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All three of the Esterbrook Dip-Less Pens shown were inked until a few days ago. Actually, I even have a fourth, but the need for three desk pens was already pushing it.




The bottom pen is still inked, with Noodler's Walnut, in case I want a brown ink. The double set on top had Private Reserve Black Cherry (not really a red, more a rich, vaguely reddish brown) and Noodler's Black American Eel. It's now empty. I have a couple of Varsities in case I want a red or a black ink.


A couple of days ago, taking the Black Cherry pen out to write with, I notice that there was a white fuzz on the feed. Looking inside the bottle, I could see that it was there too. I've seen this referred to as SITB (slime in the bottle), a growth of mold that can happen in inks when mold spores get inside there. It was my first personal experience with this.


There was nothing in the black ink side, but because of the dual design, it seemed easiest to clean the whole thing. I emptied the inks, completely disassembled the whole thing, and soaked all the parts overnight in a bucket of water and ammonia solution. A couple of hours would probably have been fine, but there were distractions, and I forgot about it. Of course, there was some danger of the ammonia damaging the pens or the base, but I seem to have gotten away with it. After rinsing all the parts, I soaked the nib feed assemblies in a glass of ammonia solution for another couple of hours.


It's possible I will fill these again at some point, but first I want to see if I get any kind of growth on the dry pens or the base unit. The feed material and the base unit are both somewhat porous, and ammonia is not necessarily effective with porous materials.


The single Dip-Less set at the bottom of the picture is a later style where the pen does not dip directly into the bottle; the nib sits in a nest of plastic rods which draw up the ink from the bottle by capillary action. The dual set is different; the bottles are inverted and the ink gradually runs into the base unit, forming a puddle of ink that the nib dips into. I've noticed before that this seems to lead to the ink evaporating more rapidly than you'd expect. It may also have allowed airborne mold spores to settle in there.


Anyway, an interesting experience, and hopefully useful to others who may be considering the Dip-Less models. These are the Esterbrooks which I've used most often over the past two or three years, and I do like them.

"So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do."


- Benjamin Franklin

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This kind of mold is one reason I never really used my sets. Also, dedicating a bottle of ink to one pen seemed too expensive. So, I let my wife use the bases for ballpoints.

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I do wonder if Private Reserve maybe the greatest factor as their quality control has become inconsistant after the death of their original ink maker a few years ago leading to greater occurrence of SITB and mold....

FP Ink Orphanage-Is an ink not working with your pens, not the color you're looking for, is never to see the light of day again?!! If this is you, and the ink is in fine condition otherwise, don't dump it down the sink, or throw it into the trash, send it to me (payment can be negotiated), and I will provide it a nice safe home with love, and a decent meal of paper! Please PM me!<span style='color: #000080'>For Sale:</span> TBA

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  • 1 year later...

Thank you for sharing.

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Thank you for sharing as I've considered owning one of these in the past. Honestly, I think just a nice capped ink well and a dip pen holder type would be more my likeing. While I understand niber where considered disposable, I hope to lengthen the life of mine by cleaning and drying well. I cannot imagine a nib setting in ink is going to last long. So, overall, the concept of a ready pen using these concepts seem like more trouble.

"Respect science, respect nature, respect all people (s),"

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  • 2 weeks later...

I’ve had difficulty before with Private Reserve getting moldy.


I would use something like Waterman in Dipless pens. It is not likely to go moldy, or be too clogging if it somewhat evaporates.


These are great pens if you use them. It was always recommended that you clean them regularly, whether you use them a lot or not.


The slime is disconcerting. Hopefully your ammonia soak and then using a good, stable ink like Waterman or Parker, which have anti-microbials already in it, will kill off what was growing there. The glass base is easy, you can even use bleach on it, but not on the plastics.


“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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Amen to what AAAndrew says. I keep my 407s and 444s filled with Parker Quink. I never had an issue. I love the dip less sets.

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  • 1 month later...

Thank you for sharing the picture of your beautiful inkwells and blotter as well as your experience .

SITB (slime in the bottle).


Would veterans inkwells' users agree that Pelikan and Herbin could be considered safe inks to use in those vintage items?


The high volume of the bottles below, seem to suggest that they were created to fill inkwells, especially school inkwells.


Pelikan Ink 4001 in Royal blue can be eradicated and washed out of most textiles, it used to be made in 1 litter bottles.


Herbin has a 100ml ink bottle available in six colors. Perle Noire /09; Eclat de Saphir /16; Bleu Nuit /19; Lie de The /44; Poussiere de Lune /48; Violette Pensee /77

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I don't have any experience with Herbin or Pelikan inks. My general rule is when filling vintage pens, I use Waterman. Waterman is regarded as pretty much safe for any valuable vintage pen.


That being said, I don't think the use of inks considered less safe for expensive vintage pens is necessarily a problem for inkwell and Dip less sets. They are much easier to clean out than a pocket pen with a sac and tiny feed passages and fins and delicate early plastics etc. Just run under cool water and gently clean. In fact, I use my Dip less sets as a test medium for new inks before filling a nice pocket pen.


Herbin and Pelikan have fine reputations. You shouldn't have a problem. I say use them and enjoy!

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Both Herbin and Pelikan will work. I've had one Herbin ink slime on me, I've never had a Pelikan. Even with that, I have some Herbin inks from the late 90's that are still fine.


Take that for what you will. In other words, go for it. Use whichever you prefer.


“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

Check out my Steel Pen Blog

"No one is exempt from talking nonsense; the mistake is to do it solemnly."


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I have used Private Reserve inks for years, so my bottles span much of that company's history. To date I have never experienced any SITB in any of my Private Reserve inks. I use their Midnight Blues Fast Dry as my go-to ink in a variety of pens.


Now I do understand that there were reports some time back about SITB problems with Private Reserve, but from talking with them last fall, I believe that they some time ago corrected whatever the problem was.


I have no connection with Private Reserve other than being a satisfied customer.



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My experience with P.R. is iffy. I have had more than one bottle go funky (I bought some new from a local vendor who loved them, especially Tanzanite), but others have held up so far. They aren't my ink of choice.


I tend to stay with Watermans, Diamine, or older Sheaffer.

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