Friday, October 5, 2012

In praise of mint pens (and of keeping them that way)

I recently had the good fortune to acquire a pristine Wahl-Eversharp ringtop set, mint and stickered, boxed with instructions. The pen is shown in the picture above. Now there are those who seem to think that leaving a pen unused is somehow sinful. Yet when one gets back to pens of the 1920s and early '30s, truly mint examples are extremely scarce, and far rarer than examples that have been used, however gently.

The greatest value of pristine pens, though, is not monetary -- in fact, compared to most other areas of collecting, the premium for perfection in pens is small -- so much as informational. Years ago, it was a pristine Wahl "Deco Band" that tipped me off to the reason why Wahl caps tended to discolor in dark bands. You can read my 2002 writeup here, the upshot being that Wahl didn't use a normal hard rubber inner cap, but instead lined the top of the inside of the cap with a soft white rubber disk, and put another soft rubber washer on the outward-facing mouth of the inner cap, where the section presses when the cap is in place. Staining and hardening over time makes these construction features, which are not mentioned in Wahl company literature, invisible. They are clearly visible on pristine pens, however -- this newly acquired ringtop included.
Another ephemeral feature that we know about only from examples such as this is the in-filling of imprints. In most cases, imprints were not originally colored in, but there are a few exceptions. One little-known exception is the gold coloring sometimes applied to the nib grade stamps on Wahl-Eversharp feeds. This gold coloring is beautifully preserved on our recent acquisition, but one can see that it would be washed away rather quickly once the pen was put to use.

The discoveries don't end there. Another recent acquisition is shown below: a coral semi-streamlined X-Seal pen, also mint and stickered. This is a rare model, and a puzzling one. The pen itself does not appear in any known catalog or advertisement, and though it shares features with other standard production models, its profile is different from any of them.
The X-Seal has been the subject of much speculation, as it appears not just on these pens, but also on regular production pens, albeit rarely. Its use follows no discernible pattern, so any scraps of information about how it was used are invaluable.
Unfortunately, the sticker on this pen is half gone. Nonetheless, it gives us some idea of the pen's original price point, and at least part of its model number. Considering how rare these pens are in any condition, to find one with sticker largely intact is no small thing.

No comments: