Ink Fast Test #5: Diamine & ColorVerse

I went a little ink crazy at Vanness Pens during the Little Rock Pen Show, back in April. Afterall, they only have the world’s largest selection of ink…and they were kind enough to ply just about all of the vendors and weekend pass holders with free food (including chocolate-covered bacon) and beer. As such, I dove further down the Diamine rabbit hole…and then I won a free bottle of ColorVerse Kepler’s Laws ink in a raffle!

These are before and after samples of Diamine and ColorVerse inks left in the sun for 3 months.

Now it is time to share my experiences with the inks. My all-time favorite blue ink is the old Waterman’s Florida Blue, so I had to try some of Diamine’s Florida Blue. Diamine Florida Blue is a very pale blue that is just a little too deep to be turquoise. I still prefer the much darker Waterman version. I put a test sample in a sunny window, and the UV rays completely erased the Diamine Florida Blue test sample! Definitely not archival quality ink, although it is attractive for artistic writing uses.

Diamine Mediterranean Blue ink is gorgeous when used in a really wet pen. The photo proof sample isn’t as generous of its deeper hues of blue. It could be my replacement for Waterman’s discontinued ink…except it too was completely erased by the sun!

My favorite ink find of the past year or two was Diamine’s Ancient Copper. When I saw the Diamine Autumn Oak at the shop, it looks about a shade lighter in a rich orangy brown. It is a beautiful ink when fresh. Annnnd, luckily it holds up a little better than Diamine blues in 3 months of sunlight.

Of the four inks, ColorVerse’s Kepler’s Laws held up best to the sun. It is a rich red color with purple hues and a little shimmer when fresh. (I don’t see the shimmer, but all of my pen pals insist that they see it.) It writes better than I thought it would. I was really worried it would clog up my pen, but I didn’t have that experience in a Delta Fusion A2 I have with a stub nib. After 3 months in the sun, the more vibrant red aspects vanished, but a slightly watery merlot color remained strong.

And for those who are curious about the black header ink, it is the already tested and proven Aurora black. A bad-ass ink that never quits.

One Crazy Summer!

Since last writing, I’ve been to the inaugural St. Louis Pen Show, moved secret underground workshop lairs and hosted visits by many members of my college fencing team!

The first St. Louis Pen Show was a monster success and a ton of fun.

First to the exciting and wonderful new St. Louis Pen Show. More organized than several already established pen shows, Anne and her crew have spent 2 years advertising and promoting this incredible show. Many of us vendors were worried no one would attend, aside from vendors. But no! A city’s worth of people who had never previously attended a pen show filled the venue for 3 days!

The trip down was uneventful…until we almost got run off the road by a tornado! About 2 miles from the venue, a huge cell of storm clouds began blowing across the interstate. Wind was howling debris across the highway, even bowing flag poles. A native-born Midwesterner, I didn’t worry until the clouds turned green and sirens started going off. Talk about bad times to be stuck in rush hour traffic.

Luckily, I only got rained on. No funnel cloud formed near me to whisk me away to Oz.

Many of the vendors were regulars on the show circuit, and we were all excited to catch up and discuss the past month or two since we’d last met. During the days of the show, nearly everyone who came to my table gushed about attending their first show. And most of the folks were 40 and younger! Heck. We even had a lot of kids collecting their first fountain pens. It was super encouraging to see.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all fun and games. After a very nice auction on Friday, one of our longtime friends passed away. John F. and his wife were among the first to welcome me into the pen show scene after a particularly bruising first or second Chicago Pen Show for me about a decade ago. John was a retired newspaper editor, and I was freshly out of newspaper work in an era that has seen the decimation of newspapers across the country. We commiserated and bonded over our journalistic past. We’ve talked at nearly every pen show since. This night was no different, as he recounted his recovery from a rather severe stroke a few months earlier. Little did either of us realize our conversation just before the auction would be our last. All of the vendors were upset to hear of his passing just as the show opened for Saturday.

Among the things this show got so right was the ceaseless promotion that included heavy media promotion to reach out to new showgoers. Plus, they had cell phone aps to help people navigate the show! AND, they had a break room for the vendors that was loaded with soda, sandwiches and snacks! Like other shows they had table watchers, a great bar scene for after-hours meetings and catching up, loads of free parking and a very nice hotel.

If you didn’t go this year, be sure to attend in 2019.

Here’s a quick peek at our new workshop as it comes together for many more great vintage pen repairs.

Soooo, in other news, we’ve moved! Well, we still have the same P.O. Box and Website, but the secret underground workshop is now much larger and better suited to fix all of your favorite vintage pens. We’re not 100% unpacked but close, as you can see from this top secret photo.

This will be a temporary home, hopefully, for only a year or two. Because after this, we want to buy our forever, permanent home.

Good Lord. I hate moving! I hate it! I hate it! I hate it! It is stressful as all get out, moving a small business and home at once. Luckily, the new place is much nicer and all of the business items have been unpacked and accounted for. Sorry for the lack of updates for so long.

And while all that transpired, I had three lovely visits from Blue-Hair Cathy, Chewbacca and The Chihuahua. All teammates from my college fencing team…an unspecified number of years ago. All arrived separately on different days. Two from Montana and one from Antarctica! It was great to catch up on all of our current lives, while reminiscing about all of the people we impaled together.

And now we resume your regularly scheduled vintage pen and pre-owned luxury pen mania.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Elementary Gift

Most pen fanatics are familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the famed author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, having once been an advertising spokesman for the Parker Duofold. However, that was at the end of his life.

This Swan eyedropper was once a gift from mystery writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife to James Holmes during the Christmas of 1910.

Before there was such a thing as a Parker Duofold, one can speculate about what pens he would have used. Well, if what he gave as decadent gifts are any clue, it might have been Swan pens!

As I have said many times before, one of my favorite parts about owning this business is meeting tons of awesome people from around the world. This past week I was contacted by Sharon in the UK, and she had a spectacular pen to share.

Here is the tail imprint on this Swan pen from 1910.

It was a Christmas gift her great grandfather, a coincidentally named James Holmes, received from “Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle” in 1910. It appears to be a rolled gold Swan eyedropper with a hammered finish!

She is having it appraised by a famous auction house in London, but she also was hoping we might be able to come up with a reasonable figure. While I could come up with a reasonable number for such a pen without a famous inscription, I felt pretty confident a pen from the creator of Sherlock Holmes took it to the next level.

Any thoughts, Loyal Readers?

This shows the heavily worn section and nib of this Swan eyedropper given by the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

Frau Tinte’s Iron Gall Ink Test

One of my favorite parts about owning a pen business is meeting so many amazing pen and ink collectors from around the world.

One of my many great new friends is a brilliant “amateur” ink historian from Germany who doesn’t want to be identified, so I shall simply refer to her as Frau Tinte. (Ms. Ink, auf Deutsch) In addition to collecting great vintage and modern pens and having a phenomenal talent with calligraphy scripts, Frau Tinte loves researching medieval ink recipes!

Frau Tinte’s iron gall ink goes down very faintly. You can barely read what you are writing. The cool thing is that you can smell the pomegranate and iron in the ink.

She has combed some truly amazing libraries in search of rare and original documents from as long ago as the 1200s and 1300s. As ink making was a very inexact science back then without a lot of consistent, formal measurements like today, recreating these inks is an art form in and of itself. Some of the ingredients are rather vaguely named, as the medieval German word for an item might not be what that ingredient is called today. Plus, old German scripts are practically a different language from modern German lettering. Yet, she methodically tests recipes until she can get reasonably consistent and accurate recreations.

Frau Tinte very kindly and graciously shared with me an old iron gall recreation that is partially made from pomegranates. You can smell the fruit and iron in the ink! The ink is toxic and highly aggressive in its relation to mammals, nibs and inkfeeds. She made it clear that I could only use this ink with a glass dip nib or a 14k gold dip nib with no inkfeed. If I filled a vintage or modern pen with it, it would quickly begin to eat the insides of the pen and feed.

Here are three samples of Frau Tinte’s Iron Gall Ink after a little more than a year in different elements.

Thus, I have spent the past year plus writing with it using a glass-nib dip pen. It is pretty amazing stuff. The iron in the ink oxidizes over time to get darker. Basically, it is rusting on the paper. When you write with it, you can barely read it. Yet, within a few minutes it darkens, and it can continue to darken for years. Many surviving handwritten documents from hundreds of years ago using this or similar iron gall inks are black, and you can see it is getting pretty dark in the samples, but it isn’t a true black, yet.

Wondering how a year would treat the ink, I created 4 samples. One was only seconds old when I shot it, so you can see what it is like to write with. It is a very faint grey that you can barely read. Test #1 was left in a cool, dry place with no direct sunlight. Test #2 was left in a window with direct sunlight. Test #3 was left in a dark, humid place. Each writing sample was written on Montblanc Meisterbütten paper…similar to the parchments used in the 1800s.

I thought the humid sample would have been the darkest, as it might have allowed for more rusting action, but it is about as dark as the control sample #1. The neatest result for me was the sunlight sample. The paper is bleached at least three shades whiter than the other samples. (Photo lighting makes that a little harder to see, but the difference is immediately obvious once you hold the samples together.) Although the ink is maybe a shade lighter than the other year-old samples, it is still really dark on the paper, unlike about 90% of the inks we leave in a window for only 3 or so months.

If you are looking for a permanent ink with a unique chemical signature, find yourself a good iron gall ink.

As for the availability of Frau Tinte’s creations, we are pondering the legal aspects of it on the market in the U.S. What worries us are the facts that it is toxic and how it can ruin pens so quickly if used inappropriately. I know you loyal readers are bright enough not to shoot it with your whiskey or fill your pens with it, but if McDonald’s can get sued for their coffee being too hot…well, you know where this can end up. Eventually, somebody’s poor kitty will find an open, untended bottle and think it is a snack or someone who possibly received it as a gift will fill their beloved $2,000 Montblanc with it. We definitely don’t want to be responsible for those tragedies. Yet, it would be nice for people who want to try it to have a safe and fun writing experience that is centuries old.

If you happen to be a product safety lawyer and happen to know the answers to such questions, please feel free to share them with me.

Pen Show Revolution in Chicago

There was something new in the air this year at the 2018 Chicago Pen Show, and I liked it: new blood, innovation, advancements on the writing experience.

This year’s Bootlegger’s Sacrament and last year’s Chicago Blue are great examples of city-themed ink from Papier Plume and KWZ, respectively.

Long-time readers of this blog know there has been a rift between the generations of pen collectors for some time. The past few years in Chicago have attempted to address those issues and bridge that divide. This year seemed to succeed in many ways.

Alcohol helps. Really tasty expensive alcohol helps even more. Building on the success of last year’s scotch and bourbon tasting, this year saw about three times as many pen collectors (and some curious car collectors from a nearby auction) trying out top tier scotches and bourbons. The bottles ran from $50 to $120 or more a piece, but all were welcome to try. Many dealers brought in a bottle, but it was Mario Campa and a friend of his who curated a considerable tasting collection. They even brought in mini GlenCairn Glass snifters for us to use and keep! (Thanks to everybody who shared a bottle!)

With liquor to keep everyone together, the lobby of the hotel was filled with vintage collectors and new pen users rubbing elbows and having a great time sharing stories and pen passions.

If you are a pen show circuit regular, you will have been pleased to see and chat with most of the regular vendors who specialize in vintage pens and preowned luxury pens. However, what impressed me about this show were all the new vendors who seemingly came out of the woodwork. A young man named Ralph Reyes came selling custom-made nibs, the likes of which none of us had ever seen before. His triple-decker music nibs were the hit of the show. Yes, three music nibs stacked one on top of the other! They were easily the smoothest, wettest things I’ve ever written with. He sold out long before I got to him, and nobody on the vintage or modern side of the show had ever heard of him before.

This is the handmade Musubi journal I purchased. The cover is woven and the Tomoe River pages are hand stitched in the binding! That’s also a Pelikan 620 Stockholm pen before it.

Also coming out of seemingly nowhere…although Singapore is hardly nowhere…was a man named Darrell representing a company called Musubi. Musubi makes hand-stitched journals with hand-woven covers. Foregoing the modern use of book-making technology, Musubi uses centuries old bookbinding traditions for what amount to custom-made journals using Tomoe River paper! I had to have one.

Renso, of Papier Plume fame, made two new inks exclusively for this year’s Chicago Pen Show. Those were “Da Blue” (think the deep blue-black of the Bear’s helmets) and “Bootlegger’s Sacrement.” To my great surprise, Renso told me I was the “inspiration” for Bootlegger’s Sacrament. In September, at the Dallas Pen Show, I told him what a kick I got out of 2017’s Chicago-themed inks “Ivy Green” and “Lake Michigan Blue.” I told him there were countless themes and colors for the city, and that I really hoped he’d try for a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Red. Sure enough, he decided to give it a try. Although he didn’t quite get the blood red that he wanted in time for this year’s show, he did create this beautiful red-wine-colored ink, which became Bootlegger’s Sacrament.

These were just a tiny sampling of the new vendors or more traditional vendors bringing entirely new products to market. It was exciting to walk the show and find all of this great stuff.

Of course the regulars to the show had great hidden gems, too. One friend discovered a Sheaffer Snorkel with an exceedingly rare music nib that most of us snorkel fans would have killed for.

My absolute favorite event of the show was Lisa Vanness’ Cinco de Ink-o party on Saturday night! It was like speed dating for pen geeks. There were 7 or 8 tables set up with an expert at each. The partygoers sat at one table for about 15 minutes learning from the expert. When time ran out, they’d get up and move on to the next expert. Anna of the Well Appointed Desk taught the joy of developing ink color rings, Nick Pang taught the basics of copperplate history, Paul Erano introduced people to vintage pens, Ralph Reyes and the folks from Franklin Christoph each showed off their nibs, Darrell from Musubi taught how to identify and grade paper quality, a Philippino woman whose name escapes me had a beautiful class teaching how to make your journal a work of art instead of just a written record of your life and there were several others who I didn’t get to visit, as I was asked to replace one exhausted teacher with an impromptu class about vintage pen filling systems. The entire event was a great opportunity for all to slow down and get to know each other and learn new aspects of the hobby they never knew before. It was wonderful!

If this is the future of pen shows, I can’t wait for more.

Oh my, Omas!

Turning it around for the Chicago Pen Show, immediately after Atlanta, is tricky, but we do it in style. In addition to cranking through a ton of vintage pen restorations, I’ve picked up a collection of Omas fountain pens which will make their appearance at our tables for the very first time.

Visit us at the Chicago Pen Show this weekend for a chance to buy up 14 different Omas fountain pens not yet available on our website! We’ll have at least 100 different pens you can’t find online!

Yes. That’s a limited edition Omas made from the oak barrels of the Krup Champagne vintners in France. Good eye, you also spotted an oversized Omas 360 among the 360 demonstrators. Wait, wait. Yes. There are two Omas Milord Arco Verde fountain pens…and two Bronze Arcos…and a Grey Pearl Arco…a scarlet red and a few others!

Also on our table this year will be the newest Vibrant Pink Lamy AL-Star pens and ink! You can customize your’s with an extra-fine to 1.5mm stub nib! Show bargain only!

With a little bit of luck, I’ll even learn how to restore modern and vintage Mont Blanc and Pelikan fountain pens. We know that is an in-demand need for our customers.

Best of all, we get to hang out and talk with you in person! Please stop by and say hi. It is always great to see you and catch up a bit.

Roadtrip to Atlanta 2018

I love that fresh, brilliant light green of new leaves after a long winter. These are white oaks from northern Georgia in full bloom.

I got my motor running and headed out on the highway for another spectacular trip down to Atlanta for a great pen show. Maybe it was due to the fact Chicago had a couple of inches of snow on the Monday before the Atlanta show, Georgia just looked stunning to me when I made my way to the final destination.

It is a long drive, so I broke it up with a stay in Chattanooga, TN. In the morning I crossed the border into Georgia to check out the National Park for the battlefield at Chickamauga. During the Civil War, this was a staging battle setting up Sherman’s infamous march to the sea. Union General William Rosecrans was pushing into Georgia from the stronghold of Chattanooga. Confederate General Braxton Bragg had the job of sending them back north.

These cannon represent where the Union artillery was set up behind Gen. Thomas’ infantry, as the general prevented a complete rout of the Federal troops.

Bragg was successful for the first 2 days of the battle. A communications error by Rosecrans and his generals turned day three into a rout of the Union Army. As Bragg moved to completely decimate the Union threat to Georgia and the Deep South, a Union general named George Thomas stepped up and held back the onslaught. Buying time for the Union to flee the field, Thomas stoutly held off the Confederacy until the Union army successfully left the field. It was truly a victory for the Confederacy, but instead of wiping out the Union army in its entirety, as it had the chance, they were prevented from doing more damage. Gen. Thomas would be forever remembered as “The Rock of Chickamauga.”

This log cabin was a one-room home that was converted into a field hospital during the battle of Chickamauga. Check out the bullet holes still in its timbers.

It is impressive how well the battlefield is preserved. It is likewise impressive that the original road that separated the two sides during the battle remains in active service today! The road has been paved and widened to accommodate 2 lanes of traffic, but it is exactly where it was more than 150 years ago. I was duly impressed with a log cabin that was converted into a field hospital during the battle, as it has been fully restored and remains standing. You can still count the bullet holes in its aging timbers.

This granite statue of a Union infantryman was one of my favorites depicted in my favorite Civil War book as a child.

Battlefields have many memorials dedicated to the men and units that fought and died, and Chickamauga is no exception. When I was a little kid, only 7 years old, first reading about the Civil War, one of my favorite statues was of an infantryman from the Union laying prone and taking aim at the Rebs. It was in my dad’s big book blue cloth-covered book about the Civil War. I hadn’t thought about it for years and was pleasantly surprised to see it in real life, after I turned a bend in the driving tour. Unfortunately, my granite friend has suffered the loss of his nose, cap bill and rifle hammer over the years.

Okay. On to the Atlanta Pen Show. Jimmy, Suzanne and the gang have done a great job building this show. Plus, they have that show running like clock work. Three rooms and a hallway are packed with vendors, and the remaining room was packed with users and collectors.

With a steady stream of people visiting the 2018 Atlanta Pen Show, I barely had time to snap this shot my table and the room. The legendary Rick Horne was my neighbor for this show.

It also is one of the friendliest shows I attend every year. Everybody comes to learn, test, explore and have fun. Unlike most shows, it feels as if the generations blend seamlessly in the bar after the show shuts down for the day. You have at least 100 people talking, sharing pens, checking out one another’s inks and trading notes about what to buy or try. Younger collectors seek advice and expertise about vintage and luxury pens from veteran collectors and vendors, while those same veteran pen folks ask after the latest modern pens and inks the newer collectors are enjoying. It is really encouraging to see.

On Saturday night after the show, I ran to the Georgia Aquarium for an opportunity to bliss out with the monstrous indoor coral reefs! The main tank was my favorite as it was a 6,300,000-gallon salt water tank big enough to host 3 whale sharks, 5 manta, dozens of reef sharks and stingrays and thousands of fish. It was the next best thing to S.C.U.B.A diving. I loved being that close to the sharks and looking in their eyes and mouths. Be sure to visit if you ever get the chance.

Atlanta Bound w/ 100s of New Pens

We’ve been busy since our first pen show of 2018. We now have more than 100 pens not presently available online that we will be debuting at the 2018 Atlanta Pen Show.

Here is just one box of goodies that we’ll be bringing to the 2018 Atlanta Pen Show. It is full of fun items you can’t find on our site!

It will be an exciting trip, with many friends that we hope to meet, again, and side trips to the battle of Chickamauga and the Georgia Aquarium.

Yet, in the meantime we’ll tease you with just some of the brands on our table you will only be able to see at the show: S.T. Dupont, Conklin, Faber Castell, Elysee, Jaguar, Delta and Conway Stewart!

We also will have the new Lamy AL-Star vibrant pink pens and ink!

Meanwhile, you can keep ordering pens from our site. Orders will ship out as soon we return from the show. Hope to see you there, though!

Don’t Be Fooled by Fake Mont Blanc Pens

When you are the #1 selling maker of luxury pens, everyone will be chasing your brand, trying to emulate it. That is why the market is flooded with myriad knock-off Mont Blanc pens.

At a quick glance this looks like an authentic sterling silver Mont Blanc Classique, but MB never paints its logo on the pen like this fake has.

We’ve seen our share of them. They range in quality from obviously fake to nearly identical to the real thing. In fact, some fakes are so good, only Mont Blanc can tell the difference, which is why the company has an authentication service.

However, with a little research and careful observation, you can suss out the bulk of the fakes while saving a fortune on authentication fees.

The most common models in the Mont Blanc line up are known as Classiques and LeGrands (146 fountain pen), as well as the oversized fountain pen known as the 149. Mont Blanc makes the bulk of these pens from what they call a “precious resin,” sterling silver and plated and solid gold. The precious resin pens are trimmed in gold plate or platinum plate.

 

Look closely at the gold-plated clip band of the cap to see a finely machine engraved serial number.

There are 3 obvious details to search for when you look at a Mont Blanc pen made of precious resin. Since 1991, Mont Blanc has included a tiny serial number on the clip band of its pens. Only the very best fakes include a serial number, and that only started in more recent years. The vast majority of fakes leave out the serial number. It doesn’t help, that Mont Blanc actually reuses some of its serial numbers and didn’t keep the best records of who got which serial number and where the serial numbers were sent.

Another detail to look for on authentic Mont Blanc writing instruments is the word “Pix” written under the clip. It is nearly impossible to get a good photo of that with our lighting rig. However, starting around 1997, Mont Blanc began including that detail to help customers authenticate its pens. Of course, in recent years, the very best of the Mont Blanc replica makers have started including that feature. Yet, the vast majority of the fakes leave it out.

Black “precious resin” on a Mont Blanc is really a wine-red plastic when you hold it up against a really bright light source, as we did with this glass of wine.

Lastly, among the black pens, the precious resin has several special give aways to its authenticity. First, the black pens are not metal with a black paint job or lacquer. The precious resin is actually a very brittle plastic. Although it looks black, it is really a very deep wine red. If you hold it up to a very bright light source that won’t do any eye damage, you can see a deep red glow around the edge of the pen, much like this more easily seen red edge of this glass of wine. (My favorite blog homework assignment. I mean, I couldn’t let that glass go to waste.) This is generally the most difficult authentication test to perform, as you really need to catch the light just right…and not go blind in the process. Most fakes just use a normal black plastic or a metal barrel painted black.

 

This Mont Blanc Starwalker rollerball pen fake nearly had us convinced until we couldn’t fit an authentic MB refill in it.

Rollerball pens have an additional feature that helps you authenticate them: refills. Mont Blanc rollerball refills are specially threaded and screw into the barrel. Even some of the best fakes that we’ve seen, fail on the refill. The fakes might take a standard plug-in Schmidt-style 888 refill. The Mont Blanc Starwalker rollerball pen in the photo was one of the best fakes we had ever seen. It even came with a screw-in refill that said Mont Blanc, BUT it would not take a genuine MB rollerball refill. The guy who gave it to me after we couldn’t find a refill to fit it confessed he got it in China for only $25 and thought it was too good to be true. At least he wasn’t out a full retail price! That was about 11 years ago when we got it. Back then the crystal topper was clear, but now it also is discoloring, which the real ones won’t do.

Although boxes are easily found on eBay and other places, as a rule of thumb, if you see a pen being sold in its original box, then you are more likely to be dealing with the real thing. So many of the fakes don’t come with any boxes. Also be sure to check with the dealer. The well known pen vendors out there can be trusted to stock the authentic secondhand pens. However, you really might want to check the pen closely if you’re buying from someone at a flea market who knows nothing about pens or from a seller on an auction site that has lots of bad reviews or no reviews.

For pre-1990s Mont Blanc pens, there are myriad other ways to date and authenticate them. However, we shall save that for a future post.

Thank You 2018 Arkansas Pen Show

We had always heard good things about the Arkansas Pen Show in Little Rock, but they were all understatements. This was our first year in attendance, and we already can’t wait to go back. There’s just something about Southern hospitality that suites us fine.

Here’s a view of the action at the 2018 Arkansas Pen Show, as seen from the wall entrance where we were stationed. Good traffic and great vendors!

Grayling, Fern and the rest of the gang who organized it did a spectacular job seeing to all of the vendor and attendee needs. Lisa Vanness and her crew hosted an incredible after-hours party. So did the Pen Addict, Brad Dowdy!

Plus, there were all of the great collectors who came to buy, sell and trade. It was a blast, and we just had fun goofing off and talking pens with everyone.

Of course, we made the trip our Spring Break run for history nerds. After three lovely days in Little Rock, I made a bucket-list trip to the Civil War battlefield of Shiloh. One of the park rangers there told me that this lesser known battlefield is actually the best preserved of all our National Park battlefields.

Shiloh, Tennessee, is stunningly beautiful in bloom. This is what the soldiers would have seen as they disembarked from their steamboats at Pittsburgh Landing in 1862.

The first thing to strike me about Shiloh was its absolute beauty. There is nothing like springtime in the South. Chicago is cold, grey and filthy in March. Shiloh was rainy…but it also was 72 degrees and in bloom. Words fail to describe the relief of fresh country air, green grass and flowering trees. It fills you with hope for a new season and year.

The battle was a two-day struggle in April 6 and 7, 1862. General Ulysses Grant and the Union Army were looking to cut the South in half, by taking away its only east-west railroad that had an important junction in Corinth, Mississippi. Pittsburgh Landing in Shiloh was the best place to invade. As the Union numbers grew around Shiloh, the Confederates mounted a crushing surprise attack. They nearly pushed the U.S. back into the river. But an army of fresh reinforcements arrived that night and drove the rebels back to Corinth the next day. It was the bloodiest battle of the war up until that date, with more than a combined 20,000 casualties.

A line of Confederate artillery aims at the center of the Hornet’s Nest.

The National Park Service preserved the complete battlefield, and it has made a great driving tour of it. Although it rained almost all day, I didn’t mind a little water as I walked sections I’ve read about since I was a little kid.

One of my favorite things to read about as a kid was “The Hornet’s Nest.” More than 2,000 Federal troops got trapped in a dense bit of forest and were eventually surrounded and forced to surrender. But, before they surrendered, they fought so fiercely that the rebel soldiers said the constant barrage of Minie balls coming at them sounded like angry hornets.

A Union cannon in the center of the Hornet’s Nest rests silently on this rainy afternoon at Shiloh.

It was something else to actually stand in the thick of the Hornet’s Nest. To my great surprise, there are very few trees still alive from the battle. The area was forested by white oaks, and those trees only live about a hundred years. Most of the trees you see in this photo are their children and grandchildren.

Another one of the sites I couldn’t wait to see was the Bloody Pond. I was an extremely gruesome child, but I loved the idea of a pond turned red with blood. As an adult, I appreciate the informal truce of the pond during the battle. Union and Confederate troops shared the pond to clean out their wounds and get some water to quench their thirst. Yet, after such intense fighting, it didn’t take long for the pond to fill with their blood.

An informal truce between wounded soldiers was held at this pond as the wounded from both sides tried to clean their wounds and get some water. Yet, with more than 20,000 killed and wounded at the battle, the pond turned bright red with their combined blood.

Just south of the battlefield, on the road to Corinth, Miss., is a little museum filled with relics from the fighting. It has an impressive collection of bullets, buttons, weapons and more. I especially liked a chunk of lead that was two bullets that had collided and fused in mid-air!

However, the real treasure of the museum is its owner, Larry DeBerry. You won’t meet a friendlier soul, and it is unlikely you will meet anyone–even a park ranger–who knows more about the battle. He gives private and group tours of Shiloh, and you won’t regret a penny of it. I cannot more highly recommend taking one of his tours or just dropping in to visit his small, but memorable, museum! Check it out: Shiloh Museum & Tours.

Stop here for a look a great relics of the battle and for a fantastic tour of Shiloh!

The drive to Corinth was gorgeous! The sun came out in the mid-afternoon, and I never thought Tennessee and Mississippi could look so beautiful. There was very little left of the battlefield in Corinth, and, so, I was off to Memphis. I hit Beale Street that night for all of the Blues History.

In the morning before returning to Chicago, I got all shook up at Sun Studios.

Sun Studio is where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf got their start.

Believe it or not, I didn’t intend to stay for a tour, but I’m glad I did. In case you aren’t up on your rock history, Sun Studio is where rock ‘n’ roll was born. Ike Turner wrote what many consider to be the first rock song, which the band he was in recorded here: “Rocket 88.” A little while later, this is where Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison all got their starts. And really, that doesn’t do justice to it. Blues stars B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf also got their start here!

As part of the $14 tour you get to stand in the very studio where all the magic happened. Best of all, you get to hold one of the microphones Elvis sang into and sit at and touch the piano Jerry Lee Lewis used to record “Great Balls of Fire.”

All that history was a lot to pack into 48 hours, but it sure was worth it.