Posted in Pens, Stories


Oops, I’m doing it again. The good news still – this isn’t going to be a regularly featured post, only when I’m feeling inspired (or lazy) I will dig up and share an original post from yesteryear. I opted for an unusual pen, from a manufacturer not known for their pens. They made beautiful overlays. Corrected the spelling and grammar issues, plus I polished up the story a bit but only just a bit.

This Throwback Thursday post is going way, way back. I’m presenting my George W Heath lanyard pen. It is 90+ years old and there is a lesson to learn. Click the Ping Back to read the full story.

Geo W Heath before I “restored” it

This pen has the phrase “Blue Bird Ring” prominently imprinted above the company logo. In the 1920s, Stein & Ellbogen of Chicago used the trade name “Bluebird Diamond” to market their bridal line of rings. Could this pen belong to the Stein & Ellbogen company? Can’t you just imagine a salesperson helping some nervous young man pick out the perfect engagement ring. Afterwards using this pen to write up the sales receipt?

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Posted in Material, Pens, Stories

Casein “the most beautiful of plastics.”

Casein aka Galalith (from Latin caseus, “cheese”) is a milk-derived plastic, susceptible to moisture. A synthetic plastic derived from 80% of the phosphoproteins in cow’s milk, and formaldehyde. It is rarely seen in American pen production; however, it is more commonly found in UK pens.

Identifying casein can be done by appearance and smell; rather than camphor, casein smells like antler, horn, or ivory, or vaguely like scorched hair. It appears more dull than celluloid and the curing process creates wavy striations. Alternatively, try the feel and color test. Is the pen a Conway Stewart model, highly colored and has an irregular colorful pattern? If the answer is yes to all these, it could well be casein. Hold the pen it in your hand, does it feel warm to the touch? Yes – chances are it is casein.

Casein has been described as “the most beautiful of plastics.” It takes a wide variety of colors including delicate pastel shades, pearls, and mottles, and can imitate tortoiseshell and horn.

Do’s and Don’ts

Never, ever, never soak a casein fountain pen in water to remove ink stains or dried ink. Casein will expand by about 10% and become very soft losing its shape in as little as 2 hours = damaged beyond repair.

In his memoir, Walter A. Sheaffer recounts how Sheaffer once produced a line of colored casein pens which proved quite popular until the Midwestern summer caused the casein to swell and the sections fell out. The heat was identified as the cause. But I’m willing to bet the high humidity was most likely the cause.

Casein does not seem to be the ideal material to make fountain pens but it does produce BEAutiful pens. How about these three?

Photo credit:
Photo credit: Peytonstreet pen

Conway Stewart is the manufacturer most often associated with casein pens. They only recently (by 2010) shuttered their casein pen production. Their remaining casein pen blanks were sold off to independent pen manufacturers.

Photo credit: Peytonstreet pen

Make you own

There are people who make their own pens. Some do this for fun, while for others it is a vocation. Both invest in equipment and supplies. I have found casein “blanks” as well as casein look-a-like blanks for pen manufacturing.

Some of the Conway Stewart casein blanks are absolutely stunning. The point is if you make pens, you can use this material (I would really enjoy owning a casein pen – just saying).

Casein is a “compressed form of the primary protein from milk,” what should the DIY pen guys consider when working with this material? I found a very informative thread on the International Association of Penturners (IAP) website, which I will summarize.

  • Working with casein is not always the easiest, it is not very strong.
  • At all times keep the material cool, use a spray bottle of cool water with each step.
  • Do not drill or turn at high speed – use a slow speed.
  • Use sharp carbide tools.
  • Slow-speed sanding or the casein will burn (turn brown) and smell like burnt milk!
  • The most important word of advice… be patient…take your time.

If you have small kids and enjoy home science projects, welp, I have a project for you. Make your own casein.

Owning a casein pen comes with responsibilities. As an owner, it is imperative you gain an appreciation for the qualities that make this pen unique. I do not own one but one day I will find a Conway Stewart casein pen that wins me over.

If you own one please chime in, I’d love to learn of your experiences.


Posted in Reviews

“Black Tie” Optional

Company Backstory

Monteverdi is a US pen manufacturer that was purchased by Yafa which owns Conklin, Monteverdi, Marlen, Stipula, Maiora, Tibaldi, Diplomat, Pineider, Yookers, and Delta pen brands. Yafa has a very polarizing effect on pen users, either they love them or hate them – there is a very little grey. I happily am one of the few in the grey. The Monteverdi is my second pen within their portfolio. After a quick review of my blog, you will see I have written about the Yafa Conklin brand – sometimes good and sometimes not.

I decided to dip my toe into the Monteverdi catalog of pens. The Black Tie pen appealed to me. I researched, read some favorable and not-so-favorable reviews, and decided on the Black Tie. I got lucky and found a used Black Tie, agreeably priced so I took the plunge.

My Pen

The pen is a Monteverdi Invincia Black Tie made of carbon fiber surrounded by a clear lacquer finish. So what is Carbon Fiber? Welp, according to Wikipedia, it is the product resulting when carbon atoms are bonded together in crystals creating a fiber’s long axis with a high strength-to-volume ratio (in other words, it is strong for its size). Several thousand carbon fibers are bundled together and woven into a fabric. Carbon fibers are often combined with other materials to form a composite.

The carbon fiber that makes the barrel color scheme is achieved by weaving black and white ribbons of carbon fiber fabric.

Back to the pen, all accents (clip, section, end caps, barrel/cap rings, etc) are mirror chrome and sporting a medium stainless steel nib. The lacquer finish makes the pen feel cold and slippery. The cap is a snap-on.

The section unscrews providing access to a removable ink converter. The converter is made of semi-translucent green plastic thus making it impossible to know the color of the ink in the reservoir.

I inked up the pen and the ink started flowing immediately. The nib is a bit scratchy, (one of the reasons I laugh at the iridium claim) but otherwise writes well, for the price.

The Issue

As I mentioned, the cap is a snap-on, which I don’t feel securely attaches to the barrel. The slightest pressure will force the cap loose.

I was seated on the patio as I reached for the pen, securing hold of it by the cap, and weeeeeee the pen went flying across the patio. The result was a bent tine which I did correct with some effort using dapping tools.

I haven’t detected any damage to the writing surface on the tines.

I have been applying multiple coats of shellac to the inside of the cap in the hope it will result in the cap becoming more secure. So far I am still hoping.

After fixing the bent tine, I was feeling a Dilbert moment. As you can see the pen wrote well.

The Opinion

The bottom line is this, the pen cap does not securely attach to the barrel and it will come off. Possibly resulting in damage to the nib. This is very disappointing as I like the pen.


  • Capped length: 135mm
  • Uncapped length: 124mm
  • Barrel Diameter: 13.5mm
  • Cap Diameter: 14.5mm
  • Weighs in at 47g
Posted in Pens, Refurbish, Reviews

Conklin Crescent Model 50

Company Back Story:

Roy Conklin’s patented the design for the first self-filling pen in 1897, his company to thrived and gained the approval of author Mark Twain, who became the official spokesperson for the Conklin brand. His great innovation was the distinctive crescent filler. This model is renowned for being the first mass-produced self-filling pen as well as the first mass-produced pen to use a flexible rubber ink sac. Patents for the pen were granted in 1901 and 1903. Production continued until 1930ish when the design was retired in favor of a lever-filler design.

Early pens dating to 1907 have unmarked crescents while pens made up to 1920 have the crescents marked “CRESCENT-FILLER/TRADE MARK” on one side only. Pens dating from the 1920s have crescents with marks on both sides.

My Pen:

My pen is a Crescent Model 50 (aka S5) with a #5 nib and surprise it was in working order when I purchased it. Someone replaced the ink sac but didn’t bother to clean the crescent, the pressure bar was highly oxidized. The nib we’ll talk about later. The pen is black chased ebonite (hard rubber) and is in excellent shape – for its age (it’s like 102-104 years old). There are no cracks, the chasing is distinct and the logo imprint is crisp. There is some brassing at each end of the cap clip and the crescent. The pen color was black originally but has an ever so slight brownish tint. I don’t believe it has been chemically treated to return the black color.

The crescent only has markings on one side, establishing the pen as the second model (1908-1920). The cap clip contains the patent date May 28,1918, thus dating the pen between 1918-1920.

The nib is a semi-flex gold #5 Toledo, it writes Fine. I tried removing the nib and feed from the section but they are held fast. I polished the top as best I could but the underside is still a little dirty and the feed is misaligned. I’ll get to those soon.

The pen was dirty when I purchased it but nothing a Sunshine cloth couldn’t handle. The haze of dirt was quickly removed producing a typical ebonite lacquer-like gloss.

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length, 143mm
  • Uncapped length, 132mm
  • Barrel diameter, 12mm
  • Cap diameter, 14mm
  • Weighs in at 20g

Ok time to ink it up and give it a go! The nib is flexible. A little scratchy as the ink starts to flow but that stops after a letter or two. It is a wet nib, the ink likes to flow.

Posted in Pens, Stories

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

In mid-July, I inked up the Conklin Empire for a review. I was so amazed when the converter was completely filled I continued using the pen until it ran dry. I am happy to say the pen did not disappoint. The first Conklin I’ve purchased that I enjoyed straight out of the box.

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

Last month I bad-mouthed the Esterbrook JR; however, I gave it another go and this time the results were different. To be honest I believe the issue is in part caused by the nib. The pen is using a Broad nib and when the ink level gets low in the converter, there is a pressure issue and the ink stops feeding. You can read more about the review below.

For September, I am running with the used Monteverdi Invincia Black Tie pen I picked up. As I plan on publishing a review later this month, it seemed like an opportune moment to ink it up.

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? Let’s see how I started August with a review of July. 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.
  • Esterbrook – Made in England – Too Esterbrook, America’s Original Pen Company by the 1930s, they entered into licensing arrangements with John Mitchell to produce Esterbrook Pens in Birmingham, England. Then the acquisitions began.
  • Hot, Hazy, and Humid; Their Effect on Pens and Ink Does heat and humidity impact fountain pens?
  • Esterbrook Jr (‘J Reborn’) Pocket Pen Back in the day (the 40s and 50s) the Esterbrook J series was as familiar as a Bic pen. They were affordable and dependable. 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.
  • Katz Drug, Sheaffer Pen and Serial Numbers Sheaffer Pens vs Katz Drug and the origin of the mysterious and cryptic numbering sequence associated with their Lifetime nibs. Sounds intriguing?
  • #Throwback Thursday This is not a new idea, matter of fact it is probably passé. From time to time when I’m feeling inspired (or lazy), I will dig up and share an original post from yesteryear. This time I am highlighting the Ambassador pen.
  • Ebonite; Mottled, Woodgrain and Ripple I love ebonite pens, especially those that are dyed a color or mottled, etc. Why you ask? Let me tell you.

In the News

I was unsuccessful in my endeavor for interesting pen news but I cannot seem to get away from book banners – they provide such great entertainment.

Book Ban Backfire: Texas School District…

“A Texas school district has pulled dozens of challenged books from its library shelves—including the Bible—just before the start of the academic year under a new policy introduced by conservative leaders. The books were snatched up due to a new compliance policy the school district’s board adopted Aug. 8. The new policy requires every once-challenged book to go through a review process.”


This feels a bit “different” than most months, not in a bad way, just a little different.  Normally, I seek out pens with the owner’s name imprinted on them just so I can research the owner.  I know – loser – right?  Anyway, last month there was a Parker 51 I was watching with a unique name imprinted on it.  I did the usual groundwork and contacted the seller, and they had the estate info, etc.  Did some research on Ancestry, then I made a half-hearted bid, and lost.  Meh, I simply wasn’t interested.  I must be falling ill or something.

Straight from the pages of “You aren’t going to believe this….” I have 4 pens in rotation and 3 of the 4 pens ran out of ink within hours of each other. What are the odds?

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.

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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.