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Doric Downside


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#1 MarcShiman

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Posted 31 December 2011 - 18:53

Let me begin by saying I love Wahl Dorics, particularly the big meaty senior size first generation pens. But they will eventually craze and crumble.

I've always understood our hobby to be different from stamp or coin collecting in that 1) you can USE the pieces you collect and 2) in many cases the vintage pen is better than anything made today.

However, its unlikely that a coin or a stamp is going to eventually suffer from thousands of micro-cracks and eventually disintegrate. A really top notch example of a senior size first generation Doric with a #10 nib is going to cost $1200 on up depending on the dealer. How can we make such an investment in something that is known to eventually suffer an irreversible decline (even if its not for another 10 years or more?

I've got two such pens, and while I have an immense pride in owning them, I'm torn as to whether it really makes a whole lot of sense to keep them.

(Note - not all Doric celluloids are unstable. From the first gen, black is particularly stable. I've only seen the gold shell craze in the second generation)

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#2 Wahlnut

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Posted 01 January 2012 - 19:23

From my own experience, there are 3 stages of plastic deterioration (with my own eyeball test arbitrary applied in deciding on the dividing lines between them) that can help collectors/users with selecting pens that are more likely to survive the longest. And there are storage/handling tips that can help as well. Also, as Marc points out, certain plastic colors are more likely to deteriorate, but not all of that color do. In the first generation Dorics, Cathay, Kashmir and Morocco are the more likely to deteriorate (in that order). And yes, Black is almost never seen in deteriorated condition. Burma is also a very stable color.

The 3 stages are 1) pens with obvious deterioration already under way. These will show cracks, really bright discoloration and obvious crystallized condition. Obviously such pens should be parts donor pens and not considered collectible or usable for any length of time. Stage 2 is where the plastic is showing the very beginning signs of breakdown. These pens are harder for the inexperienced collector to identify, but with some experience the signs become more obvious. The easiest sign is a slight translucence of an area of the plastic. The tell-tale area will show some clearing of the plastic pattern matrix and appear to be a single color with some less opaqueness in the plastic. Such pens might take another 10 to 20 years to develop the signs of stage 1. Stage 3 is where there are none of the aforementioned symptoms. Stage 3 pens could last indefinitely, but usually well beyond 20 years. There are no absolutes here just generalities, I admit, but to a collector, knowing a pen will be usable and tradable for that period of time may make the "investment" worth it.

Storage conditions are important, too. Bright sunlight, low humidity, and wide fluctuations in storage/usage area temperature ranges are the worst conditions for these plastics. Too frequent cleaning with de-fatting solutions like ammonia, or alcohol, or petroleum ingredient containing cleaners and waxes are also bad. The thing to remember is that plastic is a polymer. Polymers are chained. Breaking the chain causes the chain links to fall apart/lose integrity. Anything that hastens the breakdown of the polymer chain must be avoided. The key ingredient in many nitrocellulose plastics that aid the polymer process in manufacture and durability is camphor. You have probability smelled it when working on these plastics. Camphor leaches/evaporates from the surface of plastic and the camphor inside the plastic can work to the surface (internal or external surfaces are equally involved). Anything that allows the camphor to escape will accelerate the deterioration of the plastic. When I "stabilize" crystalizing plastic, I use some camphor in the mix. In my experience and in discussions with them, most restorers I know don't use it or don't know about it. So while keeping these early plastic pens in optimum storage conditions will help, stabilizing the sicker pens can also let user grade pens stay in the game for an extended time frame.. Also keep away from cedar fumes.

The collector must be certain to pay the kind of money that Marc is talking about in his post only for the best specimens where the remaining life of the pen is probably a long one. Avoiding pens that show any of the warning signs is key, and the value/cost of the inferior pens should be only a fraction of a premier pen. I mean that the discount off of the premium price for a pen with issues should not be 10 or 20 percent...more like 70 or 80 percent.
Syd
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#3 ihimlen

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Posted 01 January 2012 - 19:28

Marc,

With early Dorics, the colours most prone to crystallization are Cathay (light silver-green), Kashmir (green and black marble), and sometimes Morocco (red and black marble). Burma and Jet Black are stable and don't tend to crystallize. In the later Airliner version it appears that Gold Shell and sometimes Green Shell may have problems with crazing - all other colours are stable. For Junior Dorics Kashmir, Bronze and Green and Carnelian sometimes have problems with crystallization but most of pens in these colours show no traces of damage. Any other colour mixed with black (Green/Red/Silver Oyster Pearl on black in later Doric Jr pens) is stable.

While a lot of Doric pens in plastics known as 'less stable' show damage, I believe that there are a few factors that influence the pens' 'wellbeing'. Firstly, it looks like only certain examples of Doric pens in Cathay, Kasgmir and Morocco are prone to crystallization while other survived in excellent condition with no problems and no traces of fluorescence/crazing. I suspect in this case the reason for crazing may be that:

A/ some batches of celluloid used to make Dorics were not sufficiently cured
B/ some colours (especially those with a lot of transparency and pearl 'sparkle') require a lot of plasticizer. Clear celluloid is the most prone to eventual discombobulation (e.g. later Waterman 100 year pens) because of a high plasticizer content.

In the early celluloid (Pyralin) DuPont used camphor as plasticizer and if a batch or two had a higher camphor content then pens made from that celluloid would eventually develop problems with crazing and crumbling. This is because camphor has a tendency to evaporate with time (it literally disappears) and the celluloid becomes a "crumbled candy" which is in fact the nitrocellulose used to make celluloid. This process can be slowed down or accelerated but cannot stopped once it starts.

Anyway, when camphor evaporates, nitrogen dioxide gasses are released and because these are highly corrosive, they accelerate the disintegration even further.

That's why it is very important NOT to store those fragile celluloid pens in airtight containers or wrapped in any sort of plastic film. These pens should have good air circulation and should not be exposed to high temperatures and high humidity. Also, it is a good idea to keep the partially crystallized pens separate from all other marbled pens: if e.g. a crystallized Cathay Doric is locked in an airtight container with a perfect Kashmir Doric, the latter will develop crazing because of the nitrogen dioxide exuding from the other pen. I know it sounds radical, but that's the way it is.


Crystallization is also known as "celluloid rot" or "celluloid disease" and it also plagues anyone collecting vintage handbags, dolls, guitars or straight razors - it attacks the purse frames, celluloid doll elements such as doll faces, pickguards and razor scales and in the case of the razors a blade corrosion (rust) is a byproduct of celluloid disintegration caused by nitrous vapours.

So, to recap, if the pens have good air circulation and are not kept in hot, humid places then there should be no problems and even if fluorescence already appeared it would take years for the pen to disintegrate completely and it can still be used as a daily writer.

Hope I didn't bore anyone to death by now ;-)

i.

EDIT: Here is some info on celluloid purses - an interesting secondary reading: http://www.celluloidpurses.com/care/ Also, as Syd mentioned, many chemicals can adversely effect the pen's integrity This is the point I missed (looks like Syd and I wrote replies at the same time) but an important one to remember.

Edited by ihimlen, 01 January 2012 - 19:42.

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#4 Vintagepens

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Posted 01 January 2012 - 20:24

I suspect in this case the reason for crazing may be that:

A/ some batches of celluloid used to make Dorics were not sufficiently cured
B/ some colours (especially those with a lot of transparency and pearl 'sparkle') require a lot of plasticizer. Clear celluloid is the most prone to eventual discombobulation (e.g. later Waterman 100 year pens) because of a high plasticizer content.


The chemistry of celluloid decomposition is still not fully understood, at least not in detail, so please take these observations as opinions-in-progress:

I rather doubt that insufficient curing is the problem with Dorics that have deteriorated. If this were the case, one would expect to see much more crystallization on cheapie pens of the era -- but this is not at all the case.

I also do not believe that the amount of plasticizer (camphor) used in manufacture is a factor in the stability of older celluloids. Do you have any reference regarding the amount of camphor used for different colors? My research (and experience) indicates that *lower* camphor content is more likely to cause problems, not higher. And the problems with transparent materials are surely primarily due to the lack of stabilizers and UV blockers in such materials. That is why black celluloid is so much more stable than transparent.

I have a strong suspicion that a major culprit for Doric deterioration is the way in which the facets were formed: not cut, but molded with heat and pressure. This would have driven off camphor right at the beginning. A contributing issue is likely the construction method with solvent-welded plugged ends for both caps and barrels.

Anyway, when camphor evaporates, nitrogen dioxide gasses are released and because these are highly corrosive, they accelerate the disintegration even further.


To pick nits, it's not strictly the camphor's evaporation that causes the release of the nasty oxides of nitrogen. Camphor evaporates continually from celluloid from the moment of manufacture, without any ill effects. It is when the celluloid actually starts to deteriorate that the bad stuff gets emitted, and though it is probable that it is the camphor content going below a certain level that allows this breakdown to begin, it is also virtually certain that other factors (many already mentioned, such as light, humidity, cleaning chemicals) are also significant players in this process.

#5 MarcShiman

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 02:51

I have a strong suspicion that a major culprit for Doric deterioration is the way in which the facets were formed: not cut, but molded with heat and pressure. This would have driven off camphor right at the beginning. A contributing issue is likely the construction method with solvent-welded plugged ends for both caps and barrels.


David, that may be true, but some Leboeuf celluloids are prone to the same deterioration of plastics, and they are not faceted. I also see a lot of Italian pens deteriorate, some faceted some not. The Aurora Novums (faceted) are particularly subject to it, and certain SAFIS pens as well (both faceted and non faceted). Most of the crazing that takes place by the Italian pens, in my limited experience, is not preceded by a stage of translucence.

#6 MarcShiman

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 03:01

Stage 3 is where there are none of the aforementioned symptoms. Stage 3 pens could last indefinitely, but usually well beyond 20 years. There are no absolutes here just generalities, I admit, but to a collector, knowing a pen will be usable and tradable for that period of time may make the "investment" worth it.

...

The collector must be certain to pay the kind of money that Marc is talking about in his post only for the best specimens where the remaining life of the pen is probably a long one. Avoiding pens that show any of the warning signs is key, and the value/cost of the inferior pens should be only a fraction of a premier pen. I mean that the discount off of the premium price for a pen with issues should not be 10 or 20 percent...more like 70 or 80 percent.
Syd


Syd, when you say 20 years (and I understand that's a generality), that's 20 years before the pen crumbles? or 20 years before it exhibits signs of Stage 2? Because the minute that pen shows the first sign of translucence, that pen devalues significantly. I'm not sure I fully agree with a 70-80% devaluation of a state 2 pen - maybe 50% or a little more (a number 10 nib's value is probably $400)

On the other hand - high quality specimens I suppose will continue to rise in value as the pool of them continues to shrink.

(I don't consider myself an investor in pens, but I don't like to see money I've put into them crumble away either).

Marc

#7 Wahlnut

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 07:30

[/quote]

Syd, when you say 20 years (and I understand that's a generality), that's 20 years before the pen crumbles? or 20 years before it exhibits signs of Stage 2? Because the minute that pen shows the first sign of translucence, that pen devalues significantly. I'm not sure I fully agree with a 70-80% devaluation of a state 2 pen - maybe 50% or a little more (a number 10 nib's value is probably $400)

On the other hand - high quality specimens I suppose will continue to rise in value as the pool of them continues to shrink.

(I don't consider myself an investor in pens, but I don't like to see money I've put into them crumble away either).

Marc
[/quote]

You are quite right if you include the #10 nib. Of course I was limiting my devaluation estimate to the pen without regard to special hardware. Hypothetically, If I had an inferior pen with a #10 nib, I would probably remove the nib and put it into another more worthy specimen or wait for one and install an average #6 nib in its place and maybe sell it off with proper disclosures of course.

If I had a real database of deteriorating pens covering the past 20 years I suppose my estimated life span number might have more validity. But my own experience goes back almost that far and I have many pens that showed a little translucence that have not gotten much worse and many unblemished ones that have yet to start to deteriorate at all. Based on that experience I felt safe to say that a time in the future equal to the time I have witnessed in the past seemed reasonable. Who really knows for sure?
Syd
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#8 FredRydr

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 17:35

...low humidity...are the worst conditions for these plastics.

...not kept in...humid places then there should be no problems...


Do we have a chemical engineer on the FPN forum who can resolve such conflicts? My pens are protected from humidity.

Fred

#9 Vintagepens

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 19:15

High humidity is the problem, not low. Celluloid is not wood.

#10 Silent Speaker

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 19:27

High humidity is the problem, not low. Celluloid is not wood.

But, what if you live in a humid country? :unsure:

#11 UptheWahl

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Posted 03 January 2012 - 19:29

The WES held a lecture the day before the London Pen Show in October. The speaker was the expert on celluloid and hard rubber conservation from the Victoria & Albert museum in London. While she wasn't generally familiar with fountain pens, per se, her bottom line advice was that all products made with these materials will eventually deteriorate. Its only a matter of time. There are no known ways to prevent deterioration. Celluloids made with more "filler" material, such as black pens, deteriorate at a slower rate than those with lower proportions of filler. To best slow deterioration, celluloid items should be stored in a cool, dark place with as little oxygen as possible, such as a sealed container containing an inert gas.

While I don't think that the use of steam heated molds to form Dorics is the only reason for their place among the most likely of pens to crystallize, I do agree with David that it is probably a major factor, perhaps through creating unrelieved stress in the plastic.

Knowing all this, I still have a broad collection of virtually all variations of size, model, and color of Dorics.

Cliff

#12 Wahlnut

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 07:03

Good information. As a matter of fact, my best oversized Dorics as well as other "rare" plastic and hard rubber pens are stored in inert heavier than air gas filled containers that I made. Some may remember my "Preserv-a-Pen" display I had at the LA Pen show in 2010? There were few takers/believers about inert gas storage then, so I shelved it. But that is what I use today for myself.
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#13 dascoyne

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 20:15

That's why it is very important NOT to store those fragile celluloid pens in airtight containers or wrapped in any sort of plastic film. These pens should have good air circulation and should not be exposed to high temperatures and high humidity.

Would an ideal place to store my Kashmir and Morocco dorics be my gun-safe? It's dark and has a convection "dri-rod" dehumidifier (to prevent rust). It seems to be the ideal place given those requirements.

#14 ihimlen

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 01:19

That's why it is very important NOT to store those fragile celluloid pens in airtight containers or wrapped in any sort of plastic film. These pens should have good air circulation and should not be exposed to high temperatures and high humidity.

Would an ideal place to store my Kashmir and Morocco dorics be my gun-safe? It's dark and has a convection "dri-rod" dehumidifier (to prevent rust). It seems to be the ideal place given those requirements.


I suppose room temperature would suffice given that in the hot and more humid parts of the world the aircon is usually 'always on'. But I wouldn't leave the pens in direct sunlight or kept them sealed (unless it's some sort of specialist storage Syd mentioned) or wrapped in a plastic bag. But if the gun safe is a cool and well-ventilated place then it sounds like a nice storage idea for pens that are more delicate and prone to deterioration. Of course I'm not trying to scare anyone or put anyone off using the more fragile Dorics - after all, these pens were made to write and as long as they are handled with care, they can be enjoyed indefinitely.

[off-topic joke:

Unhappy cutomer goes back to complain to the pen dealer:
- You said the Doric you sold me will last me a lifetime yet after a few days it literally crumbled and fell apart!!
- Well, when you came to buy the pen you looked so poorly....]

i.

Edited by ihimlen, 05 January 2012 - 01:25.

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#15 Keyless Works

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 21:14

Sorry for digging up an old thread but this seems like an appropriate place to ask since there is already lots of good information in this thread. 

 

I am considering this pen as my first Doric and the seller has sent me pictures which I believe show minor crystallization.  It's a first generation senior size (not oversize) Kashmir Doric.  Would this pen make a good user?  If so what would be a fair price...it seems to be in good condition other than the crystallization. 

 

 

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#16 winterwolfen

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Posted 15 August 2014 - 12:25

If I were you and wanted to buy a doric, a would wait until the new eversharp company will lunch the new dorics, I think it will be in about a year?



#17 sidthecat

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Posted 02 December 2014 - 02:38

The celluloid problem sounds very much like what happens to old animation cels. The very oldest ones (like Snow White cels) are nitrate-based and, like many lost films, literally crumbled to dust. Celluloid cels are more stable but prone to crumpling and paint loss. Of course, when they were produced nobody thought that anyone would want to own what was essentially a waste product. Producing these thing is literally a lost art since the business went digital, and the cels that you can get at Disneyland are silk-screened especially for the trade. Don't tell the kids.

#18 Amberjack

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Posted 02 December 2014 - 03:37

If I were you and wanted to buy a doric, a would wait until the new eversharp company will lunch the new dorics, I think it will be in about a year?

 

This.  I hope it's not that long but there hasn't been an update in a while on the project.

 

I love my Skyline Technik (it even took the place of my 51s) and when the Dorics come out will be a ready purchaser.

 

I understand the desire for the 'original' pens but I enjoy my new Wahl right alongside my vintage Skylines.

 

Jack


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#19 sidthecat

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Posted 04 December 2014 - 21:55

The pen and pencil set arrived - a Pocket Jr. set in Kashmir and it looks like it was a good batch. I see no sign of deterioration. Lucky.








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