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April 2010: Ten Things I Learned from Glen Bowen’s PenSpeak

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Fountain pen books are a labor of love for the authors, who aren’t always writers by trade but pen lovers, all. As a means of celebrating these ladies and gents who give of themselves to the hobby by undertaking the long and often mundane process of assembling a pen book, I’m writing a series of articles exploring what they’ve given to me.


This month we’re featuring a book near and dear to many pen collectors, Glen Bowen’s PenSpeak: The Secret Language of Pen Lovers. In 2010, it’s something of a lesser-known book because it came out in 1996 and you get the idea the print run (like most fountain pen books) didn’t number in the millions like the latest Clive Cussler thriller.

Basically, Bowen did a “greatest hits” brain dump of his three decades of pen-collecting knowledge. Extra Fine Points

Sometime along the way Sheaffer issued a reprint edition, and as you might imagine, that print run wasn't right up there with biographies of Michael Jackson. My copy (of the original edition) came from the Wynnewood, Oklahoma, public library — “Discard” stamp on the front endpaper — via Richard, who at some point was given a second copy. The book is loaded with wisdom about buying vintage fountain pens, as well as a dictionary. Basically, Bowen did a “greatest hits” brain dump of his three decades of pen-collecting knowledge.

Here are 10 bits I hadn’t known — or considered — before:

  1. Eversharp, Inc. first called the 14K gold Skyline pen-pencil sets “Gift of a Lifetime” upon their debut in 1943; after that they were renamed “Command Performance.”

    Fountain pen
  2. Even though Parker did not make the snakes overlay on its famous “Snake pen,” it is not technically considered an “embellished” pen, while the late Michael Fultz’s Snake of 1994 — which takes a Duofold and adds an aftermarket snake clip — is. The difference? Parker subcontracted its snake parts, making them part of the original package, and Fultz was a third party embellishing a Parker pen.

  3. Said Parker Snake overlay subcontractor was Heath, a New York City jeweler.

  4. Eversharp came out with manicure cases in the 1920s called “Eversmart,” and one of the finishes was gold on blue lizard.

  5. Check protectorDuring the Black Giant era c. 1910, Parker briefly came out with an even bigger pen, the Ultra Giant, sporting a No 12 nib.

  6. Pen maker Security issued a fountain pen in 1923 with a device called a “check protector,” a portable version of a desktop device popular at the time. The idea was, the check protector would emboss over the signature and dollar amount, making it easy to detect tampering.

  7. Celluloid was used not only for pens, but also for billiard balls and shirt-collar stays.

  8. The definitions of “marriage” and “cannibalization,” when it comes to mixing and matching pen parts, are not that far apart, which is ironic considering the they’re not even close in real life. For most of us, at least.

  9. The original definition for mint, among pen collectors, meant uninked/unused. I blame eBay and the modern era of third party grading across many hobbies (e.g. sports cards, coins, etc.) for compromising the word mint. For instance, one sports card grading company calls “pristine” — a grade beyond mint — what many old-guard collectors would simply call mint. Of course, that leaves to debate what it means when this company’s cards graded mint pop up on the market. Many more collectors than sellers, I’m sure, only refer to uninked pens as mint. In 2010, if a seller calls something mint, ask if it’s been inked. Chances are, it is, because if it wasn’t inked the seller would have marked it up and called it “mint, uninked.”

  10. Rose gold is rose because of a prevalence of copper in the alloy; white gold is white because of a prevalence of platinum or nickel; green gold is green because of a prevalence of silver.

Next month, I’ll crack open another book and give you ten more nuggets you can take to your next pen-collector confab and with which you can blow away your peers. They’ll be amazed at your deep knowledge.

cover Further Reading: Collectible Fountain Pens, by Glen Bowen

Glen Bowen’s PenSpeak might be a little tough to chase down, but this item is much more available. No pen collector’s library should lack this book.

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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