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Fountain Pens During Its Heyday

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57 replies to this topic

#41 Estycollector

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 15:51

 
I'd say this is an apt comparison.  My dad was a believer in paying enough to get something that met his minimum requirements, which could be fairly steep.  For example, he bought Craftsman hand tools, because he knew he could easily get replacements for any that failed, by going to the local Sears store, but not any of the more expensive and durable tools with the same sort of guarantee, such as Snap-on.  In like manner, even as a relatively impecunious college student after his term in the military ended, he bought one of the earliest aerometric Parker "51"s, with the black cap on the end of the sac cover, in black with lustraloy cap, and an Omega wristwatch with an expansion band. 


Good post. I do remember my grandfather saying you only have to purchase a good tool once.

Not a day goes by that I dont use a pen or pencil so that I need a tool for writing. What I do not need is a $1k fountain pen because less expensive ones exist. Thats something entirely different. I suspect the difference in those two examples is what separates them from us.

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#42 txomsy

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 20:56

Yeah, my mom said that her grandfather was know as "Those" Brake.  Because he'd go to the store (this was in West Virginia, likely about the same time period as your great-grandfather) and say "I'd like to get some of those apples" instead of what most other people said, which was "I want some of them apples".

Most of my mother's aunts and uncles on that side of the family were teachers.  My great uncle Clyde taught high school Latin (my mom grew up in the 1920s and 30s).  By the time I got to high school (upper middle class area, about 50 miles north of NYC) they no longer even offered Latin as an option.  (When I was growing up, they offered French, German, Russian and Spanish in middle school; by high school, all the kids who had had 2 years of Russian had to switch to another language because it was no longer offered; Latin and Japanese had disappeared off the high school curriculum as well.

Ruth Morrisson aka inkstainedruth

I still had compulsory Latin. Which proved great when I later studied Medicine (Anatomy -at least then- used Latin for all terms), and when even later on, doing Molecular Biology I had to match Evolution to Taxonomy (which is also Latin). Odd how it helped understand and make it easier. So, it was useful even in Science. I'm trying to refresh it to read Erasmus works, Newton's Principia Mathematica and the classics one day.

 

I guess that we all feel any old time was better because for most of us memory is selective and we keep what we like to remember. Not everybody feels the same, however, about education. Beats me. But so is life.

 

Regarding pens in Ye Olde Tymes, I feel tempted to define them like Obi Wan Kenobi describing Anakin's lightsaber to Luke Skywalker, "an elegant weapon for a more civilised time". Then I remember that, if asked in 50 years, people will probably  say the same of today. And in 100 years the same about 50 from now. And probably scribes did say the same of the calami or stilli in the fond memories from their own youth 5000 years ago. Whether any time is more or less civilized is something I leave to politics and won't discuss.



#43 Bibliophage

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Posted 05 February 2020 - 03:31

Well, when typewriters finally became common, people bemoaned the loss of the ability to communicate clearly.    Prior to that, with the telegraph, there was a bemoaning of the abuse of the English language due to the brevity of space.   

 

"The good-old days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."  



#44 AAAndrew

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Posted 05 February 2020 - 13:32

An interesting thread. 

 

I would only throw in an observation about the transitions between writing instruments, namely regarding portability.

 

For a long time, the pencil was the only truly portable writing instrument. To write with ink you had to have a flat surface, liquid ink and a reed, quill or metallic pen, depending on when you were writing. 

 

My theory is that the fountain pen was, initially, primarily a replacement for the pencil as a portable writing instrument. The dip pen stayed around quite a long time (Esterbrook and Turner & Harrison stopped making dip pens in 1952, and some companies, still make them). 

 

Sure, some people who wrote quite a bit, like authors, embraced the fountain pen for its ability to keep your flow of idea uninterrupted by the need to dip the pen in ink. But for most people, the dip pen worked quite well, and was significantly cheaper than any fountain pen. 

 

This began to change in a big way around WWI. Fountain pens began to be made more simple (self fillers, no more messy droppers or complex filling mechanisms), more reliable, and, most importantly, more inexpensive. It was at that point, that fountain pens became a replacement for dip pens. 

 

Dip pens remained important into the 30's, but the new plastics at that time really challenged the dominance of the dip pen. By the 40's they were primarily used for schools, artists, and people who were used to the "old ways" and didn't see a need to change. 

 

Most surviving vintage dip pens are from the period of the 19-teens to the 1940's. I suspect most of them survived because they were already purchased when the owner then bought a fountain pen and put the unused nibs away "just in case." They were never used again and thus survived at the back of someone's drawer. 

 

Interestingly, pencils, both wood and mechanical, have survived the longest. They're kind of like those animals who have survived relatively unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs. Other creatures come and go, but they just keep plodding on, fitting their niche in the ecosystem quite well. 



“When the historians of education do equal and exact justice to all who have contributed toward educational progress, they will devote several pages to those revolutionists who invented steel pens and blackboards.” V.T. Thayer, 1928



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#45 Addertooth

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Posted 05 February 2020 - 14:39

Certainly many of the vintage pens which look pristine rested in the back of a drawer for decades.

I will also say there are a lot of pens, which due to wear patterns, showed significant signs of decades of dedicated use.

They tend to be ignored by the pen community because they are no longer "pretty".  I would say there are more well-used pens out there than pristine examples.

I know how long it takes to wear through simple gold plating, but gold filled finishes are much thicker, and there are endless examples of those pens which have had their gold filled finishes worn through.

I have a couple of writing instruments which hang from my lanyard.  I have carried them for years.  It gives me a real feel for how much use is required to diminish the finish of pens.

For the record, their plated finishes are still intact, but they have a harder plating (chrome).  And plating which is poorly done, does have a shorter life.  Many of the old pens were built to a high standard.

The majority of pens which show up for sale show a lot of wear and use.  Overall, I tend to reject the notion the majority of survivor pens today, were rejected and ignored by their first user. 

Things were simply made better back then.  Materials were durable, coatings were thicker.  There is no question that Hard Rubber is more durable than many modern plastics.  It is certainly more durable than many of the early plastics.  


Edited by Addertooth, 05 February 2020 - 14:43.


#46 BaronWulfraed

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Posted 05 February 2020 - 16:39

Well, when typewriters finally became common, people bemoaned the loss of the ability to communicate clearly.    Prior to that, with the telegraph, there was a bemoaning of the abuse of the English language due to the brevity of space.   

 

 

And now we can bemoan the return of telegraphspeak -- in the form of the text messages being sent over phones.

 

Y, u 2 cn spk trsh
 



#47 Bibliophage

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Posted 06 February 2020 - 04:35

Speedball, which apparently started with stencil pens (dip pens), is making dip/stencil nibs still.   I was browsing Texas Art Supply to pick up a glass cutter and letter writing paper, and checked that aisle. 



#48 corniche

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Posted 06 February 2020 - 04:42

Speedball, which apparently started with stencil pens (dip pens), is making dip/stencil nibs still.   I was browsing Texas Art Supply to pick up a glass cutter and letter writing paper, and checked that aisle. 


Oh, yeah, Speedball is still around; you can also find them at Blick and Jerry's Artorama. They also have a line of inks.
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#49 AAAndrew

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Posted 06 February 2020 - 19:53

Charles Howard Hunt, or C. Howard Hunt, or C.H. Hunt, or just Hunt made the Speedball pens for a long time. As is the case with the British pen manufacturers who still make dip nibs, there has been a lot of consolidation, spin-offs, buy-outs.... 

 

But you can still buy Hunt nibs, Gillott nibs, Leonardt nibs, Brause nibs...  These names go back to the beginning of the steel pen industry in Birmingham, England. The companies have come and gone, but the brands live on. 

 

But none are quite as good as the vintage originals.  ;)



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#50 inkstainedruth

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Posted 07 February 2020 - 00:17

Well, when typewriters finally became common, people bemoaned the loss of the ability to communicate clearly.    Prior to that, with the telegraph, there was a bemoaning of the abuse of the English language due to the brevity of space.   

 

"The good-old days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."  

 

Wow.  Talk about serendipity.  

I've spent a chunk of today fighting with technology (first the mail system on my laptop, and then most of the contacts on my phone got dropped.  And at one point I was complaining that while I could provide feedback about Apple devices and apps, I COULDN'T for the websites themselves.  And even then, I was character limited in comments.  And said something along the line of "Some of us don't live in the Twitter-verse and we are NOT counting the cost of words as if sending a telegram....!"

In one of the go-rounds with Apple earlier this week, I told the person on their chat line that I was minded to start my usual rant about "I have a 1937 Parker Vacumatic Red Shadow Wave that works better than a six year old laptop!" except for the fact my husband is sick of hearing it.  And she got really interested.  So apparently she had access to Google Images and then said "A Red Pearl?" and I said, "No, a Shadow Wave -- they didn't have the same level of warranty as the Pearl models because it wasn't as good a grade of celluloid...."  THEN she goes "That's a $300 pen!" (of course not stopping to consider that I'm on a $1500 laptop :rolleyes:).  So I said, "Well, I didn't pay nearly that much, but a seller at the place where I got mine in an auction had one almost identical to mine and he was asking $250...."  So we had a lovely chat about pens but then she had to get her senior advisor because she couldn't figure out what was wrong with the computer.... 

Ruth Morrisson aka inkstainedruth


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#51 hbdk

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Posted 27 June 2020 - 16:34

Not directly FP related, but it is interesting to hear about literacy in other countries. In Denmark we have had close to 100% literacy for more than 200 years - at least officially; it is estimated that 10-15% of the adult population is unable to read a newspaper or a manual at their workplace, despite at least 7-9 years of education - we still have room for improvement! 

 

98% of us are not able to understand a letter from the authorities - but that is another matter...


Edited by hbdk, 27 June 2020 - 16:41.

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#52 Pingu

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Posted 29 June 2020 - 23:00

Extract from DH Lawrence letter dated January 1922... 🙂
he wants an Onoto fountain pen with a broad nib... he implies that he didnt consider it an expensive pen... half guinea in 1922 is about £30 today...

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Edited by Pingu, 29 June 2020 - 23:02.


#53 Estycollector

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Posted 29 June 2020 - 23:37

Extract from DH Lawrence letter dated January 1922...
he wants an Onoto fountain pen with a broad nib... he implies that he didnt consider it an expensive pen... half guinea in 1922 is about £30 today...

 

Sounds like he might have had a few beers. Thank you for posting, and especially the "stump of a pencil". 


Edited by Estycollector, 29 June 2020 - 23:38.

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#54 Pingu

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Posted 30 June 2020 - 19:29

Thanks Esty 🙂

DH Lawrence must have liked Onoto...
this is from a play he wrote in 1909, so the plunger filler fountain pen must have been quite a wonder at the time...

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#55 dennis_f

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Posted 30 June 2020 - 21:24

Product placement in entertainment in 1909?  Wow.


Edited by dennis_f, 30 June 2020 - 21:24.


#56 praxim

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Posted 01 July 2020 - 00:03

Interesting that the described filling method is simply wrong.

 

An Onoto (and similar) is filled by withdrawing the piston, putting the nib into ink then pushing home the piston. It is not a pump action, and the described method would leave you with the piston out and little ink in the pen.

 

I surmise that Lawrence had read about them but did not yet own one in 1909.


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#57 Ink Stained Wretch

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Posted 07 July 2020 - 07:24

Well, when typewriters finally became common, people bemoaned the loss of the ability to communicate clearly.    Prior to that, with the telegraph, there was a bemoaning of the abuse of the English language due to the brevity of space.   
 
"The good-old days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."


Somewhere, maybe in a Project Gutenberg E-book, I read a small rant from someone writing in c. the 1820s, about how steel pens were causing the end of proper writing. The writer had a lot to say about how penmanship was being wiped out by steel pens and that pretty soon no one would be able to read the handwritten word anymore. So, yeah, this is a tendency of humans - to decry anything that's replacing what we're used to.


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#58 inkstainedruth

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Posted 07 July 2020 - 17:31

:lol: 

A friend of my husband's was posting to the "Wednesday night dinner crowd" mailing list that he was going through and getting rid of some old stuff that he didn't want to keep and found his old cassette tape version of a Sony Walkman!  And my husband then posted that he'd be willing to take it if the guy was giving it away....  

I have a couple of (really poor quality) cassette tapes of a free folk concert in the early 1970s at the library by my house.  I have no idea whether the tapes are even playable at this point (they've been in a box in a dresser drawer for years, along with one I found in the bargain bin at a record store in the (probably long gone) urban mall in Bridgeport CT when I wa a sophomore in college -- I had read a review of the album but had never heard anything from it and it turns out to be not half-bad (except for one cover that is just goofy and the one I would have liked to been a fly on the wall when THAT executive decision was made -- just to see how much in the way of drugs and alcohol were involved....  (I describe it as "goofy with a capital 'goo').  Never did find it on vinyl, but I did track down the CD on Amazon of it a few years ago, and it gets fairly regular airplay on the car stereo.  But I still have that poor little bargain bin cassette....  

I also have a cassette for an album that the price for the CD(!) is running $75+ on eBay.  Seriously?  The guitarist's previous band I've seen the CD version of their one and only album running for way less (a third to half the price...).  In order to get one song (and why I had that cassette in the first place) I had to find a "Best of" CD and read the description really carefully to make sure it was the one with the bonus tracks....

Now to find someplace I can burn the 8-track of "The Best of Love" (which is the only way at the time I could find their version of "Hey Joe "-- seriously different from the better known Jimi Hendrix version -- at all).  Of course now, I have the original album (from the mid-1960s) the song is on from as a CD....  Go figure.

Ruth Morrisson aka inkstainedruth


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