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Del La Rue, Onoto 3000 Review


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8 replies to this topic

#1 richardandtracy

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Posted 11 May 2009 - 13:27

This is a review of a very elderly 'Onoto' by De La Rue. I do not know the exact age of the pen, but due to the lack of a top feed, and it being BHR, the pen is likely to be between 1916 and 1924, but may be from outside that range by a couple of years. I understand that it's one of the Onoto 3000 series pens. As this is a review of an old pen, I won't be rating the pen, but will try to keep the review moderately conventional. My grandmother bought herself a gold overlayed Onoto 3000 just after she completed her degree in 1926 (see the picture in http://www.fountainp...showtopic=40712 - I've since found out it's 1924 hallmarked and have cleaned it up so it looks like the gold it is). That pen is non-functional due to a crack through the overlay and rubber - and is non-repairable too (unfortunately), however my Grandmother loved her pen and used it all her working life, so I wanted to know what she loved about it and got my own BHR version.

First Impressions
The pen seems very long, slender and amazingly light. It is a BHR pen, and the material feels like no other material I've come across. The feel is warm, silky and soft, despite the fact it's hard. It is quite gorgeous to touch. I have had this pen since Nov 2008, and get the same impression every time I pick it up.

This 90 year old pen (give or take a bit) is showing signs of wear. In bright sunlight it's possible to discern the remains of a chevron pattern on the barrel, but out of the sun it looks completely smooth. There is a barrel imprint visible in the sun of:-
QUOTE
Onoto
Patent Self Filling Pen
De La Rue, London
The Barrel & Slip cap are both oxidised to a khaki green-brown colour, while the section is still black within the protection of the tightly fitting slip cap.

When the pen warms up, you can smell the rubber.

It is important to remember the pen's age when writing with the pen. It comes from an era of flex nibs. Ball point pressure will destroy this nib. Parker 51 pressure will damage the nib too. This pen has a #3 nib, which is a little on the fine side for my taste, but I'm not complaining much as it's broader than the Hero 616 I use.

Dimensions
I mentioned that the pen is long and slender, so here are the dimensions:-
Length Capped = 160mm (6.3")
Length Uncapped = 145mm (5.71")
Length Posted = 197mm (7.75")
Barrel Diameter = 10.34mm (0.41")
Section Diameter = 9.20mm (0.362") max and 7.20mm (0.283") min.
Weight = 11.5g

Writing With The Pen
This is what it's all about. The pen is so slender that it's no trouble to hold at all. The weight is almost nothing too, so all day writing is not only possible, it's a joy. The nib writes with the pen resting on the paper. To avoid excessive flex I have not used much pressure at all, so I've not actually seen much line variation - this pen is history made solid, so I don't want to damage it. However, there is no effort whatsoever to writing with this pen.
The dangers of overloading the nib are evident in the nib, at some time in the past it has been bent and a blunt instrument (hammer?) has been used to get it roughly back to its proper shape - so it's a little scratchy in one direction, but not enough to be a pain - in fact it seems to make the pen more 'authentic' in some way.
When writing with the pen, it warms up slowly and the ink starts to flow more & more until the ink is about to blob. This is due to the lack of a collector or fins on the feed. It is a pen that pre-dates many of the technological improvements of the last 70 years. Anyway, after this stage is over, the pen will keep working without fuss until you have to stop.

Filling System
This is the most unusual & interesting point of the pen. It's also the bit that I have had most trouble with to date. The pen is a plunger filler, with the fill stroke being on the down stroke - creating a vacuum that is filled when the plunger reaches the bottom of the stroke (invented by a transvestite, roller skating magician called George Sweetster in 1905). It didn't work at all when I got the pen, and after making a cutter etc I dismantled the pen and replaced the inner plunger seal - and renovated the outer seal with silicone grease. Anyway, the pen fills a bit (the upper seal needs total replacement - I'll get around to it eventually) and.. Oh dear. Let's just say I have managed to spray my face with ink having thought the pen was empty and then operating the plunger.
The filler is a little more complicated to operate than a squeeze filler, and shouldn't be operated until you are absolutely, totally & utterly 100% sure the pen is empty.
Live & learn.

Price
Restored pens can be £60 upwards (say $90+). This one was £10 ($15), but most with ossified seals go for £20+.
If you need to do work on the pen, the restoration must be factored into the price you're willing to pay, so unless you do the work yourself, it's possibly worth getting a restored pen.

Overall
I like this pen. I like it a lot. I can see why my grandmother loved hers.
The feel of the pen is totally different from any modern pen I've tried. That is both a benefit and a drawback. It feels elegant and well thought out, but also fragile and vulnerable. It's been designed for a different era, and as a result it doesn't feel right for a modern knock-about pen. I'd recommend that every fp user tries a pen of this vintage, so that you can get an appreciation of the origin of fp's, as this comes from a time that was only very soon after fp's became practical. It's got a slightly 'raw' and 'rough edged' feel to it, it's obvious that this is a pen that's close to the start of everything FPN'ers enjoy, and this hasn't been overlaid with 100 years of technology and improvements. It's naive in a strange sort of way, but wonderful for all that.
I use this pen, but it's for special occasions, when I have time to consider what I'm writing and time to think about how I'm writing it.

I hope this review of such an elderly pen will be of interest to someone.

Regards,

Richard.


Ah. The picture.
The picture below is off my scanner - I've given up on cameras for taking pictures of pens.
When I made the scan, there was ink in the pen, so I couldn't extend the plunger - see, I do learn. Eventually.

Attached Images

  • Onoto_small.jpg

Edited by MYU, 31 August 2009 - 13:31.


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#2 hari317

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Posted 11 May 2009 - 13:51

Thanks Richard for sharing this review. I appreciate your point about using this pen with the repect that its age commands. I hope I can find a pen this old here.

Regards,
Hari

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#3 richardandtracy

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Posted 11 May 2009 - 14:17

Hari,

It's possible that you may even find an Onoto, they were widely exported anywhere the British went (except Canada for some reason - possibly too much competition from Parker & Sheaffer).

Regards,

Richard.


#4 rwilsonedn

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Posted 12 May 2009 - 03:20

What a wonderfully nuanced review. Thank you!
ron

#5 gary

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Posted 13 May 2009 - 00:29

Richard-

An excellent review of an early pen from an impressive manufacturer. The Waterman 12 is often referred to as the essential pen, whose sole purpose is to write. Though not an eyedropper, these Onotos are similar in function, have their attractive filling system, and are a bit longer for large hands besides.

There is something very "period" about the length and girth, particularly on the models with the trademark barley finish. The nibs vary widely in width and flex, but the ones I've found are all very good users.

Hari, after Onoto ceased manufacturing in Great Britain it continued for a time in Australia. Those pens are more modern than this 3000.

Richard, I've not used an Onoto this old with a working filler, but you may be able to address the flow issue by adjusting it by twisting the end cap.

Now, if someone can only decipher the model number codes for Onoto...

gary




#6 richardandtracy

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Posted 13 May 2009 - 07:38

QUOTE (gary @ May 13 2009, 01:29 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
...Richard, I've not used an Onoto this old with a working filler, but you may be able to address the flow issue by adjusting it by twisting the end cap.
...

Gary,

Thanks for your kind comments.

The blobbing issue is a potential 'feature' of any pen that has an enclosed air space that can warm up (and thereby expand). The air has nowhere to escape (say down a breather tube) so it pressurises the ink chamber slightly and increases the flow. If there is then inadequate finning/collector volume (as with this Onoto) to absorb the flow, blobbing will inevitably result.
There is a way around this - keep the pen at body temperature all the time, so that it doesn't warm up when you start writing with it. This means keeping a fragile and clipless pen in a pocket.. No thanks. I can't take the risk.

Regards,

Richard.


#7 soapytwist

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Posted 13 May 2009 - 12:51

Actually Richard, if this is an early Onoto and your plunger end is pointed rather than flat, it should work effectively as a safety pen.

When the plunger knob is fully screwed onto the barrel, the pointed bit should come up against the recess in the section and stop the ink flow. Unscrewing the knob half a turn allows the ink to flow when writing and can also be used to regulate the flow (how many pens can do that these days?!). The only things that may have changed this function are if the plunger end has been replaced with a flat-ended one, or the plunger rod has been replaced with a shorter version.

By the way, I'd take issue with using a 'fragile' pen. I wouldn't regard fragility as an issue (any more than say, precious resin!), rather it's the value of the pen and the possible need to replace either the whole pen or its worn/damaged parts should it break/get stolen that's stopping you from using it! These pens have lasted 70-80 years in the hands of people less careful than you - fragile they ain't!

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#8 richardandtracy

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Posted 13 May 2009 - 13:40

QUOTE (soapytwist @ May 13 2009, 01:51 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Actually Richard, if this is an early Onoto and your plunger end is pointed rather than flat, it should work effectively as a safety pen.

When the plunger knob is fully screwed onto the barrel, the pointed bit should come up against the recess in the section and stop the ink flow. Unscrewing the knob half a turn allows the ink to flow when writing and can also be used to regulate the flow (how many pens can do that these days?!). The only things that may have changed this function are if the plunger end has been replaced with a flat-ended one, or the plunger rod has been replaced with a shorter version.

This does happen, and it has a pointed end. Maybe I unscrew the cap too far to get it working - but the physics is still the same when the pen warms up - the ink will still be pushed by a pressurised air chamber above the ink.
QUOTE (soapytwist @ May 13 2009, 01:51 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
By the way, I'd take issue with using a 'fragile' pen. I wouldn't regard fragility as an issue (any more than say, precious resin!), rather it's the value of the pen and the possible need to replace either the whole pen or its worn/damaged parts should it break/get stolen that's stopping you from using it! These pens have lasted 70-80 years in the hands of people less careful than you - fragile they ain't!

I take your point. But it doesn't feel as robust as a polystyrene pen. It's also too light to feel strong, and that translates in my mind into fragility.

Regards,

Richard.


#9 rhosygell

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Posted 13 May 2009 - 13:54

I use elderly FP's every day in an office environment (accountant) and never worry about fragility. If they have survived up to now there is every likelihood that they will outlast me with normal use, accidents aside.
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