’t work.

While I am grateful there were any places open at all during a pandemic…and while I appreciate labor isn’t cheap…a gallon of bleach isn’t going to set anyone back. I’ve cleaned enough bathrooms to know that even just squirting bleach on mold will likely kill it and maybe even remove it without much, if any, scrubbing. I would think that a bucket of paint and a steam-cleaning rug vacuum would be pretty standard motel and hotel items. For $100 to $200 a night, a clean, mold-free room doesn’t seem too much to ask.

When we got to our new house, the old tenants had left behind a glossy travel magazine whose issue was dedicated to hotel glamour. Dawn and I laughed. The magazine spoke so lovingly about the comforts and joys of hotel living, and all we could think of was how the writers and editors clearly haven’t stayed in an average hotel or motel in ages.

Time Out

Howdy, Gang!

We’re taking a bit of a holiday and will be mostly out of touch until around July 15. Nobody’s sick. Nothing bad is happening in our little pen world. We’re just gearing up for a new adventure, which we’ll share soon.

In the meantime, updates are on hold and orders won’t likely ship until around July 15. The site will remain operational, so feel free to order, we just won’t be able to process the shipments like normal for a couple weeks.

Hang tight! We can’t wait to see you again soon!

All the best,

Nathaniel

International Shipping Delays

International Shipping has seen significant delays due to the lack of international air travel.

Several of our international orders lately have gone noticeably late in arriving. I spent more than two hours on the phone today trying to track down a shipment that was 28 days late in arriving. What I learned from the United States Postal Service employees that I spoke with is as follows:

• COVID-19 is having a terrible impact on international mail
• Most of my international orders are stuck in U.S. customs at O’Hare Airport in Chicago
• There are so few flights abroad that the mail is getting seriously backed up
• U.S. Customs will hold outbound packages for up to 45 days trying to find a flight out of O’Hare (the world’s busiest airport) to the desired country.
• After 45 days, the U.S. customs will return the packages to the United States Postal Service to take back to the senders with a full refund of their shipping expenses.
• Mail service to and from 106 nations is temporarily suspended as of June 12, 2020.
• Most European countries, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand still have mail service to and from the United States. However, it will be severely delayed.
• Once a package arrives in another country, often those countries’ customs agents quarantine incoming packages for 21 days before sorting them for customs duties and delivery.

I am terribly sorry for the inconvenience of these delays.

For American customers, so far, we are not having any difficulties with intra-U.S. shipping. Most orders are arriving within the usual 3 to 5 days. Priority Mail has slowed a little, but, so far, seemingly not by more than a day.

These are extreme and unusual times. Many of our shipping woes will vanish when the pandemic is outlasted. When air traffic returns to normal, international shipping will get back on track and the suspensions will be lifted.

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!