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June 2003: Fishing for Stripers

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • About two and a half years ago, I stood before one of the booths at Jeffrey’s Antiques in Findlay, at the time Ohio’s largest antique mall. I held a pen in my hand, a thing with vertical stripes and a vac filler, which called itself a “Duofold” on the barrel.

This pen wasn’t a Vacumatic, even though it was plain that it contained one of them there mechanisms.

And it wasn’t a Duofold, at least not one of the stately 1920s pens I’d been collecting.

Back then, neither of us cared much for striped Duofolds. We only appreciated the earlier flattops and streamlined Duos. Extra Fine Points

“Actually,” Richard told me later when I asked him what the heck it was, “it is a Duofold. Or at least a pen Parker called the Duofold at the time.”

He said “called” with a touch of disdain. Back then, neither of us cared much for striped Duofolds. We only appreciated the earlier flattops and streamlined Duos. The stripers were, we thought, a means for Parker to use the good name of a venerable earlier model to sell a more humdrum, less important pen.

In the same way, I must confess, early on in our fountain-pen pursuits we didn’t care much for the Parker “51”, either. That is, until we started writing with them and gradually began understanding the elegance and ease of use of their simple-looking, complexly beautiful design.

Anyway, to get back to the stripers: About a year later, Richard got one, a marvelous blue Senior pen, and restored it to its full, gleaming glory. Once the nib was tuned just right, he handed it over to me to write with. No question, it was a superb pen that fit my hand better than any other I had held, save possibly the 1940s Sheaffer Valiant.

Fount pen

We were hooked. And to this day, we still are.

All this got me to thinking, what attracts us to certain models of pens? Why do we vigorously chase them down while avoiding others, especially pens that at first seem plain, or ugly, or second-rate? As we “grow up” in the hobby, our perceptions change and we see them otherwise.

Five basic reasons answer those questions, I think:

The size is right. Not too big, not too small. If you’re a guy and a pen feels like a tiny ladies’ pen in your hand, well, it’s probably not for you. If you’re a woman and it feels like the size of a horse’s leg, well, that’s ridiculous, too. Fortunately, most vintage pens fall between those extremes because they were designed to be used, not collected. If forced to by hostile Legionnaires, most of us could write on an everyday basis with (literally) any old pen, from Senior Duofolds down to Conway Dinkies.

The price is right. Let’s face it, we might have one or two Parker snake pens in our collections before we croak, but can we get intimate with them, swapping them in and out of our pockets on a daily basis? At fifteen grand a pop? No way. But you could do that with an array of seven Vacumatics. Or Snorkels. Or “51”s. Or Skylines. Or Crests. Or … you get the picture.

The line is right. There’s nothing quite like the line made by a fine-nibbed “51”, silky and precise. Or a medium Skyline with that ever-so-slightly-flexy nib. Or a stately striped Duofold. And thank goodness, because without this fascinating variation, writing with vintage nibs would be as tedious as getting through an hour of American Idol.

The look is right. Some folks only talk of how a pen writes and dismiss those of us who take looks seriously as collectors of costume jewelry rather than fountain pens. Those people need to take a long look in the mirror. Come on, you can name some pens that are, as Richard likes to put it, “downright fugly.” And I bet you don’t have a one of them in your collection.

The variety is right. If there’s only three pens in one size in the series, it’s not worth chasing. Acquiring a full set needs to be a little bit of a challenge — but it can’t be too hard, either. Yet if there’s a nice variety of colors and sizes, with some being a little more uncommon than others, we’re intrigued.

For me and Richard, our attraction to the Senior and Junior striped Duofolds resulted from a perfect storm of all of the above. Not too big, not too expensive, these pens write like a dream, and the caps and barrels feature quite an interesting blend of colors, not to mention the band-design variations.

We’re hooked on them, to the point where I’ve even sold off all my flattops, Junior and Senior alike, and signed on exclusively with the stripers — for this year, at least. Until another perfect storm blows through.

cover Further Reading: To Have And To Hold: An Intimate History Of Collectors and Collecting, by Philipp Blom

This book, out for just a couple months, artfully delves into the history of collecting. The author attempts to quantify why, since about the 16th century, we’ve assembled what the Dutch called back then “cabinets of curiosities.”

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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