A Friendly Suggestion for Beginner Vintage Fountain Pen Users

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.

The dreaded lever.

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.

Parker 51, Parker Vacumatic and Pelikan 140

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).

Aerometric, Vacumatic and Piston filing mechanisms.

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.

Pelikan 140

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.

Parker 51

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.

Filling instructions on the pen body.

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.

This is a more expensive, double jewelled model, but the filling mechanism is generally the same on cheaper vacumatics.

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:

You can see the ink levels through the orange transparent bits between the stripes.

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.

A Friendly Suggestion for Beginner Vintage Fountain Pen Users

Diamine Earl Grey Review

Ever since I saw the first reviews of Diamine Earl Grey I have been fascinated by this ink, and only partly because I love, love, love tea. The colour seemed to have shading properties and tonal depths that were similar to the much coveted yet hard to obtain Sailor Studio 123. I had vowed to cut down on my ink purchases, but as I broke down and bought some Diamine Blue (i.e. Christmas) inks, I had to add a small bottle of Diamine Earl Grey to the cart.

Parker Vacumatic Major with an medium italic nib on a Rhodia No. 16 pad.

This ink is sheer magic. It is very legible (unlike many lighter grey inks), it shades like mad, and even on Rhodia paper you can see a bit of its tonal depth.

Shading on every single letter.

On Tomoe River paper the depth of its hidden tones really comes to light:

Drawn with the Parker Vacumatic and a W&N Series 7 #2 sable brush.

There’s blue, even slight hints of turquoise, green, yellow, shades of pink, and in the dark recesses hints of warm brown. It’s like the greys I often create on my watercolour palette: a mix of reds, greens and blues, with a dash of brown. The result is a rich, “living” grey that surprises you every time.

I’ll probably skip the Sailor 123 Studio Ink because the price plus shipping plus customs will make it painfully expensive. Now that I have Diamine Earl Grey I don’t feel like I’ve missed out.

Diamine Earl Grey Review

Henry the Pen Man

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.

You can see both Henry’s beautiful work and his hallmark here.

Henry the Pen Man

Vintage Beauty: Corgie 907 and National Pencil Day

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:

Stunning, right?

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:

I had to sharpen the pencil three times to get through this A5 page. Not great for writing, great for expressive drawing. 

Go sharpen a pencil, and have some fun drawing or writing a little something for yourself.

Happy National Pencil Day!

Vintage Beauty: Corgie 907 and National Pencil Day

Jerusalem Pencils “Park Avenue” Copy Pencil

Vintage copy pencils are magic (albeit oftentimes poisonous magic). You take an ordinary looking and behaving pencil and dip it in water and purple, turquoise or blue ink comes out. The Sanford NoBlot is probably the most well known pencil in this category but there were dozens of others made by various pencil companies. The Israeli pencil manufacturer “Jerusalem Pencils” had a copy pencil by the worldly and sophisticated name of “Park Avenue” (very Israel in the ’70s and 80’s). Of the local vintage pencils available in Israel it’s not the easiest pencil to find, although it’s also not the hardest.

Not the prettiest pencil, but not too shabby.

When dry the Park Avenue writes like an F grade pencil, with a bit of a purplish hue. It’s not as hard and light as an H grade pencil, yet it is lighter and harder than an HB. It erases well when dry, and doesn’t smudge.

When wet the pencil lines turn purple, and so much more bold. You can either dip the pencil tip in water, write dry on wet, or for more gentle effects use a wet brush over the dry lines. Just don’t be tempted to lick the pencil tip or chew on it, as there’s a good chance that the lead is poisonous.

The Park Avenue is a deep royal blue pencil with a yellow imprint on it. Apart from the Jerusalem Pencils logo and the 999, I counted four different fonts printed on the barrel of what was meant to be a utilitarian office workhorse. This is in line with many vintage pencils, and this over-design, pride and attention to detail is why I like them so much.

The imprint is worn off but you can still see all the fonts.

Jerusalem Pencils “Park Avenue” Copy Pencil

Vintage Beauty: Eberhard Faber Colorbrite

Continuing the theme of “vintage pencils are awesome” today I’m using the Eberhard Faber Colorbrite red violet 2154 (which proudly notes that it’s both “woodclinched” and made in the USA). I counted 5 different fonts on this pencil, not including the 2154.

The fonts are my favourite thing on this pencil, although the end cap is elegant too and the colour is really unique and vibrant.

Go have fun with some pencils and listen to the birds for a while. They sing some hope into these dark times.

Vintage Beauty: Eberhard Faber Colorbrite

Vintage beauty: Eagle Chemi-Sealed Verithin

This isn’t a review. It’s just to say that coloured pencils and vintage drafting coloured pencils in particular can be used to “spice up” your everyday notes. Also, vintage pencils are often stunningly beautiful, especially the Eagle ones.

Look at that beauty! The “dragee” box is also vintage, as are the market credit coins, so much more elegant than today’s cards and digital payments (if more unwieldy).

Here’s a writing sample and a quick update for today:

“Also ideal for marking blue prints” indeed. Who doesn’t need one of those?

 

Vintage beauty: Eagle Chemi-Sealed Verithin

Diamine Inkvent Calendar Day 5

Diamine Inkvent Calendar is an advent calendar with a tiny (7ml) bottle of ink behind 24 windows, and a larger, 30ml, bottle of ink behind the 25th window. All the inks are limited edition, and only available through this calendar. You can read more about the calendar here

img_2689

What’s behind door number 5? Ink that has sheen, shimmer, or  shading?

No. It’s a brown. *sigh*

Day 5’s ink is Diamine Triple Chocolate, which is a standard brown ink. Like really bog standard. The best part about this ink is its name.

I use brown and sepia inks for drawings, and I used to use Waterman Havana brown ink regularly at work, so I know that brown is one of those ink colours that offers perhaps the most opportunity to play with in terms of shade. It can be very dark, tend towards green or purple, have a reddish hue, or a golden one. Diamine has a great brown ink, called Chocolate Brown, as part of their standard lineup, and it is one of my favourites. It’s dark with golden highlights, and it shades like mad, but is dark enough to be acceptable for office use. So I was expecting a lot out of an ink called Diamine Triple Chocolate. Was it triple times as good as Diamine Chocolate Brown?

This was drawn on Tomoe River Paper with a vintage flex, italic Waterman nib, and yet there’s barely any shading. The dark spots are places that I went over more than one time. 

No it was not. The shade isn’t as rich and dark as you’d expect from the name, it’s middle of the road in terms of its hue, and even what little shading was present wasn’t interesting or pronounced. It’s not a terrible ink, and so far this is the only ink in the Inkvent Calendar that I would fill a vintage pen with, but for a festive calendar, and with such a name, I expected a bit more.

Diamine Inkvent Calendar Day 5

Diamine Inkvent Calendar Day 4

Diamine Inkvent Calendar is an advent calendar with a tiny (7ml) bottle of ink behind 24 windows, and a larger, 30ml, bottle of ink behind the 25th window. All the inks are limited edition, and only available through this calendar. You can read more about the calendar here.

Day 4’s window isn’t exactly aligned with the printing, but you get a cute snowman with it, so who cares?

The day 4 ink is Diamine Polar Glow, which is a royal blue ink that has sheen. How much sheen you ask? Well…

There’s so much red in that gloriously rich blue. I used a vintage italic Waterman ideal nib, and this was drawn on a Kanso Sasshi 3.5” x 5.5” Tomoe River Paper notebook, so this is probably close to maximum sheen, but still, it’s impressive.

Even as a standard ink, Diamine Polar Glow pops. The blue is deep, rich, and yet shades a lot, from cyan to royal blue (you can see it in the leaves in the drawing above). The red sheen just adds a little extra zing to it, without overshadowing the already good qualities of the ink.

This is an ink designed for wide, broad, italic, flex nibs that lay down a lot of ink. It really shows it’s best properties on Tomoe River paper, but even on Rhodia/Clairefontaine paper I could see sheen in every letter (using the same broad italic nib).

Would I buy a bottle of this, if Diamine offered it? Probably yes, since it’s dark enough for office use, but is also more interesting and appealing than a run-of-the-mill dark blue.

Diamine Inkvent Calendar Day 4

Diamine Inkvent Calendar Day 3

Diamine Inkvent Calendar is an advent calendar with a tiny (7ml) bottle of ink behind 24 windows, and a larger, 30ml, bottle of ink behind the 25th window. All the inks are limited edition, and only available through this calendar. You can read more about the calendar here.

Don’t you just love the design on these? Diamine did a fabulous job with the packaging of this calendar.

Day 3’s limited edition Christmas ink is Snow Storm. It’s a shimmer ink, with a lot of silver particles, much more than day 1’s Blue Peppermint. This is how the bottom of the bottle looked like when I took it out from it’s little nook:

This is definitely an ink that you’d want to thoroughly shake before using.

Lantern Waste, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, C.S. Lewis.

Diamine Snow Storm is a grey ink that looks a lot like Diamine Graphite, if you dumped a whole sack of silver glitter on it. It also shades and outlines like mad. Diamine certainly went all out on this one.

Look at all that glitter. There’s so much of it, it sheens.

This was drawn on a Kanso Sasshi 3.5” x 5.5” Tomoe River Paper notebook using a vintage Swan broad italic nib (dipped in the ink, because boy did I not want to clean this ink out of a lever filler), and this combination shows the properties of this ink beautifully. Diamine really proves that grey doesn’t have to be boring .

I’m not a big fan of shimmering ink, but Diamine Snow Storm is so wild, with it’s shading, outlining and silver particles, that it makes me smile. It would be a good replacement for silver gel ink pens, when it comes time to write greeting cards.

Diamine Inkvent Calendar Day 3