Posted in Restoration

Really, The Dog Ate My Pen – Part 2

As a quick recap (pun intended), previously I blogged about my dog chewing on my wife’s pen, well things got better before they got way worse when I used a hairdryer to soften the plastic of an Esterbrook Pastel pen. I was able to fix the barrel and lever without issue and got overly confident with the cap.

  • The challenge:

I over heated the pen cap and now it’s deformed, plus the jewel and clip have fallen out. I tried heating the cap and reshaping it but nooooo. The cap wouldn’t stay round and it needed it to be tapered at the end, so how am I going to reshape the cap? That’s when the bright idea hit me! I need a form, to mold the hot plastic back into the shape of the cap.

  • The bright idea:

How to make a mold? A quick trip to Hobby Lobby where I found molding clay. Figured I could shape it into a block then press a similar pen cap into the soft clay then bake it. After it cools all I needed to do is heat the pen cap and push it into the mold and it should reform – right? Yeah right!

I bought a small block of FIMO molding clay (2 oz), it cost less than $3. Using only a 1/4 of it I formed a block and pressed a similar pen cap into clay. It looks good, just like an inverse pen cap. Next, into the oven at 230 F for 30 minutes. After it cooled I inserted the pen cap I used to make the imprint just to confirm the baking process didn’t misshape the mold. It was a bit tight so I took a wax shaping tool and was able to shave the inner sides of the mold allowing the pen cap a better fit.

The moment of truth arrived, I inserted the jewel and clip into the mold, then got out the hairdryer and applied heat to the damaged cap until it was very soft. I pushed the cap into the mold and it mushroomed out. Yup it looked just like a pot belly stove so I return it to the heat, it straightened out and pushed it back in. This time it went in but it took a teardrop shape with the point protruding at the clip. Instead of dragging this out the bright idea turned out to be a failure.

For the silver lining, the pen cap does have that inner cap which completely protects the nib and keeps it from drying out, the offensive tooth mark that started the entire process is gone and finally the pen is fully functional.

Posted in Pens, Stories

Story of My First Pen

What was the pen that got me hooked? Interesting question and a fun trip down memory lane. You have time, right?

It is really hard to appreciate what follows unless you now what came before, join me in following Alice down the rat-hole. Reminiscing about growing up in the 70’s wouldn’t be complete without a brief discussion on Bic Cristal disposable pens. I don’t know about you but I went through these by the hundreds and the first thing I always did was remove the “plug” in the end of the pen and chewed it up. I have no idea why plus I would also chew on the cap clip. The Institute for the Psychology of Eating says chewing on stuff is a “natural outlet for inborn aggression.” Or there is a psychological disorder characterized by an appetite for stuff that is non-nutritive. Or Sigmund Freud blames this type of inclination on being bottle fed as a baby. My guess is just a kid doing dumb stuff. If I was lucky the pen cap would last a month before it was lost, regardless I’d carry the pen in my back-pocket. Invariably writing on my jeans and who could forget the phrase “my pen exploded.” This was particularly bad because the ink was thick and sticky. I remember how hard I had to press the pen to the paper in order to write with it, the ink tended to blob (too thick to pool so you got blobs) and smear, plus the ink gave off an odd odor when you were writing. Hence the origin of writer’s cramps, I guess I should thank Bic for my horrible handwriting. Only teachers got to use a Bic in colors other than black or blue. Yup my tests and papers where grading using red ink, it was clear which answers were wrong and ya know I didn’t grow up too maladjusted. Wait I am writing a blog about pens ….. oh and one more thing, did you know that the Bic Cristal pen is included in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

Bic Cristal disposable

On with the topic at hand, the first pen that I can recall having a real appreciation for was a Cross Chrome 3501. I was just a kid in middle school and the pen was a gift. I was thrilled to own something other than a disposable Bic. It was an attractive pen, felt good in my hand and it wrote smoothly. No ink blobs, no smears and the ink didn’t smell. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy the pen for long. One day in science class some punk stole it and the teacher didn’t want to cause a scene…. times haven’t changes much from the late 70’s – have they?

Fast forward to 2007 and a business trip to Hong Kong. I was shopping for gifts and through a jewelry store window I spied a display case of Montblanc fountain pens. A Meisterstuck (German for “Masterpiece”) caught my attention, so in I went for a closer look. It was a big pen, a thing of beauty, black with gold trim, very elegant and it had weight to it – felt like it was of substance. As my father and his father before him would say, it’s not good unless it was “battleship built” and this pen was that. I had to have it. After some haggling I got the pen for $20 FYI, this is the most counterfeited pen of all time and I am in Hong Kong. It turned out the pen wrote well but it had a medium nib and with the prevalence of poor quality paper, I wasn’t happy. You see with cheap paper, medium nibs apply too much ink, which bleeds across the paper and through the paper so a fine or even an extra-fine nib are best. The search continued.

Meisterstuck (wink wink, nudge nudge)

Months later I stumbled across a Waterman Philéas and it was love at first sight or maybe it was just infatuation. The pen is named after the character Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days by the French novelist Jules Verne . The pen sported a popular 1930’s Art Deco style in appearance. Keep in mind it was an intro level pen, made of plastic and not nearly as large or as heavy as the Meisterstuck but the barrel had roughly the same girth. This pen was surprisingly inexpensive so I bought one with a fine nib which wrote well so I was inclined to buy a second one. This time in green with a medium nib. Cant say I enjoy pens with wide girth’s, something about “fat” pens doesn’t feel right to me, probably because I have short stubby fat fingers (that’s way too many adjectives). Anyway, as expected the love affair didn’t last.

Isn’t this Philéas beautiful?

In short order I stumbled upon the pen I would use for over a decade. I was on eBay and on a whim did a search for Waterman fountain pens, I found a green marbled Hemisphere. I placed a bid and won the auction, it wasn’t particularly expensive so my hopes were not high. But unlike the Philéas which is plastic, the Hemisphere is metal and very thin, about the same size as that dreaded disposable Bic, to me this is not a bad thing. I really enjoyed the feel of this pen, it wasn’t bulky, it was a bit slippery because of the finish but I liked how it felt and how it wrote. Mechanically, the ink is supplied via a converter or ink cartridges (like the Meisterstuck and the Phileas). I soon placed an order for waterman green ink cartridges to supplement my bottle of black Quink and writing bliss ensued.

My Hemisphere

This Hemisphere was the pen I’d been searching for. I was so impressed by the pen I bought a second one. This pen was equipped with a medium nib to provide options when writing but otherwise I stopped looking at pens. Reviews of the Hemisphere are usually anything but good, nearly all bash it because the style is minimalist, even boring yet review after review declared that the pen writes flawlessly and that it is “strangely endearing.” I don’t consider it a guilty pleasure, I now have three Hemispheres, all in the green marble motif and one is a ball point.

The story continues on “Why, You Might Ask?

Posted in Restoration

Brown is the New Black

Late first generation Esterbrook Dollar pen, so called because they cost a dollar in their time, when the average hourly salary was 70 cents per hour. This style pen was manufactured from 1934-1942, the clip design was changed in 1938 as was the introduction of a new lever shape. I believe this pen was manufactured at the very beginning of 1938 using both old and new component parts, because the lever is a new style paddle shape, yet it retains the original clip design. A notable feature of the Dollar Pen was the use of expensive material. Most notably the company had chosen to use the newly available wonder metal – stainless steel. The pen is made of hard rubber (aka ebonite or vulcanite) and is very durable but subject to damage by sun light. Light damage is not immediately obvious, after some time the pen will turn to a brown color, its gloss will fade to a light tan color. The good news is the damaged areas can be repair but hence forth the pen is also susceptible to water damage (spots).

I got this pen at a great price from a seller in Michigan, it really looks more green than brown to me and the presence of white spots is prominent so I assume the light damage is extensive and complicated by some water damage. Well nothing ventured, nothing gained so I set about removing the light and water damage done to the cap and barrel. On a side note, pens made of celluloid also suffer from light damage, they generally darken and damage done to them is irreversible.


After accessing the pen it was clearly in good shape apart from the coloration issue. It needed a new ink sac, the logo imprinted on the barrel was in great shape, no cracks or significant abrasions. So begins the process of disassembling the pen. I was able to remove the nib and section with a minimal effort. The old hardened sac mostly came out but not in its entirety so I removed the lever and snap clip and the remainder of the sac fell out. Over the course of 3 nights and several movies I progressively sanded first the cap then the barrel, using tape when possible to protect the logo imprint and the cap band. Starting with 1000 grit paper, which will remove the discoloration then progressing to 2000, 3000, 5000 and finally 7000 grit paper leaving a perfectly smooth surface. The only issue is the process discolors and renders useless the 1000 grit paper very quickly. I cut strips about an inch wide so I could better focus on a small area at a time. I went through the entire process on the cap and barrel 4 times.

Then the time came for the Sunshine cloth, the nib cleaned up instantly as did the lever. The snap clip ring and J-bar needed a light sanding as did the underside of the leaver. Afterwards they too were polished with the Sunshine cloth. The section required a sanding as well followed by a polishing. Next came the new sac installation followed by putting it all back together. Damn I think it looks good!