Ebonite. We keep using that word. I do not think it means what we think it means.
We love pens made with ebonite, but ebonite was originally a brand name for hard rubber. Now it’s the name of a company that makes bowling balls, mostly from polyester, polyurethane, or reactive resin. Bowling balls haven’t been made from hard rubber since the 1970s.
But the blue, orange, and green hard rubber of the Ranga Model 8 is so evocative of time and place that it reminds me of going to the Fireside Lanes in Wichita, Kansas, with my Cub Scout den in the late 1960s, lacing on soft leather shoes with red, ivory, and green panels and a great big number on the heel, and picking out a swirly Brunswick bowling ball. Beyond the fact that the Ranga Model 8 writes smoothly and well, and that it displays charming hand craftsmanship, for me, the defining characteristic of this pen is the material. If I stick my nose close to the pen and sniff hard enough, I can smell burnt rubber, like the tires on my older brother’s 1970 Plymouth Barracuda. (On a curmudgeonly note, why are the tires on performance cars now so low-profile and skinny? They look like the wheels on Conestoga wagons. Why is that fashionable? But I digress.)
One other thing about hard rubber pens -- as FPN contributor Sandburger so eloquently put it, they are gloriously inconsistent. Like ceramics, like wooden boats, like anything made by human hands, they are imperfect and completely unlike each other, and that is what makes them spectacular.
This pen uses an eyedropper filling system, a black hard rubber feed (now that I think about it, writing ‘hard rubber’ is kind of tedious, so I’m just going to stick with ‘ebonite’), and a Bock broad nib. The imprint says ‘Conklin.’ I assume that means Bock manufactured a whole lot of nibs that didn’t get used by some iteration of the Conklin company and Ranga picked them up for clearance sale prices.
The nib on this pen is so broad and so well lubricated that I might as well be writing with a really slick bowling ball, and I mean that in a positive way. I bought the nib partly to learn more about Bock and partly to have enough tipping material to be ground into an italic, and succeeded on both counts.
The Model 8 also taught me something about ebonite feeds and eyedroppers. Initially, this pen’s nib and feed were seated in the section in such a way that the nib was a little ‘spongy,’ pushing back from the feed under pressure. That really screwed up the ink flow. But after pulling the feed, playing with it, adjusting its position with the nib, re-inserting it, and heat-setting it, this German Bock nib now slides across paper like white-soled shoes on waxed maple, baby. The eyedropper version is not a pen for beginners. They’re better off with the Model 8 versions equipped with Jowo or Schmidt nib units.
I inked this pen with Rohrer & Klingner Königsblau, thinking that a somewhat dry ink might help counteract the wetness of an eyedropper, and I was right.
The Model 8 is not a large pen. It’s about the size of a Pilot Metropolitan, in the Goldilocks category of not too large and not too small. Posted or unposted, it’s well-balanced in the hand. The aesthetics of the feed are a little chubby. In profile, the feed is all chin, like, I don’t know, John Goodman in ‘The Big Lebowski.’ It’s so chubby that I keep expecting it to drag on the paper, like one of those sweepers with brooms on Canadian curling teams. It doesn’t – drag on the paper, that is -- but the feed certainly makes its presence visible. Maybe the ebonite feed should go on a diet, or maybe, like John Goodman, it just doesn’t care.
This pen came without a clip, because I usually carry pens in a case, not in a pocket, and I like the way roll-stoppers personalize a pen. In this case, an inexpensive silver-plated dolphin protects this swirly, ocean-like pen from the depths of gravity. Or maybe the pen’s true habitat is a bowling alley in Miami.
Size comparison with the Pilot Metropolitan and the Airmail Wality 69eb. One centimeter longer than the Pilot Metropolitan, but barrel is about the same diameter.
I bought the Ranga Model 8 in a group buy organized by FPN contributor Vaibhav Mehandiratta, as well as MP Kandan of the Ranga company in Chennai, and I consider group buys to be the most special of limited editions. The pens are not numbered, and group buys are not technically limited or even special editions. But they’re made to order in a specific edition created only for Fountain Pen Network members. Basically, that means a hundred or two hundred obsessive-compulsive pen people, each of whom probably know each others’ tastes and preferences, and all of whom really like the same pen. Everybody can converse with each other and with the people who make the pens, talk about the product, improving both the pen and the experience. This is amazing! Imagine creating a group buy for a Plymouth Barracuda in 1970!
Ranga shipped the pen within a few weeks, and it arrived with some of the most unusual packaging. The box was sewn inside a white fabric sleeve, the shipping information written directly on the fabric, and the fabric seams were sealed with wax. It felt like being on the receiving end of a package shipped 150 years ago.
My assumption is that this tamper-proof packaging discourages overzealous postal employees from opening it up and obliterating the shipping information. It also reminds me that it’s been 20 years since I received brown paper packages tied up with string. A guy at the post office told me that packages just don’t come that way any more, except sometimes from Europe. Probably Austria. A bowling alley near Salzburg. Or maybe Chennai.