Posted in Pens, Stories

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

Just have to mention, that this is a special post – not because it is a new month but because this is the 101st blog post. Yup, I was so busy doodling I failed to notice the 100th blog post – yeah me! Who would have thought I could think up 100 topics relating to pens, etc..

At the beginning of June, I inked up an uncommon Parker Parkette circa 1951. I am happy to say it performed marvelously. The only issue, which was my fault, as I left it lying horizontally over the weekend and we had a “monsoonal” weather pattern blow through resulting in much-needed rain and a variety of pressure changes, thus causing the pen to leak. When you live at 7,000′ the weather can be crazy.

As a side note, the Parkette and the usual suspects all took part in the doodling post.

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

For July, I have inked up the Esterbrook Jr, in Tuxedo Black with Palladium trim (whatever that is). This is the first time I’ve used this pen so I am super geeked. It is sporting a steel Broad nib. The ink is DeAtramentis Document Brown. At first glimpse, the ink color does not impress me. More on that next month.

Did you miss any of any of these blog posts? 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 did the pens from the prior month fare? A recap of the month’s postings.
  • Wait, My Pen is Made of What Pens are manufactured from an interesting variety of materials, many of them you “know” but do you really? I’m willing to wager you will think twice before putting another pen in your mouth.
  • TWSBI, Nope, Notta, Not Now I had planned on spotlighting my TWSBI today but notta. Instead, I thought I’d highlight their poor behavior and bring you other Pen/Pencil-related news stories.
  • 10,004 Days (part 1) I am going way off topic but that is my prerogative. As a warning, if you are of a sensitive nature read no further, this doesn’t end well. This begins the 5th anniversary of the worse nightmare any parent will experience.
  • 10,004 Days (part 2) I am going way off topic but that is my prerogative. As a warning, if you are of a sensitive nature read no further, this doesn’t end well. Today marks the 5th anniversary of the worse nightmare any parent will experience, part 2.
  • The 1950’s Parker Parkette The Parkette is Parker’s first pen to make use of a lever-filling system, generally considered a third-tier pen. It is common for pen companies to introduce pens based on past names. Parker introduced this last model to the Parkette family in 1950.
  • Breathe Just Breathe(r Tube) Breather tubes were unknown to me until I unexpectedly ran into one in the 1951 Park Parkette. I got to thinking “what are breather tubes and why are they only in some pens?”
  • Doodling: Scribble absentmindedly, Stress relief, and Creativity A doodle as defined is “an aimless or casual scribble, design or sketch.” Or it’s a memory aid, a natural stress reliever, a creativity stimulus, and a relaxation tool.

In the News

There has been an update in the TWSBI drama. Narwhal and TWSBI have issued a joint statement (on Narwhal letterhead) announcing the cessation of hostilities. TWSBI has half-ass apologized and did not acknowledge their poor behavior unless you consider “any confusion” an acceptable definition of that behavior. I recommend this post on Rachel’s Reflections blog for an in-depth, cynical discussion of this topic.

Excerpt from the joint letter:TWSBI acknowledges that Narwhal has not violated any intellectual property rights of TWSBI or any third party. In particular, TWSBI’s primary concern was Narwhal’s use of the piston filler mechanism, which was the subject of U.S. Patent No. 1,706,616 titled “Fountain Pen” issued to Theodor Kovacs on March 26, 1929. This patent expired on March 26, 1946. After reaching an understanding on that issue, TWSBI has been convinced that its use of the terms “knock-offs,” “unethical,” and “design infringement” concerning the Narwhal fountain pens was unfortunate and retracts those terms. TWSBl and Narwhal agree the piston filler mechanism is available for anyone to use as a result of the expiration of the patent. TWSBI apologizes for any confusion that may have been caused by its statement sent to retailers.

Gianfranco Aquila, known as “The Lord of the pens,” and owner of “Montegrappa” and “Tibaldi” companies for over 40 years has died. To his credit, the Montegrappa name is now synonymous with Italian quality. No immediate successor has been named.

Posted in Nibs, Stories

Breathe, just Breathe(r Tube)

I hadn’t given breather tubes a second thought until I unexpectedly ran into one in a 1951 Park Parkette. I got to thinking “what are breather tubes and why are they only in some pens?”

What is a breather tube you ask? Welp, it is added to a filling system whose mechanism will not completely fill the ink reservoir with one cycle of compression and vacuum.

The breather tube is a thin tube inserted into a hole in the back end of the feed and extends into the ink reservoir; it permits complete filling in pens that require multiple operations of the filling mechanism.

They also control the airflow within the barrel, thus immediately balancing the pressure of the air inside the ink reservoir with that of the external air, because the breather tube provides a way for air to transition between inside and outside, thus reducing or eliminating the tendency of leakage at high altitudes, sometimes!

What? How does it work?

When a filler mechanism is engaged, it pushes air out of the reservoir up the ink channel in the feed and out through the breather hole and slit in the nib. The nib of the pen is submerged in ink, as the compression stage ends, a vacuum is created and the evacuated air is replaced with the ink drawn up through the same channel in the feed.

Breather tubes require modification to the feed. A hole is drilled into the reservoir end of the feed, in to which the breather tube is inserted. Perpendicular, a “blowhole” is added via the ink channel or the dorsal side of the feed connecting with the breather tube hole.

Parker Vacumatic feed

A breather tube (26), effectively extends the ink channel deep into the reservoir. Thus, when the filler mechanism is engaged, the air is forced out through the tube and the “blowhole” in the feed (16). The vacuum draws ink up the ink channel into the blowhole. As the blowhole is attached to the breather tube, the distance ink travels is farther so a better vacuum is created. As ink exits the breather tube it fills the reservoir while maintaining a vacuum. Once the ink level in the reservoir reaches the end of the breather tube (A), the vacuum is equalized and the pen is “full.”

From Parker patent 2,400,768

This sounds great – right, well it does come with a significant aggravation. The breather tube makes it difficult to completely empty the pen thus cleaning the reservoir is problematic.

Not all breather tubes address the issue of leakage and excess ink flow associated with high altitudes or air travel. The Parker patent 2,400,768 claims to address this issue. Breather tubes extending to the rear of the ink reservoir are prone to leakage caused by air pressure differential. The aft opening of these excessively long tubes is submerged in ink until the reservoir is almost empty – when carried nib up. The pressure differential associated with altitude changes causes the higher pressure in the reservoir to force ink out through the breather tube. Who knew patent applications could be interesting to read?

Contemporary Pens with Breather Tubes

Basically, any pen with a fixed squeeze filler, which is pretty uncommon, will use a breather tube, such as many of the Hero, the Bahadur, and the Dux models.

Posted in Collection, Pens, Restoration, Reviews, Stories

The 1950’s Parker Parkette

The Parkette

A family of pens manufactured by Parker, but generally considered a third-tier pen. Evolving from the Parco, Parkette produced began in 1932 and ran through 1941. The pen was Parker’s answer to inexpensive competition while providing the Parker name and mystique. The Parkette generally lacked the quality of flagship Parker pens of the time (Duofold, and Vacumatic).

The Parkette was Parker’s first pen to make use of a lever-filling mechanism. A common option amongst other manufacturers but not one Parker pens ever would regularly embrace. Eventually, the lever-fill mechanism would find its way into other “third-tier” Parker pens, including the Duo-Tone (not to be confused with Duofold) and the Writefine.

The 1950s Parkette

It is a common practice for pen companies to reintroduce former names as a means of adding nostalgia. Parker introduced one last model to the Parkette family in 1950. The new pen included a lever-filling system and contemporary styling (a metal cap and a hooded nib). The newest Parkette did not fare well against period Parker’s.

My Pen

I have a grey 1951 Parkette. It is in very good shape, without any bite marks, or scratches, but it leaks. I know grey is boring but I like it with the shiny metal cap. It appears to have the same “defect” other hooded Parker’s shared – a gap between the hood and the nib. While researching the Parkette, it seems this pen is not favored amongst collectors and is considered cheap and not worthy of the time and effort to repair it – got my attention now.

This seemed odd to me, when I removed the ink sac I found the pen had a breather tube (more on these another day). A breather tube is used in better pens when the filling system fails to completely fill the reservoir with one cycle of compression and vacuum. This is a feature commonly not found in cheap pens and I would know, I have 3 Arnolds.

Refurbishment

I replaced the too-short ink sac, being careful not to remove the breather tube. I tried to remove the hood but found it is held firm by glue. I made a valent effort to remove it but when all options failed and applying solvents was the only choice, I stopped. The cap retention ring thingy was a little tarnished, nothing a Sunshine cloth could not remedy. The only real damage is a minute amount of brassing on the cap clip.

Not wanting to leave the feed, nib and breather tube as is, I used a bulb syringe to flush them out. I was surprised to see flakes of dried ink accumulate in the sink. My concern appeared warranted.

All done and ready to ink up and give it a go.

Welp, I’m happy to say it writes well. It is a fine point nib which is not one of my faves but this one does very well. The nib is a little wet but that may be excess ink from the filling fixing in the hood.

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length. 132mm
  • Uncapped length. 121mm
  • Barrel diameter 11mm
  • Cap diameter 12mm
  • Weighs in at 16g

For a “cheap” pen not worthy of my time, the only complaint is a manufacturing defect (in my opinion). The cap is secured is pressure the cap retention ring thingy. The pen lacks a clutch ring as found in a 51, thus the cap is not adequately secured. I picked it up one day by the cap and the pen went flying. Luckily I made a good catch.

Posted in Pens, Stories

Wait, my pen is made from WHAT?

Some time ago, I was researching something (the first thing to go is your mind) when a revelation hit me, “wow they produce pens using all kinds of weird stuff.” I started taking notes, found websites providing generic dictionary-style explanations, and well that wasn’t going to work.

As I am not a chemist if I misspeak, my apologies, and please feel free to correct me. Also, if by chance you manufacture your own pens, feel free to comment.

I came across this quote and burst out laughing. I knew then I had to learn more.

“Casein doesn’t burn well but a celluloid pen in flames is memorable.” Deb @ goodwriterspens.com

Pen Material

Thermosets vs Thermoplastics: Thermoset is a material that creates bonds between polymer strands forming a tangled grid when heated that cannot be remolded or reheated after the initial forming. While thermoplastics can be reheated, remolded, and cooled repeatedly without causing any chemical changes.

Bakelite. It is not often used for pens due to its brittleness. It is the first plastic made from synthetic components via the condensation reaction of phenol with formaldehyde (thermosets).

Celluloid (trade names Permanite, Stonite, Pyralin). The first widely-manufactured synthetic plastic combining cellulose nitrate with camphor and alcohol. It replaced ebonite in the late 1920s. It can be made in virtually any color or pattern, and is easy to machine, yet slow to produce and is flammable. As celluloid ages, the camphor molecules are ‘squeezed’ out causing deterioration generally known as “celluloid rot.” Celluloid was replaced by cheap plastics in the 1940s. Celluloid acetate is not celluloid.

Pen Injection Mold

Casein aka Galalith (trade names Casolith, Lactoloid, Aladdinite). A milk-derived plastic, susceptible to moisture. Derived from 80% of the phosphoproteins in cow’s milk. It is rarely seen in American pen production but is more commonly used in the UK and Europe. It is a synthetic plastic material produced by the interaction of casein and formaldehyde.

Photo credit: Crimshaw.com

Ebonite (hard rubber or vulcanite). Early naturally-derived plastic is made by vulcanizing latex rubber with a large proportion of sulfur (25% to 80%) and linseed oil. Used to manufacture fountain pens until the late 1920s, thereafter primarily used to produce pen feeds and sections. The origin of the name reflects its intended use as an artificial substitute for ebony wood (thermosets).

Plastic. A generalization referring to celluloid, resin, and acrylic. Excludes hard rubber even though hard rubber is technically plastic.

Resin (aka Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene or ABS). A fancy modern name for plastic (honestly how else can one justify sales prices for a “plastic pen”). Resin actually undergoes a chemical reaction in the mold and cures from a liquid into a solid (thermosets).

Acrylic Resin (trade names Lucite or Perspex). Parker 51s is acrylic resin. It is typically derived from acrylic acid, methacrylic acid, and butyl acrylate, and/or methyl methacrylate. In the case of acrylic, the material is melted and poured into the mold to cool (thermoplastics).

How can I tell what my pen is made of?

Firstly, you must have an idea of your pen’s age, then as a general rule, pens predating 1925 are usually made of hard rubber, casein, transparent bakelite, or celluloid. Multicolored pearlescence or translucent pens are typically celluloid, as are most streamlined pens. Postwar, most penmakers transitioned from celluloid to cellulose acetate and injection-moldable polymer plastics (thermoplastics).

Hard rubber is easily identified by its distinctive smell (like a tire). Wet a celluloid pen and it gives off a distinctive smell (odor of camphor – honestly I have no idea what camphor smells like). You can also, test for celluloid by removing a tiny, tissue-thin shaving from the inside of the cap or barrel. Place the shaving on a glass slide, then add a drop of acetone. If the shaving is celluloid, it will dissolve; if casein, bakelite, or acrylic nothing will happen.

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Posted in Pens, Stories

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

The only May flowers are the ones I planted. I started May with a Shaeffer Taranis, sporting a medium nib. The Taranis was inked up with De Atramentis, Fog Grey. Personally, I would rename the ink “Blue Fog.” The pen performed great, and the ink impressed me.

Still inked up and in service are the Pilot Prera, Esterbrook J, and the Scrikss 419 (with red ink).

The usual suspects inked up and ready for use

For the new month, I pulled out a 1950’s Parker Parkette. As with similar Parker pens of the era, the new Parkette sported a hooded nib. The Parkette is inked up with De Atramentis, Dark Green, because it is Springtime and if I had grass….

Yes, this is a Parker lever-filled pen.

In case you missed any of these last month…

  • Storing Your Pen Up/Down or Somewhere Between. A topic near and dear to my heart. Mostly I think it is because I use vintage pens and some are in need of heat setting their feeds. My problems started last summer when my vintage Esterbrook and Duofold pens both decided to leak excessively into their caps…
  • Happy Nurse’s Day – Pen Sets. “Nurse’s Pens” are a genre of fountain pens that were marketed to nurses throughout the 1940s and 50s, mainly by Waterman and Esterbrook. So why did nurses need specialized fountain pens?
  • The Airplanes go up, and down, and all around with me and my pen aboard. When traveling try to carry or store fountain pens with their nibs facing up if at all possible. When flying, temperature and air pressure change quickly causing the ink to change, especially in volume. So how best to transport a fountain pen in a plane?
  • Esterbrook M2 Aerometric Pen. Esterbrook introduced their first aerometric filler called “M2.” The pen sported a metallic cap and a funky plastic barrel, but otherwise a nice vintage everyday pen with a 1950’s nostalgic look.
  • The Pens of Madman. Madmen, a show renowned for its attention to period detail which included a variety of era-specific pens. But where did they find the pens?
  • Mabie Todd Swan Leverless. The Swan Leverless model featured a special filling system that makes the pen appear to have a blind cap of a piston for vacuum filler. Looks can be deceiving.

Two questions, are you enjoying the new background paper? I’ve used many of the new sheets in the May posts and as always, what’s in your pen cup?

Posted in Restoration

Mabie Todd Swan Leverless

Company Back Story

Mabie Todd is one of the longest-lived manufacturers of writing instruments. Tracing its roots via gold nib and pencil manufacture to the 1840s. The company proper was established in 1860 in New York City. Swan pens were introduced in 1887, with UK production beginning in 1905.

Mabie Todd became a wholly-owned British company in 1915, with US manufacturing continuing until the late 1930s. Mabie Todd and the Swan were successful, known internationally as “the pen of the British Empire.” Although the company initially prospered in the postwar period, production ceased before the end of the ’50s.

Leverless

The Swan Leverless model featured a unique filling system, patented in 1932. It appears the pen is a piston filler or has a blind cap at the aft end of the barrel. Nope. Rotating the end cap one-half of a turn causes a metal bar to sweep the interior of the barrel. In doing so it compresses the ink sac. Rotate the cap back into position and allows the ink sac to expand again, filling with ink. A breather hole in the barrel facilitates air ventilation into the pen’s body as the ink sac is depressed.

Mabie Todd Swan Leverless sweep bar. The screw extends through the end of the barrel and the cap attaches to it.

Interestingly, the ink sac needs to completely fill the inside of the barrel. The use of an undersized sac will negate the sweeping action and the sac will not fill with ink.

Replace the sac

The section fits into the barrel via a friction fit. What makes the sac replacement of the leverless system unique is the need to remove the nib and feed from the section. Reinstall the section and set (fulling expand) the sac within the barrel by inserting a chopstick or similar item via the hole in the section. Only then are the nib and feed installed.

My Pen

I believe this pen to be an early version as it has a flat top and a Swan ‘medallion’ set into the cap. The pen is most likely ebonite, as determined by the smell – of old tires

My Swan appears to be a model L470/60, though there are no numbers on the pen. The pen is finished in black with a gold cap clip and gold cap ring. The barrel imprints are clear and sharp. This model and trademark logo date the pen to around 1934.

The nib is a Swan 3 while the feed has “Swan M2” stamped on it, and “Swan” stamped on the section. There are no other markings on the pen.

The top of the cap has the gold swan ‘medallion’ embedded in the blind cap and the Swan symbol stamped on the clip.

I did not notice any brassing on the clip or the cap ring.

I inked up the pen and gave it a go. The nib has a lot of flexibility but it is a fine nib (not a fave). The ink unfortunately, writes very wet. Combined with a flexible nib and cheap paper – the result it is not an impressive. I cannot blame the pen.

The ink is Scribo Grigio

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length. 127mm
  • Uncapped length. 116mm
  • Barrel diameter 11mm
  • Cap diameter 13mm
  • Weighs in at 17g

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Posted in Stories

The Pens of Madman

I’m a big fan of the AMC TV series Madmen. For those of you not familiar with the show the phrase “Madmen” is a slang term coined in the 1950s by advertisers working on Madison Avenue to refer to themselves. The series is a drama about one of New York’s most prestigious ad agencies during the 1960s. It follows the firm’s talented ad executive, Donald Draper. The series ran from July 2007 to May 17, 2017. The show won 79 awards during its run, including 16 Emmys, 5 Golden Globe, 3 Best TV Series, and 14 Writes/Directors/Producers/Screen Actors Guild awards.

Why am I blogging about a TV show that has been out of production for 5 years? Welp, the show is renowned for its attention to period detail, and that detail included a variety of era-specific pens. The 5-year anniversary of the series finale episode was last Tuesday (17 May). Lacking a show worthy of my attention I recently binged the series – again – but this time I tried (mostly failing) to pay attention to the pens used in the show.

Scott Buckwald (Prop master): Well, pencils are pencils. There’s no change in the pencils, and a lot of offices were using ballpoint pens. Fountain pens had largely disappeared. Certainly for formal use, the fountain pen was still there, but not as an everyday office tool.

I began by researching the desk pen sets used as props in the show. Research turned up a variety of topics/discussions on the FPN, on Hollywood prop auctions, on Reddit, and on Pinterest but no definitive information as to the brands. Some think the pen set seen on Don Draper’s desk is a Cross, while others say it is Sheaffer and yet another believes it is a “Hero Dual” set making it a Papermate. I have no idea what brand(s) were used.

The show needed period-specific pens appropriate for secretarial use in the 60s. The prop master found a pen collector in Texas; George Fox a pen enthusiast without equal, has amassed a collection in excess of 2,000 pens. Some of which you can see in action throughout the series.

Photo credit; My Supplyroom by George Fox

Period Specific Prop Pens:

The show uses period-specific ballpoint pens by Sheaffer, Papermate, Scripto, Bic Cristal, Parker Touché, and Jotter. Fox said the Scripto was difficult to work with since it was cheap, and the refills are nonstandard, making them difficult to find.

Here, Don Draper is seen using a Parker 51. I considered and eliminated the Parker 61, Parker 21, and Parker 45. Eliminating the “21” was easy, production ceased in 1959, and what successful advertising agent would be caught dead using a high-end school pen.

I’m really going out on the limb but I believe Bertram Cooper is seen using a Montblanc Meisterstück 642.

The pen Cooper is using has the tell-tail Montblanc black barrel with a single gold ring at the section and at the aft end. I feel it looks more like an MB Meisterstück Solitaire Doué, but that model was not marketed until 1986.

Joan’s favorite piece of jewelry is undoubtedly her pen necklace. The necklace can be interpreted to represent her humble roots in the secretarial pool, or her ambition, her desire to be financially independent.

There is no prop more identified with the show than Joan Harris/Holloway’s signature gold pen necklace. I could not find the name of the actual pen used in her wardrobe. Even the costume designer does not say, but I did learn that after the series finale … as the actress was packing her things, the pen necklace went home with her.

Posted in Pens, Reviews, Stories

Esterbrook M2 Aerometric Pen

Company Back Story

Esterbrook introduced their first aerometric filler in the late 1950’s calling it the M2. The pen sported a metallic cap and plastic barrel in a period favorite color. The plastic used is soft compared to other pens, or but typical of late Esterbrook manufacture. M2’s are easily recognizable by their indented cap and plastic threads.

Esterbrook marketed for a limited time, a contemporary version of the M2. The new M2 Series incorporated the design of the original model with subtle modern details. The contemporary M2 Series is made from a special resin material developed to authenticate the feel and colors of the 1950’s. Each pen features a brushed metal cap and a specially design clip. The barrel has been etched and colored with an updated Esterbrook logo. Photo Credit: Fahrney’s Pens

My Pen

This M2 is in great shape, no scratches, no teeth marks. I even like the color of blue, seems very 1950’s to me. The pen has an aerometric filler. Admittedly, this is my first pen with an aerometric filler.

M2 Aerometric Filler

The plastic of the barrel and section “feels” odd to me if that makes sense. It’s doesn’t have a hard feeling like celluloid or acrylic, nor is it soft, it simply feels like plastic. The section is made of the same plastic as are the cap threads. The plastic threads are a concern. I imagine with some less meticulously maintain pens the cap threads are stripped.

The metallic cap has horizontal etched rings. Esterbrook is engraved on the cap band, M2 models are easy to spot because of the unique top of the cap – it dips in.

The aft end of the barrel is an air hole but honestly I spent a week looking at other examples under the assumption there was a jewel from the end, but noooooo.

The pen writes nicely, here I was using an Esterbrook 2668 Firm Medium nib. In my hand, the weight and size of the pen are most agreeable. I don’t post the cap. The ink is De Atramentis Black Red.

Bottom Line

I enjoyed using the pen. It feels comfortable when in hand. The Aerometric filler works well. The feel of the plastic is not something I’m familiar with and the air hole in the end is well ugly and cheap looking.

Overall, I am happy with the pen. It makes a nice vintage everyday pen with a 1950’s nostalgic look.

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length. 134mm
  • Uncapped length. 124mm
  • Barrel diameter 11mm
  • Cap diameter 12mm
  • Weighs in at 18g
  • Esterbrook.Net; M2
Posted in Ink, Pens, Stories

The Airplanes go up, and down, and all around with me and my pen aboard

Atmospheric pressure is assumed to be a constant everywhere, but it isn’t. The constant flow of air around the planet brings with its fluctuations in the local air pressure. Normally not an issue for fountain pen users. Altitude also impacts air pressure and does spell troubles for fountain pen users. Why you ask, the sudden drop of pressure outside the pen can lead to a lot of ink being forced out of the pen by a trapped bubble of high-pressure air from a lower altitude.

Do not, become complacent in the belief that modern pressurized aircraft will eliminate the issue unless you are flying out of the lofty airports in these cities: Shennongjia, China; Toluca, Mexico; Arequipa, Peru; Bogota, Columbia, and Cuenca, Ecuador – all located 8,000 feet above sea level (roughly 2,500 meters), or about 75% of the pressure at sea level.

Have you ever opened a bottle of water in mid-flight seal it then looked at it once the plane lands?

Three Options

  • The single best way to avoid ink leakage on a plane is to travel with your fountain pens empty. No ink, no leak.
  • The second best way to avoid problems is to travel with the pen nib pointing up, as cabin pressure changes shouldn’t result in the pen leaking. But if the nib is pointing down or horizontally, it will most assuredly result in some ink leakage.
  • There are those who subscribe to the idea of traveling with an inked fountain pen and keeping it filled with as much ink as possible. The less air there is in the ink reservoir, the less room for an air bubble and the less likely it will leak.

Using the pen in Flight

Using a fountain pen in flight? Yes, once the plane is at cruising altitude it is safe to take the pen out and begin writing. A little care is prudent. Some caps seal extremely well, and pressure equalization within the pen won’t happen until the pen is uncapping. It is best to hold the pen, and nib up, when removing the cap. Also, have a cloth or tissue handy just in case there is a splatter from ink trapped in the feed.

Bottom Line

I do not subscribe to flying with a pen completely full of ink, as it is nearly impossible to achieve. But a little bit of planning will reap benefits and prevent embarrassment.

  • When traveling with fountain pens in a briefcase or backpack, empty them.
  • If a fountain pen is riding in a pocket, as full as possible is preferable, there will be no space to trap air in the reservoir. It is important to keep the nib pointing up to prevent issues.

If vintage fountain pens are your thing and they are accompanying you on the flight, Sheaffer Snorkels, and Parker “51”s, they are less likely to cause issues but they are still subject to leaking. Generally speaking, contemporary pens seem to travel more reliably.

In conclusion, keep fountain pens as full as possible, or completely dry when flying. Give them at least half a chance to not let you down.

Do you fly with fountain pens? What are your experiences?

Posted in Pens, Stories

Happy Nurse’s Day – Pen Sets

At the end of the 19th century, “The Lady With the Lamp” — or as she is more widely known, Florence Nightingale — founded modern nursing. Each year, in recognition of the importance nurses, play in our lives, a week is dedicated to all things nursing beginning on “Nurse’s Day” and ending on May 12th, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. I’m highlighting specialty pens used by nurses before the digital age.

“Nurse’s Pens” are a genre of fountain pens that were marketed to nurses throughout the 1940’s and 50’s, mainly by Waterman and Esterbrook. Scheaffer also had a minor role in the nurse pen market.

Why did nurses need a specialized fountain pen? Because hospital medical charts were written by hand in different colored inks designating the shift. These pens came with different colored top jewels, in black, green, and red – representing all three common nursing shifts at the time: 7am to 3pm (BLACK ink), 3-11pm (GREEN ink), 11pm-7am (RED ink).

Waterman’s made different varieties of nurse’s pens, their standard set came in “lustrous satin Pearl of white.” They offered the most diverse options, including sets with one pen and a pencil, sets with two pens for two different colors of inks, and sets with a pen case that included a thermometer inside!

Esterbrook manufactured a series of small, white Nurse’s Pens based on their J-Series. Their pens had colored cap jewels, in the familiar black, green, and red to coordinate with the nurse’s work shifts, The green jeweled pens are the least common, while black jeweled pens are the most common.

My Esterbrook Nurse’s Pen Set

I picked up an Esterbrook Nurse Pen set (a pen and pencil) which clearly involved a mix and matching of various pens. The cap of the pen matches the pencil while the barrel is noticeably more white, but that’s ok. I haven’t begun their restoration. It doesn’t appear much is needed. The pencil works, and I believe a new sac is installed. We shall see.

I imagine different pens for different work shifts seem archaic, but how can we appreciate where we are today if we don’t know where we’ve been. At one time, the pen was a necessary nursing tool and the color of ink on the paper patient chart could be vitally important with respect to patient diagnosis and care.

Let’s add some perspective, in 1946, a Register Nurse could expect to earn $170-$175 per month and pay $8.50 for a Waterman Nurse pen set (5% of her monthly salary). That same pen today would set a nurse back $130, which is way more than the cost of a decent stethoscope.

Pen Vital Statistics

  • Capped length. 121mm
  • Uncapped length. 110mm
  • Barrel diameter 11mm
  • Cap diameter 12mm
  • Weighs in at 12g