Last Sunday found me at the Novotel, Hammersmith, for the twice-yearly London pen show. This time I went alone, my wife having changed her mind about attending, but sending me off with the cheery instruction “Don’t go mad.”
As always, I had a great day. The atmosphere was relaxed and enjoyable in the bright and spacious halls. The hotel’s bar/restaurant area is on hand for those wishing to take a break although I prefer to make the most of the time browsing the tables.
I soon found several friends and familiar faces such as Dave, and Gary from the pen club and Jon of Pensharing who attended this time as a visitor, without his Pensharing table.
My first task was to buy another Onoto Scholar so I made a bee-line for the Onoto table. These were again offered at an attractive show discount. Buying one requires decisions as to pen colour, whether gold or silver colour trim, nib grade and lastly the colour for the included leather single pen pouch. Without too much deliberation, I went with Black, Silver, Fine, Black. These were put in a smart Onoto box with an additional pen sleeve, custodian’s welcome card and a polishing cloth, making a wonderful, presentable package, which is what this will be.
Next I visited John Hall’s “Write Here” table. His newsletter the previous day had teased of some attractive show offers, including on Montegrappa and Cleo Skribent and I was keen to see what these were. To my delight, John had a Montegrappa “Monte Grappa”. Longer term readers may recall that I have some history with this model having bought one in Harrods but promptly returned it in a bout of buyer’s remorse. I had never quite got over this “break-up” and had often looked longingly for online offers to own one once again, but without success. Imagine my delight then, when John showed me one in a smart glossy black, with 14k gold medium nib at an irresistible less-than-half-price discount. I bought it in a flash.
I asked John whether he had any Cleo Skribent pens with him. He directed me to the other end of his tables. I do already have two models from this lesser known German brand, which I liked very much save for the fact that they were piston fillers and that the pistons had grown stiff and could not be re-greased. Over the years I had tried in vain to introduce some silicone grease into the reservoir, as you can with a Lamy 2000 using a tooth pick. However the barrel of the Cleo Skribent Classic, piston filler does not unscrew and the piston cannot be removed from the other end either, as far as I know. This is a pity as it is a comfortable and elegant pen and the nibs are very pleasant (and are friction fit, easily removable).
I had long been interested in getting another Classic, but cartridge-converter version. These look just the same as the piston fillers but without an ink window. My preference was for the Bordeaux red, to complement my two black models.
Again, my luck was in! John had a selection of Cleo Skribent Classics, including one Bordeaux red cartridge-converter model, fitted with a 14k broad nib. Perfect! (I already have a steel fine and a gold medium). This was for sale with over one third off the full price. Yes please! John had a number of Classics in white and with stainless steel nibs also greatly discounted. I was unable to resist picking up one of these with a medium nib. I figured that I could later give it the gold nib from my old black piston filler model.
One of my objectives for this pen show was to find another Parker 17 Lady. I had bought one at a previous show, in green but had gone a little too cheap and picked it from the “everything £10.00” box. Although its nib was soft and smooth, the body of the pen had a number of cracks to the cap, barrel and section making it unusable.
This time, browsing through the trays and tubs of vintage pens at various price points, I spotted another Parker 17 Lady, this time in blue, in a box at £20.00. Examining this, I could not believe my eyes as it appeared to be new, with the model and nib description still clearly visible stamped in white ink on the barrel. Seeing no cracks this time, I bought this little beauty.
I also spotted a larger Parker in dark red with hooded nib, also a “Parker 17” but not a Lady this time. It appeared to have an oblique broad nib. Unfortunately I could see a crack to the shell immediately over the nib, which was stained with old ink. I could foresee this one leaking, which was a shame as I was very tempted by the nib. However, I was offered it for £30.00 instead of £40.00 and at this price I thought it well worth taking a chance.
Another bargain of the day, was a Conklin Mark Twain Crescent filler, in black chase finish, with rose gold colour plating on the clip, cap ring and crescent filler. The nib was a stealthy black coated medium, rather at odds with the rose gold bling but handsome none the less. The black chasing was much like the original ebonite model produced in 1903 as used by Mark Twain. These are good fun and I have had a couple of them in the past. The nib housings are also interchangeable with the Jinhao X450.
My final fountain purchase was made at Kirit Dal’s Aurora table. He had trays of his sample pens, now generously discounted to around half normal price. This was all the encouragement I needed to take another look at the Aurora Duo-Cart, a steel nib pen with an unusual semi-hooded nib and a metal cap. It is a modern pen but looks very similar in style to the Aurora 88 designed in 1947 by Marcello Nizzoli – an Italian architect, designer and artist who was the chief designer for Olivetti for many years, designing their portable typewriters in 1950. I had been rather intrigued by the Duo-Cart but had not tried one before and seeing one at half price was too good to miss.
I had a very happy day, seeing many friends, browsing the tables and making some purchases. If not exactly a frenzy, I was certainly on a roll. Several times, I lost count of how many pens I had bought and had to stand still and peer into my tote bag and count the boxes, which I had packed upright so that I could more easily count the ends.
Aside from the pen-purchases, I also picked up another A5 Semikolon journal, a rather luxurious leather 3-pen case at Vince Coates’ table, and a large book entitled Fountain Pens History and Design, full of interesting information and photographs published in 1998.
After all these new arrivals, it was fun to examine them all at home. Being too many to play with in one evening, I have been inspecting them all week! Oddly enough, it was the least expensive of these, the Parker 17 Lady, which I was the most eager to try out. A tiny pen, it is dainty and elegant when posted. The aerometric filler looked surprisingly clean for a pen which could be around 50 years old. I dipped the pen and tried to write: nothing! I dipped again: again nothing. I then filled the pen with Waterman Serenity blue and although I got a good fill with about five presses of the bar, still the nib refused to write. I wondered whether this was why the pen had remained in such remarkably new condition. I put it aside whilst I played with some of others.
A few days later, it occurred to me that the nib could be suffering from “baby’s bottom” and might benefit from a little smoothing on the Micromesh pads. This I tried but again, although filled with ink, the pen would not write a word.
Next I tried tackling the tines, sliding a fine brass shim between the tines at the tip and then sliding it up and down until the nib’s grip on the brass could be felt to be weakening slightly. This time, the pen then began to write, and very smoothly at that. It was still necessary to go at a measured pace and not to write too fast. The Lady will not be rushed.
As for the larger red Parker 17, I flushed the nib and tried to clean the cracked area of dried ink. Then, rather impatiently and before even trying to fill the pen, I dropped superglue on the shell to allow it to run down through the split in the shell and hopefully bind up the crack and prevent leaks. I left it a few hours to harden. The pen does now write, with a lovely line as you would expect from a vintage oblique broad but is a bit of a slow starter.
The Montegrappa, predictably, feels lovely in the hand. The medium nib writes well with just a little softness. I filled it with Diamine Tavy, blue black. Whilst I try multiple inks in some pens, with this pairing I feel like I have got it right first time. However, I did have a slight scare on Friday night when I tried to write something and found the nib to be dry. I had written only around 4 – 5 pages since filling it. I worried that perhaps the piston on this mystery filler was at fault. But, it transpired that on filling the pen, I had then wound the piston down again emptying the ink silently back into the bottle, thinking I was filling it. A newbie error! I now know that you must turn Clockwise to fill the pen. It is easy to forget, when the piston knob does not rise or fall but stays in the same place.
The Conklin is fun to fill and to use. The Aurora Duo-Cart needed a little tine-easing and might benefit from a little more.
In conclusion, I did rather blow my annual pen budget in a day, but arguably it makes sense to do this early on and so have the rest of the year to enjoy the pens. There was a theme to my purchases in that many were “classic”, vintagey designs and/or pens that I own or have owned before. I don’t think I went mad, as every purchase was eminently well reasoned and justifiable. And that is the case for the Defence.