Tag Archives: vintage pens

Decameron 2020: Love Against the Odds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh-oh,” Ray interjects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong with that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No. Not really.”

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

“No we’re not,” Val blew Ray off.

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

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

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

“How?” Val asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe around 100.”

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

“Be my guest,” Val invited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

Ray took a deep breath and wound himself up.

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s 443.3%,” Ray stated.

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

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

Val laughed.

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

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

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

The Decameron 2020 Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arkansas Pen Show Cheats Covid-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arkansas Pen Show or Bust!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baltimore Pen Show, Here We Come!

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

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

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

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

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

Search by Nib Size

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do I Re-Sac a Vintage Pen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pens that Ended WWII: Italy

Did you know that toys paid for the pen that ended WWII with Italy?

For several years, with the help of many readers, I have written about the pens that ended World War II. After solving several mysteries about the pens that ended the war with Germany, I thought this fun and fact-filled segment had come to an end.

Fabulous readers Francis Turner, Tom C., Gary C. and Mike C convinced me otherwise. All four of these men are unrelated and each reached out to me independently of one another and very close to the same time.

Yes, I had discussed the surrenders of Japan and Germany, but I had left out the critical surrender of Italy and its new-forged partnership with the Allies.

After all of the other mysteries were solved, I never would have guessed that toys would be at the center of the story about the pen that ended the war in Italy.

Toys?! Yes, toys.

Louis Marx’s family sits with several of the generals who won WWII. Many of the young boys in the photo were named for after a general. Photo courtesy of Francis Turner.

Enter Louis Marx. To the best of my research, he had nothing to do with the comical Marx Brothers. Instead, Louis Marx and his brother David were toy makers in New York City, when they opened their own company in 1919. Their particular talent in the early days was taking the ideas of current childrens’ toys and making them better, more durable and cheaply than their competitors. They also were better marketers. Although they did not invent the yo-yo, they were the ones initially behind making it world famous in the 1920s. They and their company would go on to invent thousands of other toys, famously including Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots and my absolute favorite toy as a little boy: the Big Wheel.

Marx Toys was one of the few companies to thrive during the Great Depression, and along the way Louis happened to become very close friends with the men who would go on to save the world from fascism. Yes, his close friends included Dwight D. Eisenhower, Walter Bedell “Beetle” Smith, Omar Bradley, George Marshall and Curtis Lemay. Talk about having powerful friends in high places.

Were they really that close as friends? Absolutely. Smith gladly took on the role of godfather to Louis’ first son, and Eisenhower served as godfather to his second son. In fact, eight of the leading Allied generals of the war would volunteer to be the godfathers to 5 of the Marx children.

Much the way Kenneth Parker gave his old buddy Eisenhower Parker 51s to sign the surrender with Germany, Marx gave his buddy Beetle a pen to use for a surrender ceremony. Use it he did, but before we get to that, let’s take a quick look into the life of Gen. Walter Bedell Smith. He remains a fascinating character.

Gen. Walter Bedell Smith signed the armistice with Italy and also the German unconditional surrender. He later became head of the C.I.A.

Best known as Eisenhower’s “hatchet man,” Smith is remembered as Ike’s Chief of Staff at several crucial points during WWII. Although he was often tough as nails, he was far more politically savvy than people gave him credit, and he really embodied much of the American dream rising out of nowhere to become an important figure.

Smith was born in Indianapolis in 1895. He didn’t graduate high school, but he did attend a little college before eventually joining the Indiana National Guard in 1911. He remained in the Guard helping during floods and even as part of the Pancho Villa Campaign on the southern border. He spent 6 long years in the military as a private and then non-commissioned officer until World War I. Given his incomplete education by today’s military standards, he’d have never gotten very far in the ranks, but the Army needed young men with any military experience, and he was promoted to second lieutenant in Europe in 1917. Wounded at the front, Smith recuperated and earned a promotion to first lieutenant, a rank at which he’d remain for another 10 years, as he also furthered his education. After achieving his rank as captain, he’d stick it out 10 more years to make the rank of major in 1939. Then World War II began.

Experience and a swelling Army made his quick promotions to Lieutenant Colonel and “full-bird” Colonel inevitable, but it was his tenacious hard work and talent for organizing and co-ordinating between Allied army units that rocketed him up the ranks to become a 1, then 2 and 3 star general serving as the chief of staff first for Gen. George Marshall and then Eisenhower.

This is the Wahl-Eversharp Skyline pen given to Gen. Smith by his friend Louis Marx that was used to sign the Allied armistice with Italy on Sept. 3, 1943. Like so many other Skylines, its cap sleeve has come loose and is sliding down the cap a little.

In August of 1943, Ike entrusted Smith on a secret mission to negotiate an armistice with Italy, which would then join the Allies against the Nazis. By Sept. 3, they had signed a deal with this Wahl-Eversharp Skyline fountain pen given to him by Louis Marx. Pay close attention to the engraved gold cap sleeve and the engraved plate on the pen box! Tom C., a former accountant to Louis Marx Jr.,  was the first to tell me about this pen, and he would go on to sell it and another important pen to Francis Turner.

Turner is the gentleman who first explained the Marx connection to me. You see, he is the owner of the Marx Toy Museum in West Virginia, near the site of one of the original Marx toy factories. Although the toy museum is no longer in daily operation, you can take a virtual tour online, while many of the physical exhibits are on tour at other museums around the country.

A close-up of the specially engraved cap of the Italian armistice pen.

Turner’s passion for Marx Toys is on par with the most devoted passions for pens that I have ever seen, and it was pens that brought our paths to cross. I cannot thank him enough for many of the photos in this post and the stories that go behind it.

As we learned in previous posts, Kenneth Parker gave Eisenhower Parker 51s to use in the ceremony that brought the unconditional surrender of Germany. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith signed the 4th copy of the German surrender with one of those 51s, and he and Ike chose to give that pen to their close friend Marx! It, too, has a very unusual gold sleeve around the normal cap with its history engraved on it. The pen, itself, is an age-appropriate Vac-filler in Cedar Blue. Its Saks Fifth Avenue presentation box also has an engraved plate with the pen’s history. This is the other pen Turner acquired and shared with me for this story.

This Parker 51 was used in the signing of Germany’s unconditional surrender. It, too, was given to Louis Marx by Gen. Smith.

 

Smith’s own history continued to get more fascinating. After the war, he was promoted to the status of 4-star general. He also remained an Army general while serving as ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1946 into 1948. Smith continued on as a 4-star general while then also serving as head of the C.I.A. from 1950 into 1953! When Ike was elected president, Smith was chosen to be Under Secretary of State. He didn’t keep that posting for very long, but he continued to help the Eisenhower administration.

Smith passed away from a major heart attack in 1961. His buddy Louis Marx, whose upstart toy company had grown into the biggest in the world by the 1950s, would live until 1982. 

An engraved plate on the box of the Parker 51 used to help end WWII, describes the pen’s special place in history.

I certainly hope you find all of this history as interesting as I do. If anything, my jump down the rabbit hole of WWII pens has taught me is that I am far from finished uncovering the pens of WWII. 

What pens did Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler use to sign their ill-fated agreement? What pens did Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin use to sign their agreements at Yalta? What pens were used to ink the deal tying the U.S. to China’s Chiang Kai-shek? What did Roosevelt sign the Lend Lease Act with? Clearly there are more famous pens in this war. I look forward to uncovering them with you in 2020 and beyond.

Another Crazy Summer

Dawn and I take a coffee break during our busy summer of 2019.

I’m engaged! Certain friends have accused me of “burying the lead” in my news of late, so I’m just gonna put this out there at the top.

Pen shows lead to true love, it turns out. Dawn and I met at the Ohio Pen Show, and it has been the most amazing relationship I’ve ever had. (She seems to agree on her side, too.) This past June, I had a custom ring made from the gold of old fountain pen nibs too destroyed to be of future service to the pen community, and I gave it to Dawn (who also loves pens) in July. She said, yes, and all we have left to do is decide on where we’ll live, tie the knot and live happily ever after. Piece of cake, right?

Of course, the world of pens has been exciting with lots of travel this summer, too! The only downside was that Dawn was unable to join me for these shows.

The St. Louis Pen Show was bigger than last year, and a huge draw for crowds. Anne and her husband continue organizing and advertising the daylights out of that show. We were fortunate this year not to have the blistering heat nor any tornadoes.

Here’s the gateway to the west, the St. Louis Arch, as seen from a roof top.

The camaraderie of this show is something else. All the first-year vendors and attendees seemed to have this bond over having been firsts to attend. It was almost like we had a secret club handshake. It was a blast to catch up, and there were some “sick,” as the kids say today to mean “awesome,” pens at that show. Vintage pen collectors found scads of old treasures, and modern pen fans were dazzled by the tons of high and low-end writing instruments.

Always popular is the free-to-the-vendors lunch, and we had a dessert party this year before the auction. AMAZING deals were to be had at the auction. If you ever want to get into vintage on the cheap, try their auction. Many of the pens were fully restored going into the auction and sold well below what they would normally get at a show or online.

Outside of the pen show circuit, I’ve continued my training on clock repair. I can fix most standard cuckoo clocks in my sleep, and I’m getting much better at sequencing spring-wound clocks.

Before you know it, I was off to the D.C. Pen Show! The traffic and customers are always amazing at DC, but my favorite parts are outside of the show.

This is the Confederate’s view of the battle of Fredricksburg at the top of Marye’s Heights. This is all that is left of the original stone wall that shielded the Confederates. The ground now comes up to the top of the wall on the Yankee side of the wall, but during the battle no Union soldier made it past where you see that line of trees in this photo. Yet, nearly 10,000 dead and wounded would lay along the hillside heading down into town from this position.

I consider this to be my vacation show. Every year I try to see new sights and sounds. This year I went to the Battle of Fredricksburg National Park before arriving at the show. This has to be the smallest national park. Only a couple acres of the devastating battlefield have been preserved. What most people remember from their Civil War history is the assault on Marye’s Heights. Union troops cross the Rappahannock River and sack the town of Fredricksburg. Confederate General Robert E. Lee beat the slow-moving Union General Ambrose Burnside to the battle site and claimed the high ground. Burnside would throw battalion after battalion up against the Confederate forces atop Marye’s Heights. Hiding behind a stone wall, a mere 7,000 rebels held off at least triple their number, killing or wounding about a quarter of the Union Army.

This statue pays tribute to Confederate soldier Richard Kirkland for his bravery in delivering water to the dying Union soldiers.

Yet, what really amazes me is the story of this battle that is less well know. After the battle, thousands of dead and dying men lay below this wall. The wounded made terrible groans and calls for help as they lay dying. The fighting had only barely ceased for the day. No one was rushing forward, yet, to collect the wounded for fear of being shot from above. However, the cries of the wounded were far too much for one Confederate soldier named Richard Kirkland to bear. So he scrambled out of his safe place behind the wall with a full canteen of water to offer comfort to the men he had potentially just shot…and who might still try shooting him out of resentment. As he’d go back to his wall for more water, more of his fellow soldiers handed him canteens filled with water to ease the suffering of the dying. Nobody on either side stopped his act of extreme bravery and kindness. Kirkland would eventually be immortalized as The Angel of Marye’s Heights.

The dramatic sky behind the Washington Monument is almost as stunning as the tribute to our first president.

Having visited dozens of Civil War battlefields, it is really strange to see the entire town having grown up the side of a hill that was once drenched in blood. I wondered how many of the people knew their homes were on the site of human slaughter. I wondered if any of the homes were haunted. I kinda hoped they were–not out of malice, just because I like haunted houses.

The D.C. Pen Show was fairly well organized this year, which was surprising given the show’s owner had suffered a heart attack only 2 and a half weeks before the show! Yet, Bob was up and running around much the same as in previous years. It was good to see him up and about. His sister really stepped in to keep the show happening this year.

Traffic at the show seemed a little down but not much. What surprised me were all of the new vendors! Many of the regulars of the circuit were not in attendance, and a new generation of vendors took their places. I never knew there were that many young people eager to get into the circuit with a host of new wares meant for pen collectors but not frequently seen at these events. There was a huge emphasis on paper, pen and paper carrying devices and a several new repairpeople I’ve never met or heard of before.

Here’s the U.S. Capitol Building on a very humid day.

However, some things never change, and nights down in the bar discussing pens until closing time, along with the joy of smoking cigars and drinking with the Black Pen Society never go out of style.

After the show, my vacation resumed with another trip to the National Mall. This year I walked the park space between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building. It was warm and very humid, but not uncomfortable. I’ve seen so many photos of each of these landmarks, but it is quite something special to see them in real life…no matter dysfunctional the Capitol Building might be.

Gene Krupa’s bass drum while he was with the Benny Goodman big band making a huge hit out of the anthem “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

As a decidedly unusual child, one of the first things to go on my bucket list at age 10 was the Smithsonian Museum of American history. It took me 33 years to get there, but get there I did this summer. Some people refer to it as America’s attic, and I LOVED it. Only the gift shop sucked. I was hoping to pick up photos of the many incredible objects by way of postcards, but, those weren’t in either of the on-site gift shops I visited. So, I don’t have photos of Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” or the battle flag that gave us “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

It was amazing to see the first steam engine train ever used in America, the first Colt revolver, a cotton gin, the first electric lights, the first record players, Ted Williams’ jersey and cap, George Washington’s uniform and sword, the table and chairs used to sign the surrender documents of the Civil War, tons of relics from all of our wars and a 1948 Tucker automobile in silver.

The 1948 Tucker has been one of my favorite cars for my entire life. Only 51 were made, and this is the 5th I’ve seen.

You can blame the Jeff Bridges’ movie “Tucker: A Man and His Dream” for getting me addicted to the story of the Tucker automobile, sometimes called the Tucker Torpedo. The real life Preston Tucker was an innovator and automotive junkie who worked in the auto industry and decided to buck the odds and start his own car company after WWII. His first car would use all the latest innovations of the era and put them in a 4-door sedan. Seatbelts, disc brakes, pop-out safety glass, fuel-injection, a high-power 6-cylinder rear engine and a signature third headlight that turned with the wheels that lit the way to where you were going in a turn. These were among the many other innovations in his car. He pushed his luck for as long as he could, but he ultimately couldn’t get enough financing to keep the company afloat. Only 51 of these cars were made. This silver one is the fifth I’ve seen. I’ve also seen a copper one in San Diego, a red one in Las Vegas, a black one in Dearborn, Mich., and Tucker’s wife’s personal vehicle in waltz blue in Murdo, South Dakota. It was an absolute thrill to see this silver one.

Here’s what appears to be the fifth Colt revolver ever made and the one sent to the U.S. Patent Office by Samuel Colt. Notice there is no trigger guard. The trigger flips down when the hammer was cocked.

This is a uniform and cap that was game-worn by the legendary baseball player Ted Williams, who was the last person to bat over .400 in a complete season.

Given the lack of hand protection and the beautiful jade green handle, I suspect George Washington’s sword was more ceremonial than battle tested. Nevertheless, it is a stout weapon good for attack.

Vintage Pen Straight from 1905

Susie Thomas was given this Conklin M31 in 1905 for her high school graduation. She looks way more sophisticated than most high school kids today.

It is the romantic in me that makes up the story behind an individual pen when I pick it up and look it over. Who owned it? What did it write about? What transpired in the years it chronicled?

We don’t have to wonder about that with our Conklin M31. We know it was given as a gift in 1905 to Susan Thomas. She had just graduated high school and was going to attend business college! We know this because her granddaughter Jane asked us to sell it.

These long-taper capped Conklin pens are extremely difficult to find today, as they usually lose their caps over time…or they break. The black hard rubber can be brittle. This pen is nearly mint…except for the chocolate hazing and #2 14k gold Conklin replacement nib. However, it is a FLEXI nib, which ought to make up for the few flaws.

Susie’s past is a little hazy. She went to business college, which was all but unheard of for a woman in 1905. She got married and had kids at some point, and Jane thinks she died in the 1940s.

Conklin M31 pens with their tapered caps are very rare and a real treasure with a flexi nib. It is even rarer to know its personal history.

Preliminary research shows (so far) that this pen was first issued in 1903. We restored it with a new ink sac. The gold-filled ring is monogramed with a script “T.” A great pen for a museum collection and use.