I live in Krakow (Poland) and I thought I'd drop a line about Marian Grega, who, at 89 and still working, is probably one of the oldest pen repairers in the world. His workshop has been at the same address since 1947 , but Mr Grega started repairing pens before that.
When the Second World War started, Mr Grega, who is also born in Krakow, left for Czestochowa and started working, at 15, at the Omega pen factory (this Polish brand is now actually "revived" and they are making various models of school pens). "I got in touch with pens and was stuck with them forever," he says. Coming back to Krakow, he then started working in a stationary shop, whose owner was Jewish and was eventually sent to the getto. But before that, he managed to teach Mr Grega what he knew (and probably because of his Jewish teacher, when I bring him an awful pen he says "do you know what this is? schmelz!" (garbage in Yiddish) At 18, in 1942, Mr Grega took the craftsmanship exam and started repairing pens. Two years after the war ended, he opened his own shop where it still stands (open from 11 AM to 4 PM) and where he works alone.
He does not complain of a lack of customers - sometimes he gets literally bags of pens from the post office, from all over Poland and abroad. He says that fountain pens are not just a temporary fashion, all kinds of people bring him pens to repair - from schoolchildren to Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz and director Andrzej Wajda.
Holder of "Artisan's Registration Card" (a document issued as soon as Krakow was freed from German occupation) number 12, he says that he remembers when an apprenticeship was a serious undertaking and complains that there is no-one to follow his lead. According to him, it would take someone two years of work under his supervision to qualify as true repairman - "there are hundreds of different pens and they all have something different," he says.
He has repaired many of my pens, from 100-year-old safeties and "lucky curves" to newer Parkers. Incidentally, I agree with Richard Binder that Noodler's inks are not good for pens. I unfortunately bought many and they can only be used with dip-pens as a lot of them contain solid materials - just let the bottle settle down for a few weeks and you'll see the "powder" at the bottom - how can something solid not clog a pen? Once I brought Mr Grega a pen which had used Noodler's Black Matter and he laughed and said "have you been using China ink in this pen?". But hats off to their marketing.
He also told me that "Lucky Curve" pens, in Poland, had a strange nickname, which I imagine would fit any country that speaks a Slavic language. As "curve" sounds very much for a very vulgar synonym for "prostitute" in Polish (as well as Russian, Czech, etc etc.) those pens were commonly called "happy whore."
Mr Grega has old-fashioned habits, and if the pen needs a simple repair, he won't charge for it. He always has sacs and nibs for sale, and often people leave pens with him to be sold. The prices for his repairs are - luckily for his clients - also old-fashioned. Sometimes an old pen needs a special spare part - and he makes it himself.
Although he has repaired very expensive pens, he says he has nothing against Chinese copies of these famous models - "sometimes they work better than the original." He remembers a period, during Communist times, when Chinese fountain pens with gold nibs were much cheaper than the gold contained in the nib. "People would queue to buy hundreds of these pens and they would bring them to me to have the nibs removed," he says.
Another tale from Communist Poland is when the first pens with cartridges showed up - people bought them but they couldn't get new cartridges, so they filled up the old ones with syringes. "When people bring me pens with unusual cartridges, that's what I tell them - buy a syringe."
Last year, Mr Grega was presented with an award from the Mayor of Krakow for his 65 years of work at the same address. Mr Grega is still healthy, although last year his shop was closed for a month for illness - "I hurt my knee and I had to wear a cast for a week. I didn't like having a cast so the next day I took my tools and ripped it off. I had to wear one for a month because of that," said Mr Grega, who will be 90 next January. He himself uses a pre-war Pelikan.
Edited by wafna, 25 August 2013 - 15:13.