Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A rotten tube

Today was Parker 51 day at the repair bench. Opened up a mid-1950s Aerometric, first pulling off the filler housing and then the sac, revealing the sterling silver breather tube. At first glance the tube looked as if it might still be serviceable, but its floppiness called for a closer look. Click on the image above and you'll see what I saw. Rather spectacularly corroded (the right side is the one originally stuck into the feed), so it was promptly replaced with a new stainless steel unit.

Unusual Parker 51 caps

Just for fun, here are a couple of rather special 51 caps. The one above is silver, though unmarked; there is an indicia for engraving, typical of early-production caps, and a very widely spaced pattern of alternating straight and squiggly lines. This cap came from the wild, and I've never seen another example.
The next cap is a bit rough, which shows that its construction is rather out of the ordinary. Neither stainless steel ("Lustraloy") nor silver, it appears to be brass or cupronickel plated with either rhodium or chrome. Yes, the clip is a bit unusual, too: the pen is Canadian, with the characteristic square side profile to the clip and the high-placed Blue Diamond. The barrel imprint doesn't have a legible date code, but the nib is dated 1947.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Silicone ink sacs: additional notes

We've been selling (and using) silicone pen sacs for several months now. Here are a few notes on what we've learned from the resulting in-the-field experience:
  • Although we started out using and recommending the traditional standby, shellac, for attaching these sacs, we have found that a stronger and more reliable seal is provided by a silicone sealant such as Devcon Silicone Adhesive 12045 (Loctite 908570 is another brand successfully used by customers). It should be noted that these silicone adhesives give off acetic acid as they cure, and most contain some petroleum distillates. Sac nipples of hard rubber will not be affected, nor are hard plastics such as acrylic and polycarbonate likely to be vulnerable. Celluloid could be affected, but this is more a theoretical than a practical concern given the very small quantity of sealant required for sac attachment. In practice, I have had no problems to date using silicone adhesive to attach silicone sacs to celluloid sections (noting that the solvent in shellac, alcohol, is also a solvent for celluloid, which would seem much more problematical in comparison).
  • The traditional sac sizing scale is always explained as representing the outside diameter of the sac in 64ths of an inch. Conventional latex sacs, all of which are now made by dip-molding, vary significantly in wall thickness and hence in outside diameter, but even the largest in a batch of conventional #18 sacs are going to be well under 18/64". Why is this? As far as I can tell, the sac size number in fact represents the inside diameter of the smallest barrel a given sac will fit -- a measurement necessarily  slightly greater than the outside diameter of the sac. Our first size of silicone sacs measures a true 18/64", slightly larger in diameter than conventional latex #18 sacs. Future sizes will be adjusted to bring them into line with extant sac size charts; we are considering re-labeling our #18 sacs as #18 1/2 for the same reason.
  • Silicone rubber offers a number of advantages over latex, but there are areas where latex is superior. Gas permeability is one: air and water vapor will diffuse through silicone much faster than through other rubbers and plastics -- around 26 times faster than through PVC, according to one source. Knowing this, we put our first silicone sacs through extensive real-world tests. Our main concern was that ink might thicken due to evaporation, but in actual use we ended up refilling the test pens well before any noticeable thickening occurred. Recently, however, we have become aware of another way in which silicone's permeability can be an issue, albeit an easily managed one. It seems that if a pen with a silicone sac is left lying horizontally, after a couple of days the feed will become saturated and will drop ink into the cap. The solution is simple: if you aren't going to use a pen for a while, store it with the nib elevated. In fact, this was standard advice from all the old-time pen companies, and is a practice that is second nature to vintage pen enthusiasts. The pen doesn't have to be stood on end -- resting on a slant is quite enough.
More sac sizes will be on their way in the next few months, starting with the 14 to 17 range. Getting the molds adjusted properly takes some trial and error, but better to get the sacs right even if it takes a bit more time and expense up front.

Greek nib followup

A couple of months back I posted a request for information about an American-made nib with a Greek imprint. I can now reveal that the nib (shown again above) was found on the pen shown below, which came directly from a family house on a Greek island.
Perhaps more useful in tracking down the origin of these nibs, however, is the pen shown below: an eyedropper with an Aikin Lambert nib, and to all appearances of Aikin Lambert manufacture, but with a Greek barrel imprint and a wide band at the top of the cap with a portrait of King Constantine in enamel.
Constantine I reigned from 1913 to 1917, and again from 1920 to 1927. The design of the pen, the presence of a V. V. clip in particular, suggests that it was made to commemorate the accession of 1913.
The barrel imprint is shown above. Between two Greek flags, it reads: "ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΗ ΜΕΛΑΝΟΦΟΡΟΣ ΠΕΝΑ/ΑΔΕΛΦWΝ ΚΡΗΤΙΚΑΚΗ NEW YORK" (Greek black-clad [correction: "ink-holding"] pen/of the Brothers Kretikaki, New York). There can be no doubt that the "A. K." on the mystery nib stands for Αδελφων Κρητικακη -- the Kretikaki (or Kritikaki) Brothers.
The same barrel imprint is also found on a pen recently sold on eBay which also bears a fancy enameled band at the top of the cap, this one with the Greek flag. The nib bears the same ΩPAIA/EΛΛAΣ imprint as the snake pen, with the "A. K." below.

To add one more example to the series, yet another nib is shown below. Its imprint is slightly different: the Greek flag is not present, nor is the article "H" in front of "ΩPAIA".

There are no other imprints on the pen that bears this nib, which is shown above. Like the other pens in this group, it once had a V. V. clip (the mounting holes in the cap are distinctive), and while it is of excellent quality, it clearly was made by one of the smaller penmakers: possible candidates would include Aikin Lambert, A. A. Waterman, Carey, Eagle, and Wirt.

As yet I have not been able to find any trace of any Kretikaki or Kritikaki brothers in New York, excepting a record of an 11-year-old Autigony Kritikaki passing through Ellis Island in 1908. There is a Kritikaki Brothers company in Greece that is currently active in tile and other construction materials, and perhaps it would be worth contacting them to inquire about the history of their company.

ADDENDUM: Yet another report of a fancy pen with the same nib, this one a Heath silver filigree over red hard rubber. Although our sample size is still very small, the great variety of pens is striking. No two are alike, and the main commonality is that they are all flashy, of excellent quality, and made using components that were generally available in the greater New York City fountain pen industry. This suggests that the Kritikaki Brothers were not aiming to sell large quantities of a limited selection of designs, but rather to offer a broad range of distinct individual items to a boutique clientele. I would further speculate that this business came to a crashing halt with the start of WW1 -- first with the curtailment of shipping, then with the split of Greece into the Kingdom of Greece and New Greece in 1916 -- and that the pens found to date in the United States were inventory stranded and eventually sold off in New York (there is an interesting report from the US Consul in Thessaloniki, published in February of 1917, about the market for fountain pens in New Greece, but if one looks at contemporary reports from New York, availability of shipping to Greece could not be counted upon).

UPDATE: After seven years, the answer is at hand! Read all about it here.