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):
This week was busy and filled with milestones. On Sunday I celebrated my 40th birthday. That’s not something that I was sure that I’d get to celebrate: in June and July last year I thought that I was dealing with a much more aggressive form of lymphoma, and I was unsure if I’d live to 40. Being where I am right now in terms of health and life in general makes me feel lucky and blessed.
On Wednesday I participated in my first race since 2019 (I missed a race in early 2020 due to Covid concerns, and then all the local races were cancelled until late 2021, when I was dealing with cancer). I was worried about the crowds triggering my post trauma, and the start of the race was challenging, but then the crowds cleared up and I had a great time.
I sketched a bit this week, working with watercolour pencils and watercolours. I’m still experimenting a lot, and still trying to work out how to sketch plants and foliage. Here’s a very quick sketch from a local garden, done with ballpoint, Faber Castell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils and watercolours (Schmincke Horadam and Daniel Smith) on a Stillman and Birn pocket sketchbook. I didn’t feel like sketching so I just did a quick study of some rocks and plants, experimenting with textures.
I’ve inked up all of the fountain pens that I bought on my latest trip. That’s an Oldwin 2000 Years of History pen in silver (gorgeous, with a fantastic nib, but very heavy as it’s large and has a silver body), two Waterman 52s, with lovely flexible nibs. One of the pens is still stickered, and yet in the spirit of use the good china, I inked it. There’s also a Wahl Eversharp in the Kashmir colourway. I think that it’s an Equiposed that somehow got an adjustable nib on it, but I bought it for the phenomenal nib, not the pen body as much. All four pens were bought at Mora Stylos in Paris, and I am very happy with them.
I also popped a J. Herbin Eclat de Saphir cartridge into the Kaweco Collection Sport Iridescent Pearl pen that I bought in Present and Correct in London. It was very difficult not to buy up that entire shop, especially since I visited it twice.
The other two pens were inked up before my trip and are probably going to be written dry this week or the next: a Lamy Safari Petrol with a fine nib that I use for sketching as it has De Atramentis Urban Grey document ink in it and that’s waterproof, and a Schon Design Pocket 6 in 3D Teal that has a Diamine Sherwood Green cartridge in it.
The Oldwin is inked with Pilot Iroshizuku Kosumosu, a new ink that I got as a gift from the lovely Mr. Mora. I don’t have many pink inks so it will be nice to give this ink a try. I still am having terrible luck with J. Herbin inks. Their regular lineup is so watery and desaturated, it’s always been a bit of a let down, especially when compared to the vibrant colours on their labels. All the vintage pens are filled with Waterman ink, as it’s safe on vintage pens and very easy to clean out. There’s Florida Blue (now called Serenity Blue), Havana Brown (now called Absolute Brown) and my desert island ink, Waterman Blue Black (now called Mysterious Blue).
In terms of reading, I finished reading Ben Aaronovitch’s “Amongst Our Weapons” and it was a really fun read. His previous novel in the “Rivers of London” series, “False Value” got me a little worried that he’d lost his touch (it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t nearly as good as his previous seven books), but “Amongst Out Weapons” is a return to form. I’ve also finished reading Agatha Christie’s “A Murder is Announced” and boy does she know how to write. The characters, setting, period come to life, and you can sense an intelligent and keenly observing mind at work. I’m now back with the Tournament of Books, this time with “Our Country Friends” by Gary Shteyngart. If I find this book tiresome, I may yet give up on the Tournament of Books list as I’ve got more than enough good books that I can’t wait to dig into.
Next week is very busy, so I’m not sure if I’ll have time for any long posts. In the meanwhile, please remember to take a break from social media and enjoy your life: call a friend, take a walk, listen to a family member, be kind to someone, volunteer in some way. And if you are on social media, please be kind.
Today is national pencil day, which is just an excuse to showcase my latest vintage pencil finds from visiting a very old local stationery shop. Oftentimes shops like these still have new old stock of vintage pencils, and in my case I’m usually looking for local Jerusalem Pencils, but I often find other interesting things along the way.
In this case I got a very large haul of Eberhard Faber Mongol #2 pencils, which I think are really good looking in terms of typography and ferrule design. Most of them are unsharpened, which is a bonus treat, although as usual with vintage pencils time has rendered their erasers unusable.
The real find for me were some very old Jerusalem Pencils (based on the logo), in this case coloured pencils (black and red). These are very waxy with relatively little pigment, but I don’t intend to draw with them anyway, and it just tickles me that didn’t translate “sunset” to “שקיעה” (or sunset in Hebrew) but rather chose to transliterate it, to give the pencil a more cosmopolitan feel.
Carpenter pencils are something I rarely find in stationery stores but do sometimes find in flea markets. In this case I lucked on three perfect Jerusalem Pencils Carpenter 199 pencils.
Even rarer for me are these Jerusalem Pencils Office 46 red and blue dual pencils. One of them is badly warped and another is slightly warped, but they still have their handsome imprint with an art deco-y font.
These are more modern, as they have the Pan Art imprint, which means that they were likely made after Jerusalem Pencils was forced to rebrand itself after its bankruptcy. They’re charcoal pencils, and it will be interesting to give them a spin. I love the font selection here as there’s a lovely flow to it.
These are the last Jerusalem Pencils of the bunch, Pan Art coloured pencils from the 1000 and the Al Greco 6000 line. These are quite modern but I still haven’t seen them too often so I added them to the pencil pile.
Here’s a pencil that I’m pretty sure was made by Jerusalem Pencils, but there’s no telling it if was under that name or Pan Art. It was sharpened at both ends so you can just make out that it’s an HB pencil, and enough of the imprint is left to know that it was made in Israel and is called Oriole.
And here we enter the realms of the unknown pencil brand, where I just bought pencils for their imprint and style, such as this Patented Drawing “Liberty” pencil:
Which was made by the Pai-Tai Industrial Co LTD.
These Student 101 pencils from a Croatian company called TOZ Penkala (thank you to a penaddict slack user for helping me with this):
These L&C Hardtmuth Studio 941 7 and 18 pencils that just have the best imprint font and logo:
These Marco 4100 coloured pencils which I bought for the Comic Sans “Superb Writer” imprint, it made me laugh.
And these random pencils all bought for their imprints: Springer, Factis “Eraser Pencil” 3012, and Warm Heart Color Pencils.
Of all of these I’ll probably only be using the Mongols, but I find having the others fun, and I may be able to swap a few of them for some other vintage pencils that I can enjoy.
My Pen Chalet exclusive Typewriter Retro 51s arrived this week, and the mint one is a perfect match to my Hermes Baby (and Hermes 2000) typewriter keys. I’m happy that I splurged on this pen and the copper Typewriter edition. They are both utterly unnecessary pens that make me smile without breaking the bank. I have 11 typewriters, but these are the first typewriter themed Retro51s that I’ve bought. I only slightly regret not getting the red one as well.
It was a virtual convention kind of fortnight, and in both cases the pandemic afforded me the opportunity to go to a convention that I normally wouldn’t have been able to attend. The fun and pretty well run one was the Disney Pin Trading 20th anniversary event. I’m not a huge Disney pin trader by far – I have pins from my Disney races and a few others that caught my eye, because I’m so aware of how easily I got fall down that rabbit hole. But I was curious enough about the behind the scenes of pin creation and well aware that is probably going to be my only chance to attend such an event that I enrolled. It was interesting and fun, and a generally well thought out event that didn’t feel like a “we’re doing the same thing only on zoom” kind of thing. I wish that I could say the same about Kubecon, the second convention that I attended. It’s a poster child of how not to run a virtual convention. Still I managed to learn quite a lot from the hours that I squeezed in, and I plan on catching up on more video sessions next week.
This weekend was stormy, so no long run today. I had about a month of perfect running weather so far, and it looks like I may yet make my 2020 running distance stretch goal of 700km run total this year.
In a fit of anger and frustration I created an “obituary” page for 2020 in my journal, but one that listed the bad moments of the year. It ended up taking four pages, but I managed to find something positive about most of the moments and events of the year, so it cheered me up.
TV (or streaming to be exact) has been one of the high points of the past few weeks. I don’t watch much of it, but “Ted Lasso”, and the new seasons of “The Mandalorian” and “Star Trek Discovery” have been great to watch. Also I’ve been playing “Pandemic Legacy Season Zero” and so far it’s excellent and distinctly different from its predecessors.
When I was in London last year I picked up a few stationery items from Muji, most of them pencils that I hadn’t seen at Muji’s before. One of these items was a six pack of 2B natural wood-cased pencils. They looked gorgeous, they were very fairly priced, and 2B wood-cased pencils are my go to sketching tool (unless I think that there’s a chance that I may want to watercolour over the sketch, in which case it’s H for the win). If you have any interest in sketching, the 2B pencil is your best friend.
I don’t know what kind of wood the Muji natural wood-cased pencils are made of, but whatever it is it has a beautiful grain, it sharpens very well, and it smells lovely (though I doubt that it’s cedar). The pencils aren’t lacquered, but they do have a satiny finish that makes them lovely to hold and use, and like other Muji products, they have no logo on them, just the 2B grade boldly stamped in black foil.
Because of the natural finish and the woodgrain each pencil is unique and distinct, which is a nice bonus to natural pencils. They have no attached eraser, which is standard for sketching pencils.
They sharpen really well, whether using a knife or a sharpener. They don’t hold a point for long, but if you’re using them for sketching, you can just use a knife sharpened pencil and rotate the pencil to get much longer use out of it. The graphite doesn’t crumble or break easily, and it’s got a standard 2B darkness and point retention.
The Muji 2B natural wood-cased pencil writes a smooth, dark line that doesn’t smudge (unless you’re very determined), erases well and has the shading range that I expect from a 2B pencil (this shading range is what makes the 2B pencil the “goldilocks” sketching pencil grade). These are totally going into my sketching kit, and if I ever get a chance I’ll be buying at least another six pack again. I “chew” through 2B pencils at a terrifying rate, so these will come in handy. They are an absolute joy to use.
Yesterday was International Dog Day and so I decided to draw my friend’s rescue puppy. Nobody wanted this fellow because he’s blind in one eye, and it’s their loss because he’s a delightful scamp and a 14/10 dog. I’m so glad that he got a forever home.
Since I’ve been working from home I’ve had more time to dig into my stationery and art supply stash and add new things into my rotation. My favourite lead holder is a vintage Eagle Turquoise Prestomatic 3377, which is all metal and a little on the heavy side, but it’s a fabulous sketching tool. If I want to carry something lighter around I fall back to the all time classic Staedtler Mars technico.
I use these lead holders as sketching tools, and so they normally hold B or 2B leads from Staedler, Mitsubishi, or Caran d’Ache. Good quality leads aren’t cheap, so I expect any lead holder I use to protect them sufficiently well, as well as provide a solid grip that works in many drawing angles. Any added bells and whistles, like clips, a lead sharpener or a built in eraser, are just not things that I’ll use, so I don’t take them into account when I decide whether to purchase a lead holder or not.
The Caran d’Ache Fixpencil is not a new lead holder on the market, but it is a new lead holder for me. Something about its price range and design made me think that it’s a lead holder for people who like to write with lead holders, not so much for people who like to sketch with them. Lead holders ordinarily have a very functional, “tool-like” vibe to them, and not a lot of polish. Contrary to that, the Caran d’Ache Fixpencil is a sleek and polished thing of beauty.
Having used the Caran d’Ache 849 I was worried that the Fixpencil would have the same slippery texture, with a grip that isn’t up to the task. If I’m drawing with a lead holder, then I’m working fast and loose, and the last thing I want to worry about is the holder flying out of my hands. Unlike other lead holders, the Fixpencil doesn’t have a knurled or striated grip, but rather uses a sandpaper like texture on its grip section instead. As I shift my drawing angle a lot, I find that texture really unpleasant. I also wonder how superficial it is, and whether it will wear down to sleekness after a relatively short time.
The Fixpencil is a thing of beauty, with the same minimal branding as the 849, and the same clip and body design. Apart from the clip, there are no bells and whistles here, but that doesn’t detract from the holder. It comes with a B Caran d’Ache technograph lead, which is excellent.
I watched an live streamed concert from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, and sketched the singer using the Fixpencil and a Leuchtturm1917 Sketchbook and it worked well. I would never use it as my main lead holder, as I don’t like the grip, but your milage may vary, especially if you plan to write and not sketch with it.
If you’re just starting your sketching journey I’d recommend the Staedtler Mars technico line, whether vintage or new. They are ugly ducklings, but they are great, relatively cheap workhorses. I’d recommend trying the Fixpencil before you buy it, as you may find its grip section as unpleasant as I found it, or it may be one of your favourite tools.
I’ve been catching up on the Pen Addict members-only “Friend of the Show” podcast (highly recommended), and person after person said that they prefer modern pens, and they have a vintage pen, an Esterbrook, which they don’t really use. That people’s first vintage pen is an Esterbrook didn’t surprise me, as it’s a great little pen at a very compelling price, and it can be easily modified to suit your writing style by swapping out the nib. What did surprise me a little is that people aren’t really using the Esterbrooks that they have.
Then again, I own five Esterbrook pens:
Yet I haven’t used them in years. They all have nibs that I carefully selected to fit my writing style perfectly, and still I haven’t used any of them since 2016 or so. And the reason I don’t use them is the reason why I’m going to suggest to people starting out with vintage pens to maybe not pick the Esterbrook as their first vintage pen, ubiquitous and cheap and beautiful as they may be.
They’re lever fillers, every last one of them.
Lever filler mechanisms are very common in vintage pens, because they are so cheap and easy to produce. They’re also fairly easy to mend, and so you’ll find them everywhere on a vintage dealer’s table or on a vintage pen site. They are my second least favourite filling mechanism (hello button fillers, you get first place) because they are not great to use when you’re filling a pen, and they are really not great to use when you’re cleaning it.
The Esterbrook does allow you to bypass the annoying cleaning part in that you can unscrew the nib and clean the pen like that, but you still have to use the lever when you fill the pen, and you still have no earthly idea how much ink is in your pen while you’re writing with it.
So my friendly suggestion would be to delay your first purchase of a vintage fountain pen and buy something a little more expensive (in the $100-$150 range) that is easier to fill and clean. If it turns out that you like vintage fountain pens, then you can start getting used to lever fillers and their quirks.
Here are my top three suggestions, in order of most beginner friendly to least beginner friendly (but still friendlier than a lever filler): the Pelikan 140 (a piston filler), the Parker 51 aerometric (an aerometric filler that works like a squeeze converter), and the Parker Vaumatic (a vacumatic filler).
The Pelikan 140 is a piston filler with a gold nib, and a semi transparent body which allows you to see if you filled the pen properly and how much ink is left. It was made for over a decade and has a wide variety of nibs, so you can quite easily find it, and look for the perfect nib for you, just like with the Esterbrook. It is a more expensive pen, but you can still get a phenomenally good pen (ebonite feed, gold nib which can sometimes have flex, and a large ink capacity) for significantly less than what the same features would cost on a modern pen. The downside is the aesthetics, which can be a little spartan (Pelikan 140s are mostly black with green stripes), and the trim’s tendency for brassing. But brassing adds character, as once a very good vintage pen blog said. These pens are also likely to be more easily obtained in Europe than in the US or Asia.
The Parker 51 is still my absolute favourite vintage pen, but that’s not why it’s here. It’s here because the aerometrics (which are also cheaper) sport a filling mechanism that works very much like a modern squeeze converter, albeit permanently attached to the pen, and the filling instructions are etched into the pen, which is very helpful of Parker.
Theoretically you can gauge if there’s ink in the pen using the transparent sack but in most cases the sack will no longer be transparent, and even if it was, its position doesn’t really tell you a lot about the state of the ink in the pen. So it’s relatively easy to fill and clean the pen, but you’re not going to have any indication as to how much ink is in it at any given time.
The Parker Vacumatics are gorgeous pens with great nibs, and the striped Vacumatics let you know what the ink level is unless they are stained beyond belief, in which case I’d wait a bit for a pen in better condition. The Parker Vacumatics I’m recommending are those with a lock down mechanism. Of the three pens they are the most fiddly, and that’s why they’re in third place, but they allow for a relatively large ink capacity, and the option to see the ink levels at all times, so they go on the list. To fill the pen you unscrew the blind cap, give the metal nob on the top a slight turn and push (a bit like opening a child proof pill bottle) and then the metal plunger springs out. You push the plunger a few times to fill the pen, and then you push down the plunger and twist it once it’s down so that it locks back into place. If you’ve ever used a child-proof pill bottle then you’ll be familiar with the push and twist mechanism, and if not have it demonstrated when you buy the pen or find a youtube video that shows you how to do it. It’s not difficult.
The Parker Vacumatics are not as intuitive to use as a lever filler, but they allow for an ink window which means that you can see if you have ink left or if you’ve filled or cleaned the pen properly pretty easily:
These pens are never going to compete with the Esterbrook pens on price because they have gold nibs and more sophisticated filling mechanisms. They do quite easily compete with modern pens in terms of bang for your buck when it comes to getting things like a piston filler with a flexy double broad gold nib. If you’re buying a vintage fountain pen that you want to have a relatively easy time filling, using and cleaning, and that will give you a unique and oftentimes exceptional writing experience, any one of these three pens ought to do.
And just to set the record straight: I love Esterbrook pens, and there was a time when I used them constantly, and I still heartily recommend them as they are little workhorses of delight. It just occurred to me that perhaps that little lever combined with the opaque body may be off-putting to new users, and so I’m suggesting a few (much more expensive, sometimes harder to obtain) alternatives. With vintage fountain pens purchase patience is required and not FOMO, so it’s worth waiting for a great $100 pen that you’ll use more than buying a $50 one that you won’t.
Find out more about Henry here on his site, and here on the famous “Has anyone heard of Henry Simpole” threads (one and two) on the Fountain Pen Network. Henry’s moniker was Truffle Finder. People are writing kind words and their memories of time spent with Henry here.
This is my favourite Henry story, and if you’re remotely interested in Esterbrook you should give it a read.
Read here about the Jasmin pen. I’ve attached photos of mine below.
It’s National Pencil Day and I decided to celebrate. Last year I picked up some vintage pencils in a stall in Spitalfields market in London, and they’ve been languishing unloved in their box ever since. The truth is I felt that they were too pretty to sharpen and use, which is both understandable (I mean look at them!) and silly. Pencils are meant to be sharpened, period.
So I broke out the “Corgie” (à Paris) 907 pencils, which are natural pencils coated with a thick layer of lacquer that makes them both shiny and satisfying to hold. The French appear to be more restrained in their choice of imprint fonts, but they go all wild when it comes to the wrappers around the pencils. Behold, creativity let loose:
Here’s the imprint (it’s hard to photograph, as the lacquer gets in the way. There are basically two fonts in use, and a very charming bugle logo. The Corgié à Paris factory was active from 1923 to around 1986 (thanks Brand Name Pencils) and if I’d have to venture a guess I think that these are from the ’60s, but it’s really hard to tell.
The grain on these pencils is fantastic. Just look at that:
Unlike some vintage pencils whose wood has dried out and become brittle with time, the Corgie 907s sharpen like a charm. They’re not very nice smelling (they just smell old), but there’s nothing to complain too much about.
These are No. 0 pencils, which makes them about 2B-4B, depending on the manufacturer. They’re soft and dark, and a joy to draw with, although they don’t hold a tip for very long. The graphite does smudge, but it doesn’t crumble, and there’s a good amount of feedback while using them. Here they are with some Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer watercolour pencils in use:
Go sharpen a pencil, and have some fun drawing or writing a little something for yourself.