Posted in Pens, Reviews, Stories

White-Dot Lifetime Flattop

Just in case you don’t know, welp I have a thing for black pens and a thing for flattop pens. Cigar or torpedo shape pens just don’t do it for me. Sheaffer introduced Lifetime pens in 1920. A couple years later came flattop pens but only in jade green. Eventually, black! Now they have my attention.

In 1924, Sheaffer introduced a flattop pen made of celluloid but the only color is Jade Green. They called this celluloid Jadite (makes sense). About the same time, they added the signature white dot to the center of Lifetime pen caps. By 1925, Sheaffer expanded the use of celluloid to include Jet Black, Coral Red, and Cherry Red and rebranded the Jadite to Radite.

The imprint on the clip changed in 1922 to compliment the company logo and it was mounted slightly lower on the cap. The clip is straight, ending in a round ball. Another clip design mounted even lower on the cap and with a slight bend or hump was introduced in late 1928. The ball at the end of the clip is flattened. This design did not replace the prior straight clip, both designs coexisted.

In 1926, Sheaffer began imprinting serial numbers on the dorsal and ventral sides of their nibs. This was to stop dealers (Katz Drug) from selling their pens below the retail price.

Early Flattops have a barrel imprint that includes patent dates. The patent date format went through a couple changes (this format is the latter). After 1927, the text style changed slightly and the patent dates were removed.

This original Lifetime pen sported a solid spear feed. The feed changed to a comb style sometime prior to 1926. In 1938, Sheaffer changed the feeds on the flattops giving them a more refined comb shape.

My Pen

Is a black Lifetime Radite Flattop lever filled, manufactured in 1926 or 1927. It has a couple minor tooth marks, scratches, and the cap doesn’t screw on as tightly as I’d prefer but otherwise, it is nice for a 95-year-old pen. The section is ebonite, there was some discoloration attributable to sun/water damage. The discoloration was minor and removed quickly with a Sunshine cloth.

Time to inked it up and gave it a go.

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length 116mm,
  • Uncapped length 104mm,
  • Barrel diameter 11.5mm,
  • Cap diameter 13.5mm,
  • Pen weighs in at 17g.
Posted in Nibs, Stories

Nibs, Then and Now

Nibs, the business end of every fountain pen. Contemporary nibs and vintage nibs are cousins, opposed to siblings. The terminology used by one group doesn’t always accurately transfer to the other. Generally speaking, quality vintage nibs are held in high esteem compared to their cousins and there is a trend to add vintage nibs to contemporary pens to enjoy the characteristics and nostalgia of the vintage nibs, not found in contemporary nibs.

Pen markings

Contemporary nibs often have elaborate and intricate scroll work stamped or etched into the nib making that nib a piece of art unto its self. Not functionally necessary but it does provide an “ooh-ahh” moment for the owner.

Photo credit: Nibs.com

These nibs have a writing quality letter stamped on them. Round nibs typically fall into one of four tip sizes: Extra Fine (EF), Fine (F), Medium (M), and Broad (B). Italics or oblique nibs are not round, they have an angled straight writing surface and are often associated with the same quality designation or in mm based on the width of the point.

Vintage nibs usually (Esterbrook being the exception), are imprinted with a single-digit number. This is the case from the 1880s up to WWII. These numbers have nothing to do with the writing quality of the nib, nor the size of tip (fine, medium, broad, etc.), nor the flexibility of the nib. The numbers indicate the size of the nib – not the size of the point.

It gets better, assuming the nib has a number, theses numbers are inconsistent from manufacture to manufacture. A #4 on one nib may equate to a #2 on another nib. Warranted nibs are notoriously inconsistent since they were produced by many different manufacturers.

Material

Early inks tended to corroded steel nibs, then with the introduction of fountain pens gold nibs are adopted as the standard in lieu of steel nibs because gold doesn’t corrode. Vintage gold nibs could be easily manufactured in various degrees of hardness and flexibility.

Gold and most steel nibs are tipped with an alloy, normally using metals from the platinum group to act as a hard, wear resistant, writing surface. Vintage nibs were initially tipped with iridium; however, Tipping alloys have not contained iridium since the mid-1950’s – due to its rarity and high cost. Osmium, rhenium, ruthenium and tungsten are most common in the alloys of today used to tip a nib.

The color of a nib does not indicate whether it is made of gold or steel. Nibs are available in steel, gold, and black colors. Some gold nibs are plated with a silvery metal like rhodium while some steel nibs are gold plated as a cheaper means to prevent corrosion from contact with ink. Real gold nibs will have an imprint specifying its gold content, usually 14K or 18K.

Performance

The primary difference between contemporary steel and gold nibs is the ability to flex. Flexibility occurs while writing, when pressure is applied causing the nib tines to spread, applying more ink to the paper.

The springiness of a gold nib will come down to it’s shape and how the gold was alloyed, more than the amount of gold it contains. Because a gold nib will naturally flex, the nib will have a little more “give” providing minor line variation – flexibility.

The smoothness and feedback associated with a contemporary steel or gold nib is the same because both nibs are using the same tipping material. The difference and cost is based on the material behind the tips.

Bottom Line

In the world of contemporary nibs, gold and steel nibs are readily available. Stainless steel nibs have retained the stigma associated with vintage steel nibs – being inferior and cheap. Those nibs manufactured in Asia (excluding Japan) are often of lessor quality than those manufactured in Germany. Assuming as consumers we purchase quality nibs, the difference between a steel nib and an identical gold nib is a couple hundred dollars due to the price of gold, and as a consumer, if the need or want of a flex nib is not needed then a steel nib is a much more attractive alternative.

Posted in Pens, Stories

Fountain Pen Primer 103: Ink Reservoirs

An ink reservoir is what makes a fountains pen a fountain pen.

They come with a choice of two types of reservoirs: removable – being cartridges and converters or permanent – include eyedropper, piston, vacuum, and sac. Each have their own unique pros and cons.

Removable

Cartridges

These are pre filled with ink and are disposable. They are relatively expensive compared to bottles of ink and the choice of colors is limited. Yes you can cheat (assuming you have a syringe) and want to go through the challenge of self filling the cartridge with the ink of your choice.

These are the easiest to replaced, simply unscrew the section from the barrel, pull the now empty cartridge out and insert a new one. They come in various lengths so make sure the one you choose fits your pen.

Converters

Assortment of Converters

Converters are essentially replaceable cartridges and we can fill with whatever ink (never India ink) we choose. Some converters screw into place, while some push in like a cartridge. Like cartridges, they also come in a variety of lengths so make sure the one you choose fits.

Filling a converter is accomplished in a couple fashions. My preferred method, install the converter, engage the fill mechanism to depress the plunger. Dip the pen into the ink, work the mechanism again. As the plunger retracts it creates a vacuum and draws ink into the converter via the nib. It can be a messy process as you have to clean the nib afterwards but the pen is ready to use. The alternative process is just like the previous except before the converter is installed you stick the open end of the converter into the ink directly then engage the mechanism and draw in the ink. Lastly, using a syringe is another option and makes a clean alternative to filling a converter.

Permanent

Piston

TWSBI Eco T

Essentially, a fixed converter that uses the inside of the barrel as the reservoir. Twist the filling mechanism left or right to transition the plunger in the barrel. To fill, place the nib in ink and rotate the mechanism clockwise. This retracts the plunger and draws ink into the barrel. This type of reservoir is difficult to clean. On a side note, this filling system was patented in 1923.

Vacuum

Parker Vacumatic

A Parker proprietary design mechanism. The inside of the barrel is the ink reservoir, a plunger mechanism with a diaphragm is locate at the opposite end from the section. When the plunger on the mechanism is depressed it expands the diaphragm, expelling air. When released the diaphragm retracts and ink is drawn into the pen. To fill the pen simply insert the nib into a bottle of ink, press the plunger and release, ink fills the pen. This type of reservoir is tiring to clean. On a side note, this filling system was patented in 1933.

Sac

Esterbrook J series

Ink sacs are mostly found in vintage pens and the occasional contemporary. The sac is attached to the section and when depressed by a filling mechanism, the air or ink is expelled from the sac. When the mechanism is released the sac expands and draws in ink. Common filling mechanisms associated with a sac reservoir include a Lever, Crescent, Areometric, Button, and Leverless. This type of reservoir does not clean well.

Eyedropper

Wality Airmail

Makes use of the entire hollowed area of the barrel as a reservoir. The section is removed thus providing access to the reservoir. The threads of the section are usually sealed with a silicon grease or an o-ring to keep the pen air tight. To fill, remove the section then using an eyedropper extract ink from a bottle and squirt it into the barrel. Filling the pen requires care as one slip, the pen falls and ink flows everywhere. It is by far the easiest to clean and provides the highest capacity reservoir.

Posted in Pens, Reviews, Stories

Osmiroid

Osmiroid roots run deep, all the way back to the early part of the nineteenth Century. James Perry an educationalist promoted an idea based on a revolutionary idea, peak a student’s interest and they will enthusiastic pursue their studies. Students of the time wrote with a quill pen and quills required constant attention. While in class, they would sit idol waiting for the usher to pass by and mend their quill.

In response to the wasted time, James inventing a metal pen with a slit to provide flexibility and controlled ink flow in 1819, patenting his design in 1830. Soon after, James and his brother started a pen (nib) company, manufacturing pens in Manchester, Birmingham and London. By 1876, their success rivaled Esterbrook, making them the second largest manufacturer of pen nibs in the world.

Post World War II, the company changed direction after a century plus of manufacturing nibs for dip pens and bet their future on fountain pens. Keeping in touch with their roots, the company focused on the needs of school children, introducing the “Osmiroid 65” fountain pen. They also produced a large range of nibs suited for left handed users. In 1971, the Company began marketing a range of teaching aids, having great success in the U.K., Australia, America and the Far East.

Osmiroid Squeeze Converter

Osmiroid’s new design with improved ink flow was introduced around 1980. Marketed as “The Pilot”, “The Sonic” and “the Easy Change” . This model didn’t use the screw in nib unit common to the models 65 and 75 but combined the nib, the section and the feed into a single replaceable unit. The nibs are the same used in the previous assemblies and available in a wider range of sizes aimed at the calligraphy market. These pens accept ink cartridges or a “Squeeze fill converter.” The pens were plagued by an issue with the plastic of the cap – it is too thin and prone to cracking.

Osmiroid New Design pen

The beginning of the end….in 1989, Berol acquired Osmiroid. Manufacturing and general operations consolidated into Berol by 1991. Newell acquired Berol in 1995, discontinuing the Osmiroid line of products in 1999. Thus ends the story of a 170 year-old company.

My Pen

Is a new design Easy Change model I believe. It sports a B3 nib – “medium width lettering nib for general illuminating.” The ink reservoir is a squeeze fill converter. The pen is black plastic with a wide stainless cap band and clip terminating with a round metal jewel – reminiscent of a the Esterbrook Dollar pen.

Yet the pen has several characteristics associated with their Viscount model, including a clip with the boxed “O”, a wide cap band and a metal ring around the base of the section to better secure the cap. The new design Easy Change typically has “Osmiroid” imprinted on the clip, with multiple thin cap bands and does not include the metal ring around the section.

The nib is worth noting, as I’ve never written with a calligraphy nib. I wasn’t sure what to expect, it is 2mm wide with 2 slits. I soaked the nib for 2 days removing the old ink. As you can see, some ink remains in the feed.

I inked up the squeeze converter, which was probably a mistake. I should have filled the reservoir through the nib. It took an effort getting the ink flowing but as you can see it works.

Obviously, the lettering is large compared to a normal medium nib. I like the way the letters form, must be the calligraphy aspect of the nib.

The next day I could not get the ink flowing, what a bummer, though the pen may have been out of ink as I didn’t add much for the demo and well it uses a lot of ink.

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length 129.5mm,
  • Uncapped length 118mm,
  • Barrel diameter 12mm,
  • Cap diameter 12.5mm,
  • Pen weighs in at 11..
Posted in Pens, Restoration, Stories

Parker Vacumatic

The Vacumatic replaced the Duofold in 1933 as the Parker flagship line of pens. Production lasted through 1948 in the US and 1953 in Canada. The first models were known and marketed as “Golden Arrow,” followed briefly as the “Vacuum Filler” then “Vacumatic.”

Parker had bought the rights to this design from Professor Arthur O. Dahlberg in 1925, an instructor in machine design at the University of Wisconsin. Parker spent 5 years and $125,000 perfecting the mechanism.

The Vacumatic filler mechanism consists of a spring-loaded plunger attached to a sac-like rubber diaphragm. Depressing the plunger distends the diaphragm to expel air from the pen, and releasing the plunger sucks ink directly into the pen’s barrel. The whole barrel is used as the ink reservoir. The diaphragms are flexible parts that will break down over time.

The Vacumatic sported three filler mechanisms during its life. Two were made of a metal tube and known as the Lockdown Filler and Speedline Filler. Wartime needs saw the introduction of the Plastic Filler.

DuPont supplied the plastic for the body, which was made of alternating rings of celluloid. The horizontal rings alternated clear celluloid and opaque or pearlescent creating barrel transparency and visibility to the ink level.

During the life of the pen, it sported four clip designs, all variations of the new stylish landmark feathered arrow, designed by Joseph Platt of New York, which is now synonymous with Parker.

The very first pens, known as the Golden Arrow, were test marketed in July 1932. As with the Duofold, Parker quietly distributed 60 Golden Arrows to a store in Chicago. During July, the store sold nine Wahls, seven Sheaffers, six Parkers, two Swans, and one Waterman. The first week of August the Golden Arrow hit the shelves, during the month the store sold 15 Golden Arrows, one Parker Duofold, and one Swan.

My Pen

My pen is a standard Vacumatic, manufactured in 1946, Q2. It has the Blue Diamond Clip and the color is Gold Pearl. The pen was refurbished prior to my purchase. It has an age-appropriate plastic plunger but the color of the plastic plunger is incorrect – oh well.

The nib is solid colored with the Parker Arrow and a date code stamped on it indicating it was manufactured in 1946. The cap has a peaked black plastic jewel.

1946 Vacumatic cap jewel and ring

I wrote very nicely when inked with the Pelikan 4001 black. There is a little feedback but I attribute that to the paper, it’s pretty thick. And (don’t let me forget), Vacumatics are PITA to clean.

Evacuate the ink by depressing the plunger slowly. Release to draw water into the pen and slowly depress the plunger to expel the water/ink. Repeat this process until a) your thumb falls off, b) the cows come home, c) the grass grows or d) you decide that it is “good enough.”

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length 128.5mm,
  • Uncapped length 119mm,
  • Barrel diameter 12mm,
  • Cap diameter 13.5mm,
  • Pen weighs in at 17g.
Posted in Pens, Stories

Fountain Pen Primer 102: Writing with a Fountain Pen

In this primer, I am going to focus on how to write with a fountain pen. Stop laughing! I used to write with the feed side up and nib side down just to restrict the ink flow of a Fine nib on really super, exponentially, tremendous, vast, whopping cheap paper.

Why use a fountain pen

Ballpoint, gel, or rollerball pens are functionally practical and boring. Writing with a fountain pen produces that unique characteristic to your handwriting that can’t be replicated by any of those boring pens. Why is that? A fountain pen has a metal nib with two tines, and you can control the thickness of the written line by applying more or less pressure.

Photo by Best Pens In the world.com

The following is going to make fountain pens sound like a PITA, but really, writing with a fountain pen is an experience so let’s make it worthwhile.

The paper

Let’s be clear, printer paper is not really suitable for fountain pen ink, it is cheap, the ink will bleed through and it looks very bad.

Instead, buy paper or a journal that is made for fountain pens. Good paper doesn’t feather or bleed and is often made of cotton – intended for fountain pen use. Paper by Rhodia, Tomoe River, and Leuchtturm1917 are renowned as great fountain pen paper.

One more thing, buy from a source that supplies quality fountain pen paper goods, not from Wal-Mart.

To post or not

Fountain pens have a cap. Some pens are intended to have the cap “posted” on the opposite end from the nib to balance the pen. The size of the pen vs. your hand will determine if posting the cap influences the balance. Small pens benefit from posting the cap but this is something you have to try out for yourself and see what kind of feel you like.

Holding the pen

I hold a fountain pen just like a ballpoint pen, gripping the pen between the thumb and the index finger along the dorsal side of the pen while my middle finger provides support along the ventral side of the pen. Grip the pen at the “section” or the bottom of the barrel. The ring and pinky fingers and the side of your palm needs to rest on the paper surface thus stabilizing your hand.

The sweet spot

With the nib on the paper and the slit facing up, the angle from paper to pen should be between 45 to 55 degrees. Now write a few words to find that “sweet spot.” This is when the nib glides across the paper with no feedback and it feels comfortable to write with.

If the angle of the nib is above 55 degrees or below 45 degrees, it will not write as nicely, it won’t be as smooth, and the ink won’t flow as well onto the paper.

Use your entire arm

When writing with a fountain pen the entire arm moves. Some people are finger writers, they move their hands and fingers as they write. With a ballpoint pen that is possible because it works at every angle. Fountain pens have a straight nib, once the “sweet spot” is determined maintain the position of your wrist, it is important to hold your hand rigid. Instead move your entire arm as you write, thus maintaining the “sweet spot.”

Don’t press so hard

Ballpoint pens require the writer to press the pen into the paper to transfer the ink. With fountain pens, when the nib touches the paper, apply gentle pressure, and the ink flows. Applying too much pressure may damage the nib as well as tear the paper. Too much pressure also means a lot more ink will flow and that is not going to end well.

Right sized pen for your hand

Using a pen that is either too small or too large will result in hand fatigue and cramping. Large hands will be more comfortable with thick, long pens.

How big do you write

If you have big handwriting, a slightly broader nib will be more appealing. While small, elegant handwriting will benefit from a Fine nib.

How fast do you write

If you write quickly, a light pen with a broader nib will make for a better experience. Avoid overcompensating for the pen’s lightweight by gripping it too tight. A heavier fountain pen requires frequent breaks to avoid hand cramps.

Lefties

This is self-serving, but if you are a lefty I recommend reading my article dedicated to lefties and fountain pens.

Posted in Pens, Stories

It’s a new month, what’s in your pen cup?

So this month I am going to continue with the Zenzoi eco-friendly bamboo pen. Overall the pen has really impressed me. I did a quick review of their entire online catalog and they have some attractive pens at an affordable price.

Have you heard the fountain pen myth “don’t lend out your fountain pen to the others because the way a person writes can cause changes to the nib.” Well In January I inked up a used Waterman Lauret I. The pen wrote well with one exception – the sweet spot. Unless I held the pen at a 45-degree angle to the writing surface then turned the pen to the left 45 degrees it would skip. Must be some truth to the myth.

Waterman Lauret I

Overall, I enjoyed using the Waterman Lauret and as it is still inked I’ll continue. Some people will not like how thin it is, or mention the lacquer makes it slippery but hey, I have short stubby fingers and it suits me well, It definitely brings back memories of the Waterman Hemispheres, which I still have. I think one needs to make the rotation later this year.