Thursday, May 7, 2015

Waterman date code?

When pen collectors hear "date code", they think of Parker. Other pen companies used date codes later on, but as far as I know, Parker was all on its own when it added a date code to its imprints from 1934 on. Yet the pen shown above, a Waterman/Aikin Lambert Vis-O-Pen, had what appears to be a date code, "38", on its plated stainless steel nib.

I confess that I have not paid a lot of attention to these economy-line pens, so this may be old news to others. Such codes do not appear on Waterman or Aikin Lambert nibs in gold.

UPDATE: Not a date code after all, it appears. Daniel Kirchheimer has pointed out to me that "38" is the base model number for the Vis-O-Pen line, and the number appears on all Vis-O-Pen nibs.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Another illustration of hard rubber cap manufacture

The cap on this Wirt slip-cap eyedropper nicely illustrates how such caps were made, as discussed here and here. Before vulcanization, the soft rubber mix was wrapped in sheet form around a mandrel. The edge of the sheet is clearly visible in the top image as a longitudinal break in the patterning. The view below shows how the end of the mandrel was covered with a disk of soft black rubber mix.

More painted pens (and pen parts)

More discoveries from the parts storehouse. The ringtop is unmarked, and appears never to have been completed, as neither lever nor pressure bar has been installed. The yellow spots are painted on. The cap may well come from the same source, and it too appears to be unused. The painted decoration is repeated on the other side in identical form.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Pen site upgrades

Posting here has been slow lately, and it's not entirely due to the much-welcomed arrival of spring here in New England. Much of our time recently has been spent on belated website upgrade work, in particular making the most popular pages more mobile-friendly. There's still much to be done, as the structure of some parts of the site goes back to its early days in the late 1990s. Paradoxically, in many cases the old code and the barebones layout of these pages work better on a small screen than do fancier and more stylish sites.

Please let us know if you have any requests or suggestions, and definitely let us know if you see something broken or missing!

Monday, April 6, 2015

OMAS selling gold nibs without tipping?

Over at the Fountain Pen Network there is a discussion of OMAS pens with solid 18K gold nibs and no hard tipping material whatsoever. The pens in question were special-ordered with rather broad italic nibs, so this observation doesn't apply to standard OMAS pens. Nonetheless, it seems bizarre that a company with such a heritage would be sending out what appears to be a major bodge. Armando Simoni must be spinning.

PS Looks as though this has been going on for a while. I can't believe people are buying these chopped-off nibs, let along paying a premium for them.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

More taper cap construction notes

We recently discussed the manufacture of hard rubber taper caps, and specifically how they were made by wrapping raw rubber around a steel mandrel, the rubber then being vulcanized in place. Since the unvulcanized rubber is dough-like, and not a liquid, there inevitably has to be a seam where the edges of the rolled-out rubber sheet meet. This seam is normally invisible after the cap has been vulcanized, turned or ground to final dimensions, and polished, though in some cases a telltale line of porosity can be seen -- usually on second-tier pens, where quality control apparently was not quite so strict. The seam can also become visible if the hard rubber ends up light-faded, as illustrated by the photo above (click to enlarge). In such cases, the rubber has proven more resistant to fading where it has been joined.

The first time I noticed this phenomenon was on the cap of a giant Moore safety pen in a Chicago pen show auction, long ago. At the time I could not decide if the line meandering down the side of the cap was some sort of manufacturing flaw or the traces of an extremely skilful repair. The answer only became clear years later, after seeing several other examples, reading more about how hard rubber caps were made, and finally putting all the evidence together. Once you start looking for that seam, you'll find that it's often visible but easily overlooked. This also applies to mottled hard rubber, where the seam may hide in plain sight in the material's irregular patterning.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

LT ≠ Louis Tiffany

The LT & Son mark is typically found on all-metal combos and pencils, and has confused pen collectors for as long as I've been collecting. Commonly misinterpreted as standing for "Louis Tiffany", in fact it has no Tiffany connection whatsoever, standing instead for Louis Tamis -- a prominent New York jewelry firm that is still going strong today.

According to the company's website, the firm was "Founded in New York in 1909 by Russian-born jeweler Louis Tamis . . . In the late '30s, Tamis met Paul Flato, a retailer with a keen eye for design, and their association produced money clips, pens and cufflinks. . . Louis' sons took over the company in 1948 and the company became one of the top high-end jewelry manufacturers in America."

Exactly when (or if) "& Son" became "& Sons" I have not yet determined. The listing above and the ad below both come from the same publication, Trade-Marks of the Jewelry and Kindred Trades, 6th edition, 1950, pp. 220 and 27, respectively.

Another question regards who manufactured what and for whom. A number of New York companies offered virtually identical all-metal combos and pencils in this era, including Louis Tamis, Edward Todd, Hicks, and Twinpoint. These combos and pencils are also found marked with the names of high-end retailers such as Cartier and Tiffany. Only Hicks and Edward Todd held actual pen and pencil patents, and on balance the evidence favors Hicks as the ultimate maker of all these writing instruments.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Taper cap construction notes

It can be difficult to understand the inner workings of something without cutting it open, and pens are no exception. But sometimes one is fortunate enough to be spared the need to cut -- as with this damaged Waterman taper cap, which nicely illustrates how these caps were originally made and how they can be told apart from recently-made reproductions.

Click on the picture to see the larger version, and you'll see that the interior of the cap has an evenly textured surface. There are no machining marks, nor is it polished smooth inside. This is because the cap was made by wrapping a steel mandrel or core with a thin layer of latex "dough", which was then vulcanized, still mounted on the mandrel. When the mandrel was withdrawn, the textured surface that we see was left behind where the hard rubber had been in contact [more on other traces left by this method here]. Since a smooth finish was needed on the cap's exterior, the cap was made slightly oversize and turned down to final dimensions on a lathe.

The mouth of the cap was the other area finished in this way. The rough surface left by the mandrel would not offer an optimally precise mating surface for mounting the cap on either the section or the end of the barrel, with the roughness also being prone to leave scratches. The localized smoothing is more clearly visible in raking light.

It wasn't only taper caps that were made in this way. This was the norm for all hard rubber cap manufacture, since molding to rough shape minimized the need to remove (and waste) material. Look inside slip-on caps and in nearly every case you'll see that same characteristic roughness left behind from where the hard rubber was vulcanized on the mandrel. This is not usually visible inside screw-on caps which were machined both outside and in, for the interior dimensions and finish had to be much more precise to accommodate both the threads and the inner cap.

That texturing is also absent from newly-made replacement caps, which to date have all been made from solid hard rubber rod stock. It isn't so difficult to make other types of cap in this way, but taper caps with their thin walls and narrow tapering profile are a bit of a challenge. Most reproductions are a bit heavier and thicker-walled than an original, and if you look inside, you will often see a series of telltale steps where the interior was hollowed out by drilling using a series of progressively-sized drill bits -- a construction method never used in the past. Buyer beware, for there are a lot of newly-made replacement taper caps out there, and even experienced dealers have been taken in. There are several regular pen show sellers who have not been sufficiently forthcoming about identifying such caps, sellers who most collectors still think of as honest and trustworthy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

An unusual Touchdown

Even though I have written my share of articles, I have spent a lot more time collecting during the last 25-odd years than organizing and photographing. This pen is one I had never gotten around to sharing, though I did ask a few Sheaffer specialists over the years if they had seen anything like it. They had not.

At first glance it is an ordinary first-year (1949) Sheaffer Touchdown Sentinel Deluxe, unusual chiefly for having been made in Canada. And in fact, I did not notice anything else out of the ordinary until it was on the workbench, and I realized that the tool marks on the filling knob weren't tool marks at all.

Yes, the knob is deeply imprinted, "TouchDown". An experiment, a market test? Who knows?

UPDATE: A few other examples now reported, all Canadian. Raising a big question: why Canada? It seems most improbable that these specially-imprinted knobs were released after the regular ribbed knobs; that they were an initial design that was abandoned almost immediately is far more plausible -- and given their rarity, that they never went into full production. Is it possible, then, that these knobs were a feature of very early pens made for market testing, testing that was done in Canada?
Unfortunately, while we know quite a bit about how Parker did market testing, we know next to nothing about Sheaffer's practices. Testing acceptance of a radically new filling system in Canada before launching it in the USA, however, certainly makes sense. Looking back, we don't make all that much of Sheaffer's adoption of the Touchdown filling system in 1949, but in fact it was a major leap that could easily have gone disastrously wrong.

Painted Parker part

I was digging deep into the parts bins this afternoon, and ran across a cap I've had for at least fifteen years. It's a lined black cap from Parker's economy line of the 1920s, dressed up with swirled marbling of the sort commonly used in times past to decorate endpapers in fancy bookbindings. Back when I got it, few collectors were paying much attention to painted pens. Interest and knowledge has grown since then, yet very few examples of this type of painted decoration have turned up.

Although entirely different in appearance and effect than the hand-painted geometric patterns most commonly seen on Hollands, Sheaffers, and Conklins, this swirled decoration was surely aiming at the same result: to increase the saleability of pens that were beginning to seem a bit dull and old-fashioned next to newer models in colored celluloids.

NOTE: The cap is as likely to be black celluloid as hard rubber. The paint is probably oil paint. A site that discusses the various ways this technique can be implemented can be found here.