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kyle cassidy

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Fountain pens -- once again. [Jan. 19th, 2014|02:01 pm]
kyle cassidy
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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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[User Picture]From: pickleboot
2014-01-20 06:32 am (UTC)
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!
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[User Picture]From: inkista_
2014-01-26 08:22 pm (UTC)
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.
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