Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wirt Jointless


Not long ago I acquired a nice Wirt dropper-filler -- a classic slender black chased hard rubber overfeed straight-cap, with 1882 and 1885 patent dates on the barrel.

Yet there was something more lying in wait. Look at the picture at top and the picture below, and you'll see there's a little step at the very mouth of the section. And the section doesn't seem to have a threaded joint separating it from the barrel . . . .

With a careful application of water (just at the section mouth, avoiding spotting of the hard rubber elsewhere), a bit of patience, and some careful wiggling, the nib unit came out as shown below.

A "jointless" design, very close to Parker's, patented in 1899 (US patent 622,256). I don't know of any advertisements for this particular Wirt model, nor is it familiar to the Parker experts I've been able to consult. Perhaps Wirt licensed the design, though it could also ave been a case of trying it out unofficially to see if it was worth licensing.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Why seal sections?

Back in the day, pen repairmen would usually apply a little shellac to a slip-fit section before reinserting it into the barrel. I do the same, even though some of my colleagues object to the practice.

There are multiple benefits to sealing the section in place. Perhaps most importantly, it strongly encourages the application of heat to the section-barrel joint for disassembly. Warming the barrel mouth makes it expand and become more flexible, drastically reducing the risk of breakage. When the section joint isn't sealed, there is a powerful temptation to open it up cold, whether by twisting or rocking. And though one can often get away with it, rest assured that a cracked barrel mouth is only a matter of time when opening pens cold.

This is particularly the case with sections that have a  a recessed band, as shown above, or a slight reverse taper on the part that fits into the barrel. When the barrel mouth has to be stretched in order to extract the section, doing it cold is risky indeed. 

Sealing the section also makes the section-barrel joint stronger and more secure. The pressure of writing can sometimes cause an unsealed section to rock slightly within the barrel, putting strain on the barrel while allowing the nib to wiggle annoyingly in relation to the hand. Even a very small amount of shellac will keep a section firmly in place with its shoulder resting against the end of the barrel mouth around its full circumference, preventing any rocking motion.

One final benefit: sealing the section helps keep ink out of the barrel when the pen is inadvertently dipped too deeply into the ink when filling. This is not an uncommon occurrence, and the ink that ends up trapped inside the section-barrel joint has left the celluloid there stained on more than a few older pens.

The strongest objection I can see is not to sealing sections per se, but to the use of shellac. This really doesn't apply to materials such hard rubber or acrylic, which are largely unaffected by being heated to the temperatures required to soften shellac. Celluloid, however, loses a little plasticizer every time it is heated, so there is a reasonable argument to limit the frequency and degree of heating in the interest of long-term preservation. In fact, there are other sealing compounds that require less heat to release -- most notably, various rosin-based mixes which can either be purchased or made up at home. Application of these compounds, however, is decidedly more awkward than that of shellac, since the section must be pre-warmed and the compound melted on before all parts are re-warmed and assembled.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wiley's Union pen

Reader Robert P. Foster recently sent us photos of an unusual nib in his collection, suggesting that it would make an interesting topic for a post. As can clearly be seen, only the front portion of the nib is gold -- the rest is of silver. 

As it happens, another example has been in my collection for some years, mounted in the holder shown below. The imprint is slightly different, but the patent date is the same, as is the construction.

The imprints on both nibs reference Edwin Wiley's US patent 73419 of January 14, 1868. The text of the patent makes it clear that such bimetallic nibs were not new at the time: 
The present invention relates to that class of pens commonly known as the "Union Pens," and which are made with their "nib" of gold, and their heel or body of silver or other inferior metal. ["nib" here refers to what we now would call the tines; "pen", to the nib as a whole]
The text goes on to explain how such nibs were made, which entailed completing the forming of the nib before soldering the tipping material in place -- the great problem being that
. . . the blank cannot be then rolled without injuring the same, the nib of the pen is thereby so annealed or softened from being heated by the soldering as to be deprived of its elasticity to such an extent as to greatly deteriorate it, it being, in fact, of no greater value or utility, as a pen, than a "gold pen" that has been repointed. 
Modern tipping is done by electric resistance welding, but clearly this was not the case in 1868. Since tipping in that era entailed heating of the entire nib to a temperature that left the metal soft and malleable, elasticity had to be obtained after tipping, by work-hardening of the gold by rolling and/or hammering. Wiley's patent was for an improved method of joining the silver and gold portions of a "Union" nib which allowed the blanks to be rolled after tipping "without being split or broken" along the seam -- though it is clear from our examples that the rolled seam was still left rather irregular in appearance.

In searching for more information on other makers of "Union pens", I ran across Morse's US patent 73255 in which gold and steel parts are joined by tabs to form a sort of ink reservoir nib, coincidentally granted on the same date as Wiley's patent 73419. Of greater significance, however, was a French government report from 1860, Enquête: Traité de Commerce avec l'Angleterre: Industrie métallurgique, vol. 1, where on pages 860-61 an interview regarding the nib industry elicits the following reference to the English Wiley firm's Union Pen:
M. SAGLIER. Certainement. Mais tandis que M. Mallat vend au commerce ses plumes d'or de 3 francs à 5 francs, les plumes d'or sont vendues en Angleterre 1 shelling. J'envoie à l'exportation des plumes d'or faites par MM. Wiley, de Birmingham, qui coûtent 1 shelling. Je vends également à l'exportation des plumes d'or et d'argent de la même fabrique, qu'on appelle union pen et qui coûtent 8 à 9 shellings la douzaine: ce qui fait de 8 à 9 pence la pièce.
So in 1860, Wiley's solid gold nibs sold for one shilling, or twelve pence, while their silver and gold Union Pens sold for eight to nine pence each. It would also seem that the "Union" name predated the American Civil War, though in short order the name would have been seen as patriotic as well as descriptive. Exactly when the Union Pen was introduced, and how long it remained in production, are still open questions.

Eversharp's original Demi Skyline

Sometimes major discoveries turn up right under our noses. In a recent instance, I was putting together ordinary Eversharp Skylines for sale -- nothing special, just common examples which had accumulated in a shoebox-sized quantity over the years -- and found that one small pen wasn't like the others. The barrel was rather scratched up, so I went through my box looking for a better barrel I could swap in. To my surprise, nothing fit. The small pen wasn't just short, it was also significantly slenderer than every other Skyline I could lay my hands on -- 10 mm over the barrel threads, to be precise, vs the standard 10.6 mm. Normal Demi (also called Ladies) Skylines are shorter than standard-sized Skylines but of the same girth, so caps and barrels will all interchange. My mystery pen was the same length as a normal Demi, yet its parts weren't even close to interchangeable. 

It was clear that the pen was early production, as the section had an ink window and the derby screwed onto a plug threaded into the top of the cap -- both well-known early features. The logical explanation was that this was Eversharp's original Demi Skyline, and that after a short time it was beefed up to match the standard Skyline's girth (the opposite of the Parker 51 Demi, which started out at standard thickness, and which was slenderized for the Aerometric version a few years later). And yet I could find no mention of such a slender model, neither in collector literature, nor in Eversharp catalogs or repair manuals. 

Eventually one collector got in contact to offer me another example, identical but in slightly better condition. Alas, he could not help provide any further information about the model's history. Then at the most recent Ohio pen show, I sought out a collector friend who has had a longstanding interest in Skylines, who was able to sell me yet another example in a different color. He didn't seem overly surprised at my "discovery" -- but at the same time, didn't seem to recognize that this particular model was at all rare.

In the photos of Skyline Demis above and below, the slender versions are the two in the center. Unlike the later pens flanking them, they lack any imprint at the back of the metal ring between the top of the cap and the derby. The difference in girth is not immediately obvious, though clear upon closer inspection.

The slender pens are the bottom two in the photo below, in which the difference in girth is more obvious. The pen on the bottom has a two-tone nib, and it is quite possible that the pen above it originally did as well, for the nib shows considerable usage.