Thursday, March 1, 2018

A warning about pens in ultrasonic cleaners

I've been meaning to post on this for some time, but was somehow hoping to have photos to illustrate the point. Doesn't make all that much sense, I admit, since once I discovered the risk, I wasn't about to repeat the mistake just for a photo's sake.

OK, so what am I talking about? If you put a pen or pen part into an ultrasonic cleaner so that only part of it is immersed (typically, just the nib or nib and section), the ultrasonic waves can travel through the portion that isn't immersed and create a hot spot where the waves converge. That spot can end up hot enough to blister celluloid, as I discovered when cleaning a later-production Sheaffer plunger-filler's Triumph nib with the internal filling unit still attached.

This doesn't happen if the part is fully immersed, since the cleaning solution disperses the heat and probably also dampens the natural resonance of the part. There also seems to be more risk if the barrel is sitting at a slant, as opposed to held vertically -- but in any case, either immerse the assembly to be cleaned completely, or go slow and use multiple short cleaning cycles instead of a single longer one. Depending on the power output of your cleaner, you might want to go with 15-30 second cycles rather than 90-180.

The vulnerability is greatest with thin-walled barrels. Pelikans and other similar celluloid-barreled piston-fillers are at risk, along with plunger-fillers as noted above. I have not experienced problems with barrels of hard rubber or acrylic to date, nor with the thicker celluloid barrels of Vacumatics.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Large increase for cheapest international shipping rates

You may have noticed that our base rate for international shipments just went up substantially. Not our fault -- USPS made some dramatic changes as of January 21 that caught many of us by surprise.  In particular, the cheapest method of international shipping, First Class International for Large Envelopes/Flats, can now only be used for documents, not for merchandise. So merchandise, however small, must be sent using the First Class International Package rate, at a minimum cost of $13.30 -- over ten dollars more than the base rate for Large Envelopes/Flats.

Luckily there is something of a workaround, though it seems it is only offered through USPS partners such as and Endicia. For a $2.50 per piece surcharge, the Large Envelopes/Flats rate can be used for merchandise. That brings the total shipping charge to just under $5, but now the items have to be sent to a USPS regional processing center (for us, in New Jersey), where they are relabeled for the international part of their voyage. Since the international label isn't on the package when it is initially mailed here in the USA, neither is the tracking number. Not a huge issue for us, but it's causing concern among eBay sellers: eBay penalizes sellers who don't ship promptly enough, and now packages sent by this method don't get scanned and shown as shipped until they go through the regional processing center. What is of greater concern is that with the service (which we use), the option to automatically email recipients with shipment information is no longer available. This would appear to be a software glitch, but it's still a major inconvenience -- so please bear with us if shipment notifications on international orders don't get sent out as promptly as before.

All in all, this is a most unfortunate change, which will surely hurt American sellers of all sorts of small articles -- quite a contrast to countries that use postal policies to boost exports.

UPDATE: As of February 6, appears to have restored the option to automatically email recipients when sending items by First Class International.

AND MORE: Another aspect of these changes is the implementation of electronic submission of Customs declarations. Instead of the Customs statement being attached to the package prior to our dropping it off at the Post Office, it is now transmitted automatically at the time our shipping label is generated. It is then printed out and attached to the package at the USPS processing center prior to the package being shipped out of the country. The intent is clear enough, and I'm sure the new system will eventually make processing more efficient. I'm not sure the rollout is going all that smoothly, however, as I've read that things have not been going well at some of the regional processing centers,  and I've noticed that several of our recent international packages have been directed not to the nearby New Jersey center used at first, but all the way to the center in California -- even though some of the packages were going to Europe, not Asia.
This is also now affecting the higher classes of international package delivery, not just First Class International. So if your order is being sent by Priority or Express, and the tracking number still shows only "printed", that's why -- rest assured we still deliver all our packages to the Post Office the day the labels are printed, no matter what problems USPS is having with displaying up-to-date tracking information.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Instructional videos on nib straightening and repair

As online instructions on fountain pen repair continue to proliferate, one particular area remains largely left out: the reshaping of bent or maladjusted nibs. This has not gone unnoticed, and I've been particularly aware of the situation given my efforts to make affordable nib blocks available to the pen community.

Contrary to what some indignant posters claim, the lack of nib repair primers is not due to any unwillingness to share information. In fact, those who have nib repair expertise have often added helpful comments to online discussions about nib work (noting that all too often their input is then blithely ignored, as with the use of shims). The real problem is that the number of people who are truly expert nibworkers is much smaller than the number of those who are able to advise on more general pen repair questions, and they are almost all professionals or semiprofessionals with the inevitable constant backlog of work to be done. To expect them to take time off to compose free tutorials is unrealistic, and to blame them for not doing so is clearly out of line.

Nor can the skills being sought be easily taught. They are difficult enough to demonstrate and explain in person, much more so through the written word, and challenging even through video. Straightening nibs is all about dealing with complex curves in three dimensions, precisely controlling the stretching and compressing of the tempered gold. It's far from a matter of just making simple bends, or pressing sheet metal into forms. Taking out a bend is vastly more involved than putting one in, as anyone who has worked in metal with confirm.

In addition to all this, the work is done in small scale and under magnification, with the fingers and tools right on top of the workpiece. Taking photos or videos that adequately show the process is going to be tough indeed, and virtually impossible for the solo nibworker without bringing in an assistant  to do the camera work. Yes, it will happen eventually. But while you are waiting, know that it's not without good reason.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Setting things straight about Parker Quink

It seems the battle against misinformation is never-ending. Once one old collectors' myth is put to rest, new ones arise to take its place. I've recently noticed a sudden upsurge of confused factoids about Parker inks in the fountain pen groups on Facebook. Inks are rather outside my main areas of research interest, but I know enough to be able to see a problem in the making -- so let's set things straight before they get totally out of hand.

First, when we're looking at Parker ink production from the 1930s through the 1950s, we're talking about three product lines: Quink, "51" ink, and Superchrome. Quink is the oldest of the three, and the only one still in production (with minor reformulations). Quink was introduced in 1931; despite what the confused Wikipedia article states (at least, until I can get a chance to correct it [now corrected; let's hope no one changes it back -- D.]), Quink was a mild ink that would not harm pens such as Parker's top-line Vacumatics which held their ink directly within celluloid barrels, as well as models such as the Challenger whose sections featured transparent celluloid ink windows. 

The strongly alkaline pH balance and isopropyl alcohol content that distinguished "51" ink were NEVER features of Quink. The Parker 51 and "51" ink were developed in tandem, the pen designed specifically so it would be able to hold up to its special caustic ink. The ink was explicitly promoted and sold as suitable only for the Parker 51. Parker openly stated that it would clog and damage pens not specifically made to use it. "51" ink was introduced in 1941, and was replaced in 1947 by Superchrome -- a somewhat milder but still corrosive reformulation, similarly marketed for use exclusively in pens made to use it: the Parker 51 and its budget offspring, the Parker 21. 

It does appear that there was an initial release of "51" ink as "Double Quink" (discussion here), but I very much suspect that this took place only as unadvertised market trials done as part of the well-documented market trials of preproduction Parker 51 pens from 1939 on. It is telling that I have yet to see a photo of an actual surviving Double Quink bottle, and that David Shepherd was unable to come up with one for his Parker 51 monograph despite years of diligent focused collecting and free access to Parker's own archives.

ADDENDUM: While rewriting the Wikipedia article on Quink, I took a closer look at the apocryphal story that Quink had been invented by and named for a Filipino chemist, Francisco Quisumbing. While clearly false -- the details of the development and naming of Quink have been thoroughly documented -- it was puzzling how such a story could have arisen in the first place. As it turned out, a Francisco A. Quisumbing had in fact founded a successful ink company in the Philippines in 1923, a few years after completing his Ph.D. at Columbia University. The basic biographical details appear in the 1937 volume of Who's Who in the Philippines, pp. 128-29. Quisumbing contributed the preface to a 1960 book, Forensic Chemistry of Ink in Documentary Investigation, by Paul R. Verzosa, in which it is mentioned that the Quisumbing Ink Products company supplied all agencies of the Philippine government under an exclusive contract (p. 22).
I was also able to find mention (and dismissal) of the Quisumbing/Quink myth in a book published in 1999, so the story has been around for a good long time (Virgilio L. Malang, Inventions & Innovations: A Glimpse of the Filipino Legacy, p. xiv).

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Waterman's first screw-cap pen

While any collector who has been around for a while is familiar with Waterman's POC-series screw-cap eyedropper-fillers, few are acquainted with their much rarer precursors, the Chatelaine pens. The Chatelaines were barely mentioned in Waterman advertisements, though they are listed in the 1908 catalog, as seen here. The narrow raised barrel threads are every bit as prone to damage and wear as one might think, though the long section does help keep the writer's fingertips away -- just as well, since the cap is not furnished with an inner cap.

How late Waterman continued to offer the Chatelaine remains an open question. One might think that it would have been replaced by the better-designed POC, with its stronger threads and tight-sealing inner cap (the Chatelaine lacked an inner cap), and yet none of the early mentions of the POC include a ringtop version. The introduction date of the Chatelaine can be determined with rather more certainty, thanks to the article below from the American Stationer of August 20, 1904, p. 48:

Initially the Chatelaine was offered in only two sizes, 12 and 14. This was still the case at the time of the ad below, from the Ladies' Home Journal, June 1905, p. 23, though by the time the 1908 catalog had been compiled sizes 15, 16, 17, and 18 had been added.

These larger sizes seem outscale for hanging from a pin, yet examples survive. The pen below is a 17, and enormous.

At the other size extreme, I have had at least two or three slender 12 1/2 Chatelaines -- a size not mentioned in any source I have found to date. Not that Waterman was averse to mixing things up, as the pump-filling Chatelaine below indicates.

I have never seen a Chatelaine in mottled or red hard rubber, though they are found both chased and smooth.

The Waterman POC

I've been meaning for some time to do a write-up on Waterman's Chatelaine series -- the company's first screw-cap pens, which appear almost as an afterthought in the big 1908 catalog but which were advertised at least as early as 1905. The recent appearance of a possibly unique factory-made man's screw-cap (8-size, with clip and without suspension ring) using Chatelaine components, however,  has raised the question of exactly when Waterman began offering screw-cap pens for pocket carry -- so here is a quick post about the introduction of the POC line.

After a bit of searching, I found the blurb shown above, which ran in the American Stationer of March 29, 1913 (vol. 73), p. 34. No mention of the line appears in earlier issues, and indeed mention is sporadic in following years as well. The standard tag line in Waterman advertisements remains "Regular, Safety and Self-Filling Types", with "Pocket" only occasionally included -- as in the ad below from Geyer's Stationer, February 18, 1915, p. 27.

The POC line was short-lived, at least under that name. With the 1917 change in Waterman's model numbering system, the "POC" suffix was dropped and "7" was added in the tens place. The 12 POC became the 72, the 15 POC became the 75, and so on. 

Although the POC suffix was always imprinted all in capital letters on the pens, in advertising it was typically rendered as "Poc." as shown above. Interestingly enough, the most common POC model shown in ads was the 412 POC with silver filigree overlay.

POC models haven't attracted a great deal of collector interest, yet they mark a turning point in the evolution of Waterman pen design. All subsequent Waterman pocket pen designs, no matter the filling system, followed the POC template, with a screw cap, inner cap, and flared section, while the older slip-cap models gradually disappeared from the lineup.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Waterman Father Time

Waterman collectors have known for years about a very rare version of the 58 with an extra-long cap with a small rectangular watch set into its side. Thanks to the discovery of the ad shown above, we now know the model's name and date of introduction. The ad first ran in the American Stationer in the December 25, 1920 issue on page 19, appearing again on the same page on January 8 and 22. We surely would have found this ad much sooner if the volume it appears in -- volume 87 -- were more completely digitized. As is, searching the two Google versions and the HathiTrust version for "Waterman" yields only a fraction of the instances that are actually present -- a valuable reminder that while text searches can quickly turn up material, one cannot assume that all has been found unless one has gone through manually, page by page -- which is how I eventually stumbled across the Father Time ads.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tracking the rise of the self-filling fountain pen

Google's Ngram Viewer is a powerful tool for evaluating the popularity of words and phrases over time. Here are the results for "self-filler", which neatly illustrate the triumph of the self-filling fountain pen over the dropper-filler in the English-speaking world in the first decades of the 20th century:

The transition peaks between 1915 and 1920, then rapidly falls off as self-filling pens become the new norm.

The dropoff is more pronounced in the second chart immediately above, which is limited to American English sources. This is not a surprise, inasmuch as British penmakers continued to emphasize self-filling in both model names and advertising later than their American counterparts.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Waterman "Gentleman's Set"

Belatedly digging through newly-digitized volumes of The American Stationer, I came across this fantastic item -- a specially-packaged set written up in the November 15, 1902 issue (p. 6).

As noted in the accompanying text, the set comprises a black 14 with gold filled barrel bands, a mottled 14, and a silver 224 half-overlay taper cap. The special leather case -- I've never seen an actual example -- added $2 to the price of the ensemble.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Yet more American Stationer issues digitized

Mike Kennedy just informed me that volume 47 of The American Stationer is now viewable online. Looking more closely, I realized that several volumes in the same sequence were all digitized at Columbia University in late July, and are now being added one by one to Google Books. Right now one can see the listing and a partial table of contents. Within the next few weeks, however, full-text access should be available. I've gone ahead and listed the new volumes in the master list, noting that full viewability is still pending.

UPDATE: As I deduced, all of the newly digitized volumes (51-56) are now available in full text (Aug 21, 2017).