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February 2004: Modern Pens Revisited

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • So we’re snobs when it comes to modern pens, Richard and me. We started our recent fountain pen lives in the modern era, Richard with a Waterman Phileas and I with a Cross pen that got filched in my university coffeehouse. Yet we gravitate to those made in the 1950s and earlier.

Now, we have nothing against the pen companies still making pens, and we can appreciate Krones, Parkers, Stipulas, Omases, Newmans … even the newest Conways and Conklins. They’re all good pens and we enthusiastically applaud the people who make them — because without ’em the market is static and boring and eventually will die.

But Richard and I, for the most part, enjoy the fit and finish of vintage pens. We love pens such as the Parker “51”, designed for everyday use. Designed, in fact, to stand up to several decades’ worth of everything the hardest-pushing writers could give them. Despite the fact that they’re hard on pens, even the harshest pen abusers were not buying disposable pens when they bought those “51”s.

And oh, by the way, the Sheaffers, Parkers, and Watermans had to please not only the pen abusers of their era, but everyone else.

Perhaps that is why Richard and I gravitate to — and even admire — some of the most common vintage pens seen on today’s market. Sheaffers of the 1940s and 1950s, though they might not be worth the hundreds or thousands of dollars that the Waterman Hundred Year Pen commands as a purchase price, stood up to everything their owners could give them and still come back ready for everything we can give them in their 2004 reincarnation, whether it’s journaling on the road or leading a relatively comfortable life in a desktop pen rest, waiting to sign a check, contract, or thank-you note.

The Pelikan 200 blue demonstrator and the Hero 100, believe it or not, are the first modern pens we’ve owned in years. Extra Fine Points

But January 2004 finds us both dipping back into modern pens. Richard has picked up a Hero 100, which he swears up and down duplicates a Parker “51” — the vintage “51”, not its modern counterpart — fairly well in fit and finish. Although the Hero’s ink capacity might not be that of a vintage “51”, there are a few wrinkles in the pen that (gasp) he considers improvements on its predecessor.

Fountain pen

Yeah, it’s got a gold nib. Yeah, it looks pretty much like a “51” and acts like one, too. And, yeah, it’s only $55.

“The connector, the part the barrel screws onto, is metal, not plastic like the one on a ‘51’, and it’s going to hold up better,” Richard says, adding that the fact that Hero put a 61-style tassie on the barrel of its Flighter knockoff makes the model resistant to those terrible dings we find on the back ends of so many vintage “51” Flighters.

While no one would say this pen is better than its Flighter counterpart, there’s something to be said about a $55 pen that looks like a Flighter and that you can carry in your pocket without worrying that you’re going to devalue your $400 vintage Parker. God bless those Chinese innovators.

Me, I’ve jumped back into the modern era with a Pelikan. Granted, the Pelikan M200 has a great pedigree going back to the vintage era from which my favorite Parkers and Sheaffers came, but hey — for a militant vintage freak, this was a big leap.

And while I’ve been known to dis some fellow collectors for giving appearance a bit more weight than actual writing performance, I confess: It was the color of the blue M200 demonstrator that sucked me in. Yeah, I’d owned Pelikans before and, as most people who read me regularly can imagine, I have tested many M200s because it is the pen Richard most frequently sells with his customized nibs.

Fountain pen

But Richard gave me one for Christmas. I swear, I hadn’t dropped any hints besides “Dude, how much would it cost me to actually buy one of those blue demonstrators off you?” Once one made its way under the tree for me … well, I haven’t written with much else since, save that Tuckaway I wrote about last month.

The pen’s great. If you’d told me a month ago I’d be so totally absorbed with a modern pen — admittedly, Richard did fit it out with a “Binderized” M250 nib — I would have asked for a hit of whatever it was you’d been smoking, brother.

But here I am, adoring the heck out of this little thing. A gorgeous blue, it is, and it’s also smooth-writing and sporting an ink capacity that is seemingly endless, compared to my lever-filling classics, and even rivaling the big Vac-fils and Vacumatics that are part and parcel of my everyday writing life.

Sure, these pens are ambassadors for other moderns, and who knows, more 21st century pens might make their way into our collections. But for now, it’s enough for you all to know that, indeed, Richard and I might possibly be caught dead with a modern pen.

cover Further reading: Stylophiles Online

So if Richard is going to get sucked into modern pens, where‘s a good place to learn more about them? Besides the Web, that is. Well, you could make a good start by subscribing to a great magazine. And besides, I overheard Richard muttering something about how Stylophiles does vintage pretty well, too.

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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