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Fountain pens -- once again. [Jan. 19th, 2014|02:01 pm]
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Wow. It's that time of year again. That one glorious moment when the fountain pen show rolls through Philadelphia and I get to geek out. This time I convinced some other dorks from the West Philadelphia Runners that we ought to RUN to the pen show, because, hey, it's miles and miles away and it was like 25 degrees out. So Flint Weller and I zoomed off, taking the opportunity to run past the Rocky steps, though we didn't run UP them this time. It was two giant rooms of tables filled with old pens and new. Some pens are very humble, made to do a journey(wo)mans work and others are incredibly ornate.




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Some of the ones that grabbed my attention first were these from Laban. They all look gloriously epic. The kind of thing you'd write something monumental with. Though in actuality most of the pens that actually end up doing monumental things aren't any of these, because they're not terribly comfortable to write with.




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One of the vendors there had a collection of Presidential pens -- given out by presidents (and Vice Presidents) of the United States, lots of them used to sign bills -- somehow they manage to do this in a way that requires the President to sign it like 40 times and each time he does it with a different pen and then he can hand that pen off to someone who had something to do with it getting done. I imagine the bottom of all bills looks something like this:

Signature of the President: ________________
Please Verify here: ____________________
Sign here if you're positive you want this bill to become law: ___________________
Sign here to verify that you're positive:_____________________
Please complete this captcha 3k359Fandango

These were the absolutely cheapest pens you could get that were a) made in America and b) not a complete joke. They were half plastic Parker T-Ball Jotters -- they probably cost about 30 cents each in bulk. There are also "gift" pens that come in presentation boxes and I guess have a similar history. "Thanks for coming to the White House Mr. Billikngsplobke, here's a pen."

He also had some pens used to sign nuclear treaties and these were serious Parker Dufolds -- expensive pens for important things. I didn't ask how much any of them were, but it was interesting.

There was also this ostentatious dragon pen that I actually thought about getting for about 3 minutes. Until I thought back to the two times before I'd had similar pens and ended up giving them away because they were impossible to actually spend any time writing with. (If you're feeling sad, Flint bought it, perhaps he'll write you a letter with it.)




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I wasn't planning on getting anything because, you know, I have enough pens. But towards the end two things jumped out at me -- mostly because they were pretty and not expensive. A Parker Challenger (left) and a red Esterbrook J, from sometime between 1943 and 1948.




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-- if you've read any of my pen posts before, you'll know of my love for the Esterbrook. They represented, I think, the pinnacle of fountain pen manufacture. Esterbrook made millions of fountain pens and they were, every one of them, designed to be a pen that wrote -- that was it's primary function, some of them looked pretty too, but they wrote well and at a variety of purposes (you could get different nibs for, say, writing in the small spaces of an accounting ledger, or for making broad strokes -- their catalog has a bewildering amount of customization possible). I've already got an Esterbrook that I love, but I'd thought for a while I'd like to have one that was red. They're cheap too -- very often you can get a fully restored Esterbrook for less than the price of a low-end new pen. And you get to fill it from a bottle of ink with a lever. Which is very cool




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I only have one parker pen which I got as a gift while I was in college. It writes wonderfully and it's a very well respected pen maker and has been for a long time. The vintage Parkers are mostly expensive and when faced with the challenge, I usually get an Esterbrook that writes just as well for a tenth of the price. But then, there was this Challenger and a guy who didn't want to have it anymore. So now it lives with me.

It was made in the spring of 1936, which you can tell by the date stamp on the barrel. It says "26" which means the 2nd quarter of the year 1936 -- at that time the Palestinian uprising had just begun, Italy invaded Ethiopia, forcing the Emperor to flee, Joe DiMaggio played his first professional game, the Presbyterian church was founded, here in Philadelphia, Jesse Owens sets a world record in the 100 meters and Gone With the Wind hit the stands. Also Pope Pious XI write his encyclical "On Motion Pictures" which you can read here.

The Parker Challenger was their mid-level gift pen, it retailed for $2.75 (about $38 in today's dollars) and they were typically called "school pens" -- when someone graduated from high school, grandma and grandpa would give you a fancy pen to take to college with you (but of course, not always -- sometimes you just buy yourself an expensive pen). The guy who sold it to me told me that pens were one of the visible means of displaying status and sometimes people would buy the cap for a pen that they couldn't afford and just wear the cap in their pocket like an up-ended social status iceberg.




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So that's almost that. Since I brought two pens in, I want to get rid of two pens, since I don't want to be the guy with a thousand pens that never get used. Keep your eyes peeled in the next couple of weeks.




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Comments:
[User Picture]From: wood_dragon
2014-01-19 10:09 pm (UTC)

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Gorgeous. I used to have a fountain pen but it somehow got lost over the years. (A very inexpensive one but I loved the idea of writing with it. Still do.)
[User Picture]From: orcaarrow
2014-01-19 10:24 pm (UTC)

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Betwixt Neil and you I am developing a high level of love for the fountain pen. Sadly, I don't know that there are any fountain pen shows near me.
[User Picture]From: wishme
2014-01-19 10:26 pm (UTC)

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Lovely! I still have (and use!) the pen you gave me a few years ago. It's treated me very well and my roommate keeps threatening to steal it.
[User Picture]From: lois2037
2014-01-19 11:22 pm (UTC)

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Oh, how I love the pen porn! I used to letter comics with osmiroid pens, one for standard copy, one for bold letters... I was constantly having to sharpen up and reshape those nibs, but it was worth it for the feel of the ink on the board. Eventually I changed to rapidographs, which are still kind of fountain pens of a sort, and the thickness of the lines never varied, which editors liked. Now, of course, it's all computer, which works okay, but there's no feeling of being part of the artwork that you get from hand lettering. Just thinking about being in rooms filled with pens... oh, joy!
[User Picture]From: lawbabeak
2014-01-19 11:36 pm (UTC)

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Watch a presidential signing ceremony sometime. Clinton was the first I noticed doing it - signing his name with a different pen for each letter. They get given to high-power donors, to the party to auction off as fundraisers, etc.
[User Picture]From: homewardangel
2014-01-20 01:15 am (UTC)

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I love that you are also a fountain pen guy (I'm a Cross girl myself - hometown pride).

Recently someone showed me a pen that you could kill someone with. My immediate reaction? But, it's ballpoint - why bother?
[User Picture]From: coffeeem
2014-01-20 02:20 am (UTC)

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My favorite school field trip ever--even better than the Chrysler plant or the Brookfield Zoo--was to the Parker Pen factory in Janesville, Wisconsin. I saw them make pen nibs and barrels, and our guide told us about how the different materials for nibs affect the way the pen writes and feels. We got to see modern pens and vintage pens, gold and platinum and stainless nibs, cartridge pens and reservoir pens.

That was the only field trip that ever made me want to get a job at the place we were touring. The Janesville plant is closed now, which makes me sad. No more Midwestern kids unexpectedly discovering the marvel of writing instrument manufacture.
[User Picture]From: rhondaparrish
2014-01-20 04:24 am (UTC)

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Man...

I wish there was a fountain pen show in my city. Thank you for sharing some of the highlights from the one in yours :)
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2014-01-20 04:50 pm (UTC)

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google "[name of nearest city] fountain pen show" -- there is one.
[User Picture]From: rhondaparrish
2014-01-20 07:53 pm (UTC)

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Not that my google-fu can find :( Though my local fountain pen dealer seemed very excited about http://www.fountainpenday.org/ that's not exactly the same thing as a pen show. Alas.

I'll just ask them about local shows next time I'm in the store. Maybe there's something obvious I'm missing LOL
[User Picture]From: sheilagh
2014-01-20 04:53 am (UTC)

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what is this thing of which you speak, "have enough pens"?
[User Picture]From: pickleboot
2014-01-20 06:32 am (UTC)

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fountain pens are a love of mine. i have my maternal grandfather's parker fountain pen that he was given as a gift after leaving the navy. it is one of my most treasured possessions. i bought my husband a parker from...somewhere in norwich, england, as a wedding present, and at the time it was a beautiful antique.

i think i would get lost at a pen show. the dragon pen is lovely, but i am taken with the pens with the birds painted on at the far right. how lovely.

there is nothing like using a fountain pen. it is like a ritual, one that is ages old. i've even taught my kids how to make a quill pen from one of our birds dropped feathers(a flight or tail feather) and they get a kick out of using them. anything to make homework fun!
[User Picture]From: inkista_
2014-01-26 08:22 pm (UTC)

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i think i would get lost at a pen show. the dragon pen is lovely, but i am taken with the pens with the birds painted on at the far right. how lovely.

Pen shows, physically, are smallish, so you won't get lost. And everybody's friendly and helpful, so if you do, they can spin you 'round to the right direction again. Also, you have excellent (and, sadly, expensive) taste. Maki-e lacquered pens tend to cost far more than overlays (like the dragon pen). [sigh].

I'm too cheap to do much more than fish about in parts bins at pen shows. But it's kind of glorious to be able to do so. I once picked up parts to make a Frankenpen (found a penless cap and a capless pen) Waterman 52 with flex nib for Neil. Cost a grand whopping $25 total. So, naturally, he lost it. [facepalm] No wait. I lie. That wasn't the Frankenpen. That was the pen I gave him that replaced the Frankenpen (because he lost it--I had a second one for him, because we were going to auction off the Frankenpen at Fiddler's Green for the CBLDF but, well...). If he loses that third 52 I gave him, I swear, he's not getting a fourth one from me (at least not until he finds that Parker 51 I gave him). I'm just sending him to Goulet Pens for one of Nathan Tardif's Noodlers $14 flex nib pens (they're more semiflexes than flexes, but at least there's an endless supply and they're cheap).

For everybody looking for a pen show, here's a good list of European and North American penshows with links to the individual shows websites: http://fpgeeks.com/pen_shows/. The LA Penshow is traditionally held at the Manhatton Beach Marriott over Presidents' Day weekend (Valentine's Day), so I never have an excuse to forget when/where it's coming up.
[User Picture]From: small_chicken
2014-01-20 01:34 pm (UTC)

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Argh. You are being cruel. I have somehow managed to misplace my left-handed fountain pen some time last week; and I've been stuck with sticky, horrible ballpoints since then.

Happily, tomorrow I get to replace the pen, and see if the shop has managed to fix my Parker.
[User Picture]From: blpurdom
2014-01-20 02:58 pm (UTC)

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"The Presbyterian Church" was founded long before 1936. That was simply the year of the schism that produced the very-conservative Presbyterian Church in America. The first American presbytery was founded in Philadelphia in 1706.

What you seem to have overlooked is that 1936 was the year that Tom Purdom was born!

Edited at 2014-01-20 02:59 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]From: herpdaddy
2014-01-20 03:08 pm (UTC)

Nice

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I sort of blame you for my more recent pen / ink addiction... Though I have kept it largely in check mainly because there are no pen shows of note in Cleveland (thank god) and while in Japan, even though there are some amazing pen stores in Tokyo, I'm usually too buys to visit them and most of them are cash only. I do have a wonderful wooden Waterman that I use when I take notes at work, especially in Japan when I'm in a suit. Just looks classy :)
[User Picture]From: yummydeb
2014-01-20 03:56 pm (UTC)

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Hi Kyle! I was pointed to this entry of yours by the lovely grammardog, who came to your LJ, she tells me, by way of slutmuphin, who I'm also lucky enough to be able to call my pal. CJ brought Sara to my wedding in PA as a wedding gift - I'd never been given a *person* as a gift before, and Sara was a lovely person to be gifted. Alas, she had to go back to Canada after the wedding weekend was over... ANYWAY, the reason G'dog pointed me to this entry is because we (you and I) have two connections: one, Pennsylvania - I grew up in Bucks County, PA - and two, fountain pens!

I now live in Scotland with my fountain-pen-mad husband the_pilchard who never posts anymore on LJ. But after moving here, with his help I started up a fountain pen blog as well as a wee online shop, both mainly concerning British pens. I'd heard the Philly pen show was this week and wished mightily we could have been there. We're so far up in the Highlands that going to any pen show would require hundreds of miles of traveling (or thousands, were we to go back to Philly), so we haven't been. Boo!

In any event, I just thought it was cool that grammardog sent me the link to your post - I really enjoyed reading about the show and the pens through the eyes of a fellow enthusiast, it's nice to geek-out-by-proxy, and I thought I would say hi. I've linked to my blog on the chance that you might find it interesting and/or entertaining, and posted here because it's always nice to find another fountain pen person floating around out there in the world! You've picked up a couple of really lovely pens, and I admire your "two in, two out" method of not becoming that crazy fountain pen guy. Our house has, at any given time, a couple hundred fountain pens in various states of restoration / sales readiness (and many, many bits and pieces in the spares box!), so I'm kind of a crazy cat lady only with fountain pens. They are such lovely things, my favorites are the 100 year old pens that write like the day they were purchased originally, with lovely flexy lines and all that history. My ultimate favorites are the ones which have a back-story, the all-time favorite being a pen that came in a box, on the bottom of which had been scrawled, "you want to watch this bloody pen!" I always wondered how many shirt-fronts that pen had ruined, in order to garner such a warning, sent down through time.

Thanks for the ramble through the Philly Pen Show, and it's very nice to 'meet' you! (And thanks for the link, grammardog!)
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2014-01-20 04:54 pm (UTC)

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we have a friend who lives in scotland who says "you should come out some time!" -- but coming out is an airplane ride and then a train to a village and then a 60 mile car ride.... it seems very remote....

looks like this one may actually be a two in three out, since i've noticed another in a drawer i haven't used in a year....
[User Picture]From: lois2037
2014-01-20 11:26 pm (UTC)

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I'm moving to the Cleveland area (Lakewood) and I found this, only 2 1/2 hours or so away. NOT a long drive to feed my pen habit, I think:

http://www.ohiopenshow.com/index.html

I'll have until November to save up, too! It's been years since I was able to find a pen show to go to, and that one was very small and catered to folks with more budget than I had at the time.