Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A special Schnell

Schnell Penselpen combos are uncommon and desirable. I've seen quite a few over the years, but when this example turned up, I couldn't recall having seen another in metal (celluloid is the norm). This one is unquestionably correct and original: the barrel opening is made specifically to accommodate the distinctive Schnell slide filler, whose internal retaining ring is soldered in place inside the barrel. The nib is Schnell, as is the feed.

Yet pretty much everything else isn't uniquely Schnell at all. Examined as a whole, the pen clearly came out of the same factory as the metal lever-filler combos most often found branded as Hicks, Edward Todd, and Twinpoint. While the cap threading sometimes varies from brand to brand, the pencil ends are identical and can freely be swapped, while the section profile is distinctive as is the internal construction, with both lever pivots and pressure bar assemblies soldered in place.

The differing thread profiles are visible in the detail above. Interestingly, the longer section is on the shorter ringtop combo, rather than on the slightly longer Edward Todd, which has a clip.

The metal content markings typically use the same block capital lettering, too, along with the unusual use of "PLATE" instead of "GOLD FILLED" or "G.F."

Although proof is still lacking, the likelihood is that Hicks was the actual maker of this group of combos.

ADDENDUM: One of our correspondents formerly owned a similar Schnell in the full-length version with clip. Whether any were made in solid gold or sterling silver remains to be seen.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Charles N. Packard

I recently received a call from an old friend in the estate liquidation business. I hadn't seen him in a few years, and he'd accumulated a number of pens that he thought might be of interest. There were several dip pens in the group, with the largest shown above -- a well-used hard rubber holder, broken and mended, with a #10 Charles N. Packard nib (the small nib, included for scale, is from a Sheaffer Snorkel).

Packard nibs aren't all that common, so it seemed a good excuse to put together some information on their maker. We can start with a couple of obituaries; the one below appeared in the American Stationer, vol. 51, March 29, 1902, p. 27:

Additional details, including Packard's age, were provided by the New England Stationer and Printer, vol. 16, April 1902, p. 82:

According to the official Massachusetts death records, Packard died on March 11, 1902, from "Leucaemia: exhaustion". According to that same entry, he was born in Plainfield, to Royal L. Packard and Mercy Hersey. Packard is recorded in the 1900 census as married and living in Springfield, born in July 1833, and as of June 4, 1900, 66 years old. Other records include that of his marriage to Abbie B. Holmes, 22, on Jan 1, 1857 in Williamsburgh, where Packard is listed as a "Gold Pen Pointer", and of the death of his daughter Helen F. at the age of two months and fifteen days, of cholera, on July 8, 1872.

Despite what some have claimed, I can find no record of Packard ever having lived or worked in New York. There were other Charles Packards living in Massachusetts during our Charles Packard's lifetime, which might explain some of the confusion.

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 Stamps.com 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 Stamps.com 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, Stamps.com 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).