Posted in Collection, Material, Pens, Stories

Ebonite; Mottled, Woodgrain and Ripple

What is Ebonite….
The name “ebonite” comes from “ebony” and is black in color (duh). Yet it is clear brownish-red in thin-film form and brownish-red in powdered form. Also known as Vulcanite, it is warm to the touch, a durable medium, and provides excellent electrical insulation and machinability. Great, I’ll remember that next time I’m working with live electrical wires. Ebonite is sometimes called “hard rubber,” manufacturers in Germany and Japan often distinguish ebonite that is hardened with fillers from “natural” hardened ebonite.

Eco-friendly benefits of ebonite, it is manufactured with natural rubber collected from gum tree sap, and the tree is not cut down. Gum trees have a high absorption rate of carbon dioxide.

Ebonite is produced by a chemical reaction of combining rubber and sulfur molecules in a process known as “vulcanization.” Ebonite may contain from 25% to 80% sulfur and linseed oil. The process is accelerated by applying heat and pressure of steam for several days. The result of the process is low-elastic, very firm vulcanized rubber Interestingly, soft ebonite prior to vulcanization becomes ultra hard rubber afterward. When the surface of ebonite is polished, it gives a beautiful, lacquer-like gloss.

Why do I love ebonite pens, especially those that are dyed or mottled, etc. Welp, when the surface of ebonite is polished, it gives a beautiful, lacquer-like gloss. Secondly, the pen has a natural warmth to the touch, unlike contemporary acrylic, plastics, or vintage celluloid which are cold. I am particularly fond of ebonite which is mottled – mixing colored rubber with standard rubber in the vulcanization process.

Following careful mixing formulas, ebonite rods can be drawn in a spiral fashion to produce a variety of appearances and styles.


As the technique gained popularity, pen makers in the 1920s produced elegant woodgrain pens.


Expanding the woodgrain design, in 1926 Waterman introduced a flow pattern, called ripple. The only other company to produce a true ripple was Platignum.


Ripple in still water. When there is no pebble tossed. Nor wind to blow
~ Jerry Garcia

Ripple was immensely popular and available in a variety of colors such as olive, rose, and blue-green. Contemporary mottled ebonite rods available to indie pen manufacturers come in a fantastic range of colors. The rods are readily available from manufacturers in India, Japan, and Germany.

Unfortunately, black ebonite is susceptible to sun and water damage. I have not encountered this with mottled, woodgrain, or ripple ebonite pens. Maybe I am just lucky. Please feel free to leave comments detailing your experiences with mottle ebonite, etc.

Posted in Pens, Stories

#Throwback Thursday

This is not a new idea, matter of fact it is probably considered passé. The good news, this isn’t going to be a regularly featured post, only from time to time, when I’m feeling inspired (or lazy), I will dig up and share an original post from yesteryear. For this first post, the choice was obvious though I cringed when I read it. Corrected the spelling and grammar issues, then polished it up but only just a bit.

It seems appropriate to make my first Throwback Thursday post should be about my Ambassador pen.

The “Ambassador” was a marketing name for pens manufactured by a couple different pen companies, most likely this pen was manufactured by the Majestic Pen company.

Comments have been turned off. If feeling so inclined please comment on the original post. Thank you!

Posted in Pens, Stories

Katz Drug, Sheaffer Pen and Serial Numbers

I recently wrote a post pertaining to Lifetime Guarantees associated with pens and the legal issue those guarantees wrought. Prior to the FTC legal troubles, Sheaffer found themselves engaged in a battle with a Kansas City-based drug chain called Katz. I highly recommend reading “Look What the Katz Drug In” by Daniel Kirchheimer on the topic and the mysterious and cryptic numbering sequence associated with Shaeffer’s Lifetime nibs.

Katz Back Story

Founded in 1914, by the brothers Ike and Mike Katz, they opened two drug stores in Kansas City, Missouri. Katz’s claim to fame was their “cut [rate] prices.” At the start of World War I (for the US), Katz Drug Stores became famous when they were permitted to remain open for business past 6 pm despite the wartime curfews on nonessential businesses. Committed to having the lowest prices, they ate a new 10% tax on cigarettes instead of passing the cost to customers, thus their slogan “Katz pays the tax!” As time goes by, the company is bought and sold, eventually becoming part of CVS.

Katz Drug Store, Kansas City, Missouri

Tit for Tat

Skipping the legalese, Sheaffer refused to sell their pens to Katz because Katz would not honor Sheaffer’s fixed retail price (sounds a lot like Apple don’t you think?). Behind the scenes, Katz acquires quantities of Sheaffer Lifetime Fountain Pens and begins selling them at what they term “cut price.” Sheaffer responds by serializing the Lifetime nibs. Originally stamping a serial number on the top of the nib, then later stamping the underside with the same number. Katz simply removed the serial number from the nibs, claiming the serial number violates the Sherman Antitrust act. Sheaffer filed suit on 20 December 1930, claiming their Lifetime pens had been altered, mutilated, and damaged. Katz responded that any alteration, damage, or mutilation was done in response to the unlawful practice of Sheaffer for the sole purpose of identifying the dealers and resellers from whom Katz had acquired the pens.

Accusations, Depositions, Perjury

The legal wrangling spanned three years, attributable primarily to Sheaffer’s strategy of legal attrition against a smaller adversary. This is where Kirchheimer’s research becomes invaluable and for which I will rely heavily – why Sheaffer felt it needed to serialize the nibs used on its Lifetime pens.

At no time did Katz deny they were polishing off the serial numbers. They were clear, they engaged in removing the serial number to protect their suppliers from Sheaffer. Unable to identify the suppliers selling to Katz, Sheaffer takes the battle to the consumer, refusing to honor the pen Lifetime guarantee if the serial number is missing from the nib.

During a deposition in 1933, Craig Sheaffer explained the purpose of the serial number is not as Katz claims but instead is principally to limit their liability based on the Lifetime guarantee. He claimed that the Lifetime guarantee at times applied to only the nib while at other times to the entire pen and that the serial number system was the only practicable method of recording the type of guarantee under which the Lifetime Pen was sold.

Evidence to the contrary, Sheaffer had changed the guarantee from applying to the nib only to the entire pen well before the introduction of serial numbers. Maybe the serial number WAS the solution for an internal company problem. Craig Sheaffer stated the nib serialization was to ascertain the level of warranty, so why track pens’ distribution from their factory? The answer is obvious, it appears he conjured up a story to justify their actions. In short, he perjured himself.

How do we know Sheaffer was tracking the pens by their serial number, they published a list of serial numbers associated with pens reported stolen from shops. Declaring “these pens are contraband and if offered for sale by anyone other than the original purchasers should be seized and those offering them should be apprehended. If the serial numbers have been buffed off, the nibs are damaged beyond repair and have lost their Lifetime service, guarantee, and value.”

The Rest of the Story

In 1933, Sheaffer’s price-fixing is deemed illegal and Katz wins an injunction preventing Sheaffer from prosecuting its case against Katz for selling the mutilated pens. Ultimately, they agreed to let bygones be bygones and Sheaffer made Katz Drug a dealer. But not of their top-of-the-line brands, only for the penmaker’s secondary line of pens.

As pen collectors, we still do not know the logic or the use of the Lifetime serial numbers as it relates to dating pens. That secret remains buried in the company archives.

——————— Reference Material —————

Posted in Pens, Reviews

Esterbrook Jr (‘J Reborn’) Pocket Pen

The Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen is part of the modern Esterbrook’s revival of the brand with the pen being a call back to one of vintage Esterbrook’s most popular pens, the Esterbrook J.

I inked up my pen to start July and it was a bust. The ink simply stopped flowing. I felt I needed to give the pen a fair shake; an honest review and try using it again.

Back in the day (the 40s and 50s) the Esterbrook J series was as familiar as a Bic ballpoint or Pilot G2 gel pen today. They were affordable, dependable, and offered enough variety to be popular. The brand shuttered in 1971. The brand was reborn in 2014, Harpen Brand Holdings, acquired the rights to the “Esterbrook” brand name, releasing a series of pens. Four years later, Kenro Industries acquired the brand, making rebirth a tenant of the company’s vision. The JR Pocket Pen is modeled after the classic Esterbrook J.

Vintage J and the JR Pocket

My Pen

Is mostly a black pen with some noticeable silver swirls deep in the acrylic body and cap. This color is known as Tuxedo. I have a thing for black pens and this color scheme is intriguing to me. I was visiting the Esterbrook/Kenro web site, getting my facts correct when I saw a JR Pocket pen – Pumpkin Latte. I have to admit it is very attractive and worth a look if you have a thing for unique pens.

Writing with the JR is quite a pleasant experience. The lightweight acrylic section has a natural grip area, providing a comfortable place for fingers.

The nib of the pen is etched with the new Esterbrook X logomark upgrading the look, maybe they were inspired by Montblanc? The nib is a JoWo #6 B(road) palladium (their description). I assume it is stainless steel and the tip is palladium.

Esterbrook was known for their interchangeable nib system. The obvious question is “does the JR Pocket Pen have a converter to accept vintage Esterbrook nibs?” NOPE. Apparently, Esterbrook/Kenro has under development an adaptor for the JR Pocket Pen similar to the adapter available for the Estie. The adaptor permits using vintage Esterbrook nibs in the Esterbrook/Kenro pen. The adaptors are not interchangeable amongst Esterbrook/Kenro pens.

The section with the new style exchangeable nibs is worth noting. The section has metal screws to secure it to the barrel which has screws engraved into the acrylic- not sure how well this arrangement will last long term. The new nib screws into the section, protruding aft providing the nipple for the converter or ink cartridge.

Yes I paid a visit to the hobby supply store and they were have a 50% off sale on paper. I’m liking the Paisley – you?

I inked it up the converted with Serenity Blue. It took a little effort kick starting the ink flow but once it started…. I’ll use it for the next 2 weeks and report.

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length. 125.5mm
  • Uncapped length. 118mm
  • Barrel diameter. 11mm
  • Cap diameter. 13.5mm
  • Weighs in at. 18g
Posted in Ink, Pens

Hot, Hazy, and Humid; Their Effect on Pens and Ink

I was born and raised in the mid-Atlantic region on the US east coast. The weather forecast from June to late September is always “Hot, Hazy, and Humid.” The heat and humidity are so bad even weeds beg for someone to put them out of their misery. The tar bubbles up from the asphalt, and the creosote leaks out of the telephone poles. It is gross, the world is sticky and gummed up. This being the dog days of summer, a thought occurred to me, how does heat and humidity impact fountain pens?

Welp, I wish I found a definitive answer, instead I found a series of diverse thought-provoking prose. My initial thoughts about the impact heat and humidity have on pens and ink were in error. My assumptions were based on the popularity of eyedropper-style fountain pens in tropical and subtropical countries, such as India. Turns out the popularity is related to the heat and humidity – they accelerate the decomposition of the ink sac – duh, my bad. Cartridge and converter pens don’t suffer from this issue, but they hold very little ink in comparison to an Airmail which holds a small ocean of ink.


Humidity is moisture in the air. When the humidity is higher there is less room for additional moisture resulting in less evaporation directly impacting ink drying time.

Alternatively, paper is hygroscopic (water absorbing) and will absorb the moisture from the air. Humidity and changes in temperature can influence a paper’s weight, thickness, and rigidity. Ink viscosity increases at lower temperatures, which can restrict ink flow and density. While at high temperatures, ink viscosity decreases. Ink being primarily water contains humectants and variable viscosity associated with temperature might exacerbate things. Humectants are hygroscopic stuff that promotes the retention of moisture in water-based inks and paints.


Temperature primarily impacts viscosity but may cause the air in the pen ink reservoir to expand or contract thus impacting the ink flow. It is true that capillary action is greater at higher temperatures, but should be negatively impacted by high humidity and the hygroscopic properties of the paper. I read comments on FPN and Reddit, and contributors mention their ink color seems more saturated in the dry summer heat. Is this the result of greater capillary action or dye inks with greater color saturation?

The bottom line is this, Heat and Humidity will make your pen write drier or wetter based on these conditions, and the hygroscopic properties of your paper. They are bad for ink sacs thus causing issues for vintage pen owners. I know, Duh! Oh yeah, Hazy, has no impact on the function of your pen or the ink but it will result in respiratory conditions so stay inside, and enjoy the AC (airco) on those ozone alert days.

Posted in Pens, Stories

Esterbrook – Made in England – Too

Esterbrook, America’s Original Pen Company was established in 1858, yet in 1928 after the British Government introduced legislation to restrict the import of products from the United States, Esterbrook responded by entering into licensing arrangements with Conway Stewart for the “Relief Pen,” and John Mitchell to produce Esterbrook Pens to Birmingham, England. The John Mitchell Pen Work Factory was situated on the corner of Moland and Bagot Streets.

On 19 November 1940, the Moland Street factory was hit by an incendiary bomb, destroying half of the building. Unlike many other businesses bombed during the war, Esterbrook Hazell Pens was able to rebuild during the war. However, the British Government mandated that 50% of the building’s capacity be put to some government-related function. The government section was utilized by the Stationery Office and the Defence Department for ammunition quality assessment.

After the war, the British operations bought out John Mitchell, while the parent company acquired Hazell pens then Cushman & Denison. In 1960, The British operations of Esterbrook Pens merged with Cushman and Denison. Throughout the 1960s, Esterbrook UK did not simply rubber stamp the product lines of the US. Instead, British operations released the Valve Marker, Watercolour, Colourstick, Permanent Pen, and Notewriter under the Gem brand name.

The Esterbrook Pen Co was acquired by the Venus Pencil Co in 1967, which had a modern factory in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Production gradually transferred with production ceasing on Moland Street in 1972.

The “Conundrum” Pen

Made in England SJ-series? Hence known as the “Conundrum”

Esterbrook started marketing double jeweled J-series pens in 1948. The pen I have found is a double jeweled SJ. The J-series, double jeweled, made-in-England pens are identical in appearance to their US cousins. This pen does not have any familiar stainless steel accents. Instead, it is all gold-plated. The clip, cap-ring, and lever are missing their multiband/ring appearance. The cap-ring and clip are smooth with just the faintest trim. The lever is perfectly smooth just like the first generation of double jeweled J-series.

The cap clip is similar to both an Esterbrook Safari and Esterbrook Deluxe LK. The imprinted “Esterbrook” on the clip is worth noting. Please note the style of the “E.” Left is a Deluxe LK clip, and the right is a J-series. The Conundrum and Deluxe have the same style “E” while the J-series lettering is boxy and boring. The “Esterbrook” imprint on the Safari starts at the top like the Conundrum but in the same font as the J-series.

The Conundrum is plastic, not celluloid. It is not as soft as a US Pastel J-series pen. Compared to the SJ, the Conundrum is of equal length with the same type of black jewels, the cap is roughly 1mm longer and .5mm wider. The jewel bands are twice the width of those on the SJ.

Esterbrook Relief, Conundrum, SJ-Series

Printed on the cap is “Relief” F which is the type of oblique nib with a Fine point nib. The “35/-” specifies the price of the pen at 35 shillings.

The Conundrum has an ink sac but I’m not inking it up. The seller claimed it was NOS but there appears to be ink on the section. Instead, I’ll dip the nib and see how well it writes. It started a bit rough but once the ink was consistently flowing the friction stopped and it wrote smoothly. Since it is a fine nib and I’ve mentioned I have issues, I found it was biting the paper. A couple times it felt as if it would put a hole in the page.

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length. 122mm
  • Uncapped length. 108.5mm
  • Barrel diameter 11mm
  • Cap diameter 12mm
  • Weighs in at 14g

——————— Reference Material —————

Posted in Pens, Stories

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

At the beginning of July, I inked up the Esterbrook Jr, dressed in Tuxedo Black. This was the first time using this pen so I was super geeked. I am unhappy that it simply stopped writing after a week, but the converter is full of ink. Also at the beginning of the month, I mentioned that the color didn’t thrill me and still doesn’t.

The usual suspects are inked up and still in use; Pilot Prera, Esterbrook J, and the Scrikss 419 (with red ink).

For August, I am running with the Conklin Empire. I inked it up for the review, might as well run it dry. I’ll tell you how it fared next month.

Did you miss any of the past month blog posts? Welp, here is your chance to catch up…

  • It’s a new month, what’s in your pen cup? It’s a new month and time to shelve your current choice of pens in favor of new pens or those that may be long forgotten and feeling neglected. Also, let’s review how the pens from last month fared. A recap of the month’s postings.
  • Lifetime Guarantees and FTC US pen manufacturers began offering unconditional warranties on their top-line models. Resulting in the FTC outlawing “lifetime guarantees” – but did they?
  • The Conklin Empire (Strikes Back) Conklin Empire, does strike back – against the image Yafa Brands bring. The Empire is inspired by the last pen designed by Conklin prior to the acquisition and includes significant engineering options.
  • Handwriting, a Lost Art, or Victim of Technology and Common Core Standards Both handwriting and reading are interrelated. The ability to write by hand not only improves motor skills but also the ability to better generate ideas and retain information. So why is it a lost art?
  • Ink-o-graph Sty·lo·graph·ic Stylographic pens, sometimes called “stylos,” have a writing tip made of a metal tube with a fine wire inside to regulate the ink flow. Stylos predate fountain pens but are generally frowned upon by pen enthusiasts. My pen impressed me, living up to the sales hype from 1928.

In the News

Manufacturers, dealers, and lovers of fountain pens in India are feeling the effect of a 12% to 18% increase in GST on ink. The tax hike is bound to make the ink more expensive, coupled with a significant increase in the price of raw material and packaging, expect to see a negative impact on your wallet soon.


I was recently in attendance at the local Renaissance Festival; while enjoying a cider, turkey leg, and jousting, sitting near us was a young girl, she was 12ish and a “ginger” like her mom and brother. Sporting Elvish ear decorations (which went very well with her red hair – why I mention her hair color), she was alternating sketching with cheers of “Huzzah” during the jousting match. Yes, sketching, she had a small sketchbook, maybe 3×4″, a pencil – really just a stub with a metal end cap.

This made me recall the days when I was a boy and vacationing with my parents. I too would bring a sketchbook; however, my parents did not feel it was an appropriate use of my time. I can happily say this girl’s parents were encouraging her plus it was great to see a “young” person doing anything that did not involve a cell phone and the latest Tik-Tok challenge.