I had never heard of the Merlin 33 when I stumbled across them at a vintage pen shop in Columbus, Ohio. I was there on business, as I am every summer. I had bought a couple pens from this shop when I was a graduate student many years ago, but vintage pens were not on my radar at that time. Since I had been bitten by the (vintage) pen bug I made it a point to re-check out this shop on North High Street. I went in looking for vintage Sheaffer Balances.
I was attracted to the Merlin because of its good looks and its soft writing nib, and the fact that it had an interesting filling system. The owner of the shop, Jack Price, told me an exotic story of how these pens came to be. His story talked about WWII, the French resistance, and a large cache of pens hidden in a cave in France, to be discovered many years after the war. This story only added to the charm of this diminutive pen. I later inquired on Pentrace about the origins of the Merlin 33 and received the following reply from Andreas Lambrou.
Made in the 1950s by a small family business in Germany for the Netherlands. In the 1940s and early 1950s there were many small family enterprises in Germany making pens. The launch and success of the ball pen brought many of these companies to their feet.
In 1987 a long standing friend, who had a pen store in Amsterdam, called me to say he was contacted by the widow of the Dutch Merlin Distributor. She wanted to sell the Merlin pen stock and go on a world tour. There were 10,000 pens and she wanted to sell them all as one lot. They were too many for him and asked if I would take some at his cost of $1.50 each. The pens were button fillers, nibs and feeds were fitted into the sections, buttons and bars were not assembled.
Along with a friend Keith Brown, who was also a Flavour Technologist and pen collector, we put together $9,000, formed Classic Pens and went over to Holland to pick our first stock, 6,000 Merlins pens. The models were the Merlin 33 and a smaller pen the Merlin Merlina.
There were 56 different colors and designs with the 33, almost as many with the Merlina. I fitted sacs to a few hundred of them, and sold them to Pen Stores in England, our first customer was Harrods of Knightsbridge. The majority I sold unrepaired to dealers in London Antique Markets or traded for other vintage pens. Gradually with the profits we embarked to develop and launch the sterling silver CP Series, the CP1 Targa was launched in 1990.
We still have a complete collection of Merlin 33 colors and designs, back in England, maybe some day David Isaacson will shoot them.
There is a black and white photo of some of them in Fountain Pens Vintage and Modern, page 139.
The Merlin I bought is a striated gray plastic (perhaps celluloid) with a gold (probably plated) clip and single thin band. It also has a small 14k 585 nib. The pen is 4 11/16” long, capped, and 5 ˝ “ posted. The barrel is 7/16’ wide, with the cap being slightly wider. The clip has an “M” near the top and nib says “Merlin” over a sun within a diamond. I don’t think these details show up very well in the photos.
It is a nice looking pen, but by no means is it stunning.
The Merlins are button fillers and work well. Since the pen is small it does not hold a great deal of ink. It feels very small in the hand capped, but posted it feels good and is light and well balanced. The best thing about this pen is the nib. The pen I bought has a very fine nib, definitely an extra fine on western standards. In fact it is just slightly finer than my Sailor 1911 with a fine nib. What I like best about the nib is that it has a nice soft springy feel to it. It is not flexible in the vintage sense, but it has a nice soft, slightly flexy spring to it which makes writing with it a pleasurable experience. For an extra fine nib it writes very smoothly. It does not feel scratchy at all like many extra fine nibs. In fact, it is a tad smoother than my Sailor, probably because the nib is a bit more soft and springy than the 1911. I think this is pretty significant since Sailor makes such high quality nibs.
The Merlin is a great performer. It writes everytime without hesitation. Even after sitting for several weeks, it starts right up as soon as nib touches paper. It is a very reliable, trusted workhorse in my regular rotation. As far as reliability and quality I rank it with my Parker 51, and my Esterbrooks. Because of the extra fine nib I like to use it especially with small Moleskine and Clairfontaine notebooks.
You couldn’t ask much more from a $40 pen. I look forward to returning to Columbus in July so I can buy another of these fine vintage pens. And I did get a nice Sheaffer full size Balance in striated gray while I was there as well.
Edited by Matt, 22 February 2006 - 20:24.