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Adventures in Pen Restoration: More Than You Bargained For

(This page published October 1, 2021)

Stories, etc. Index  ]


Note
Note
This is an adventure story, not an official repair article. I’ve included enough detail, however, that it might help someone in a similar situation with a pen that’s too good to pitch.

You never know what you’re going to run into when you pick up a pen to restore. That’s part of the fun; pulling your chestnuts out of the fire after what looks like a major screwup feels remarkably good.

Case in point: this BHR Morrison “chased” overlay from the 1920s.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

I had one of these Morrisons in 2003. It was a good example, but I sold it in a fit of inexplicable insanity. The second one came along in 2018; I bought it when I needed one to photograph for an article I was writing. At that time, I had to take what I could find, however, and that pen was not your basic winner. It was fine internally after I had restored it; but the clip, the cap overlay, and the barrel overlay were brassed at both ends, the cap overlay had corrosion cracks in the gold layer, and the overlay cap crown was dented. I decided I could live with it until a better example came along. This is what corrosion cracks look like:

Corrosion cracks

Then one day in March 2021 (or was it December 2020?), there arrived a third example. It came gratis in the package with another pen that I had bought from an eBay seller I knew and who knew me. That one was beautiful externally, but it had no nib, and the inner cap was damaged so badly that capping the pen would dislodge the nib. I discovered the problem with the inner cap when I tried to screw the old ugly pen’s barrel into the pretty cap to ensure that it would fit properly.

What’s an OCD pen collector to do?

On August 7, 2021, I got around to working on this pen. (Never let it be said that I’m a procrastinator!) The solution was simple: steal the good inner cap from the ugly pen and put it in the pretty pen. I rubbed my hands in anticipation. This would be child’s play, right?

Not so much. When I applied my inner cap remover to the old ugly pen, the inner cap would not budge, not even with heat or after being smacked around with a leather mallet. It was really stuck, and I was in no mood to soak it. Since that pen was destined for the scrap heap anyway, I used a Dremel with a cutoff wheel to make a lengthwise cut through the overlay along the back of the cap so I could peel the overlay away. As I peeled, the cap crown popped off, revealing that the cap body itself was merely a tube with two open ends. It was easy to figure out how the overlay had become dented.

Then I deepened the cut into the cap body itself, being careful not to cut all the way through and nick the inner cap, until I could split it by inserting the blade of a screwdriver into the cut and twisting the screwdriver to break the cut all the way. The cap body came away in chunks, leaving me with the inner cap (below, left), which was also a tube with no end plug. I cleaned it inside and outside and set it aside for later.

Old pen bits

I then removed the nib/section/sac assembly from the ugly pen. Everything about this assembly was good, and I intended to install it into the pretty pen. I also removed the pressure bar from the pretty pen and used a Dremel with a yellow 3M pinwheel disk to make it shiny all over.

About this time, I realized that the pressure bar had been pushing on the underside of the barrel where the back end rested, and the barrel was a little pregnant right there. Before reinstalling the pressure bar, I took advantage of hard rubber’s fantastic memory. Applying heat with due care, I watched as the barrel resumed its original round shape. I might even have helped it a little. Once it was no longer pregnant, I adjusted the pressure bar so that it wouldn’t push the barrel out of shape again, reinstalled it, and added the salvaged section assembly from the old pen. With the nib realigned, that finished the pretty pen body.

Turning to the pretty cap, I used a bore light to see exactly what I was up against. The inner cap was so badly damaged that I couldn’t get the inner cap remover to go into it far enough to grab. As I looked around for a tool to deal with this mess, my eye fell on a tool that I had made some time ago to hold the sac thimble in an A. A. Waterman when I was removing or reinstalling the blind cap. This tool, which I call a thimble driver, is an ordinary " screwdriver with its tip reshaped:

Thimble driver

Perfect! The serendipitous digging tool worked like a champ, breaking the inner cap out in pieces. During that process, however, I cleverly seated the tool too deep in the cap once and punched out the cap crown instead of chipping off a piece of the inner cap. That had all the marks of an  EXPLETIVE DELETED  moment, and I almost gave it up as a bad job — but after I thought about it for a little while, I remembered that the three most important tools in any worker’s toolbox are a friend, persistence, and patience. Not having a friend handy at the time, I fell back on the other two. Once the inner cap was out, I removed the Z-clip and cleaned the cap inside and outside.

In punching out the cap crown, I had driven my improvised digging tool into it and raised an ugly pimple on its exterior surface. Using a rawhide mallet and the roller from my Parker “51” cap de-dinging set, with the roughly spherical metal end on the handle of a drill vise to serve as a dolly, I pounded and rolled the pimple out sufficiently that I can live with it.

Then, of course, I had to unroll the cap crown bead in order to reinstall the crown. I’d never had to do that before, and it took a few minutes to figure out how to do it. I ended up pushing it carefully, bit by bit all the way around, using this modified dental pick, which I also use for applying shellac when replacing sacs.

Modified dental pick

With the bead unrolled, reinstalling the crown went smoothly. First, I tapped all the way around with the rawhide mallet to bend the bead inward enough to secure the crown. To finish the bead neatly, I clamped an appropriately sized drill in the drill vise to use as a mandrel, making sure that the mandrel did not extend all the way through the cap such that it could pop the crown out again. Been there, done that, once was enough. I slid the cap onto the mandrel until the lip rested on the jaws of the drill vise, and then I could roll the bead back into place with the “51” de-dinging roller. Next came remounting the clip, a trivial exercise.

Rolling the crown bead

Lining up the flattened cutout on the outside of the inner cap to make room for the Z-clip’s tab, I reinstalled the inner cap, pushing it home by sliding the cap down on the drill/mandrel until the inner cap bottomed against the cap crown.

To finish the job professionally, I checked the alignment between the clip and the lever when the pen was capped. It wasn’t quite perfect, so I used the inner cap puller to adjust the inner cap’s position in the cap so that the clip and lever line up when the pen is capped.

Alignment of clip and lever

There are those out there who would put Morrison in the running to be the Rodney Dangerfield of fountain pens. I’m here to tell you it ain’t so. Sure, Morrison is no L. E. Waterman, but overall Morrison made remarkably nice pens, especially the ones that got gold nibs. This one looks more than good enough to keep, and whaddya know, it even writes!

On the bench
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