Our local fountain pen brick and mortar shop is closing down at the end of the month, and it’s a crying shame. There’s been a steady stream of collectors visiting the store to say goodbye and stock up on supplies, and on Thursday I joined them. I bought a few bottles of ink, a few fridge magnets with reproductions of old fountain pen adverts (most of them for Parker, of course), and there was a single tray of vintage pens.
“None of them work, I’m afraid,” the proprietor’s daughter said.
But I saw a Parker Vacumatic Shadow Wave among the lot, and I have a very hard time leaving Parker Vacumatics and 51s behind. I picked it up and took a quick glance. It was clearly a user grade pen, but I didn’t care – it was a speedline Vacumatic, which meant that it was fairly easy to fix. I asked her if they could perhaps be mistaken, and was there a chance that the pen worked. She brought out a cup of water and tried it out. It didn’t seem to hold any water, and she showed it to her dad, the proprietor and a well known pen repairman. “Oh, I can fix it, no problem. It just needs a filler swap”.
So today, in the midst of a rainstorm, I went to pick it up after its repair. It’s still a user grade pen, because it’s full of little nicks and scratches, and it has a well worn name engraved into it. But that’s part of what I love about vintage pens, and it’s something that I just can’t get with modern ones. I got a gold nibbed pen with a unique filling system and lovely material (that allows you to see the ink levels through it), in a classic design, for less than $130. And I got a bit of history, as this little workhorse has been around since the first quarter of 1938, and it’s still doing its job. Finally, there’s the mystery of it: puzzling out the model and the date code, maybe trying to find out about its previous owner (in this case, a Mary Thompson. It’s part of why I have no problem with engraved vintage pens), imagining what it’s been through over the decades. This pen is almost 85 years old. It’s a Junior Debutante, so it isn’t surprising that it belonged to a lady. It was likely a gift, and one wonders for what occasion and who the gift giver was. It was at the cusp of a world war that would change a lot of things for women. Was Mary Thompson starting out at her first job? Had she graduated from college? Did the pen pass to her children? How did end up in a pen shop in Tel Aviv 85 years later?
Yes, there’s a risk when buying vintage pens. There is also always a story, and a chance of a greatly rewarding experience, not to mention the possibility of getting a pen with a nib that writes like this (it’s a fine italic nib with nice amount of spring to it):