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The Pen Doctor XLII

(This page published June 1, 2024)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

Stuck Pencil Lead

Q:I need a steel .4 to clear stuck lead in a GraphGear pencil - any suggestions where to buy?


℞x:You can use a length of small-diameter music wire, often available at hobby shops (not craft shops), but wire in the sizes for smaller leads is likely to bend and slip out of position, and the ends are sharp enough to draw blood. The best tool for this task, especially if the lead is really stuck, is a pin vise with the appropriate drill, as listed here:

Drills for Clearing Leads

Lead Size Drill Size

0.5 mm No 78 (0.0156", 0.4 mm)
0.7 mm No 73 (0.0240", 0.61 mm)
0.9 mm No 67 (0.0320", 0.81 mm)
1.1 mm No 61 (0.0390", 0.99 mm)

The most convenient place I know to find them is, a supplier to model railroaders. Here are links to the pin vise and a drill set:

The drill set contains drills from No 61 (0.390", 0.99 mm) to No 80 (0.0135", 0.34 mm), and it’s a good investment if you plan to do other work on pens and pencils.

Resacking a Metro Lever-Filler

Q:I would like to put a new sac in this Metro lever filler. However, it seems that there’s a brass sleeve affixed to the remnants of the sac, which in turn is glued to the pen body. The sleeve is integral to the pen — it friction fits into the body perfectly. Have you encountered this type of lever filler? If so, can you tell me how to remove the sleeve so I can install a new sac? I find this design perplexing, but the pen will be a good writer.

Fountain Pen

℞x:This pen is an odd duck, but you're right, it should be a good user. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to handle.

Look for the little dot on the brass sleeve that’s roughly " from the section, where I’ve placed the magniflying glass in your image above. That’s a dimple. Altogether, there are six dimples spaced around the sleeve, and each one of the has made a pimple on the inside of the sleeve that is pressed into the section. Those will need to be drilled out. Take them carefully, with the smallest drill that will eliminate the portion pressing into the section. You can then remove the sleeve and remove the remains of the old sac.

With luck, you’ll be able to gently heat the section enough to let the dimples in it reform to the natural shape of the rubber. (Don’t count on it, but give it a try if you have a proper heat source.)

Replace the sac, and resecure the sleeve with shellac so that your work will be reversible.

Is It Gold if It Doesn’t Say So?

Q:I am relatively new in this hobby and don’t know if the nib of an old pen – let’s say, before 1940? – could be made of gold when 14C or 14K or 18C or 18K is not written on it?

℞x:Gold nibs in most American pens will include a karat gold number in their imprints, e.g., 14K, 14 KT, 18K, or 18 KT. Karat measure is expressed in terms of 24 karat being 100% of the total weight. This system was invented in the U.S.A., and by U.S. law it refers only to gold. No other metal can legally be specified by karat measure, and for this reason the word GOLD is almost never included in the imprints on gold nibs. A few makers, especially members of the Big Four, did not always mark their nibs for gold content, relying on their reputations to be surety enough.

If it’s a European pen, it might have a karat number, such as 14 Ct (British) or one of the above U.S.-style marks (which were used in France, Germany, and other countries), or it might have a three-digit number indicating the parts, by weight, per 1000 part of the total weight. For example, 585 is equivalent to 14K, and 750 is equivalent to 18K. Some nibs have both specifications on them. From 1937 until after World War II, German makers were prohibited from producing gold nibs because the Nazi government knew that it would need gold to buy the war matériel that was necessary for the conduct of Hitler’s war of conquest.

Asian pens (principally Japanese) were marked with the U.S. karat sytem or with the European three-digit number, or both, depending on where they were intended to be sold. From 1938 until after World War II, Japanese makers — like their German counterparts — were prohibited from producing gold nibs.

The thing you need to be careful about is gold-plated nibs. In the early part of the 20th century, there were untipped brass nibs that were gold plated and bore imprints suggesting that they were gold, such as 14 KT GOLD PLATE. If the word PLATE is visible when the nib is installed, that's fine, but some manufacturers moved that word down toward the base of the nib so that it was hidden when the nib was installed. The plated brass nib shown below (left) was made by the Turner & Harrison Steel Pen Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


WARRANTED nibs (above, right) came into use to combat this deceptive practice.

If there is no indication of the amount of gold, then the nib is usually steel. There are occasional silver-palladium alloy nibs that show up before 1945, such as Esterbrook nibs with numbers in the 8000 range, and nibs from a commodity nib maker whose identity I haven't discovered. Esterbrook's 8nnn nibs are not marked for metal content; but the commodity nibs, which are slightly gold colored and were used by Eagle, Scout, Stratford, Roxy, Wearever, and a few other brands, are marked SILVER PALLADIUM ALLOY.

There are, of course, gold-plated steel nibs. These nibs do not carry any imprint that directly implies gold, but their imprints could be suggestive of a quality level that was not there, e.g., DURIUM or SPECIAL ALLOY. The only gold in these nibs is the minuscule amount in the plating.

The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information.

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