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September 2010: The Fantastic Franklin-Cristoph

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • What I don’t know is how many D.C. Pen SuperShows I’ve been to: Three? Four? What I do know is that it was my first in half a decade last month.

Roaming the aisles, I met quite a few old friends and made a couple new ones, including Scott Franklin of the Franklin-Cristoph, who parted me with some of the cold, hard cash I’d scraped up and stuffed in my pocket for the show (Andy Beliveau and his sterling Wahl pens got the rest, but that’s another tale for another time).

I did end up grabbing a couple forward-looking scoops from Franklin: Stay tuned for… Extra Fine Points

I’ve turned very finicky toward modern pens, which is actually a loosening of my previous “militant vintage” standards. Yet Franklin-Cristophs immediately caught my eye, and when I sat down and took a good hard look at the company’s line of fountain pens it was hook, line and sinker time for this fountain pen writer.

First I picked up a clipless Pocket 40; the ivory resin topped with the red jewel on this new introduction struck me cool as the red-topped white pens us Wearever fetishists covet:

Fountain pen

The clipless model was so interesting, because I carry most of my pens in a one-pen leather case and put it in my briefcase or army bag.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen

Great story behind it — customers drove the clipless pen into Franklin-Cristoph’s line: “A couple of years ago we had designed a new spring loaded clip system and it took some extra time to hammer out the details and get it just right,” Franklin writes in a post-SuperShow email. “We were close to the D.C. show, so we went ahead and made a run of the pens without the clips, mostly just to show the new design, which was the Model 40 Panther. We wound up selling several of the pieces, and we learned there is a market out there for pens without clips.

“Many people carry their pens in pouches, or purses, for one. Many others are using and keeping their pens at their workspace, for another. Clips sometimes just get in the way, increase the top weight of a pen while posted, all that kind of thing — not to mention the added expense. So — it was easy enough to continue that going forward and offer it as an option. I’m seeing about 1 in 5 or 6 acrylic fountain pen sales that are clipless now.”

The other fetish I have? If you picked up on the Wahl reference, you already know: Metal pens. But I can’t take today’s super-heavy oversized monsters. I adore — and have owned, twice — the sterling Montegrappa Reminiscence, but when I get one, I release it back into the (e)Bay, because the blessed thing’s so heavy (and we’re talking the standard size, not the oversized model) it makes my hand ache minutes after I start writing. Cue Franklin-Cristoph’s Model No. 29 Diamondline. Sterling with the magnetic catch for capping and posting.

Fountain pen

There’s some kind of peculiar satisfaction gained with those pens. Capping. Click! Posting. Click! Capping. Click! Posting. Click! Turns out I am not alone being instantly fascinated with this mechanism, one of the few recent innovations I’ve seen in fountain pens.

“That magnet design was something we came up with one of our production partners, and it has really blown the lid off our original expectations,” Franklin writes. “People can’t stop pulling and clicking those caps against those magnets either capping or posting, myself included.”

The really odd thing, for me, is that I had no issue with the steel nibs in both of these pens, as well as in Richard’s New Postal pens, one of which showed up in by birthday present cache in July. While I am no stranger to steel, because I love me some classic Wearever Deluxe 100s and I have several classic Sheaffer steel inlay-nib pens from the 1960s and 1970s of which I’m quite fond, I never considered purchasing a modern pen with one. But gold prices are so high now that it’s forcing pen manufacturers — and their customers — to revisit steel nibs. After test-writing for some time, it didn’t stop me from laying my money down at Franklin-Cristoph’s table.

But, Franklin cautions, whichever steel-nibbed pen you get, test it out first.

“The performance of a good steel nib is very close to that of a gold nib,” Franklin concludes. “The international markets are much more accepting of steel than the US, but it is a perception that is changing. We are offering both option on our larger nib pens, but tend to stick to steel on the smaller pens, when the gold option would virtually double the price of the pen. One perception issue that steel has is that there are a lot of steel nib makers around the world who don’t use precision machinery. Not many will waste gold for that kind of quality, but they can with steel.

“The key is to make sure the steel nibs are good ones from good producers. Most of the reputable fine pen brands will use quality of course. They do, after all, have the same iridium (composite) tips.”

Oh, and I did end up grabbing a couple forward-looking scoops from Franklin: Stay tuned for a “mini magnet pen with a black silk necklace” this fall, and — hardcore vintage collectors, hold your collective breath — a safety, a piston filler, and a dip pen. Thoroughly throwback stuff from a modern fountain pen maker.

cover Further Reading: Susan Wirth’s pen show calendar
If you haven’t ever gone to a pen show, what are you waiting for? Get your own cool pens — and maybe you can scoop me! Some are bigger, some are smaller, but there’s no such thing as a bad pen show.

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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