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June 2008: Go Ahead, Trick Out Your Favorite Junk Pens

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • According to the unwritten rules of fountain pen collecting, mixing parts of different makes, models, and even (gasp) brands will get you sentenced to interminable years of pen purgatory after you pass on to the great drugstore pen counter in the sky.


No pen company made such wild, flamboyant, and wonderfully creative plastics as Wearever — with the possible exception of vintage Conway Stewart — but, plain and simple, the nibs sometimes either flat-out stink, or at least emit a faint aroma of rotting tomatoes. Extra Fine Points

Sure, if for example you’re a Parker Big Red Duofold investor-collector and you’re interested in maximizing your returns on those vintage pens you’ve been socking away for a while, yeah: You’d better have right parts, and if you’re mixing rubber and plastic on the pen show floor, you will stand accused — and convicted — of passing off Frankenpens in the marketplace. And you’d deserve it.

The don’t mix-and-match rule I’m saying it’s OK to break is on writers you fully intend to carry and use regularly.

Even if you’re a discriminating collector of high-class modern pens or solid precious-metal pens numbered to some finite sum, admit it: You’ve been surfing an antique shop’s pen selection and wow! one colorful or unique writing instrument jumps out at you. After checking it out, you see there’s nothing wrong with it at all: No scratches, chips, cracks, bite marks. It’s in its original box. The sac even feels springy. Or it’s a metal (or chased hard rubber) pen featuring with a pattern that really captures your fancy.

The only problem is its brand name. Maybe a half-decent brand but it’s fitted with a nib so poor that you could fashion your own from a coat hanger and it’d write better. Wait, I say. Don’t put that pen down! Buy it! Follow your muse. Trick it out with a nib from an upscale pen, and if the shoe fits, an upscale section/feed/nib assembly. This is one of the ways I survive with Wearevers. I’m in love with the variegated plastic colors and patterns and marbles and stripes and these insanely intricate glitter-patterned pens that look like metallic fireworks embedded in jet-black barrels.

No pen company made such wild, flamboyant, and wonderfully creative plastics as Wearever — with the possible exception of vintage Conway Stewart — but, plain and simple, the nibs sometimes either flat-out stink, or at least emit a faint aroma of rotting tomatoes.

We’re not talking about Pacemakers, Zeniths, and certain other high-end Wearevers that sport excellent 14K nibs or even the weird — but good writing — two-piece “hooded nib” assemblies. I’m talking about Deluxe 100s, which have half-decent steel nibs, and Supremes, which have the most inventive plastics of the bunch but (ugh) what Richard calls “spoon nibs” made of an untipped soft alloy, bent to look as if they’re tipped. They wear down quicker than the tips on a four-year-old’s crayons, I’ve noted from direct observation of both in action.

The solution to my Supreme issue? Sheaffer #33 or #3 nibs, which can be gotten for $5-$10 a pop singly from dealers or from busted pens bought on eBay in group lots. Or the good old “14K Warranted” nibs that repairmen put into higher-class pens back in the day, which every collector seems to have floating around his or her parts drawer. I discovered the following pen in Richard’s studio. It’s the only one of its pattern I’ve ever seen. What would you call it? I like “Stormy Monday.” Steel furniture and all, it’s a very cool set.

Fountain pen
Mechanical pencil

Before I had rescued the new-old-stock pen (and its pencil mate) from impending junk-dom, it was lying dormant in Richard’s parts tank, destined for the glue factory or wherever the last stop is after third-tier stuff’s been abandoned by the pen doctor himself. Can you believe it?

After he custom-lathed an inner cap for my Stormy Monday pen, Richard dropped in a gold Sheaffer #3 nib. That was a couple years ago. He still gives me trouble for “wasting a perfectly good nib” in that rotten pen, but I just shoot back that beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, and heck, Waterman didn’t make a pen in this great pattern, nor did Sheaffer.

The best part? As it’s presently configured, I can use it in real life, instead of putting it in storage and cursing its rotten spoon nib. In the case of Deluxe 100s — some of the coolest pens from the “doomed by the ballpoint” era in the late 1940s and 1950s — it takes a bigger nib, like Pelikan M200 nibs of steel (they’re better than Wearever’s steelies) or even gold for the best ones.

Turnabout is fair play: When Richard fell in love with this nibless but otherwise almost perfect chased hard rubber Pencraft because of its cool Lotz Type 1 lever filler, he had to find a nib to fit it. He did, and the nib he used was — of all things — a 14K Wearever nib. It doesn’t say WEAREVER on it, but there’s no mistaking the shield imprint.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen

Your mileage may vary when experimenting with your favorite downscale finds. And I’ll say it: You’re legit to do it. As the old classics get snapped up, rarer and rarer, and more expensive, the next generation of collectors will look for new and inventive means to enjoy fountain pens. There is no wrong — or dishonor — in making a half-decent pen a favorite everyday writer, especially if it’s a sexy hobby ambassador that will entice non-collectors into checking out our little world of writing instruments.

Just don’t let anyone give you any grief for pimping out your pens. If they do, just send them to me and I’ll give ‘em an ear (or screen) full. It’s not heresy; it’s enjoying your pens. So what if you’re not carrying around a rare Hundred Year Pen or Conway Stewart Bespoke or Limited Edition 2006 Duofold or a Vac “51” with the Empire State cap all the time?

Chances are, you’ll think twice before taking one of those out in the world but the Frankenpen you made because you read this piece will be your constant companion. Just you watch.

cover Further Reading: Business Notes: Writing Personal Notes that build Professional Relationships, by Florence Isaacs
As long as you’re spending half the day doodling with that great pen on good papers, may as well put it to good use, eh? Start by reading Florence Isaacs guldebook. Who knows, the next note you write might not only be pleasure to set to paper, but it could open a door that changes your life.

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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