BY DON FLUCKINGER • Flea markets, antique shops, and even pen-show dealer cigar boxes are loaded with combo pens — fountain pens with pencils built into one end, many of them with cheap or non-existent marques but a few with some familiar names like Waterman’s or Sheaffer’s.
Collectors abhor them, which means they’re sold for pennies on the dollar of their more collectible counterparts.
|If you find one that satisfies your needs and has a funky nib (like my factory stub), don’t be afraid to buy it for the short money the seller’s asking and shovel some more into refurbishing it.|
That’s where I come in, to point out that — if, like me you don’t have little stacks of $100 bills waiting to be burned on all the Dorics, Duofolds, and Hundred Year Pens you see — you actually can have some fun with these writing instruments for relatively short money.
But which ones are worth trying out? I hoped to answer those questions by sampling four combos: I picked a trio from a shoebox full of combos in Richard’s studio, an Arnold, a no-name, a Wearever, and a jade-green Radite Sheaffer Balance. I added in the one combo from my collection, a Wearever that formerly belonged to Frank Dubiel.
What I found:
The Arnold, though it was probably the best-looking pen of the group, wrote weird. Persnickety flow and untipped steel nib just weren’t working for me.
The no-name, with its cool little plastic pattern and iridium-tipped stub nib, wrote well. As it was too small for my hands — and I don’t have particularly large ones — it wouldn’t work for too many collectors.
The Wearever, also with an untipped steel nib, actually had the best ergonomics of the group. Plus, the fake triple band (it’s actually one band with black stripes painted to make it seem like a triple band) makes it seem more opulent.
The Balance is … a Balance. Evoking all the things that attracts collectors to the classic line, from the gold nib to the white dot to the fit and finish of a fine pen, it’s clearly superior.
Trying these out was a lot of fun, and I can honestly testify that there’s joy in this junk. Having used these, I have some advice:
If you’re going to delve into these third tier beauties — and some of them have gorgeous celluloid that rivals the all-time classics of pendom — stick to pens that have tipped nibs. Once you get them adjusted right, they’ll stay that way much longer.
Don’t buy ones with painful defects like cracks or munged parts, because yes, they can be fixed, but no, they’re not worth it.
Yeah, you’ll like the pencil part, because you don’t have to carry around a pencil now, and let’s face it: Some papers we write on don’t like fountain pens, or we run out of ink — and the pencil comes in handy. So check to make sure the pencil half cranks, and if there happens to be lead in there and it advances when you turn it, you’re in great shape.
Speaking of ink, if you find a combo with a fine point, that will come in handy, because the sacs have a third or half the capacity of non-combo pens of the same size.
When contemplating purchasing one of these combos, make sure you can write with it with the cap unposted, because on many combos the cap will not stay posted for writing because of the taper the pencil requires.
Check to see if your cheapo pen has an inner cap. If it does, the ink supply will take much longer to evaporate, which is an issue.
If you find one that satisfies your needs and has a funky nib (like my factory stub), don’t be afraid to buy it for the short money the seller’s asking and shovel some more into refurbishing it. Imagine having a pen of which you like the looks and performance … and it’s not such a priceless gem that you can’t take it with you everywhere you go and write with it.
Wow. That would be something, wouldn’t it? I liked my foray into “junk combos,” and I encourage you to check them out for yourself. I would definitely, however, stay away from the Arnolds. Other than that, follow your heart.
Further Reading: The Pencil : A History of Design and Circumstance, by Henry Petroski
If your collector library’s a little “un-lead-ed,” get yourself a copy of this reference on “that other writing instrument.”
|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 Biddersedge.com 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.|