Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Collecting!
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching I started to think – instead of giving your loved one a box of chocolates why not give a red fountain pen? And then that got me thinking – what red fountain pens do I have in my collection? Quite a few actually. I know the Parker Duofold Big Red looks orange but I am counting in the red group. There is a red Parker 61 with a lustraloy cap and one with a gold cap. There’s a Parker English Duofold, a Parker 21, a Parker Eversharp, a Sheaffer Snorkel, a Sheaffer Triumph, an Esterbrook J series, a Conway Stewart, a Sailor, a vintage Mont Blanc and Mont Blanc 145. Oh, and a red Parker Vacumatic. Now you might think I have a thing for red fountain pens! Well, you are right! By the way, does anyone have a UK made blood red Parker 51 for sale? If so, give me a shout!
Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Collecting!
What pens and/or pen paraphernalia did Santa leave in your stocking this past Christmas? Did you treat yourself to something this holiday season? I am curious. The month of December is a busy one for us with a trip to New York City to check out the lights and decorations. OK, my ulterior motive is to visit the Fountain Pen Hospital which is located downtown not too far from city hall. They have a lovely selection of vintage pens and it’s always exciting to pour over the case! I picked up a Parker Duofold Junior in jade green which is a wonderful writer! My birthday is also in December and my wife gave me a beautiful Parker permanite, another great writer. On Christmas morning there were 2 small boxes under the tree with my name on them. One box contained an aerometric Parker 51 in teal and the other a Wahl Eversharp Skyline in navy blue. Wow! Santa, aka my wife, was generous! Now, if you add in a couple of vintage Sheaffer sets I bought from Gary Lehrer when his December catalogue came out – it was quite a month! Enough about what I received and/or bought – what did you acquire over the holidays? Please share.
A week ago I attended a meeting of our local pen club. We all brought a variety of pens and swapped stories about finding, restoring and collecting vintage fountain pens. It was a fun meeting and I enjoy sharing my passion with like minded people. Last night, my wife and I had dinner at a cozy restaurant in Salem, MA. The young waiter approached and after a brief exchange of pleasantries he asked, “Is that a Pelikan M200 and an Esterbrook J series in your pocket?” I broke out in a wide grin and a conversation about pens began. He was carrying, and taking orders with, a beautiful Delta Dolcevita. Clearly he was invigorated by the conversation and told me he wanted to add to his pen collection. We placed our order and no sooner had he walked away when the woman at the next table leaned over and said, “I couldn’t help over hearing your conversation.” She told us she was an architect and was always looking for pens. Furthermore, she told us her niece liked writing with fountain pens. It was pleasant and an unexpected surprise to have these conversations in a restaurant while eating delicious Italian food. I expect to have these conversations with my fellow pen aficionados at pen shows and club meetings. It delights me to realize that there is a whole world out there of pen lovers just like me who appreciate fine writing instruments. Based on this experience I can truly appreciate the attraction of pen collecting and how it permeates all walks of life. This taught me to be on the look out for pen people in places other than pens shows and meetings. Who knows – your next conversation about pens might be in the supermarket, an airport or a gas station!
Some years ago when someone graduated from college or got a promotion at work, a wonderful gift to celebrate those occasions was a fountain pen and pencil set. In the 1930s it might have been a Parker Vacumatic set, in the 1940s a Waterman Taperite set and in the 1950s it might have been a Sheaffer Snorkel set. Fast forward to the 1970s and 1980s and it was probably a Cross ballpoint pen and pencil set. While much is written about the pens, the pencils are sometimes forgotten. That’s too bad because the vintage pencils are just as decorative and interesting as their counterparts. There are practical uses for those pencils as well. Draftsmen, architects and mathematicians use pencils routinely. To an artist a pencil is an invaluable tool. There are some mechanical pencils which are collectible on their own such as the Norma multi color pencil. Norma was in business from the 1930s to the 1960s (as far as I can tell) in New York City and I am lucky to have one of their models which has 4 different color leads. If you would like more info on the Norma pencil please visit Roger Russell’s Norma Pencil Page at
Another great source of information is Jonathan A. Veley and his website at
I bought a copy of one of his books titled, The Catalogue of American Mechanical Pencils which is an excellent resource. With regards to modern mechanical pencils, go into any pen shop, stationery store or even the big box stationary stores and you will find mechanical pencils galore. Oh, I would be remiss if I didn’t end the post by saying I would welcome a mechanical pencil or a pen and pencil set as a gift any day!
As I look thru my collection of vintage fountain pens I see a variety of different filling mechanisms. There are plenty of sources of information on filling mechanisms and I thought it would be more fun to describe some pens and their associated filling mechanisms. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a sampling. (In all cases be sure to gently wipe the nib with a soft cloth or tissue after filling.)
Parker Duofold – this pen has a button fill. To fill, remove the blind cap, place the nib and half the section into the ink. Press the button, release and wait about 5 seconds. Remove the pen from the ink and replace the blind cap. Very simple and straight forward.
Sheaffer Defender 500 – this pen has a lever fill. Lift the lever until it stops, place the nib and half the section into the ink. Release the lever slowly and wait about 5 seconds. Remove the pen from the ink. The lever fill was one of the more common filling mechanisms and is found a on a variety of vintage fountain pens.
Parker Vacumatic and Parker 51 Vacumatic – these pens have vacumatic fill mechanism. Remove the blind cap, place the nib and half the section into the ink. Press the button 8-10 times pausing about a second between each press of the button. Remove the pen from the ink and replace the blind cap. Once again, very simple and straight forward.
Parker 51 Aerometric – these pens have an aerometric fill mechanism. Remove the barrel from where it screws on to the section and place the nib and half of the section into the ink. Press the bar 4-6 times pausing about a second between each press of the bar. Remove the pen from the ink and replace the barrel.
Sheaffer Touchdown and Vacumatic – in both cases unscrew the blind cap and pull the plunger out. Place the nib and half the section into the ink, then push the blind cap and plunger down. Leave the nib in the ink for about 5 seconds then tighten the blind cap. Remove the pen from the ink. The Touchdown has a fairly wide plunger whereas the vacumatic has a narrow plunger. Also, I have noticed that the Sheaffer Vacumatics offer a fair amount of resistance when you push down on the blind cap and that is normal.
Sheaffer Snorkel – this is one of the more interesting ones! Unscrew the blind cap and pull out the plunger. This causes the filler tube to extend out of the feed. Dip only the filler tube into the ink, push the blind cap and plunger down, wait about 5 seconds and then tighten the blind cap. When you tighten the blind cap the filler tube should go back into the feed.
Montblanc Monte Rosa – this pen has a piston filler mechanism. Turn the knob at the end of the barrel clockwise until it stops. Place the nib and half the section into the ink. Turn the knob counterclockwise until it stops. Remove the pen from the ink.
Of all of the functional parts of a fountain pen one could say the nib is the most important one. Why – because it is the nib that touches the paper thus effecting the written product. We have many choices when it comes to nibs in both vintage and modern fountain pens. Nibs come in different shapes and sizes such as the hooded nib of the Parker 51 or the cylindrical shape of the Triumph nib produced by Sheaffer. The tip of the nib can range in size from extra fine to broad. This allows us the ability to put down lines of different thicknesses. Additionally there are choices of stub or calligraphy nibs and nibs for fountain pen aficionados that are left handed. Nibs come in a variety of different materials. Gold, perhaps the most popular choice, allows a bit of flexibility. Stainless steel is less expensive and more stiff than gold. There are also some nibs made of alloys. For example the Octanium nib found on the Parker 51 Special and Parker 21 was introduced to lower the overall cost of the pen. I have pens with all of these various nib materials and enjoy writing with each one. One thing I do not have much experience with is flexible nibs. Flexible nibs allow the user to vary line width as you write. Essentially the tines of the nib spread as you apply a bit of pressure. So, as you can see, nibs come in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials and flexibility. There is a very nice summary of how to choose a fountain pen nib on jetpens.com so please check it out.
I just took a survey of ink in my home office area and found the following: 4 bottles of Parker Quink (Blue, Dark Blue, Black, Green), Sheaffer Skrip (Peacock Blue), 2 bottles of Montblanc (Blue, Red), Aurora (Blue), Chesterfield (Night Sapphire), 2 bottles of J Herbin (Grey, Green), Bexley (Mountain Violet), Private Reserve Ink (Daphnie Blue), Iroshizuki – Pilot (Brown), Pelikan (Blue) and Paradise Pen (Purple). Add to that a bottle of Waterman Blue and a bottle of Cross Black which were used up a few years back. So what does this all mean? At various points in time I saw a bottle of ink that I might like to try and bought a bottle. What do I use on a regular basis? The Parker Blue is my go to ink when I fill a vintage fountain pen. I have not made a scientific evaluation of these bottles of ink that sit on my shelf. I simply like the Parker Blue when I put pen to paper. Add to that the fact that it doesn’t seem to clog pens that I put aside for a short period of time. And, it flushes easily and thoroughly from my pens. I am in no way affiliated with Parker nor do I write this as an endorsement. I simply like the ink and my vintage fountain pens write well when filled with it. What ink(s) do you use in your vintage fountain pens? Why do you make those choices? I would very interested in knowing. I encourage all who read this blog to chime in.
Just when I complete the purchase of a vintage fountain pen I am already thinking about the next possible purchase. Case in point – when Gary Lehrer opened his March 2016 catalogue I purchased a Parker True Blue. Later that same day I saw a Parker 51 with a Rhodium cap in the catalogue that I just had to have. Collecting vintage fountain pens is a fun hobby. However, I warn you – it can be addictive. So, I am curious to the readers of this blog – where do you purchase your vintage fountain pens? There are many sources. These are my go to sources.
I love the thrill of the pursuit when it comes to finding the next vintage fountain pen to add to my collection. Unlike some of my fellow collectors I use my vintage fountain pens on a daily basis. Considerable thought is given to which pens I will carry. I select 2 -4 pens to carry with me to work. (2 in my shirt pocket and 2 more in a vintage pen case that I bought from Gary Lehrer.) I am a creature of habit so typically I will carry 2 Parkers and 2 Sheaffers all inked up with blue Parker Quink. (I find Parker Quink to be good for vintage fountain pens and will opine on this subject in a future blog.) In a typical work week I attend numerous meetings and take notes the old fashioned way with vintage fountain pens and a Rhodia notebook. A colleague of mine who retired a couple of years ago gave me a framed reprint of a 1928 Waterman add for Christmas after we discussed my passion. (He liked to write with mechanical pencils.) Another colleague called me a pen snob! My biggest fear at work is that someone will ask me that all time dreaded question, “Can I borrow your pen?” Yikes! I must admit I keep a supply of cheap pens on my desk and in my briefcase should that horrible question arise. I do enjoy the reaction of some to my habit. Last week I was cashing a check in the bank and the teller said, “I haven’t seen one of those in years!” If you are a vintage fountain pen collector don’t be afraid to use and enjoy your pens. Just be sure to keep a couple of cheap pens on hand in case someone asks to borrow your pen. Happy collecting!
I like the Parker 61 and have a bunch in my collection. I think the 61 has received some bad press over the years and I am writing in its defense. The downside to using fountain pens was that the process of filling them with ink was a messy business. Hence the ballpoint pen gained popularity in the 1950s. To address this problem Parker introduced the 61 in 1956. To fill the 61 you unscrew the barrel and place the back end of the pen in a bottle of ink for a few seconds (the length of time is debatable). The pen contains a porous material and fills thru capillary action and when you remove the pen from the bottle of ink there should be almost no ink to wipe off (this is debatable as well). You then screw the barrel back on and the pen is ready to write. Now, in my experience there always seems to be a small amount of excess ink which needs to be wiped off with a tissue. I’m willing to live with that minor issue. One of the major concerns about the filling mechanism was it clogging when not in use. True, but any fountain pen that has not been flushed and left for a period of time unused will have issues. In a later version of the 61 Parker did switch to a squeeze style converter for the filling mechanism. Another concern was that the decorative inlaid arrow on the gripping section was prone to falling off. That’s true, however, I’ve collected a number of them over the years and that has not happened to the ones I own. In comparison to the very popular 51 the 61 is a little shorter and smaller in girth. Like the 51, the 61 did come in a variety of colors and you can find them with both lustraloy and gold filled caps as well as a very attractive rainbow cap. There are pencils to match and both flighter (cap and body are stainless steel) and signet (cap and body are gold filled) versions. I think they write nicely and with proper care will serve you well. For more detailed information check out parkercollector.com. Happy collecting!
Neil and Vicky Lander are happy to share their thoughts and news here!