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Onoto 3000 Gold Overlay Review
Posted 09 November 2011 - 13:51
This review is of an Onoto 3000 fountain pen with 9ct gold overlay. The pen can be dated to 1924 by the hallmarks, and was my grandmother's. This is how it was when I first saw it:
How, or when, my grandmother got the pen is not clear, but I think it was probably 1927. Initially we had all sorts of theories, almost all of which have fallen by the wayside and there are now two contending theories - and I doubt if we'll ever be able to definitively determine which is correct as none of my grandmother's contempories survive. My grandmother was asked to travel to India by her fiance in 1927 after their engagement. The pen could have been an engagement present, and it would have been a significant gift. Unfortunately, like most young army officers of the time my grandfather was deeply in debt, so it's unlikely he could have afforded it. The other plausible theory is that, as my grandmother was working as a History teacher at a school, was head of department, was a house mistress, had been working at the school since she got her degree in 1910 (we have the certificate from the University of London), and was very popular, it could have been a leaving present from the school. Once again it would have been a significant gift, but this seems more probable. The exact cost of the pen is, obviously, unknown. However in an advertisement from 1921, this model cost 120 shillings (£6), which was a great deal of money.
I inherited the pen in September 2007 and have slowly been piecing some of its story together since then.
Scroll onto this year, and I finally decided to ignore sense and get the pen back into working order. I have put in new seals in Onotos, but with this family pen I didn't trust myself enough and passed it over to FPN member 'eckiethump', who put in a cup seal and O rings to restore the pen to working order (I can't recommend Eric highly enough, he did a wonderful job). So now, I'm able to carefully use this pen my grandmother obviously loved from the amount of wear on the section.
Firstly, a brief orientation for those who have only vaguely heard of the 3000 models produced by Onoto, and is from what I have gleaned on the web about these pens.
In the 1905 De La Rue bought the plunger filler patent from George Sweetster and gave real life to their Onoto brand of BHR pens. Initially the pen had a feed under the nib. However fashions changed and possibly the initial feeds didn't work too well, so in 1908 DLR made an under and over feed. Later the pens came in a short and long series (becoming known as 'O' or 2000 series pens for the short and 'N' or 3000 series for the longer pens). Finally the under/over feed was replaced by an under feed, somewhere between 1916 and 1918. The Onoto 2000/3000's continued to be made almost unchanged into the late 1920's or early 1930's, and versions of the pens continued to be made in Australia into the 1960's. What is amazing is that parts of any Onoto 3000 of any vintage seem to be pretty much interchangable.
Anyway, the Onoto 3000 came in plain BHR, as in my 3000 below:
Then there are ones with one or two silver or gold cap bands, silver overlay and four different levels of gold overlay (gold barrel only, gold cap only, gold barrel and cap, and finally the top of the range gold barrel, cap & section). This pen has the lot, gold overlay over everything visible except the underside of the feed. Earlier over feed models had gold overlay on the feed too. Now that's going just too far...
The hallmark is a leopard's head and a gothic script 'i' on the barrel, indicating 1924 as the year of it being sent to the London Assay Office:
To be honest, I hadn't looked closely enough to see this until Eric mentioned it may have been a post-1928 pen due to the DLR maker's stamp.
I really like the long, lean and slender shape of the pen, narrow section and the barleycorn chased pattern in the gold. With the gold overlay (even though it's not much more than gold foil) the pen is somewhat heavier than my other BHR Onoto 3000's, however the balance is good, and it is up to the weight I regard as 'perfect for all day writing'. The nib has been crunched a bit, and the cap doesn't push home fully - hitting the end of the nib before touching the step in the section.
Dimensions & Weight
Barrel Diameter: 10mm
Cap Diameter: 10mm
This is probably the most unusual & interesting point of the pen. The pen is a plunger filler, with the fill stroke being on the down stroke - creating a vacuum above the plunger seal that is filled when the plunger reaches the bottom of the stroke. The quality of the upper seal determines the amount of ink drawn in, and on this pen it's so good that you can hear a 'pop' at the end of the down stroke. Because of the way the pen operates, I find filling this pen is less messy to fill than one with a twist c/c (Eg Sonnet, P100, modern Duofold), particularly when the ink level in the bottle is low.
The plunger system is shown in section view below. This was modelled directly from tracings Peter Crook took off an original August 1924 assembly drawing of the 'O' Onoto (2000). Due to quite a few omissions on the drawings I have had to measure a number of missing dimensions from the pens I have (and they don't all agree with each other, so it was obviously left to the machinist's discression) - a checker in a modern Design Office would have been slow roasted for allowing drawings to be issued where you don't have enough information to make the item...
One thing of interest. If the pen is made to drawing, it's designed to crunch the end of the nib before the cap pushes up against the step in the section. Not really clever, and could explain the slightly crumpled nib of this pen.
Also, you'll see the threaded part of the plunger is too long - it's as drawn and must have been trimmed to suit on assembly.
Writing with the pen
This is the point where the ancient design of this pen shows itself. Some of its characteristics are wonderful, others are, shall we say, less so.
In order to get the pen to work, the plunger knob needs to be turned about quarter of a turn. Turn too little and no ink gets to the nib, turn too far and the nib is drowned and your writing is flooded. There is quite a bit of experience needed to get the turn exactly right. (I try to set the knob in the best position and leave it there, but this can lead to a fair bit of leakage into the cap if the pen isn't held nib up.)
The next thing to note is that you now have a cold, sealed, container in your hand that is going to warm up. This expands the air in the pen, which can't get out, so a pressure builds up on top of the ink. Until the pen is warm, you need to have blotting paper or a tissue available to absorb any excess ink that's forced out - or alternatively rest the pen nib up when you are thinking (but keep the tissue handy just in case) and write quickly. There is no collector with this pen, and not a lot of space to act as one. It can blob a little, though less than my later Onoto 6233. The pen is not capricious, but you do need to pay attention to it and what it's doing, this is not a pen that can be ignored as a tool.
Right that's the not so good bit of the pen explained, now on to the good bit: How it writes.
The pen rests in the hand like a slender wand. There is enough heft to be noticable, but it's light enough to be responsive and not be tiring - it's the weight of a Parker 61, which I regards as the 'Gold Standard' of pen weight & shape. The soft medium nib absorbs shocks from the paper, flexing gently under light loads rather than transmitting them to your hand. In comparison, a modern Duofold, Sonnet or P51 are all brutal in their rigidity and the shocks they transmit to you. This has a feeling of delicacy and refinement in the pen that is quite unlike any modern pen I have come across. This pen is a vintage pen, and feels like it. The nib is 'soft' rather than flexible, so there isn't much line variation at normal fp forces.
As you can see, my writing is not great, but the nib does create some slight impression of line variation, but nowhere near as flexible as the Semi-Flex comparison pen (a Swan No. 2 eyedropper from c1915) in the last 2 lines.
It is all too easy to get carried away with this pen, the feedback from the nib is just about perfect, despite the fact it's slightly scratchy in one direction (must see to that with a loupe). The nib doesn't skate across the paper as if it's on glass, instead it tells you precisely what's happening and encourages an exuberance of style that's hard to resist. Your hand feels free to glide while responding to every part of the texture of the paper. The only other pens with this feeling I have come across are my two other Onoto 3000's, a dip pen I chose with great care to mimic the stiffness of the flexier Onoto 3000 and an Onoto 6233 I have.
The two vintage flexy pens I have (a Mabie Todd Blackbird from c1920 and the semi-flex Swan No 2 already mentioned) don't feel the same, you need to be more deliberate in the way you write than with these Onotos. It's said that there was something very special about Onotos, and I'm coming to believe it, even though I can't quite put my finger on exactly what it is.
Living with the Pen
This pen is quite elderly, and unfortunately the gold overlay has become quite brittle and has cracked in the areas where it has work hardened the most (such as around the tip of the section). This is impossible to repair as any soldering or annealing of the gold would destroy the BHR, so it's a special occasion only pen.
My grandmother used it a great deal, to the extent that the hallmark on the section has almost worn away, but she was so careful that the domed ends of the cap and shank are undented, with only a couple of dents on the sides of the shank. It's in wonderful condition otherwise, and I love using a pen that was used by my grandmother until the 1970's.
It writes beautifully, but like many a thoroughbred, it's moderately high maintenance and requires a fair bit of attention. It's not really a pen I would recommend to anyone unused to FP's, but I'd recommend it - like the Onoto 2000, 3000 and 62xx series - as a pen to use so that you can feel the heritage of where our modern FP's have come from.
Posted 09 November 2011 - 17:23
Posted 09 November 2011 - 21:40
Good pen + good memories = bliss
Posted 09 November 2011 - 22:56
Posted 10 November 2011 - 02:00
Posted 12 November 2011 - 09:00
that pen and its background is so so touching. and it is in your caring hands, what more can one ask for. your grandmother - wherever she is now - must be feeling so proud of her grandson.
Posted 12 November 2011 - 10:16
Money may not make you happy but I would rather cry in a Rolls-Royce
The true definition of madness - Doing the same thing everyday and expecting different results......
Posted 12 November 2011 - 16:05
How wonderful to get a review of a pen like this.
Good pen + good memories = bliss
+1 The story makes this extra special
Posted 14 November 2011 - 12:15