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).