The Curse of the Plated Section Trim Ring

This is a Parker Sonnet on my workbench for some nib work. Notice the corrosion to the trim ring that has caused the gold plating to be lost.

Folks, I don’t want to insult anyone, but it is a disgraceful engineering decision to succumb to a superficial desire for a bit of flash and as a result trade off durability. There’s a reason that for a hundred years, no quality fountain pen had a plated trim ring located at the front of the gripping section where the base metal would unstoppably fall victim to chemical attack from ink. Not until a later version of the Parker 75 did such a “feature” appear on a quality fountain pen, to my knowledge (think about it). The change to the 75 I consider a simple misjudgment, but on modern pens, where the lesson has long been known, it is inexcusable.

Pens made this way are embodiments of pen manufacturers saying to their customers, “you don’t know or care about true quality, so we will ply you with snazzy aesthetics even though these expensive pens are doomed.” And they are doomed — all of them. Doomed. Really.

Don’t buy pens with plated trim rings just behind the nib. I don’t care if they cost $1,000. They’re not really writing instruments at all. They’re pocket decoration. If I were shopping for a modern pen, I’d be insulted that manufacturers think I’m so superficial as to be taken in by shiny stuff at the expense of truly engineered durability.

P. S. A few years after selling you that expensive, doomed pen, the manufacturer will likely no longer have replacement parts. This ain’t the 1970s, when Sheaffer was still servicing pens from the 1930s.

Repair of a Bent Flexible Sheaffer Nib

I read a post on a popular pen forum about a purchase of a Sheaffer Snorkel with a rare flexible fine nib. Sadly, the pen was poorly packed, and it arrived with that wonderful nib badly bent and unusable.

I offered to repair it; though there are several restorers who can do this type of work well, only a few of them can also restore the two-tone appearance of the nib after the repair is complete (working on such a nib invariably mars the plating on the forepart). The disappointed owner sent it in.

Here’s what the nib looked like when I received it:

Here’s the restored nib after I reversed the damage and then after I re-did the plating and reassembled things:

I also smoothed the nib to ensure the best writing experience I could provide.

These nib repairs are quite time-consuming, but they are also very rewarding. The owner was very pleased with the outcome, and he wrote, “the nib looks brand new and it writes perfectly. I haven’t ever had the privilege of using a flexible nib as smooth as this one before.”

Picking through the tailings

On a recent episode of “Gold Rush,” the television reality series about gold miners in the Klondike, the owner of a dredge that resembles nothing so much as a giant mechanical dirt-eating dinosaur is frustrated by the paltry extraction of gold from the thousands of yards of paydirt that is being devoured by the machine. He examines the tailings — the processed rock that is ejected after the various tumbling and washing operations have attempted to extract the gold — and he quickly discovers that there is still some of the precious metal clinging to the waste material.

Improvements are made to the rig — additional water sprayers and agitation (“grouser”) bars are installed — and the next “cleanout” yields much more gold. The lesson is that sometimes, it’s worth going over material already examined to see if something of value was missed.

Such was the case today, when I decided once again to look into L. E. Waterman’s employment history in the early 1880s. In Blotting Out the Truth, we had conclusively established that Waterman had been the Corresponding Editor of the periodical National Car Builder from January, 1881 through August, 1882; that proof came in the form of his name on the masthead of the publication every month throughout that time period. We had read reports that prior to that stint, he had held a similar post at another train publication entitled Railroad Gazette, but we did not have primary source evidence. David Nishimura pointed out that in testimony Waterman gave at one of the Wirt trials just a few years later, Waterman had stated that he had indeed worked at the Gazette before moving to National Car Builder; that was quite strong evidence, but given the mythology that we know can be created in this realm, we still couldn’t consider it absolute proof, a later endorsement for the Waterman pen by an editor at the Gazette notwithstanding.

And so, I decided to pick through some of the tailings of our information dredging effort of the past two years to see if any nuggets of evidence had made their way through the extraction process. And they had. On the very same page of the January, 1881 edition of National Car Builder where Lewis E. Waterman’s name appears for the first time as Corresponding Editor, this announcement appeared:

LEW appointment as NCB editor
Still some gold in the tailings…

If a pen falls in the forest…

Best item title seen on eBay today:

Sheaffer “Half” Balance Fountain Pen (NO CAP)

Reversing Damage to Waterman Flex Nib

I don’t do much nib work. There are several reasons for this, but I’d say the slow pace at which I work limits the number of nib jobs I can do at a reasonable cost. I just can’t speed through restoration tasks; I’m not comfortable working against the clock on projects for which patience and contemplation are important ingredients, and I also like to take my time when creating something – and I consider re-creating the original state of a nib (or cap, or whole pen) to be forms of creation.

This nib is my own, purchased in a decrepit Waterman black hard rubber 52. I saw potential in the nib, and I also was interested in the challenge of trying to resuscitate what looked like a sensitive nib that had been mortally wounded.

Though I have repaired far fewer nibs than metal caps, my skills with reversing deformed metal do give me a good base for many aspects of nib work. I have a feeling for the way metal responds to various manipulations, and just as with reversing cap dents, there are actually many distinct metalworking techniques that can be used to fix mangled nibs.

Ready to get Zanerian!
Ready to get Zanerian!

A Sheaffer Built on a WASP

Here’s a mid-1930s Sheaffer Balance H74TC, which is a medium-girth, full-length lever-filler in marbled Marine Green with a peaked round-ball clip. While I had it in the shop, I noticed an unusual construction — the cap had a partial liner of another celluloid, which appears to be the same stock as was used for some WASP models:

Since I first spotted this, I’ve kept my eyes open for it, and sure enough, other examples have turned up. This one is a Jade 5-30 flat top with several other unusual attributes; the “5-30” imprint on the top of the cap is double-stamped, and the cap might have started out as a White-Dotted Lifetime cap, but it was demoted, and the dot was filled — but with a later, more stable Jade celluloid:

Making a Burnisher

Though a variety of burnishers can be purchased, I decided to make one that had exactly the attributes I wanted for a particular type of work. I used a ball-turning attachment in my lathe to form the business end:


My Main Guitar

I’ve been playing blues guitar since 1983, when I bought a Washburn A-10 with savings from my summer job. I’d always lusted after a Gibson semi-hollowbody, and a few years later I got a 1968 Gibson ES-335. I liked it, but it had a trapeze tailpiece and it just didn’t have enough sustain for me, so I went shopping again. I was lucky enough to find this incredible 1960 ES-345 (with PAFs, for you vintage gear geeks), and it has been my main instrument for about 25 years.

Here it is ready to do its thing at a recent private party; it tore up “Secret Agent Man” and “Sympathy for the Devil”:

ES-345 at Mikes Party

Marker-Ingram Zest Filler

Today I’m offering an unusual pen. The Marker-Ingram was made for only a few hours at the beginning of April, 1911, and it employed a filling system that was doomed from the start. The so-called “centrifugal loader” required wedging the pen’s section into the mouth of a special ink bottle, and this assemblage was then fitted into a sling-like apparatus with a long leather strap the end of which the user grasped. Then, with a rodeo-cowboy-like action, the user spun this arrangement either overhead or away from the body, whereby the forces of nature would compel the ink to flow into the pen, and, quite likely, to create a projectile of untold lethality and considerable messiness.

SOLD $90, unrestored. Insurance not included. Liability insurance, that is.

Vacumatic Imperial Barrel Repair

Got in a Vacumatic Imperial with a barrel fracture. There was some machine shop work involved in the repair:

The final result:




300 Nanoliters of Blue

It’s not a jazz tune by a lab tech. It’s the quantity of enamel that nicely fills the space for the Blue Diamond insignia on a Parker fountain pen clip.

Speaking of clips, the image above is a still frame from a video clip of that 300 nL being dispensed via a positive displacement micropipette that I fabricated; though I like blues, I don’t like improvising when it comes to pen restoration tools.

Some finished products: