Thursday, December 18, 2008

Email delays

We get a lot of mail -- and an awful lot of spam. To help us cope with the deluge, we've been putting in some long-overdue upgrades, including a switch to a new server. It's taken up much of our work time over the past few weeks, but the end is in sight and we hope to be all caught up in the next few days. If you haven't heard back from us lately, patience please -- you will!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Popular Mechanics archive online

I haven't had the time to explore it yet, but the magazine Popular Mechanics is available now through Google Books -- all of the issues from January 1905 on. What's great is that intact magazines were scanned for this project, including covers and ads. This is not trivial, in that many magazines preserved in libraries were stripped of such material when being bound for posterity. Ironically, those doing the excision must have felt that they were cutting out the nonessential, which many researches now find essential indeed. Unfortunately, one can't always make good the loss by referring to microfilmed records of old periodicals, since nearly all of the films were made from bound library copies.

Getting back to Popular Mechanics, however, let me note that the link above is great for browsing, or for searching individual issues, but if anyone is planning on doing a comprehensive search on, say, "Vacumatic", the Google Books Advanced Search function is what is needed.

PS Interestingly enough, without any additional search terms, "Vacumatic" turns up 193 listings, starting with a "Vacu-matic" carburetor from 1935 on. "Parker" and "pen" give better results, all quite early.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Site update delay

We try to mark items "sold" as soon as they are reserved, but because of a site upgrade that our hosting company is now putting in place, we won't be able to update the catalog as promptly as usual. All should be back in order sometime tomorrow, if not later tonight. Thanks for your understanding and patience.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Best wishes for the Thanksgiving holiday to all our USA friends! We'll be back in the shop Monday, though we plan on doing a bit of catch-up shipping tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Customized pens and manufacturer lawsuits

If you buy a car and customize it, that's OK. If you buy a name-brand shirt and customize it with transfers or embroidery, that's OK, too. It's also OK to resell what you've customized -- though of course it would be wrong if you misrepresented what you added to the product as being anything but your own work.

Some manufacturers, however, don't see it that way. They don't want anyone altering their products, and are willing to use the threat of ruination through litigation to get their way -- right or wrong.

That, at least, was the story making the rounds at the recent Columbus pen show, with continuing discussion since online. Montblanc has apparently filed a lawsuit against Roger Cromwell, a California pen seller and repairman, over his online listing of a current-production Montblanc pen customized in South America with a fancy metal overlay. I don't know all the details, but it seems to me that if the online description failed to give sufficient emphasis to the fact that the decoration of the pen was neither by Montblanc nor Montblanc-authorized, a simple warning letter would have sufficed. It's also strange that I've heard nothing of any legal action being pursued against the company actually doing the customization (their identity has always been quite public) or against anyone else selling their pens. As is, it looks very much like a little guy is being made an example of -- not the best thing for Montblanc's corporate image.

UPDATE: Much more detail in the discussion over at Fountain Pen Network; the discussion actually began first at Pentrace, but may no longer be accessible there due to the archive-less nature of the site.

Here's a press release from 2005 about the dismissal of a suit brought in 2001 by Montblanc against Aurora over alleged trademark infringement, unfair competition, and dilution claims regarding Aurora's use of caps with three bands -- a trademark claimed by Montblanc, but with a long, long history of prior use by other penmakers around the world.

UPDATE: The lawsuit has been settled; the judgment document can be seen here. From what I hear, Montblanc was not happy with all the bad publicity coming out of its hardball tactics in this case. The defendant is still out substantial legal costs, but reports are that the damages to be paid to settle will be token.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pen shows: a buyer's perspective

I got back from the Columbus, Ohio show weekend before last. It was a good show for me, with a few keepers for my own collection, quite a bit purchased for resale, and much schmoozing time with collector and dealer friends. But, as usual, the orders and the correspondence piled up in my absence, not to mention stuff on the home front -- so, also as usual, I've only really been able to start going over the new purchases and preparing them for the catalog this week.

A pen show is a great place to buy vintage pens. Yet whenever I go over my purchases afterwards, there are always disappointments. Earlier this year, for example, I bought what appeared to be a very clean pair of Mandarin Yellow Duofold Juniors; the seller was firm on his prices, and represented them as excellent specimens. When I got them on the bench, though, one turned out to have had its ends dye-reblackened, with the cap end's inner cap shortened to unusability. That wasn't the bad one, though -- the other then turned out to have had a name removed from the barrel. Not so crudely as to leave an obvious flat spot, but the barrel was now definitely out of round. Luckily, I had a spare barrel, though that also meant I had to come up with another section to match, plus feed and nib. Add in all the time and parts, and those became an expensive pair of pens indeed.

The Columbus show had its share of the same. A Nozac with an undisclosed cap lip crack. A couple of Conklin crescent-fillers with sac nipples broken away inside and shellacked shut. And a custom pen, bought for myself, based on a Parker 51 but assembled so poorly that I had to remake it entirely: resetting the cap clutch and rerolling the cap lip; reforming the barrel mouth and reattaching the threaded bushing; and completely replacing all the innards -- Aerometric filler unit, hood, nib, feed.

While in some of these cases the seller is to blame, in many others, it is just a matter of the risk assumed in buying stuff in as-found condition -- much as it is when buying on eBay. So next time you see someone at a show with a handful of pens bought cheap, keep in mind that at least some of them are likely to require some serious work to put them completely right.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Pen News bloggified

It's long overdue, but we've finally taken the step of replacing our old and all too infrequently updated Pen News page with a blog-format upgrade. We'll be tweaking the look and feel of the new Pen News as time permits; in any event, it should enable us to post more easily and more often, and for readers to comment.

For now we have set up automatic redirection from the old Pen News address, but we will soon be updating all of our site links, and if you have the old page bookmarked, you will want to update that link too.