Posted in Restoration

The “Ambassador”

The inclusion of this pen in my collection is what happens when frustration and aggravation meet. You see I was bidding on a blue checkered pen and thought I had the auction won but at the last second a sneaky shit jumped in and out bid me – this happened twice. Four months after the last disappointment a similar pen appeared for auction! I liked the brown, and the pen appeared in great shape so I was determined that it would be mine when the auction ended. It came close but I won, paying more than I should have.

I was able to determine that “Ambassador” was a marketing name for pens manufactured by a couple different pen manufactures. So which company made this pen? The most likely manufacturer is the Majestic Pen company, founded in the late 1920’s, formerly the J. Harris & Son Pen company of NYC. But how do I prove this assumption? While researching Majestic Pens I found a picture of a black and grey checkered pen with Majestic on the clip and a big “A” on the lever. Just like mine – BINGO!

Both Majestic and J. Harris are considered third tier pen manufactures, quality and longevity are a concern for collectors. Majestic produced a wide variety of very attractive inexpensive decently made pens in the 1930’s but they suffered from inferior metal parts, thin gold plating and most had untipped steel nibs. Their “top line” pens were sold with gold nibs. The nib on this pen is a “Super-Pen” Iridium No. 6, in all likelihood there is no iridium on this nib. Unfortunately, the company was short lived and shuttered some time during the late 1940’s.

My Ambassador

Considering this pen was produced by a third tier pen manufacture, in the 1940’s, it is in exceptional shape. The nib is steel with gold plate and possibly an iridium tip, there is not a scratch on the barrel or cap and the gold plate on the clip is nearly perfect. All it needs is a new ink sac and a general cleaning. Ran the section and nib under hot water (it’s ok this is a celluloid pen) so I could remove the section from the barrel, ahhhh no. I managed to pull the nib and feeder out of the section which was not budging. Plan “B” the hair dryer. As we all know I have a bad track record with hairdryers, I applied heat to the section and in short order it pulled free from the barrel.

To my surprise the ink sac is grey and still rubberish, it wasn’ dried up and brittle. I’ve seen similar sacs from pens dating to the later 60’s so I am assuming this is not the original sac but a replacement. The sac was installed in a very peculiar fashion. The section is normally just inserted into the open end of the sac but this sac was rolled inward and shellacked to the section. Anyway, only a portion of the sac came out, what remained of the sac was tangled with the j-bar. I removed the lever and tried to remove the j-bar, which promptly broke. Geez! I got the rest of the sac and the short end of the j-bar out of the barrel.

Did a quick Duck-Duck-Go search and found j-bars for sale and a DIY solution. Naturally I choose the DIY option and ordered a 2”x12”x0.025” or .68mm thick brass sheet. The thickness of the brass being .025” (.68 mm) thick is a bit too thick for normal shears, but I have tin snips. I cut out a new j-bar, the edge that was cut left a sharp finish so I introduced it to the Dremel, sharp edge all gone. The new j-bar is a little wider than the original but it fits nicely into the barrel which I think will be better long term. I attached the ink sac and put it all back together, inked up the pen and wrote a sentence. Maybe the first sentence written by this pen in 50 years. It wrote well, the nib is not damaged, and glided across the paper smoothly.

DIY J-Bar

Posted in Pens, Stories

Fountain pens “the Stars” of the writing world

“Fountain pens,” conjure the thought of antiquated writing instruments, long forgotten and relegated to the back of cluttered desk drawers, buried under “stuff” or the choice of highbrow NYC lawyers. You may be surprised to learn that there are a number of celebrities & A-listers who own and use fountain pens! I make no claim to doing the research, I found an assortment of lists on this topic which I combined, edited and skinnied down, and adding my own finds.

Literary World

  • Mark TwainConklin Crescent Filler.
    Twain was a prominent influence in the fountain pen industry, helping put an end to the days of the eyedropper filling method by fiercely promoting the newly invented Conklin Crescent Filler.
  • Sir Arthur Conan DoyleParker Duofold.
    Doyle penned four canonized Sherlock Holmes novels and 56 short stories.
  • Ernest HemingwayMontegrappa.
    All he needed as a blue-backed notebook, two pencils and his ELMO pen.
  • Jane Austen – Dip Pen.
    Her writings predate fountain pens but I thought it was a fun fact that she had her own special iron gal ink recipe and used a special type of notebooks, “quarto stationer’s notebook bound with quarter tanned sheep over boards sided with marble paper. The edges of the leaves [were] plain cut and sprinkled red.”
  • Dylan ThomasParker 51.
    Thomas is a Welch poet probably best known for his poem Do Not Go Gentle Into the Good Night made known to the Sci-Fi community for its inclusion in the movie Interstellar.
  • Harper Lee – brand unknown but she explicitly placed one in Atticus Finch’s coat pocket during the famous courtroom scene in To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • Anne FrankMontblanc Meisterstück.
    In her diary, there is a chapter where she mourns the loss of her pen after it is accidentally burnt in a fire, a gift from her grandmother.
  • Salman Rushdie – Vintage Fountain Pens.
    His primary go-to vintage pen is a Montblanc Meisterstück
  • Stephen KingWaterman Hemisphere.
    King has written 95+ novels including It and Carrie with this instrument claiming, in 2014 he wore out 4 pens writing Dreamcather.
  • Neil GaimanPilot Custom 823 and LAMY 2000.
    Changes his ink color daily to track progress, the first draft of each of his novels is in longhand.
  • Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) – Pilot Metropolitan.
    Hill is the author of comic book series Locke and Key (now a Netflix series) and a handful of novels, of which NOS4A2 is soon to be a AMC series.
  • Christopher PaoliniLAMY and Pilot Decimo.
    Best known for his fantasy & sci-fi books Eragon and To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. Both books I own.

Entertainment World

  • Charlie ChaplinParker Duofold.
    Most of Chaplin’s journal writing and poems remain unpublished, a poem of his about self-appreciation has circulated the internet – “As I began to love myself I found that anguish and emotional suffering are only warning signs that I was living against my own truth. Today, I know, this is ‘AUTHENTICITY.’”
  • Johnny DeppMontblanc Meisterstück 149.
  • Debra MessingMontegrappa Fortuna Copper Mule.
  • Rick WakemanConway Stewart.
    Wakeman the keyboard player for 70’s super group Yes and an avid journalist. Listing fountain pens as one of his “Top Ten Outsides Family and Music” interests and concocting his own ink blend.
  • Oprah WinfreyViscounti.
    Her pen was fabricated with the tiniest drops of gold and silver using the intricate filigree technique, a traditional Italian art form that has been passed down from jewelry master to jewelry master for generations.
  • Diane KeatonMontblanc.
  • Dustin HoffmanMontblanc.
  • Edward NortonMontblanc.
  • Howard SternVisconti Arte Mudejat Aragones.
    A gift valued at $1,700. Its design is inspired by the Aragon region of Spain and celebrates the harmonious coexistence of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism that occurred there between 1000 and 1600 AD.
  • Diane SawyerWaterman.
  • Alton Brown – unknown.
    When asked what he cannot leave the house without. “Nutmeg, a pocket knife, cash, a small notebook of some type, a fountain pen, and my iPhone.”
  • Kevin Pollack Waterman Edson.
  • Kristen StewartTibaldi Bentley Crewe.
    Avid journalist and owner of an extensive fountain pen collection. She was gifted the TBC valued at $46,000 as a present on her 23rd birthday.
  • Walt DisneySheafer Balanced.
    A well used Balance fountain pen, 1930’s vintage, was found in Walt Disney’s desk in 1970 when his office was being inventoried by the Walt Disney Archives.
  • Carl Banks Esterbrook.
    Used an Esteerbrook 356 Art & Drafting Pen to ink Donald Duck.
  • Sylvestor StalloneMontegrappap Chaos.
    As seen in his film Expendables II.
  • Emma WatsonParker 51
    A Parker fountain pen accompanied her to class at Brown University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature.

World Leaders/Events:

  • Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth IIParker 51.
  • General Dwight D. EisenhowerParker 51.
    Used to sign the German Instrument of Surrender in Reims, France.
  • General Douglas MacArthurParker Duofold.
    Used a 1928 Duofold to sign the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri.
  • Lyndon B JonsonEsterbrook.
    A set of 74 clear Lucite Esterbrooks were used to sign the Civil Rights bill into law in 1964.
  • Theresa MayParker Duofold.
    She used the Parker to sign Article 50 commencing “Brexit.”
  • Vladimir PutinMontblanc Meisterstück 146.
    He used the Montblanc to sign the document “admitting” the Crimea and Sevastopol back into the Russian Federation, after his militia invaded the territories.
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – Kaweco Sport

Odd man out

  • Albert EinsteinPelkan 100 N and Waterman taper-cap.
    The Waterman was used to write the Theory of Relativity and is on display at the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden.

References:

Posted in Restoration

The Geo W Heath Company

A couple months ago I stumbled across an amazing find, a Geo W Heath fountain pen. Yup hard to believe isn’t it! For those not in the know George and Alfred Heath started their chasing and gold, silver novelty business in New York City in 1892. George is renown for the quality of his silver and gold metal work. His silver and gold overlays, trim bands, levers and nibs are found on the pens of Waterman, Parker, Conklin, and others. The George W. Heath company produced the overlays for Parker from 1900 until 1915. The silver overlays are frequently marked with Heath’s hallmark which is an H in a square box.

Examples of Geo W Heath Overlays

The brothers added fountain pens to their “Chasing” and “Gold & silver novelties” business in 1902. George and Alfred divided their company yet essentially continued offering the same business with George and the pen manufacturing business moving to Newark in May of 1912. Alfred died in 1929, his brother apparently preceded him in death. Without heirs to run the business, the George W Heath company was shuttered by 1931, the estate of Alfred and George Heath sold off the Newark building in 1935.

This means the pen is the oldest in my collection, it being 90+ years old. The pen is small, only 3 and 7/8” long capped with an anchor on the end of the cap to attach a lanyard. On the barrel is the phrase “Blue Bird Ring.” In addition to the overlays, the company made silver novelties. In the 1920’s, Stein & Ellbogen of Chicago used the trade name “Bluebird Diamond” to market their bridal line of rings. Could this pen be a company pen of Stein & Ellbogen? Cant you just imagine a sales person helping some nervous young man picking out the perfect engagement ring and this pen writing up the sales receipt.

The pen arrived needing a new ink sac, doing what I always do I ran the section under hot water to loosen it’s grip on the barrel. Well OMG, the barrel instantly turned olive green. There was some discoloration of the water in the sink which I assumed was old ink, or was it? The pen is made of black hard rubber (BHR) and prone to sun damage. Apparently, there is a treatment used by some which involves applying an ink which I assume is intended to stain the oxidized areas; however, it is prone to washing off. I assume that is that or a similar treatment has been used. The cap does have a slight oily feel to it but I’m not going to run it under water.

The barrel discoloration

I took the pen apart for cleaning, but it turned out the nib and feed needed the most care. Normally the nib cleans right up with a Sunshine cloth, not this time, I scrubbed it, polished it, soaked it but the stains and ink build up remained. Finally, I made use of a wax carving tool to scrap off the stains and clean out the ink channel on the feed. Now clean and shining like new I reinstalled the lever and J-bar, measured for a new #16 ink sac and attached it to the section, reinserted the nib and feed.

Giving the shellac a day to dry, the section is inserted in the barrel. The moment of truth! I inked up the pen and tried writing with it – the nib is damaged, it doesn’t work. I discolored the barrel to replace the sac but the nib is damaged – isn’t that ironic, don’t you think? The nib is a generic no-name nib with “Warranted 14k” stamped on it. The word warranted was a marketing term to give people confidence that the nib really was 14K gold. Yup that’s right, the nib is 58.5% gold. There are businesses which provide nib repair services, some of whom I have done business with.

Damage to the nib

Back to the discoloration problem. I posted my predicament to forums on the Fountain Pen Network and Fountain Pen Geeks. Members provided a variety of suggestions ranging from a chemical bath that removes the oxidation layer to “live with it.” I decided on somewhere in between, I’ll just apply a very light coat of mineral oil in the hope it will protect and darken the barrel. Doesn’t appear to have improved things much but at least the barrel has a sheen to it like the cap.

Posted in Restoration

Companion Hatchet

I’m going to go off topic today in part at the request of my father. Granted I am going to tell a story so in that I am on topic. Years ago, Dad picked up a hatchet at a yard sale. He was very excited about his find, exclaiming “Look it is a Boy Scout Axe.” Dad it’s a hatchet. The sheath covering the head is heavily worn, showing signs of extensive dry rot, the handle is in fine shape, just needs to be refinished, the head has seen some use but otherwise in good shape and finally there is the BSA logo on the clasp, it must be a Boy Scout axe! Keep in mind my wife says I have “selective hearing” so the entire Boy Scout axe recollection is most likely wrong. Finally, at the risk of offending a tool nerd lets just say a hatchet is a one hand small axe for chopping while an axe is a large two hand tool used to fell trees.

The “axe”

I took the hatchet and headed to the crafting room. My wife saw me and more importantly saw the hatchets. “Ah you are taking an axe upstairs, is there something I should know?” I replied “my name’s not Lizzy Borden.”

Before I started the restoration I did some research on the hatchet, working with what little I knew which was the name stamped on the head, “Companion.” Turns out Sears coined the Companion name circa 1933 as one of their private labels, later incorporating Craftsmen into their hatchet line. As for BSA implications, their hatchets have the BSA logo stamped on the cheek of the hatchet, thus clearly this hatchet is not affiliated with the BSA and the sheath was used simply because it fit.

The restoration began with the blade cover, I did some research on how to clean leather and soften it. A quick search using Duck-Duck-Go I found DIY cleaning and leather softening options. Turns out a mixture of 1 part dish cleaning liquid and 8 parts warm water is a good leather cleaner. Which then makes the leather stiff as a board so after another Duck-Duck-Go search I found some DIY leather softening tips. Even after cleaning the leather mostly remained dark so I opted for a treatment using rubbing alcohol and Vaseline. This process tends to darken the leather so beware. I also, found that a fresh banana peel is a great option for polishing leather. Yup, no kidding, just rub the inside of the peel on the leather, and it will condition, protect, and polish leather. Apparently, shoe polish active ingredient is potassium and so do bananas. What the hell, so I gave it a try. Have to admit, overall the sheath looks and feels better but it is still far from good.

Lets turn our attention to the hatchet, the head was loose on the handle so separating the two was simple enough. The handle as mentioned, is in good shape, I just sanded it down. I considered a couple options relating to a new finish. I initially thought about applying varnish but it’s not like the hatchet is going to be exposed to the elements for prolong periods of time. Instead I opted to finish it with many coats of Danish Oil. The oil darken the wood, and brought out the grain. I am very happy with the results.

The head was a little dirty. I didn’t want to damage the steel, so erroring on the side of caution, i sandpapered the head with the same paper used on the handle. This worked out great, I removed the dirt, grim, some rust as well as the faint black paint originally applied to the cheek. The latter provided an unexpected opportunity. It occurred to me I could repaint the cheek any color I wanted. So I opted for a glossy fire engine red. Next I looked at the bit, it is rounded and in short it needs to be sharpened so I applied a grinding stone to the bit smoothing out the dings and making the hatchet usable again.

Finally, the time came to put the head on the handle, it is still loose so I ordered conical wedges plus I need to address a loose 2 lb head on a mallet so it’s all good. But anyway.

Posted in Pens, Stories

Esterbrook Relief pen by Conway Stewart Co

Since I cannot spend all my time refurbishing pens and the majority of the refurbishment projects are just a good cleaning and installation of a new ink sac I decided to embrace the title and chronicle a pen in my collection.

Esterbrook Relief pens were made in England starting in the mid 1930’s through the 1950’s by the Conway Stewart Company. The “Relief” means these pens come with a left oblique 14kt gold nib. These nibs have a slight angle going upward from left to right. In general, this type of slant is designed for right handed people who hold their pen in a way that makes writing with it favorable.

The Conway Stewart company was founded in 1905 in London. Their objective was to produce elegant, timelessly beautiful, yet functional writing instrument. During the depression years, the company managed to survive by continuing to offer good reliable pens at reasonable prices, hence their partnership with Esterbrook. Conway Stewart pens have always been the preferred choice of the most discerning and famous people from around the world. Winston Churchill used a Conway Stewart pen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was presented two gold pens to Commemorate her Golden Jubilee and Conway Stewart was the official pen of the British Government at the G8 Summit, at which PM Tony Blair presented a Conway Stewart No.58 to each of the world leaders. Conway Stewart is still in operation producing pens today.

I bought a black hard rubber (BHR) Esterbrook Relief 2-L from a dealer in London. This pen was made by Conway Stewart in the late 30’s or early 40’s. It was a little grimy when I got it, other than in need of a cleaning and polishing it was fully functional. Polishing – I don’t use a polish or wax, I use a Sunshine Cloth. The cloth removed the 80+ years of grim, returning a sparkle to the nib and to the body of the pen. The name on the side is well worn and the tip of the feed is broken off, possibly contributing to the nib supplying more ink than it should. The pen was manufactured with one of three nib styles, Fine, Medium, and Broad. I am inclined to say this is a broad nib there appears to be a “B” or it could be an ampersand on the nib. It all depends on how you look at the nib.

I don’t know the provenance, I asked the seller and he doesn’t keep records so it’s road to me is up to the imagination. We know a couple things to be true, it was manufactured in London circa 1940, talk about the wrong place at the wrong time. It survived the Blitz and subsequent rocket attacks on London. Was it used by someone in the War Department, used to sign orders sending men into battle, Imagine what letters it may have written? We’re they happy, were they sad? Was it used by some government official enacting the English Welfare State or an instrument used in the collapse of the British Empire? Guess we will never know what stories it told, but we do know I am writing the story of how it left London via the Royal Post and arrived in America to begin a new story.