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what is ebonite and why is it used for pens? How does it feel? Why do you like it?


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#1 statius

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 04:26

I'm looking for a new pen, and am thinking of an Edison Beaumont. So, I know ebonite is a hard rubber, but how does it feel? Why do you like/not like it? Any special considerations (breaks down, stains, etc.)? Basically, why ebonite? Thanks for the consideration. Also, if anyone has this pen, what are your impressions? I've done a search of Edison pens here and have heard nothing but good things. Here's the particular pen:

 


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#2 Chemyst

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 04:39

QUOTE (statius @ Aug 31 2008, 09:26 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I'm looking for a new pen, and am thinking of an Edison Beaumont. So, I know ebonite is a hard rubber, but how does it feel?


Ebonite is a hard plastic. It feels like a lightweight plastic and can have either a gloss or matte finish. Freshly made ebonite has a distinctive smell.

QUOTE (statius @ Aug 31 2008, 09:26 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Why do you like/not like it? Any special considerations (breaks down, stains, etc.)? Basically, why ebonite?


I like my ebonite pens. Whether you'll like it...hard to tell. What other kinds of pens do you have and enjoy?

Ebonite is a traditional material for pens. It was developed originally to replace expensive ebony wood. A lot of pen manufacturers adopted it as an alternative to metal pens back in early twentieth century.

Now of course, we have injection molded plastic, so you don't see as much ebonite.


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#3 statius

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 04:48

QUOTE (Chemyst @ Aug 31 2008, 10:39 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE (statius @ Aug 31 2008, 09:26 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I'm looking for a new pen, and am thinking of an Edison Beaumont. So, I know ebonite is a hard rubber, but how does it feel?


Ebonite is a hard plastic. It feels like a lightweight plastic and can have either a gloss or matte finish. Freshly made ebonite has a distinctive smell.

QUOTE (statius @ Aug 31 2008, 09:26 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Why do you like/not like it? Any special considerations (breaks down, stains, etc.)? Basically, why ebonite?


I like my ebonite pens. Whether you'll like it...hard to tell. What other kinds of pens do you have and enjoy?

Ebonite is a traditional material for pens. It was developed originally to replace expensive ebony wood. A lot of pen manufacturers adopted it as an alternative to metal pens back in early twentieth century.

Now of course, we have injection molded plastic, so you don't see as much ebonite.


I have a VP, whose finish I quite like the feel of (yes, that's a preposition there at the end). I have a Sheaffer Intrigue, whose finish I also enjoy. I like smooth, glossy feeling finishes. So is ebonite a hard plastic, or a hard rubber?
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#4 jmkeuning

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 05:02

I have an ebonite Edison Herald - the old style. If you are getting an Edison, you should look at the redesigned Herald. The new pen has some serious improvements over the old version. Some of the old characteristics which were done away with remain in that design of the Beaumont. Perhaps Brian has redesigned the Beaumont also?

Anyway, Brian can tell you better what he is up to, and I do not want to turn you away from a design that you like, but the new Herald is something to behold.


Oh yeah, the pen. I really like my ebonite Herald. I think the disadvantages are that you can't leave in the hot car, direct sun, or submerged in water. On the other hand, it is lightweight, warms to the touch, is nicely polishable, and is a classic material.

Edit: I am no chemist, but I think Chemyst is. I do not know what makes rubber rubber and plastic plastic, but ebonite = hard rubber in pen vernacular.

Edited by jmkeuning, 01 September 2008 - 05:04.

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#5 Renzhe

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 05:20

Ebonite is a brand of vulcanized rubber, and I think it's used to refer to all vulcanized rubber regardless of manufacturer.
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#6 Chemyst

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 05:30

Jmkeuning is correct that ebonite is often referred to as hard rubber, which is a type of plastic. To a person handling the pen you wouldn't think rubber you'd think plastic. There is no friction or pliability that you would expect when someone says rubber. You often see it in ads as BHR for Black Hard Rubber or BCHR if the design is cut or chased into the material.

Also, as pointed out ebonite is not as stable as injection molded plastic and is more easily damaged. Sunlight bleaches the colour. You often see restorers talking about re-blackening a hard rubber pens. Excessive heat can also damage it. I didn't think it was damaged by water but I could be wrong. It is a nice material, but it is somewhat delicate. Less so than casein, more so than your typical injection molded plastic or metal pen.

My ebonite pens are much lighter than a VP and somewhat smoother.

It is certainly a sharp looking pen.
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#7 psfred

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 14:59

Ebonite is a trade name for hard vulcanized, non flexible rubber. There are other trade names. It is brittle, "warm" to the touch (doesn't transfer heat well), takes a nice polish, and is fairly light.

It was the first synthetic material that was impervious to ink, allowing the use of internal ink storage (more or less, as a history of early fountain pens will reveal). It machines fairly well, so lots of designs were possible, including the engine work (chasing) that is quite common. Originally only possible in black due to the carbon black required as filler, but later found in red, mottled red and black, and a few other quite rare colors.

When the ability to stabilized celluloid was developed, celluloid replaced hard rubber in pen manufacture for a number of reasons, starting with greater dimensional stability (hard rubber is readily damaged by water -- it discolors and may warp) and it is far less brittle. Dropping a BHR pen often results in a shattered pen, celluloid usually survives intact. It's also cheaper, I believe.

At any rate, an Ebonite pen will be a pleasure to use, just very limited production and rather pricey.

Peter

Edited by psfred, 01 September 2008 - 15:26.


#8 BillTheEditor

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 15:28

Ebonite is hard rubber. It looks like plastic, but it is warmer to the touch. It is very lightweight. Depending on where the ebonite is from and how it was made, it has a distinctive odor. Mostly this odor is very faint and goes away as the pen ages, but I've seen complaints here about some of the pens from India having a really strong scent (described as a "stink"). I only own three ebonite pens (one of them very old) and don't find the smell to be a problem (can't smell the pens at all, really, without directly sniffing them).

Ebonite is sensitive to light and black ebonite may develop a brownish appearance if exposed to light over a long period. Other than that, I don't know of any particular weaknesses of the material. Some of the colors that you can get in ebonite are very attractive, and not available in other materials.

#9 miketo

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 15:29

QUOTE (psfred @ Sep 1 2008, 07:59 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Ebonite is a trade name for hard vulcanized, non flexible rubber. <<snip>>


Thank you, Peter, for that succinct and informative explanation. Answers a lot of questions I had (and presumably will for the OP, too).

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#10 Iridium

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 16:54

QUOTE (statius @ Aug 31 2008, 09:48 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
So is ebonite a hard plastic, or a hard rubber?


I'm not sure what the technical difference between "plastic" and "rubber" is (aside from the baseline elasticity of their compounds), but what we're dealing with is polymers that can be chemically and physically treated to achieve certain characteristics. Ebonite is probably called "hard rubber" because it's based on, well, rubber--you know, compounds that comprise natural latex, namely polyisoprene. Rubber can be vulcanized (heat-treated with the addition of sulfur) to add some toughness, and in some cases, this is taken to the extreme, which makes the material feel like a hard, lustrous plastic (also makes it rather brittle). You can call it plastic if you wish, but the main compound is what people would normally know as rubber.

Similarly, polymers that people would normally know as plastic could be made more like rubber by adding plasticizers. For example, my home irrigation system uses both the familiar hard (only slightly flexible) PVC piping as well as soft, flexible, "rubbery" vinyl drip tubes. So what's the difference between PVC and vinyl? Nothing--what people commonly call vinyl is almost always PVC (polyvinyl chloride), whether it takes the form of cheesy car seat material that cracks all the time, plumbing pipes, or the eternal sacs in Parker "51" Aerometrics. It's all about the type and quality of the microscopic molecular structure that you're able to achieve. For instance, the latest and greatest "bulletproof" vest material, Spectra, which is more effective than Kevlar, is comprised of polyethylene molecules--that's right, the same as grocery bag plastic.

Edited by Iridium, 01 September 2008 - 16:56.


#11 Chemyst

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 19:53

Statius - I fear you've inadvertently stumbled into the perennial topic of what is ebonite/celluloid/precious resin. It's a popular topic of speculation around here.

Re: the Edison. I'm sure you'll like Brian Gray's work. Go for it!
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#12 psfred

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 20:35

No, ebonite was made from the latex of the rubber tree (remember, there was no synthetic rubber before the late 1930's). It is a natural product in essence. It is also a thermosetting plastic -- hardens from malleable or liquid to a solid when heated. Once hardened, they do NOT melt or soften with repeated heat, usually becoming harder instead.

Modern rubber products are usually synthetic, although there is still considerable natural rubber around (it has some advantages, I think). However, ALL rubber materials are similar, being a heat catalyzed polymerization of butadienes. Silicone rubber is a different material all together, and should not be classed as a "rubber" in the same way.

Celluloid is cellulose nitrate (again a natural material, reacted with nitric acid to make a different polymer) and was around quite a while before it was used in pens -- quite reactive and fairly unstable in it's original form, it wasn't until someone figured out how to keep it from deteriorating so fast (and becoming even more flamable than it was when new) that it became popular in pen making.

"Precious resin" is a marketing term and means, on it's own, absolutely nothing. All synthetic plastics (including celluoid) are resins (that is, hard, slightly malleable materials that soften or melt with heat -- note that hard rubber does NOT soften when heated). Could be anything from ULTEM super high melting point resin to polycarbonate to ABS high impact resistant to nylon to ,...... whatever. I would guess celluloid because that has an association in most pen buyer's minds with the great pens of the 1930s and 40s, but who knows. Or, for that matter, cares!

Peter

#13 FrankB

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 22:46

statius wrote:

"... So, I know ebonite is a hard rubber, but how does it feel? Why do you like/not like it?"

To address the second part of your question, I like ebonite because of the feel. I find it a warm, comfortable material to hold which enhances the act of writing for me. The material does require some special considerations like keeping it out of direct sunlight for extended periods. The outgassing of the rubber also means one should not store ebonite and celluloid pens together as the gas will darken the celluloid. But I am rather meticulous about my pens anyway, and such requirements do not bother me.

I am saving for an Edison myself, and I will probably get the Herald model as well. I realy like Taccia nibs, so mine will probably have a M or B Taccia nib.

#14 Iridium

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 01:47

QUOTE (Chemyst @ Sep 1 2008, 12:53 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Statius - I fear you've inadvertently stumbled into the perennial topic of what is ebonite/celluloid/precious resin. It's a popular topic of speculation around here.


We know what ebonite and celluloid are, but "precious resin" appears to be some other kind of plastic (a rather shiny and brittle one).

QUOTE (psfred @ Sep 1 2008, 01:35 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Celluloid is cellulose nitrate (again a natural material, reacted with nitric acid to make a different polymer)


Sounds like a..."dynamite"...material. wink.gif

QUOTE (psfred @ Sep 1 2008, 01:35 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
"Precious resin" is a marketing term and means, on it's own, absolutely nothing. All synthetic plastics (including celluoid) are resins (that is, hard, slightly malleable materials that soften or melt with heat -- note that hard rubber does NOT soften when heated).


Their response to heat depends on whether they're thermoset or thermoplastic resins, doesn't it? For example, most composites are still made with thermoset resins like epoxy probably so that they don't delaminate under stress when heated (although I'm not a materials scientist or engineer so I'm just guessing).

QUOTE (psfred @ Sep 1 2008, 01:35 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Could be anything from ULTEM super high melting point resin to polycarbonate to ABS high impact resistant to nylon to ,...... whatever.


It's not very tough, at least from what I've heard, so I doubt that it's any of these.

QUOTE (psfred @ Sep 1 2008, 01:35 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I would guess celluloid because that has an association in most pen buyer's minds with the great pens of the 1930s and 40s, but who knows.


It could be, but in that case, we could tell by the smell. Nah, it's probably just an inexpensive resin that the manufacturer hardens as much as possible.

QUOTE (psfred @ Sep 1 2008, 01:35 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Or, for that matter, cares!


Some people are curious. I want to know whether it is polystyrene, the most ordinary of ordinary plastics, which can, as it happens, be given the physical properties of this "precious resin" when properly treated. smile.gif Then again, I'm too young to die...laughing. lticaptd.gif

Edited by Iridium, 02 September 2008 - 01:49.


#15 Robert Hughes

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 02:00

QUOTE (Iridium @ Sep 1 2008, 08:47 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE (psfred @ Sep 1 2008, 01:35 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Celluloid is cellulose nitrate (again a natural material, reacted with nitric acid to make a different polymer)


Sounds like a..."dynamite"...material. wink.gif


Yes, they're very close. I won't get into the details, because I don't want the high schoolers on this forum to blow themselves to Kingdom Come (as I nearly did at that age). But celluloid is based on guncotton - dead-simple to make and easy to burn. The guncotton, or cellulose nitrate, is soaked with camphor to create the gooey resin that is formed into rods, and eventually dries out & becomes pen rod stock. That's why the fancy Italian celluloid pens take a year to make - 360 of those 365 days are spent in storage, slowly outgassing camphor before the rods are ready for machining.

PS - my 80 year old Waterman BHR pens still smell when I write with them.

Edited by Robert Hughes, 02 September 2008 - 02:02.

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#16 RLTodd

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 04:19

When it comes to pens, since it is the buyer's money, the buyer should always buy what they want.

(1) Once upon a time, fountain pens (the fountain is the part that held the ink, the pen is the metal part we now call the nib) were made of Vulcanized overcooked oversulfered hard brittle fades with ultra violate light, smelly when out gassing Hard Rubber. This was used because no one had invented anything better and it was RELATIVELY inexpensive at that time. It also turned on a lathe into parts that fit together well into a usable pen.

(2) It did and does, break easy. It is brittle. If you want to have such a pen, you must treat it with care. Don't drop it, don't even allow yourself to place it in situations where it might be dropped. When not in use keep it out of the sunlight. If broken the parts cannot be glued together but the broken piece will need to be replaced. There are pens out there that are over 100 years of age, so people can take proper care of them.

(3) The mass produced pens used to cost a dollar or two. They are custom and pricey now. Labor isn't cheap and they are not a mass produced item.

(4) DuPont perfected colored Cellulose Nitrate and gave it their own trade name. They never called it Celluloid because the Celluloid Company owned that trade mark. It was made in pretty colors. Best of all, when you dropped it you didn't break your pen. Since it was pretty, didn't break when you dropped it, didn't stink of hard rubber, and didn't turn an unattractive olive brown under Ultra Violate rays, it pretty much shut down the mass production manufacture of Hard Rubber pens. The better drove out the not so good from the market.

(5) Later plastics drove Cellulose Nitrate from the market because they could be cast (didn't have to pay all those machinists who had priced themselves out of the market) and were not explosively flammable.

Best of luck............

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#17 HLeopold

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 05:16

QUOTE (Robert Hughes @ Sep 1 2008, 09:00 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE (Iridium @ Sep 1 2008, 08:47 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE (psfred @ Sep 1 2008, 01:35 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Celluloid is cellulose nitrate (again a natural material, reacted with nitric acid to make a different polymer)


Sounds like a..."dynamite"...material. wink.gif


Yes, they're very close. I won't get into the details, because I don't want the high schoolers on this forum to blow themselves to Kingdom Come (as I nearly did at that age). But celluloid is based on guncotton - dead-simple to make and easy to burn. The guncotton, or cellulose nitrate, is soaked with camphor to create the gooey resin that is formed into rods, and eventually dries out & becomes pen rod stock. That's why the fancy Italian celluloid pens take a year to make - 360 of those 365 days are spent in storage, slowly outgassing camphor before the rods are ready for machining.

PS - my 80 year old Waterman BHR pens still smell when I write with them.


My mother collected antiques, among them old "ivory" brushers, combs, mirrors, etc. These were, of course, made of celluloid. She had one set of these in the kitchen, on a knickknack shelf. One day during breakfast there was a sudden flare of light, a loud "FOOOM!," and we had a badly burned shelf and cabinet. It was bad enough we had to replace that entire cabinet and repair the wall around the shelf location. It turns out that you don't have to add much heat to set off celluloid, we had the toaster setting about 3 feet below them. It had been there for years, but one day it was just enough to set it off.

Making toast for 5 to 7 people daily for several years had obviously had an effect on how the celluloid was degrading. It was amazing though, how FAST and violent it went when it finally did.

You wouldn't think that there would be that much heat from a toaster that far below, and through 3/4" of wood, but it was obviously enough. There was nothing left of the comb, I think most of the energy came from the rather large hair brush and the celluloid-framed mirror. Of these 2 only a bit of ash was left.
Harry Leopold
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#18 Legal Eagle

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 06:55

In responce to Hleopolds post:

Fender makes guitar pics out of celluloid and they are extremely flammable. I learned this while I was younger, playing with a lighter.

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#19 Iridium

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 07:49

QUOTE (HLeopold @ Sep 1 2008, 10:16 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
My mother collected antiques, among them old "ivory" brushers, combs, mirrors, etc. These were, of course, made of celluloid. She had one set of these in the kitchen, on a knickknack shelf. One day during breakfast there was a sudden flare of light, a loud "FOOOM!," and we had a badly burned shelf and cabinet. It was bad enough we had to replace that entire cabinet and repair the wall around the shelf location. It turns out that you don't have to add much heat to set off celluloid, we had the toaster setting about 3 feet below them. It had been there for years, but one day it was just enough to set it off.


Interesting story--I'm glad that no one was injured. The very same thing has happened with old nitrate films repeatedly throughout history. To take one random example I've read about, the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was the author of the Tarzan and John Carter pulp novels, used to have an archive of literally every Tarzan movie ever made. In a number of cases, the archive contained the only known copy of a movie. One fine day, one of the cellulose nitrate films spontaneously ignited, and the entire collection was lost (if I remember correctly).

#20 statius

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 20:56

I withdraw the query! Now I have to go to the library and start reading some chemistry books. roflmho.gif
Labitur occulte fallitque volatilis aetas, et nihil est annis velocius. Ovid, Met. 10.519-20.






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