A Vintage Vantage Point

Which Ones to Choose....HMMM

Which Ones to Choose....HMMM

I undertook almost a month ago to write only with vintage pens I had collected. The principle objectives were simple enough and this, is that, process. 

First, see if they could hold up to daily use. Now I must say that I am not of the "They are too fragile to use everyday" camp. To which I say Bunk, Tripe, Poppycock, Balderdash. My reasoning goes like this. These pens were created to be used in their day as we use a keyboard today. As tools used in every situation and circumstance, relentlessly twirled, dropped, chewed upon and drummed to Benny Goodman. They were the only game in town, so they had to be tough, reliable and able to withstand all of the rigors of day in and day out use. So they are far more stout than they seem at first blush. I admit, that my vintage pens only date back to the 1940's and early 1950's, and are not turn of the century items. Of these I have no knowledge and make no assertions as to their viability or usability for daily use. Let us say then I shall confine and constrain myself within the period inclusive of Pearl Harbor to Ike's second inauguration. There, nice and tidy.

Second, was to see if they would be comfortable enough to use all day every day. I do not write letters or tomes or anything, so you don't get the wrong idea, but I write as much as the average desk jockey and probably uncap the pen 40 or 50 times a day for a few words,  some numbers etc. I must say that the vintage pens feel small in the hand. They are the only pens that I own that I actually post. Posted, they feel "normal" to me. Of the pens I inked up for the trial run, I ran one completely out of ink, the other two should be close now, but have not yet run out. There was not a single failure or misstep among the pens.

Lastly, I wanted to see what the writing experience was like for my forefathers. I don't own a Grey Flannel suit or a fedora, for that matter I don't like martini's for lunch, but I do really like their pens. 

There is once concession that I will make.  In doing my research to be able to call these pens out correctly, I think it is a very very murky pool of vintage identification water. There are a great many really good sites and the fault is not with anyone slacking on their detailed descriptions of vintage pens. Rather it seems that for the same reasons I spoke of above, these pens were , dare I say, commodities. Think about your great grandchildren trying to look up the details of what made a Pilot Metropolitan different than the Metropolitan Retro Pop? It seems so inconsequential as to be beyond asking. But to your distant heirs who find one of yours in a drawer and want to research it to better understand it... well you get the idea. So I have done the best I can to name these pens correctly and accurately.

First and arguably my favorite is the Parker 51 (This is the Vacumatic, I also have an Aerometric filling system), in my case the Dove Gray. What a great pen! It is a joy to look at and even more exciting to write with. The feel and balance (again for me posted in this case) are just right. You can see it above in the center. Yes I know the clip is bent, all the better it's charm I say.

Second was my Parker Vacumatic, in Golden Pearl. Again I must say it feels very small and as a result less than comfortable for a ham fisted oaf like me. I did not post this pen as I was concerned about putting scratches in the barrel. Yes Yes Yes I know I said above that it was to be used and it's robust I know. But I spent a long time polishing out the scratches and quite frankly when I tried it posted, it was not better enough to continue. Please hear me when I say this is not a fault of the pen. This is also very enjoyable to write with, fills without incident and performs as a daily writer beautifully.

Finally was my Waterman's Crusader. Ditto both of the above in re: size. But what a great pen to use and look at. In this case mine is dented and shows all the classic signs of a life well lived and is the better for it. Also as above it was a great writer, convent to fill and use and presented no problems in any situation it which it was called to action. Somewhat surprisingly, it was the only of the three that was noticed by the "public at large", actually twice. That says a lot for the look and style of the pen, which I find the most interesting of the three from a purely visual interest point of view.

So you may ask, "Which one goes to the desert island with you?". That has to be the Parker 51 Vacumatic. Like the Eames Chair, Willies Jeep and John Wayne, stick with what survives the test of time.

Enjoying A Fortnight Of Vintage Bliss

Parker Vacumatic from 1944

Parker Vacumatic from 1944

I am like most new comers to the fountain pen hobby, as I have alluded to in the past. My path has carried a rather traditional arc, and when it came time for the vintage experience I was all in. For me it all started with an Esterbrook I had been given years ago by a very good friend just before he passed. It sat in a drawer for a long time because it had that odd but not unusual combination of being a cherished item, but also, one for which I had  no useas it was not working . So I pulled it out, got on Google and learned what I could about it.

In her original box

In it's component parts, not many really.

In it's component parts, not many really.

The first of the interesting and sometimes hobbling issues with the vintage pens, at least for me, is ambiguity and vagueness. To the best of my knowledge I have an Esterbrook J, with a #1555 Shorthand nib. It is in almost perfect shape. You can search for hours and find reams of information. That information is often vague and less than concrete, hence my 'belief' that I have a model J. It fits most of the criteria I can find listed and is the correct color for that model and in the end I really do not care which it is. Well that not entirely, or even remotely true if I am honest! It is a foible of my personality that if I decide I want to know something, it is expected that I will know about it in minute detail. Exact model, year of manufacture, color, yada yada yada. So while I do not know all of this information, yet, I have at least gotten the pen working and enjoy using it from time to time.

My original nib and the replacements box

My original nib and the replacements box

The next interesting tidbid that I hear voiced  is the concern that they are fragile and breakable and prone to failure. I am not sure that generalization is really based on anything specific, as I have not found it to be true. What's more there are so many really good values in the older pens, in particular if you like to tinker with things. I fully concede that there are some really tricky fountain pens with fantastic filling systems that do require specialized tools. Truth be told, even those are not in the realm of impossible, but do require a commitment to that next level. But, for example, the Esterbrook J I restored is about as straight forward as it can get. With a little face time in Youtube or a forum, you can find simple steps to do the job. At most it's a replacement sac, J Bar, some special glue and talc. If your nib is bad or you want to get a different style, that easy as Esterbrook comes with the nib and feed all in one. Simple. So it is really simple to take a pen that is probably 75 years old and make it a daily writer, really. It is as robust and able to take the daily grind as most any modern pen. And lets be honest, for the most part, we all baby our fountain pens more than our other writing instruments anyway.

In keeping with the theme above, I am excited about getting started conversing with pen experts at the Triangle Pen Show next year. I have a couple pens that I would really like to get specifics on and I am sure there will be some folks there that can fill me in. I have covered my thoughts on asking questions at pen shows already, but in general I think it's about being polite, respectful and genuine in your interests and your approach.

These are my Parker's, 3 Parker 51 Vacumatic, 1 Parker 51 Aerometric and the 1944 Vacumatic

These are my Parker's, 3 Parker 51 Vacumatic, 1 Parker 51 Aerometric and the 1944 Vacumatic

Current projects. No, pay no attention to the top right green pen, nothing there to see. Move along, get to your homes, nothing to see!

"Too precious to use"  is a phrase that I do countenance. I accept that there are pens that are rare and worth tremendous bucket loads of money, but the likely hood that I will have to concern myself with their use and care is remote enough for me to not consider here. I suppose as of even date I have a dozen vintage pens that are working and usable. I think only 1 or 2 did I buy as restored. All the rest I have purchased from as wide a variety of places as one can imagine. Then it's just a matter of cleaning, dis-assembly, buying parts and re-assembly. And it is a lot of fun. Please don't misunderstand though, there have been fatalities along the way. But that is more due to my ham handedness than these pens being any more fragile than a modern pen. I am in the midst of my two weeks of "Parker 51" only use and I'm lovin it! These are just a joy to use, a pleasure to look at, and quite frankly as good as any pen I own. I do not own a pen that I do not, could not or will not use.  Sine die.

In the end, it easy to make the types of excuses I had and stay away. But keep in mind, that in their day, these were the Lamy AL Star's and Twsbi 580's mixed in with a few Vanishing Points. These were produced in the hundreds of thousands and in spite of not having a ready supply of nibs at every drugstore and news stand like in the day, there is very little needed to keep and use these pens that is not a google search away. Yes there is a nostalgic air to these, but that is very much in keeping with the whole 'throw back' vibe we each indulge when choosing to use fountain pens in the first place. So embrace your differentness, get a vintage pen and try it out. It is so worth the journey.


When Creativity Abounds - Write

The latest Write Notepads & Co. Subscription Installment

I find great joy and exuberance in the truly creative things I come across in life. I am not a creative myself, so it (joy and appreciation) comes easy to me, I like it or I don't, or I just don't get it. In most cases, things pass me by like mile markers on the interstate of life. But once in a while, every so often, something will catch my eye and I will marvel like at child at toy store. When it's right it's Write.

As seen above, the latest installment of the Write Notepads & Co. subscription arrived a few days ago, and it is awesome. The folks at Write have come up with a theme (Kindred Spirit /Charcoal), and worked it into this array of notebooks, pencils and packaging in the most perfect and interesting manner I have seen in a long time.


— Write Notepads & Co. Charcoal Bookettes

I am not going to write a review of the notebooks or the pencils, that I leave to others. For me this is all about the thought and creativity that went into the project.  First is the bag that contains the the other items (The subscription I have has 2 bags of bookette goodness) is so well thought out.  The bag is a heavy sort of manilla or interoffice envelope type paper that is sealed with a black tape at the top, reminiscent of the black strip you tear off of a bag of charcoal. The printing is raised so it has a textured feeling. 

I could not bear to tear mine open, inspite of the admonition above: TEAR HERE. I did the Lucy Ricardoish move and peeled the tape back ( like trying to steam the envelope with the kettle,for you non I Love Lucy folks)

Inside are three pencils, a two sided orange token, and a cardboard sleeve with the 3 bookettes inside.


In keeping with their chosen theme, the pencils are remarkably like wood matches, the red tip and the natural wood body. Write Cool.

The cardboard sleeve that the bookettes are ensconced in are as well thought out as the bag. The printing has the same raised feel, and includes printing on all 6 sides. The front is almost an exact replica of the bag front, the back lists the Kindred Spirit Limited Edition Notebooks, Series I - Volume II. This is a thicker material, slightly more orange than the bag, and folded very crisply and made perfect to house the 3 lined notebooks.  I have become a fan of dot and grid formats, since they have become available, so for me the lines are another refreshing throw back. 

The notebooks are the same color as the sleeve, slightly thinner material. You can see the ruling in the notebook is interesting, and appears to be a very light orange color. It is very readable and for someone who makes lists and checkboxes constantly, I think it will be great!

Finally, who does not like the special surprise, the orange token is a cross between a  tiddlywinks piece and a poker chip. No matter how old I am I still think about my childhood and getting those surprises that came in everyday things. Of course there were Cracker Jacks, but does anyone remember when most cereals came with a prize, and how about laundry soap? Yep. It was a thing!. And growing up with two brothers it was a constant game of one upmanship, cunning and wile to work some new rule or requirement in an effort to gain the coveted "special prize" inside every box! So the token is just cool for cools sake.

In all, it is a really remarkable and memorable collection that I will enjoy. 

An Interregnum - Actually, and just because it sounds cool

An Interregnum - Actually, and just because it sounds cool

That brings me to my Interregnum. I am finally in a place where I have seen and tried a number of good, bad, great and otherwise pens. I have been surprised with what I like, feel very comfortable with what I don't like, and feel at peace with paring down, and becoming somewhat more selective.

So, I Met Andy Lambrou

How is that for a great opening line? "It was the best of times..." psshaw!

Actually I have considered dipping a toe into the blogosphere for a while now, so here goes. This past weekend I had the opportunity, as my title states, to meet an icon in the fountain pen world ( and buy one of his creations....shhhh don't want the other half to know yet). So here is my take away.

The Triangle Pen Show is my local event and this was my second year attending. As it is the only pen show I have been to I can't compare it any others. However, I can identify with certain aspects of shows such as this that I have read and heard expressed vis a vis their potential for 'overwhelmingness'. That is made apparent and palpable upon entering a relatively smallish room lined with tables that are heaped with pens of all vintages and paper and ink and ...Oh My, don't forget the people...so many people!

But here is the thing about it. To the person, these folks are all in their own unique ways smitten with the same affliction I am, ink, celluloid and pulp fibre.

I am aware of the  undercurrent of debate afoot regarding young vs old and vintage vs modern, but I just don't pay it much attention. Here is why. My belief is that if any person regardless of how knowledgeable or how uninformed they are, need be equipped with only a few qualities to make a pen show or a flower show or anything else a success. Good manners, a lack of 'attitude' and a genuine interest.

I followed the advice of so many veterans and did the quick overview lap of the show to scope out the what's what. Then, with trepidation, wonder and awe reminiscent of...well you get the idea, I approached the Classic Pens table and saw Andy Lambrou there, in person!  I thought I was likely out of my league. To the right of me a stack of the tomes that constitute the go to reference materials for pen aficionados and to the left of me a spread of the most beautiful pens imaginable. So what is an acolyte in this amazing hobby to do?

I asked "May I pick up your pen?"

© Copyright Jim Mamoulides / PenHero.com, used with permission

Granted I left with the most striking Flame Red LM1 pen on earth, or at least number 151 of 500 amazing red pens on Earth. I digress. Andy spoke with me as if I were the only person at that show. All the time chatting with other passerby's, introducing me to the man who runs the DC show as if I were his oldest friend. Wow. I am sure he could tell I was informed but not particularly well versed, he seemed not to care. He described with a passion that is genuine and contagious, how the Saturn pen was crafted. He showed me his personal ballpoint of the material I bought and how durable it was in daily use. (serial number 000 by the way.!)


In the end I think that this fountain pen and stationary hobby is a lifelong journey. Where else do you get to meet the Captains of the hobby like Andy, the Anderson's and Scott and Jim of Franklin-Christoph? All in the same room, on the same weekend! To a person I did not meet anyone that was not polite and gracious and willing to chat. That is not particular to the Triangle Pen Show, but it is a result of how I approached it, I think.

That's all for now. Whew.