Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A noble shard

Many years ago, Pier Gustafson organized a show-and-tell display among Boston area pen collectors of what he aptly termed "noble shards" -- the wreckage of once-notable (and perhaps, still notable) pens.

The remnants of the end-lever Crocker shown here amply qualify. The cap may be missing its top half, and the section assembly is absent. But this battered survivor is still very special, for it is not hard rubber, but casein. The pattern is a sort of woodgrain, though it is now stained and faded. The end knob is imprinted "2S", and in raking light the characteristic alligatoring of aged casein is clearly visible.

I am not aware of any advertising or catalog listing for casein Crockers, and I have only seen one other example over the years -- much better preserved, in a solid green similar to that of a Parker Ivorine. But sometimes the only survivors are fragmentary, overlooked in a parts box.

Friday, December 19, 2014

An unusual wartime Sheaffer

With the entry of the United States into WW2, penmakers were faced with production quotas and restrictions upon materials needed for the war effort. Aluminum, brass, and stainless steel were replaced by silver and gold, which the USA had in abundance. The pen shown above, a Sheaffer Feathertouch Defender, shows the characteristic tarnish of gold over silver wartime trim: a greyish-black film, often blotchy, caused by silver atoms migrating to the surface and oxidizing on exposure to the air.

The over-the-top "military" clip is another characteristic wartime feature, allowing the pen to sit low enough in a uniform blouse pocket so as not to interfere with closure of the pocket flap. But the wartime features of this particular pen don't stop there. The section is celluloid, rather than hard rubber (rubber was a critical war material) -- not uncommon -- and so is the plunger shaft.

Wartime plunger-fillers typically used celluloid-covered carbon steel plunger shafts instead of stainless steel. These worked well enough, though the carbon steel was susceptible to rust swelling should any moisture penetrate its coating. All-celluloid shafts were another matter, as they were insufficiently rigid and prone to warpage. They are rare enough today that it is likely that they were only made experimentally -- and quickly rejected.

It would be easy enough to retrofit this pen with a postwar stainless shaft and matching blind cap (the original blind cap has a simple unthreaded hole into which the celluloid shaft press-fits), but we have put it back together as it was made, minus its original piston seal washer -- not functional as a pen, yet eloquent as witness to an era.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Waterman dummy


The pen above looks like a commonplace Waterman 52.  Flip it over, and you will see that it isn't a working pen at all, but a dummy made up for window display.  Real pens left on display were always a theft risk, dummy pens, much less so -- and display dummies also kept the real pens from being faded by sun exposure.

Dummy pens were often made up from rejected parts, and this one is no exception. In this case, the barrel isn't even a Waterman, for it bears a clear Aikin Lambert imprint. And though a Waterman lever box has been installed, it doesn't fit quite right since there isn't a cutout at the end of the lever slot, as the Aikin lever was of simpler form. By this time, Waterman had owned Aikin Lambert for a good ten or fifteen years, and production facilities had long been consolidated.

If you look more closely at the finish of the smooth part at the end of the barrel, you will also see another dummy-specific feature: the pen has been painted black, to better resist fading while in a shop window.  The paint is partially worn off here, and another patch of wear-through is visible on the cap top as well.