Tag Archives: #fountainpens

Meet the Ink Test Guru

Several years ago I met Donn D. at the Chicago Pen Show. We got to talking outside of the main room afterhours, and he was the one who introduced me to Ink-Fast Tests. He had a binder of very organized ink swatches that showed what an ink looked like when protected from the light, what it looked like after it had been left in the sun for 3 months and after it had been left in the sun for 6 months.

As I was on a quest for the perfect replacement blue for my beloved Waterman Florida Blue, I began making ink tests for this site. I figured you would be as curious as I am about how ink holds up to UV light.

Donn and I got together at this year’s Washington DC Pen Show and resumed our inky discussions. I asked if he would be so kind as to share some of his tests on the blog, and he said, “Yes.”

Included in this post are 4 pages of his tests of Pilot ink, Diamine ink, Noodler’s ink, Waterman ink, Parker ink and Pelikan ink…among others.

Donn described his methodology as such: “I exposed fountain pen ink samples to ultraviolet light from the sun for 3 months and 6 months.  The exposure method involved simply taping them to the inside of a patio door, which does not block UV very well.  I exposed all samples in the same manner, but not at the same time, and have no record of the number of cloudy vs. sunny days for each test.  The paper was standard office copy bond.

The inks in this test happen to be colors I like, rather than a general test of a manufacturer’s entire product line.

What surprised me most was how well green inks held up, and a chemist friend speculates a copper compound may be involved.

Note: Test sheet #1 shows 6-month results only.”

Thank you, Donn, for sharing so many of these ink tests. Everybody else, I hope these help you in your quest for the perfect inks.

Click on any of the images to see a larger, clearer representation of the inks tested. Please also note that these are not performance tests of the ink inside a fountain pen. Some of these inks are not as well suited to vintage pens as others. This is strictly to showcase how an ink will hold up to time and light. (For example, Noodler’s Ink often clogs the hell out of vintage pens. Beautiful inks but a pain to deal with unless you love spending hours cleaning pens.)

2018 Dallas Pen Show Round-up

Sometimes the biggest part of an adventure is just arriving safely. My trusty car, Penelope Apocalypse, was debating existential issues with herself, as her starter was giving out. A quick trip to the dealership the day I was scheduled to drive south turned into a prolonged exploration of the starter system. After 5 hours of delay, the dealership determined that her starter was dying and it had no spares to replace it. Thus, I hit the road with no guarantee of getting to Dallas…but I really wanted to go!

In one of our few sober moments, Three-Finger Frank and I visit at my table during the Dallas Pen Show.

Stopping only for gas near St. Louis, I made it to Muskogee, Oklahoma, by 4 a.m. the following day. Penelope graced me with a fresh start in the morning, and we made it to Dallas on a wing and an exhausted prayer.

Thank goodness for great friends. The awesome pen dealer Joe Lowe was waiting for me in Dallas, and he found a dealership just a mile from the pen show hotel! I unloaded Penelope at the hotel, and we took her to the dealer for a new starter. One classic Luby’s dinner experience later, Joe and I were fortified for the show starting the next morning.

Pete Kirby and Mike Walker did a fantastic job advertising the daylights out of the Dallas Pen Show this year. It was packed nearly shoulder to shoulder all day Friday and Saturday! They sure run a good show.

I was on the back wall, where I was last year and stacked more than 4 boxes worth of goods on a single table. It is a great location, and I was visited by tons of friends all day Friday and Saturday. Charles S. and his buddy Murray came to visit from Ft. Worth. We had fun shootin’ the breeze. Then came Three-Finger Frank and his lovely wife Kelly. We’d eventually get a great dinner together, catching up on a year’s worth of conversation and puns.

The show was so busy, I barely got a chance to see any other tables other than the ones next to me. It looked like a vintage heavy show, and from what I could see there were some really amazing offerings. The oversized orange hard rubber Watermans with sterling silver filigree had me drooling the most.

Friday night ran late. After dinner, Frank and I continued on in the hotel bar, joking and swapping philosophical musings. We were soon joined by Nik Pang, and the laughs and bull session continued. It was like being in college all over again. I’m surprised our livers didn’t explode.

Saturday started way too early, but it was another fun day of friends and pens. My favorite new friend is Miss Targa Slim. Mysterious, beautiful and hilarious. We met the day before and had a delightful time swapping stories for a second day. She said she’d keep in touch, and I sure hope she does.

Saturday night the pressure was off, knowing I’d have a starter that worked. Another dinner at Luby’s with Joe and a few other friends, and then it was off to Muskogee. The long ride home was way more relaxing and uneventful. Although Penelope seems like a new car to me, she crossed the great 100,000-mile mark somewhere in Oklahoma! She’s the first car I ever drove 100,000 miles on, and she feels powerful enough to go another 100k…now that she has a new starter for the task.

How Do I Start Collecting Pens? Know Thy Obsession

Starting a pen collection isn’t always easy. There are soooooo many great pens out there in need of a good home. Where do you begin?

There is no right or wrong way to begin, but sometimes it helps to narrow your options.

Do you like dip pens, fountain pens, ballpoint pens or rollerball pens? Do you prefer vintage pens or modern? Do you want to write with them? If so, do you want to use them for everyday writing or do you want to perform calligraphy or Spencerian scripts? Do you just love their design and aesthetic? Are you collecting for an investment? Are you looking to make an impression during special signing ceremonies? Are you dedicated to a specific period in history and only want pens to go with what is perhaps a larger collection of that era? Do you love to tinker with things and want to learn the art of pen restoration? Do you simply love the fact that millions and millions of dollars were spent researching and designing many complicated ways to fill a fountain pen with ink?

It is not unusual at all to find yourself drawn to one or more of these questions. Over the course of this series we will begin breaking down each of these questions and discuss the pertinent issues with each of them, along with other elements of collecting pens.

TYPES OF PENS

Defining the four major types of pens is a good way to find common understanding and definitions of what you are interested in collecting. Most of this might be what many of you already know, but you would be surprised by how many people are still learning. I especially want to encourage people to learn as much as they can about this fun hobby…and obsession.

Some dip pens are made of glass, gold, silver, wood and even ivory.

This is a modern dip pen made of Murano glass. It is great for testing new inks.

Dip pens are the most basic type of pens that use water-based inks. You can still find many beautiful examples dating back as far as the 1700s when ornate metal pens began replacing feathered quills. A dip pen can be typically made of metals, glass, wood or ivory. The writing point is called a nib, which was usually made of gold, glass or steel. To write, you simply dipped the nib in ink and started scribbling. Depending on the pen, you could write about two to ten words per dip. You can find many base-level dip pens with steel nibs for around $1. Yet, some dip pens are ornately made with silver, gold, mother of pearl, ivory and other precious materials. Big flexible gold nibs from the late 1800s are prized for their ability to create works of art with the Spencerian handwriting method.

FUN FACT: The famous American Civil War historian Shelby Foote wrote the rough draft to his extensive two-volume history of the war using an authentic Civil War-era dip pen and period appropriate nibs! He said he did it to feel a closer connection with the people about whom he was writing and to slow himself down to really think about what he was writing.

Fountain pens, also known as ink pens, use gold or steel nibs like dip pens, but these pens were the first to carry an internal reservoir of water-based ink. Originally made of hard rubber, these pens first came on to the scene in the late 19th century. Fountain pens seemed to enter their glory days in the 1920s through the 1950s. Myriad mechanical systems were invented to fill a pen with ink. Pumps, levers, buttons, pneumatics, diaphragms, pistons, cartridges and converters have all been used to load a pen with ink. Another feature unique to fountain pens was the inkfeed. This is a special assembly under then nib that delivers ink to the nib while regulating its flow. Typically, fountain pens can hold 8 to 12 legal pad pages worth of ink. Some pens can hold a lot more ink and others much less.

American author Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain, was the spokesman for the Conklin Pen Company in 1903.

FUN FACT: Mark Twain was the first celebrity to be paid to endorse a pen company. The Conklin company of Toledo, Ohio, paid him to speak well of their Conklin Crescent. Twain claimed he liked their early fountain pen best because it carried its own ink reserve, and its crescent-shaped filling system prevented the pen from rolling off his desk. He left out the fact that he was the first author to ever write a novel on the marvelous new invention called the typewriter…and had no intention of going back to pens to write novels. Faster and ultimately easier to use and easier to read than a fountain pen, both writing instruments remained vital for myriad needs.

Ballpoint pens were first invented during World War II. Fountain pens use water-based inks drawn, normally, from glass inkwells. They are also gravity fed. Thus, while running around under fire in combat, it is difficult to keep your pen from making a mess and your inkwell to keep from breaking. A ballpoint pen uses a (typically) tungsten ball bearing at the base of a cartridge full of oil-based ink. The ink is more viscous and less likely to slop around and make a mess. The ball lets the pen write on most any surface. The early generation ballpoints had a lot of issues, primarily due to the ink drying too quickly inside the cartridge. Yet, once ink cartridges were perfected, these pens became infinitely cheaper and easier to mass produce than traditional fountain pens. The ink lasted much longer, dried instantly on the page and took a much longer time to dry out inside the cartridge. Soon the pens were gussied up with great designs that employed twists, clicks and caps to protect their writing points. These days, ballpoint pens rarely have caps and are more readily identified by being either twist or click pens.

FUN FACT: Parker first introduced its Jotter model click ballpoint pen in the 1950s, and it is still one of the most popularly sold ballpoint pens today!

Rollerball pens were the last major evolution of pen designs. Many pen users found that they missed the smooth, fast-writing action of water-based ink but preferred the ballpoint style compared to fountain pens. As such, the rollerball was born. It combined the best of both worlds by having cartridges that hold water-based ink that is delivered with a very smooth, fast and efficient ballpoint.

What type of pen is your favorite?

Me? I love all pens, but my greatest passion is for fountain pens. After discovering my late grandfather’s Sheaffer Lifetime when I was 9, I was hooked. It wrote better than anything I had ever experienced. I was a particularly strange child. I clearly remember resenting my first grade teacher who made us write with pencils. Dirty, ever-shrinking and inconsistent pencils. The sloppy, ugly stains left by erased mistakes. “Only adults can use pens,” my first through third grade teachers insisted. I genuinely resented them for it, and I routinely asked special permission to use pens on homework that was especially important. Weirder still, I would try to rally my classmates in protest of pencils. Honest to God! And I resented them when they preferred pencils and being shackled with the label of irresponsible children not yet ready for something as clean, dignified and mature as pens. I actually rejoiced when Ms. Bartuce permitted those of us with especially neat handwriting to use ballpoint pens toward the end of fourth grade.

You can ask my parents. I am not making this up.

I never dared bring my precious fountain pens to school, but I was particularly devoted to my clickable Parker Jotter in junior high. When I was an exchange student in Germany during my junior year of high school, all of my classmates saved up their money to drink themselves blind in a country that served alcohol at 16. Me? I knew that most Germans still use fountain pens and that I could get real bargains on brand new fountain pens that would be way too expensive in the U.S. Instead of getting drunk every night, I insisted my host family take me to a quality stationary store where I fell in love with an elegant stub-nibbed Rotring. (I wasn’t totally square. I also fell madly in love with a beautiful blonde fraulein who liked me as much as I liked her. We just never drank to the point of vomiting in the gutter.)