Posted in Restoration, Stories

Rehab vs Refurb vs Restore or Repair – oh my what a dilemma!

I am not the first to bring up this topic, nor the last. Some may say the difference is a matter of splitting hairs while others say it is all in the intent. It is far more than splitting hairs and the intent leads to consequences which can be drastically different results. Let’s start with some basic definitions.

  • Refurbish – to rebuild with all new material; to return to original (or better) working order and appearance.
  • Rehabilitate – to return to its original condition
  • Restore – to return to its original or usable and functioning condition
  • Repair – to restore by replacing a part or putting together what is torn or broken

These terms are often used interchangeably, their dissimilarity being minor yet that distinction is significant and worth noting in the world of vintage pens. I’ve been giving the distinction a lot of thought.

Do I refurbish, restore or rehab pens? How about repairing? I’m so confused!

My primary focus is on cleaning the pen and getting it back to working order. I’ve run across sellers who offer pens that have been “fully restored,” which usually involves reblackening hard rubber, replacing clips, adding new nibs, etc. My intent is to return pens to their original appearance, or so it “looks good for its age,” while restoring the pen to working order using the materials that came with the pen. Nothing is replaced unless it is broken.

I’ve been saying “I refurbish pens” which by definition is incorrect. I am “restoring” pens. The only new material I use is a modern ink sac, because all original ink sacs have long since rotted away. I even use shellac allegedly from original Parker old stock.

To me, restoration is the resurrection of an old, long forgotten pen and returning it to as close to its original condition as possible. If parts are needed, I attempt to use original parts and identify substitute parts as applicable. I don’t polish pens, I wipe each pen with a little dab of mineral oil which removes old ink, grime and makes the pen look closer to their original condition. I don’t use chemicals or ink stains to recolor a pen but have been known to use sand paper to remove teeth marks, surface imperfections (scratches) and to remove the discoloration found on some BHR pens as appropriate.

The consensus among others who work with vintage pens seems to be that the definition of restoration is to return the pen to new condition, do no more than is necessary to make the pen in working condition, clean, gently polished and remove whenever possible such faults as scratches and bite marks. And don’t re-blacken the pen.

My view is primarily the same, as old pens age, there exists a balance between restoring usage and honorably showing its age. Restoring a pen to its “as new condition” is not my objective. I suppose my method falls between those who see every scratch as bearing historical significance and the restorers who overdo it. I’ve found that celluloid pens restore especially well, and those black hard rubber or mottled pens that have not faded or worn too much can naturally look fantastic with a little mineral oil. That’s quite a contrast to the poor creatures (pens) that have suffered the buffing machine far too long! I have some sympathy for the view that a pen should be left as it is, so far as possible, but I also accept that no one likes an ugly pen.

I was recently showing off my 1928 Duofold Jr. and I mentioned it is my daily use pen, the person I was showing it to was appalled that I was using the pen, handling it as if it was…. a pen. He thought it belonged under glass in a museum or somewhere “safe.” I collect and restore pens so I can use and enjoy them.

Posted in Pens, Restoration

Mabie Todd Swan #42 – The Restoration

Capped, the pen measures 5-7/16” (138mm) in length, it is dirty and in need of a good cleaning. The old ink sac has been removed already – yeah. An examination of the nib shows signs that the right tine has been mistreated by a fool with a grinder, plus the tip material on the same tine is missing. Maybe that is why he used a grinder? Who knows, anyway. I contacted nib service provides and no one offer “retipping” service so I guess the pen is for looks unless I can find a new nib.

Nib before & After plus the Ladder Feed. Note the missing piece of the nib

As far as restoring goes, this was easy. The seller had gone through trouble of separating the section from the barrel, and removing the old ink sac. I just had to remove decades of grime and polish the pen. No I don’t use real polish, just the jeweler’s cloth. As usual, I started with the nib and feed. The nib polished up nicely with the Sunshine cloth. A variety of spiral brushes were needed to clean the dried ink and grime out of the feed and the ink fissures.

The lever and surrounding area were disgusting, honestly there was yuk caked up in the lever, all over the pivot bar, gumming up the lever action. I used the Sunshine cloth, toothbrush, spiral brushes, three different dental tools and still it isn’t as clean as I’d prefer. But as you can see it looks better now.

Next I polished the barrel and moved on to the cap. Using a dental pick I cleaned out the accumulated grime in the cap band etching followed by a toothbrush and Sunshine cloth. Finally, a quick rubdown with a hint of mineral oil. Very little residual ink came off and the pen looks marvelous.

I decided to skip the new ink sac, not because I can’t but because I can’t use the pen until I have the nib repaired or replaced. After another Duck-Duck-Go search, I found a couple nib retipping services. I emailed them both, one replied the next day the other has yet to reply and I assume they will not. I’ve schedule a repair for later in July. A review of the service and how the nib is writing will be a future posting. In the mean time I am also keeping an eye out for nibs, but finding 1920’s Mabie Todd nibs is as hard to find as is fountain pen nib retipping services.

Posted in Pens, Restoration, Stories

Mabie Todd Swan #42 – a Frankenpen?

Company Back Story

Mabie Todd was a firm whose partners’ involvement in gold nib and pencil manufacture dated back to the 1840s. Mabie Todd itself was established in 1860 in New York City as Mabie Todd & Co. then later as Mabie Todd and Bard in 1873. Production began in London in 1905.

The UK operation was so successful it ultimately bought out the US operation in 1915, thence Mabie Todd became a wholly owned British company, thriving thanks to British preferences for conservative design and reliability. Manufacture continued in the US until the late 1930s. The British Mabie Todd was very prosperous, widely known as “the pen of the British Empire.” Both their headquarters and manufacturing plant in London were destroyed in air raids during the war. Reestablished outside of London, the company initially prospered in the post war years; however, production ceased before the end of the ’50s — another casualty of the ballpoint era.

a Swan #42

I purchased this pen from a seller in the UK with an office in Springe, Germany but like the many oddities you will soon learn of, this pen shipped from Athens, Greece. Keep in mind, this is a Mabie Todd of New York. I would expect to find a Mabie Todd of London in Europe.

The Research

From the FPN forums I found out that the #42 is Swan nomenclature for their standard lever (“self”) fillers – “4” is for a full length pen and “2” is nib size. In the early 20’s, they marked the butt end of the barrel for nib size only – towards the mid 20’s, they added markings for length.

In 1926/27, they came out with a line of celluloids that indicated the color using a double digit number scheme. On the eternals (a very stiff nib that allowed writing on carbon paper), you would see “ETN” underneath. In the 30’s, they dropped the color coding on the American pens, returning to barrel length/nib size numbering. So we can reasonably guess that this pen dates to 1921-25.

Mabie Todd NY Swan #42 pen

The “screw cap” marking and directional arrow is an early feature during the transition from slip caps to screw on “safety” caps.” This happened circa 1920, the vintage fountain pen equivalent to “caution, contents hot” warning. Prior to safety cap pens, the cap was push on and held in place by friction.

They were called “Safety Caps” because the inner cap met the lip of the flared section forming a seal thus preventing leakage. Most contemporary pens have this feature and I bet you never gave it a second thought.

A Frankenpen?

Yes Frankenpen – a euphemism for any pen made from parts of other pens. Adding the cap into the equation introduces a new complication, the 1921 Mabie Todd catalog doesn’t support this pen’s configuration. In the catalog, a clipless pen with a wide cap band and a #2 nib is code 162. While a pen with a clip and no cap band is assigned code 42, could this cap be from a different pen or does this pen date prior to 1921 (highly unlikely) or is it closer to 1925. Keep in mind the codes in the printed catalog and on the actual pens don’t agree, the pens only have a 2 digit code, while the catalog has a 3 digit code. The code in the catalog was there to make it easier for the shop owner to order pens.

Alternatively, a Mabie Todd enthusiast created a list of all the British pens he found online. Which used a slightly different numbering nomenclature. Nearly all “4” series pens were accompanied by a wide band cap. He points out the list is for guidance as there are “MANY ANOMALIES IN THE PRODUCTION OF SWAN MABIE TODD PENS.”

Mabie Todd switched to a “ladder” feed in 1912. The ladder feed on my pen has more notches, and it is missing the trademark “Swan” imprint thus it is assumed to be newer feed. It also has fissure channels similar to a Waterman. I consulted with an enthusiast who favors British Mabie Todd pens and who has been restoring pens for years. She confirmed it should have ink fissures in the feed.

Posted in Pens, Reviews, Stories

Conklin “All American” – yeah right

I decided to add some variety into my collection and acquired some contemporary pens. As I didn’t want to simply invest in good quality expensive pens, I thought I’d make things interesting and challenge myself to find budget friendly decent pens. Today I present the first in that group. It has a MSRP of $95, generally retails for $76 but I got it for less than half that price, at a mere $35.

The Company

The Conklin company was established in 1898, and. Came to prominence when Mark Twain began his relationship with them in 1903, becoming their spokesman. During the Great Depression, Conklin launched a collection that was priced to be affordable to the public – The All American. This collection was offered in a variety of sizes, filling mechanisms, and finishes.

Fast forward to today, inspired by the original depression era models, Conklin has developed a new All American collection. These pens are crafted from handmade European high-grade resin, but it is named “All American!” OK, well anyway, I picked one up at a significant discount in the Yellowstone resin. The modern Conklin Company is part of the Yafa Brands group, having been revived in 2009.

The Pen

The first impression was OMG this is a “fluffy” pen (we don’t use the adjective “fat” in this family, we don’t want anyone or thing to develop a complex). It is by far the fluffiest pen I have. The Conklin website doesn’t provide dimension so I will. Capped the pen is 5-5/8” (142mm) long and the barrel has a 5/8” (16mm) diameter. Did I mention it is a heifer, weighing in at 31g. As for the overall appearance it is a BEAutiful pen. The pen has decent weight to it, which feels good in my hand but posting the cap on the end makes it feel very awkward. Overall the pen feels solid like a quality product, but damn it is fluffy.

Oh and did I mention the walls of the pen barrel are a whopping +3mm thick.

I can’t stress how BIG this pen is. Now I have short stubby fingers so this is NOT the pen for me or anyone with small or dainty hands. I know sounds like I just contradicted myself.

The pen included an ink converter which screws into place. A feature I really like. It sports a German made JoWo #6 steel nib, they also offer an option to choose the JoWo Omniflex steel nib. Did I mention the pen is called the “All American?”

(L-R) Phileas, All American, Meisterstuck, Hemisphere


Let’s take it for a jot. Got out my bottle of Waterman’s Serenity Blue – the general purpose ink of choice. In went the nib, down to the section and I gave the converter a twist, expecting to hear it bubbling as the plunger descended but nothing. This is odd, I reversed the plunger and no ink. Hmmmmm. Did this three times, same result. So I got out two backup converters and got the same result. Are you F@&$ing kidding me? The damn thing won’t ink up. To say I am annoyed is an understatement. I know I normally focus on vintage pens with ink sacs but I used converts in my Hemispheres and Phileas for over a decade so I know how they work.

I hate to admit defeat so after pouting for a couple days I took the nib and feed out of the section. Eyeballed each for defects then put it back together. Tried to ink up the pen again and SUCCESS it took ink. The nib is stiff, not an Omniflex. I’ll let you know if it leaks.


There are many comments in the FPN forums bashing Yafa Brands and retelling horror stories about their support. I chose to ignored the “negative Nancy’s” and learned the hard way. Sorry to say this pen is not the pen for me. I know lots of people prefer fluffy pens, sorry they are not for me.

If you have had a different experience or a strong opinion about Yafa Brands or if you are interested in buying a fluffy pen. I’d love to hear about it – don’t be shy.


After using this pen exclusively for a month it has grown on me. Still feels like I am writing with a cucumber but I’ve grown to appreciate the feel for the nib. It is doing a fine job on cheap paper, I also used it to create a sketch in a 100 gsm art book with textured paper. The difference in nib performance between the cheap smooth paper and the more textured sketch book paper was significant. Cant say I will use it for sketching any time soon. Back to the update, overall I am pleased with the pen, the size is still an issue but that is lessening with each passing day.

Other Reviews

Posted in Stories, Uncategorized

How about the way you write

I came across this topic while “discovering” potential blogs. I read somewhere that handwriting can be attributed to 5,000 personal traits. I guess it falls under handwriting analysis (aka graphology) and can be used to identify if the writer is telling stories (lying like a rug) and possibly identifying health ailments. As it ties very nicely with fountains pens, I thought I’d share.

From physiological conditions like high blood pressure and schizophrenia to personality traits like dominance and aggression: if you can write by hand, graphologists can analyze you.

I checked and handwriting that is sloppy as Hell and nearly illegible is not apparently an analyzed type. Seemed like fun so I took the handwriting quiz (it’s like 5 questions) and this is what they found

Use the links below to learn more, take the test and see what your hand writing says about you – have fun. Please let me know if you take the test and the results, lets laugh about it!

Handwriting Analysis and Personality Quiz

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