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December 2010: Pens and Travel: the Plane Truth

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Happy holidays, all, no matter your bent or creed. Enjoy the time with family and friends. Richard got a special present in the mails today, his shipment of freshly minted Belmont pens.

If I am interviewing one of the country’s top radiologists speaking at this show for an article to appear at my day job’s web site and ink shows up all over my hands, Richard knows there will be hell to pay. Extra Fine Points

I happened to be there fetching a kid when he cracked open the package, giddy like his grandson Patrick ripping open Christmas gifts.

“I am thinking this might be my all-time favorite fountain pen,” he says, inspecting a glittery, gray metal-flake version about an inch from his face. Which, I agree, is a pretty cool looker and following the theme of his bulb-topped New Postals earlier this year, has an uncommon filling mechanism: the syringe.

Fountain pen

“It had better be,” I replied, “because you designed and spec’ed it. It’s like me with my fantasy football teams, except you get to be a fantasy fountain pen collector here, building what you think is the ideal pen.”

The Belmont is a pretty cool pen at first blush, I will admit. However, it won’t get my stamp of approval until after I take it to Chi-Town next week to cover the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting.

He lent me the prototype to road-test in advance of sales.

Fountain pen

This is the prototype Don is testing. Production pens have black fillers, not yellow.

It will endure TSA full-body scanners and/or patdowns, cabin pressurization and depressurization, and the jostling in my rolling briefcase while walking many miles a day. If it can endure all that without getting any ink on my suit, shirt, my gear, or me it has a fair chance of standing up to the rough service to which you out there in reader-land will subject it.

Of course, if I am interviewing one of the country’s top radiologists speaking at this show for an article to appear at my day job’s web site and ink shows up all over my hands, Richard knows there will be hell to pay. This ain’t no poker game with Paul Erano, heh, this is work.

(Testing actual fountain pen prototypes. Really? What a life. Not like the Belmont will eventually carry the hobby cachet of the Big Red or anything, but it’s pretty cool that I get to help create a tiny little footnote to a brief chapter of fountain pen history.)

This prelude brings me to this month’s actual topic: the occasional update to my informal “best pens with which to fly” list. Thankfully, this year I’ve had mostly good experiences, so I have none to add to the “no-fly zone.” I’ll keep it brief:

By the way, splattering on takeoff is just plain nasty. Why? Little dots of ink spray out the nib’s breather hole, and hit the insides of the cap. Imagine a nearly, but not quite, clogged airbrush and you’ll get the picture. Because you’re smart enough to fly at all times with the nib up — i.e., in your pocket or otherwise stored in your briefcase oriented the same — gravity pulls this excess ink down onto the section. If there’s enough ink to spew, it flows down into the threads. Maybe you use the pen in flight, maybe you don’t until the next day in the middle of an important meeting or interview. Open the pen and there the ink is, all over the section, the threads, your hands, the paper, and the hands of the person you’re meeting with. Who, it seems, doesn’t feel like giving you, the fountain pen dolt, a second chance for a first impression.

So keep your pens as filled up as possible — or completely dry — when flying. Give them at least half a chance to not let you down. Flying with vintage pens like my beloved Wearevers or classics from the Golden Age works out some of the time. But if you like vintage pens and have to fly, I recommend leaning toward the 1950s stalwarts like the Snorkels, PFMs and “51”s, because they’re less likely to spew. As for me, I’ve lately put my trust in modern pens; they seem to travel more reliably.

cover Further Reading: America from the Air: A Guide to the Landscape Along Your Route, by Daniel Mathews and James S. Jackson
Ever find yourself in a plane looking out the window and trying to figure out where you are by looking at the country below? Here’s your book, and it even includes an interactive CD-ROM with more images to call up on you laptop. That is, if you didn’t burn the battery out watching Dukes of Hazzard episodes waiting at the gate, as I often do.

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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