Sunday, December 11, 2016

Accordion-sac pen repair

Repair supplies are now available for nearly all vintage pen models. Perhaps the most prominent exception is accordion or bellows sacs: convoluted rubber tubes designed to be compressed axially rather than transversely. Although an early example of an accordion sac was used at the beginning of the 20th century by one of the New York penmakers (Sanford & Bennett, I think) [Whoops, no -- it was Betzler & Wilson, of Akron, Ohio -- thanks to Richard Binder for the correction], where these sacs really came into their own was in France. Starting with Stylomine and their 303, French penmakers wholeheartedly embraced the accordion-sac-and-breather-tube pump-filler.

And why not? The principle was the same as that of a bulb-filler or Vacumatic, with additional benefits: the transparent plunger allowed the ink level to be viewed, and the rubber sac acted as both reservoir and spring. The only problem for us now is finding replacement sacs, which are long out of production and unavailable. I am confident that we will have a source for replacements within the next few years; I am working on this myself, and others are too. In the meantime, though, what is to be done with older French (and Japanese, and Russian) pens whose original accordion sacs are no longer usable?

Some have turned them into bulb-fillers, by discarding the transparent plunger and installing a conventional sac of sufficient length to stick out under the blind cap where the plunger used to be. This works, but is decidedly less than elegant -- and doesn't allow a converted pen to be re-converted to its original configuration once accordion sacs become available once again.

Others have retained the plunger and used a length of rubber tubing cut from a regular sac. This works, though imperfectly. The sac doesn't collapse evenly when compressed axially, making the plunger action jerky and reducing the filling efficiency.

Nonetheless, with a bit of a twist, this is the best option currently available. The twist being to treat the modified pen as a pump-twist-filler, rather than as a plunger-pump. That is, instead of pressing the plunger, one twists it and releases it several times, until the pen is full.

There are some pens for which this will not work, however. The full-size and oversize Stylomines, in particular, have a metal cage around the plunger that prevents one from giving it the requisite twist.

Possible solutions would include attaching the cage to the plunger, permitting the entire assembly to be twisted, as well as removal of the cage -- which should be retained, pending availability of original-style sacs. And of course, one could always unscrew the section from the barrel and twist away, putting the barrel back in place after filling. As it happens, however, I may already have found an off-the-shelf item that can be used as an accordion sac for the largest Stylomines, and as noted above, it is only a matter of time before sacs in all sizes are available once again. So please, whatever you do, don't throw away any original parts!

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 have been a case of trying it out unofficially to see if it was worth licensing.

December 2020 Update: Another Wirt jointless has turned up and is described here.

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. We have also seen pressure bars corroded by this sort of ink exposure.

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.

UPDATE: Thanks to a Facebook post by Jim Marshall, I see that William Edward Wiley and Edward Lavender, both of Birmingham, were granted British patent 1206 for the Union Pen on May 31, 1854.

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.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Pen show frictions, Part 4: users vs collectors

Previous posts in this series: Part 1: retailer shoppers vs tradersPart 2: the Generation GapPart 3: meet the older collectors.

The great majority of collectors, whether their focus is vintage or modern, use at least some of their pens. Many users also collect to some degree or another. Yet despite the considerable degree of overlap, there are fundamental differences, with each group most strongly interested in things that are of very limited to no interest to the other. This divergence of priorities inevitably leads to tensions, since fully accommodating both groups at the same time isn't always possible.

At pen shows, for example, most vintage sellers group their pens by brand and model, to cater to collectors, rather than by nib type, to cater to users. A request for a specific nib type may not be received with enthusiasm by a seller whose pens are not organized accordingly -- not out of any animus towards users at large, but rather out of irritation at being personally inconvenienced. It's a bit like going to a farm stand, and instead of asking for three apples or a pound of green beans, asking for five different items of produce between four and five inches long and red. The first few times, such a request would likely be met with amused surprise -- but it would not be long before both the surprise and the amusement would wear off.

At least at the farm stand doing the selection oneself is an easy out; at a pen show, it entails opening up and examining every single pen on a table -- inefficient, inconvenient, and disruptive. Add in the time and space required to dip-test any suitable candidates, and the seller's total combined hassle factor for serving the average user ends up dwarfing that for the average collector. Sellers set up to deal with collectors are even less favorably disposed when the average user doesn't spend as much as the average collector, and after going through all of the above, often doesn't buy anything at all.

Note that this situation arises entirely innocently, rooted as it is in a fundamental mismatch between what the buyer is seeking and what the seller is set up to provide (paralleling another mismatch outlined in our Part 1: retailer shoppers vs traders). And there has already been a degree of bridging of this divide, for as some users have shown their willingness to pay as much or more than collectors, collector-oriented sellers have become more user-accommodating. This trend has been visible online for some time now, but has been slower to be felt at shows -- not surprising, given the practical impossibility of making a table full of pens keyword-searchable. Nonetheless, it is now common for sellers to add color-coded nib grade labels or to put out a tray specifically devoted to pens with flexible and italic nibs, even if their main focus remains the collector market.

Unfortunately, not all of the hostility between users and collectors is so easily dealt with, or so benign in origin. For users, a pen is primarily a tool. For collectors, it is primarily an artifact. But while virtually all collectors also appreciate pens as tools, a not-insignificant number of users are indifferent or even hostile to considering pens as artifacts. This asymmetry is well illustrated by how online discussions of when and whether to use a mint and stickered vintage pen typically play out. Collectors will urge that it not be treated as a user, showing their consideration for the user point of view by pointing out the ready availability of non-stickered equivalents. Collecting-sympathetic (and pragmatic) users will concur, advising that the stickered pen be sold or traded for a lightly used example plus cash, leaving everyone better off. But then the collecting-hostile users will weigh in, declaring that pens were made to be used and that leaving one unused is fundamentally wrong. The moral absolutism underlying this point of view is what has made it so uniquely divisive, leading its exponents to look with contempt upon those who see things otherwise, and to taunt them with gloating accounts of destickering mint pens and putting them to use.

This goes way back. Years before the current crop of bloggers took up their pens, anti-collector sentiment was already bubbling away in online forums. And though it may not be so apparent now, at least some of the nastiness was fueled by a form of the ancient delusion that when prices are high, it is the storekeepers who are to blame. With blind disregard for the realities of supply and demand, dealers and collectors were scapegoated, blamed for running up pen prices on eBay and sucking up all the affordable pens from antique shows and shops. Collectors were accused of not really loving pens, of being soulless hoarders, violators of the moral imperative that every pen must be put to use and not enjoyed in any other manner. And if the accusations are no longer repeated quite so often and so openly, the underlying sentiments live on, as in the ongoing use of the expression, "the 'C' word", which jokingly-but-not-really makes "collector" out to be an epithet too vile to be uttered aloud.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

eBay and the Great Disintermediation

I have long intended to write about eBay's transformative impact on pen collecting. Having recently touched upon the topic in my Pen Show Frictions posts (Part 2: the Generation GapPart 3: meet the older collectors), it is now time to treat it at greater length.

While there was some online trading before the advent of eBay, the volume was tiny and restricted to a small subset of already-active pen traders. It was an insignificant sideshow, as nearly all trading took place face-to-face: at shows, club meetings, flea markets, live auctions, and antiques fairs. In the USA, there was relatively little retailing of collectible vintage pens. There were not many buyers willing to pay much over pen show prices, and it was not easy to reach them -- even for sellers with bricks and mortar shopfronts.

The flow of vintage pens through the market prior to eBay was a long and inefficient one. An old pen would typically enter the market at a yard sale or flea market after being found in a desk drawer or long-shuttered shop. Bought by a picker, it would then be flipped quickly for a small profit to a local general antiques dealer, who might sell it on to another dealer who knew a little more about pens, or who had a pen buyer as a customer. In this extended food chain, a pen could easily go through several hands before finally being sold at full value to an end buyer. At any point, of course, the passage of a pen could be interrupted by being bought and kept by a buyer paying less than full value, who might well have been outbid had more committed buyers been in on the action. Nor did an end buyer have to buy from a specialist dealer, as there was nothing preventing anyone from hunting lower (and more cheaply) on the food chain -- the tradeoff being that as one went lower, so did the ratio of desirable items to chaff.

eBay's impact was not felt immediately. With only a relatively small number of participants at first, and lacking the search and bidding tools we now take for granted, eBay could turn up nice finds for buyers with knowledge and persistence. Overall volume was still too low, however, for eBay to be more than a minor supplement to pen buyers' traditional sources of supply. This began to change once new buyers -- many from overseas -- who had never been exposed to the existing collector market started to bid up ordinary pens to extraordinary prices. This bidding seemed to be based on a combination of excitement over never-before-seen (by the newcomers, that is) items and the auction version of the Greater Fool principle -- that is, the assumption that one can't go too far wrong if someone else is bidding just as much. By the end of 1998 several boxed Peter Pans had sold for $500-600 each; other pens that were common but of unusual form or design also fetched similar sums. It wasn't just pens: small ladies' watches that dealers hadn't been able to give away suddenly were being bought for hundreds of dollars, for example.

Prices like these quickly attracted a horde of new eBay sellers, and prices settled down as supply moved online to meet demand. Offline, meanwhile, things were changing quickly. The old antiques food chain was coming apart, as those at the bottom started selling directly to those at the top. So did everyone in the middle, even as they began to lose their sources lower down the chain. Thus began the Great Disintermediation, as the middlemen found themselves increasingly cut out of the flow of merchandise through the market. Most saw that things were changing, but couldn't grasp that the changes would be so dramatic and so fundamental. The following years saw the dwindling or disappearance of a host of long-established places and events whose main purpose had been to facilitate dealer-to-dealer transactions, including group shops, wholesale antiques shows, and live auctions. Collector-to-collector events were similarly affected: the New Jersey show was sold by its original organizers around this time for a price in the low five figures, only to be unsuccessfully put up for sale (on eBay!) only a few years later, and eventually liquidated for a nominal sum for the value of its mailing list.

As the middlemen were cut out, the market was flooded with material. It was as if a pipeline had suddenly been drastically shortened, pushing its excess contents out all at once. Since most of this content came from nonspecialist dealers who had always sold lower down the food chain, it ended up on eBay with low or no reserve. This didn't have much effect at the low end, for the cheaper vintage pens hadn't far to fall, were already in plentiful supply, and had no shortage of buyers, but the market for midrange and high-end pens was another story. It didn't help that many older collectors were slowing down at this point, just as the newer online collectors were still working their way up from lower-end models. It took years for the midrange to recover, while the high end still isn't where it was pre-eBay. The problem largely was (and remains) one of market confidence: at the high end, the number of buyers was never large, dealers included; when combined with the retirement of older collectors and a weak global economy, this sector of the market was easily flooded. All it took was a few examples of a rare pen to hit the market in quick succession (a statistical inevitability) for prices to tumble. Since these transactions were now taking place in full sight of the world, the effect on market perceptions was powerful and lasting, even in cases where no more examples appeared for years afterwards. Not infrequently the reason a selling price was low was because potential buyers failed to spot the item, or because dealers agreed to buy it in partnership rather than compete -- not to mention cases of bid failure, issues with condition or authenticity, etc -- but for those not in the know, it all looked the same.

This is still very much the case. Where trading is thin, the post-eBay market remains more vulnerable than the pre-eBay market to inconsistent sales results and a resulting loss of confidence. There is a pervasive assumption that online auctions are true indicators of value, though they are subject to many of the same inefficiencies as other sales. And where dealers once played a significant role in buffering the impact of short-term fluctuations in supply and demand, the experience of the last fifteen years has left dealers less willing to buy and hold as they once did. Where there is inconsistency, however, there is also opportunity -- but that is a topic for another post.

eBay's shortening of the collecting food chain has had other effects, too. Some items appeal to multiple groups: original counter-top pen displays, for example, are also sought after by advertising collectors; pen-related trade cards, by collectors of ephemera. Before eBay, such items would typically end up sorted and sent on one path or the other. Pen collectors would miss out on many crossover items unless they took the extra trouble to follow specialist auctions, dealers, and shows devoted to advertising, ephemera, etc. This situation was completely transformed by eBay's elimination of the middlemen who had done the sorting. Suddenly, crossover collectibles were easily accessible to every interested collector. The effect on prices varied; in some cases prices rose as the bidder pool expanded, while in others, bidders gained access to a greatly expanded pool of material, and prices dropped.

There is surely much more that could be said, but I'll conclude by observing that while there is much to be missed about the old days, the post-eBay world is in its own way a Golden Age for the collector. There was adventure and opportunity in those hours on the road, the pre-dawn hunts through open-air markets as they opened, and the certainty that treasure could be lying around any corner. Yet how much greater one's reach now, with nearly unfettered access to a worldwide stream of material! The selection and the opportunities have expanded for collectors every bit as much as has access to knowledge for users of the web.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Uniface award medals

Early pen and pencil makers proudly boasted of their medals won at the national and international exhibitions of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Not many examples survive, though it is possible some are being held by collectors of medals, unknown to collectors and historians of writing instruments (a medal awarded to Livermore in 1879 can be seen here).

Pen collectors hold a number of Waterman medals, but nearly all are electrotypes -- near-exact electroformed replicas, consisting of a plated copper shell over a lead alloy core. This was discussed in a past post on a Waterman medal from the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the gist being that we know that Waterman had electrotypes made so that they could exhibit their awards in multiple locations, but that we have no idea how many were made, nor how typical this might have been for other medal winners.

The situation is further complicated by the existence of uniface replicas -- that is, medals with blank backs, their faces copying just the obverse or reverse of the original. These are often found with threaded posts on their backs, indicating that they were made to be mounted on a board or plaque for display. Were these privately commissioned by award recipients, though, or were they given out alongside the original medals?

I've not had much luck searching for information online, but on a recent visit to the Corning Museum of Glass I stumbled across the display shown above. Hawkes was a major manufacturer of cut glass, and the topmost plaque beautifully illustrates how these uniface pairs were used. It is still not clear, however, if this plaque was presented by the Exposition Universelle, or if Hawkes had it made. Perhaps the Corning Museum will be able to add some information; perhaps there are other similar plaques in their collection, not on display, and there might be a label on the plaque's back.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mythbusting: Japanese jumbo pens and arthritis

Stubby oversize novelty pens were a popular pre-WW2 import item in the United States -- so popular that they can still be found in plentiful supply and modest cost. Most are flat-top eyedropper-fillers, but one also will find lever-fillers, rounded ends, and combos. Quality is only so-so. Nibs are typically plated stainless steel, with trim plating decidedly on the thin side. Some examples may be postwar, but the great majority are prewar.

For some time now, American collectors have been repeating a story that these pens were originally invented for the use of arthritis-stricken writers. I have always doubted this tale, inasmuch as these were clearly cheap and cheerful novelty items, and no mention of arthritic hands is to be found in any of the US importers' catalog listings. Just to make certain, however, I recently posed the question to one of the leading Japanese pen authorities -- who, it turned out, had never heard of this story, and did not hesitate to debunk it.

After a bit of Googling of "Japanese, 'jumbo pen", and arthritis," using both regular web search and Google Books options, it seems that the now-busted myth of jumbos being designed for the arthritic originated between 2007 and 2008 -- I was unable to find any earlier trace of it. And from what I can see, it seems to have arisen from misquotation of speculative commentary as fact.

In an FPN thread from August 2007 a Japanese jumbo pen was being discussed. Someone asked, "does the size serve a purpose or this more of a novelty?" The response in the last post was, "I suppose it might be useful for someone with arthritis, maybe." In a similar thread from November 2008, someone else commented, "It looks like an example of the type of pen that was manufactured for arthritis sufferers in Japan during the 1960s-70s." This kind of chatter was already being recast by April 2008, though, when in yet another thread one reads, "I believe that it was mentioned in another thread on the FPN that these were made for people with bad arthritis, who couldn't hold a normal sized pen without pain." And in a review of a vintage jumbo pen posted in August 2009, it was stated "I read somewhere that these Jumbo Pens were designed for elderly Japanese with arthritis." From there the repetitions continue, all citing previous hearsay -- some with qualification, most without -- spreading into blog posts, other forums, catalogs, and eBay listings.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Pen show frictions, Part 3: meet the older collectors

So far, most everything posted about pen show frictions has been from the newcomers' point of view (our previous installments excepted: Part 1: retailer shoppers vs traders; Part 2: the Generation Gap). But as they say, there are two sides -- at least! -- to every story.

It is frustrating when older collectors rave about a recent article in the Pennant, yet have never heard of the blog whose posts the article distills. It is equally frustrating when younger pen lovers, fully immersed in the digital world, seem unable to connect with other enthusiasts without online assistance. When pen bloggers have discussed older collectors, it often comes across like a group of Victorian scientists pontificating about some exotic tribe: expostulating about the Other, inferring beliefs and modes of thought, all without having ever actually entered their world. Quite aside from the tone, the observations -- not surprisingly -- tend to be wildly off the mark.

I can't emphasize enough that pen show veterans are just ordinary people. Interesting people, by and large -- and sometimes a bit quirky, as one might expect from the pen-obsessed. Demographically they skew strongly male, white, and professional, though they run the range geographically and in political orientation. Their personalities are diverse; socially, they are in no way a monolithic bloc. The imputation of devious ulterior motives to them, across the board, is frankly absurd. In fact, each field of collecting has its own character and culture, and those with wide experience of different collector groups have often remarked on the unusually welcoming and sociable nature of the pen collecting community. I certainly had no trouble finding a place there, back when I was a poor grad student in my late twenties. Over the years I have seen many others warmly received, too. So I find it more than a little puzzling that this, of all groups, should be viewed with such distrust and hostility.

Though it was downplayed in my previous posts, I wonder if some of this may indeed be due to changing generational attitudes: not in the pen community specifically, but in American society at large. This would be exacerbated by a reduction in mixing across age groups. If your interaction with elders has been limited to family members and teachers, you may find that experience insufficient preparation for dealing with older strangers as equals. Exploring the question of generational change is a topic for multiple books, not a simple post on how pen enthusiasts might get along better. It bears consideration, though, and particularly as regards differing attitudes towards resilience and individual self-sufficiency. What one generation sees as supportiveness, the other disdains as coddling. What one generation sees as indifference, the other sees as not treating young adults as children.

I'd like to close this installment with a look at the belief that older collectors paid nothing for their pens, and are therefore greedy profiteers trying to rip off newcomers. Yes, pens could be found in the wild very cheaply thirty or forty years ago. Tales of Dick Johnson filling 55-gallon drums with flea market finds are part of pen collecting lore; nearly every oldtimer can also contribute a fish tale or three. The thing is, very few of the people buying back then are still active. Those that are, have been trading pens continuously since. So while they may have got their start on the cheap, you can bet that the great majority of the pens on their tables were bought within the last five or ten years, and at market price. For those who started later, say twenty years ago, pens could still be found in the wild, but it took time and dedication, a lot of driving and getting up before dawn. At the big antiques markets and shows, most of the pens were scooped up shortly after the gates opened (or, often, before) by a relative handful of hardworking pickers. Most pen collectors of that era ended up buying from the pickers or from each other, at prices that by the 1990s were, on average, no different from those today. And while there is no shortage of pen show sellers with what I like to call "optimistic" asking prices, in many cases the sellers are simply trying to get back what they paid for items that have dropped in price over the years -- of which there are quite a few.

Continued in Part 4: users vs collectors

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Pen show frictions, Part 2: the Generation Gap

While clashing expectations regarding the nature of pen show commerce (see Part 1: retailer shoppers vs traders) appears to be the largest single cause of recent show-related frictions, other factors are in play. That the lines of division have been perceived in terms of age is not an accident -- though as we shall see, this is more a matter of correlation than causation. At American pen shows, the swap-meet style traders are predominantly older, while the buyers unfamiliar and uncomfortable with swap-meet style trading are predominantly younger. In part this is the natural result of new enthusiasts finding themselves in a collector-to-collector trading environment for the first time, but it is also due to the manner in which pen shows and the community of pen enthusiasts have evolved, which opened up a generation gap that persists to this day.

When I began collecting pens in the second half of the 1980s, organized pen collecting was still a new field. Just ten years before there had been no magazines, no guidebooks, no clubs, no shows. Much still wasn't known; of what was known, much was unpublished. With a bit of legwork, one could buy pens cheap at flea markets and antique shops, shows, and auctions -- pens that were then brought in staggering quantities to pen shows where they were quickly traded, sold, and resold.

Pen shows back then were virtually all vintage. The reason was simple: that's pretty much all that was available in the way of interesting and affordable fountain pens. There was next to no retail or restoration infrastructure. To be a pen geek entailed scrounging, swapping, and learning to do one's own repairs. And though I refer here to collectors and collecting, that doesn't mean that no one used their pens -- quite the opposite. Then as now, most pen collectors were both collectors and users, the big difference being that vintage pens were so affordable and abundant that most active collectors pretty quickly ended up with far too many for them all to be used. At that point, one would either have to stop acquiring (no!) or embrace the realization that even pens that one doesn't use can be enjoyable to own for different reasons.

Through the 1990s, pen collecting steadily grew. There were more collectors, more resources, more information. The pen market was strong, and interesting new pens were introduced, carving out a growing presence at pen shows. There were online forums, but the main action in pens was still face-to-face. What changed everything in the space of only a few years was eBay. By the end of the 1990s the old days were largely gone (in the USA, that is -- the changes took longer elsewhere). The pens that once could be found at flea markets, general antiques shows, shops, and auction houses, were now sent to eBay instead. The central exchange for pens fresh to the market had been the pen show. Now it was online. At the same time, eBay opened up pen collecting to an unprecedented degree, drawing in pen lovers worldwide with no previous contact with pen shows or other pen enthusiasts. eBay was like a full-time pen show, and in combination with online collecting forums, offered formidable competition to the world of shows and club meetings.

The immediate effects of these developments were dramatic enough; their long-term effects were greater yet. While a few collectors and dealers managed to keep up, most did not. Show organizers hired publicists to get their events mentioned in local newspapers and broadcasts, but did next to nothing to promote themselves online. Many pen clubs and collecting organizations were equally remiss. As a result, the first-generation collectors of the pen show era and the second-generation collectors of the online era failed to connect. Even if show organizers and club leaders had seen what needed to be done, however, the task would not have been easy. By the time pen collecting began to move online, many first-generation collectors were getting older and less active, and while most were fine with buying and selling on eBay, very few ended up participating to any significant degree in online forums (far more time-consuming, it should be noted, than monthly or bimonthly club or show attendance). This was especially the case for the more advanced collectors, first-generation leaders but virtually invisible online. Second-generation pen enthusiasts thus ended up relying on their online communities, where leadership was more a function of participation than of experience or depth of knowledge. Relatively few found their way to pen shows (the hassles of flying post-9/11 played their part, too) and when they did, they tended to stick to themselves and follow their own interests. In some cases this was constructive -- new attention to underappreciated brands and models, for example -- but in others, less so. Knowledge and experience that should have been passed on, wasn't. Friendships that could have been, weren't. And while eBay and the internet seemed to have rendered the pen market fully visible, this apparent transparency was an illusion that kept many from realizing how much of the picture they were actually missing.

One telling symptom of what was lost is the still-anomalous distribution of strength and weakness in the pen market. In any field of collecting, an episode of market weakness normally plays out in a predictable pattern, with demand for the very best pieces remaining strong, the low end holding steady, and the middle collapsing. Yet from the end of the 1990s into the early 2000s on, something very different happened in the vintage pen market: the high-end pieces went weak, with the mid-range holding steady and the low end strongest of all. Demand for certain brands and subfields also shrank -- typically the more esoteric items, including ephemera. This wasn't so much a natural change in tastes as a massive reboot. It was the commonly available items in the low to middle range that the internet generation had been exposed to; the rare and the esoteric remained too remote, inaccessible, and incomprehensible to make it onto their collecting radar, let alone their want lists. There were exceptions, of course. And the overall level of knowledge has steadily increased -- though it sometimes feels like watching the wheel being reinvented. More progress has come in the last several years, as social media platforms have allowed a comparative handful of advanced collectors to share and discuss notable items from their collections with the pen community at large. Meanwhile, more online collectors are making their way to pen shows, yet too often there is more parallel play than mixing and interchange.

So where do we go from here? The fact that this has become a topic of conversation strikes me as a good sign, and an opportunity to clear up misunderstandings and misperceptions. There is no shortage of good will in the pen community, which should pull it through (and together) in the end.

Pen show frictions, other entries: Part 1: retailer shoppers vs tradersPart 3: meet the older collectorsPart 4: users vs collectors

Wax on pens

I'm not sure how it all started, but in the past ten years or so it seems a significant number of enthusiasts have begun waxing their pens. While this may make some sense for pens with finishes that cannot take much polishing, or which are especially vulnerable to environmental exposure, there are many cases where wax is decidedly not a good idea.

Heading the list are pens made of celluloid or cellulose acetate. Both materials give off acid gases as they age, gases which can accelerate the aging process if not allowed to escape (more on celluloid storage here). Coating a celluloid or cellulose acetate pen in wax will prevent escape of those acids, trapping them within the material. The harder waxes favored for use on pens, such as carnauba, are also the least permeable, despite recent claims of breathability on pen forums (see Greener Donhowe, O. Fennema, "Water vapor and oxygen permeability of wax films", Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society, Sept 1993, vol. 70, issue 9, pp. 867-873).

Wax on hard rubber is a more mixed case. Protection from light and in particular UV will be minimal, so the main benefit would be to exclude moisture. Water will have no effect on pristine hard rubber, but exposure to light will eventually break down the crosslinks formed during vulcanization. This surface damage is often invisible until the rubber is exposed to water, at which point it will fade instantaneously as de-crosslinked material is washed away. Humid air can have a similar effect, though without the loose surface compounds being washed away. Instead, one ends up with an acidic crust, thanks to the free sulfur in the damaged surface. Waxing hard rubber that has latent surface damage (that is, exposure to light, but no exposure to water) would help prevent both fading and formation and release of acids.

Wax does change the look and feel of a surface, however, and waxes do inevitably break down, losing their ability to protect and turning cloudy or yellow. If the dulled wax is difficult to remove, this can be a serious problem. What seems wonderful for the first few years can become a nightmare after ten or twenty. For while polishing off old wax residue may be no big deal on a wooden table or a steel knife blade, it's quite another matter to get it off something like the delicate and irregular surface of Japanese maki-e lacquer work.

As important as knowing when and when not to wax, is knowing what wax to use. For a knockabout pen of no historic value it doesn't really matter. For something rare and significant, though, you'll want to approach wax selection like a conservator. Commercial products for household or automotive use would be disqualified immediately. You'll want to avoid waxes such as beeswax and carnauba, which are either acidic or prone to become acidic as they age. You'll also want to avoid polyethylene waxes, which under some circumstances can be almost impossible to remove (see Danal L. Moffett, "Wax coatings on ethnographic metal objects: justifications for allowing a tradition to wane", Journal of the American Institute of Conservation, vol. 35, no. 1, 1996, pp. 1-7, where removal required nothing less than immersion in hot xylene). A pure microcrystalline wax such as Cosmolloid 80H would be the conservator's choice, according to the current literature. I would advise against Renaissance Wax, which is a mixture of microcrystalline and polyethylene waxes. It is widely advertised as a museum-grade product, but what was museum-grade back in the 1950s when it was developed is very different from what is museum-grade today.

ADDENDUM: In this thread at FPN, users of Renaissance Wax report it discoloring hard rubber upon application. These would appear to be instances of solvents in the wax reacting with a surface layer already degraded by exposure to light, akin to how such surfaces can instantly fade when exposed to water.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pen show frictions, Part 1: retail shoppers vs traders

The online pen community has been abuzz the last several months over frictions between older and newer participants at American pen shows. The lines of conflict have generally been framed in terms of age, or at least length of time involved with pens. There is quite a bit to be said about how pen collecting has changed over the years, and about the generation gap between those whose experience was rooted in pen shows and those who came into pens online -- but that is a topic for another post. Right now, I'd like to draw attention to a completely different issue, one whose importance has been almost entirely overlooked to date.

The modern American pen show is a hybrid event. There are old pens and new pens, collectors and users. Yet within these categories, there is more overlap than division. Where the differences are truly pronounced is along another divide entirely, one that most of us don't even give a moment's thought: the divide between those who set up as swap-meet traders, and those who present themselves as full-service retailers. Nearly all of the traders are amateurs, dealing mainly (but by no means exclusively) in vintage, while most of the retailers are professionals, their focus leaning towards the new. But it is not what they sell that is of primary significance: it is the mode of selling that is key.

At pen shows, traders and retailers get along just fine, as each understands what the other is all about. Where misunderstandings have arisen is when buyers come to a pen show expecting a retail shopping experience, only to run across exhibitors in full swap-meet mode. If the buyer is already familiar with markets of this sort, there's no problem -- but increasingly, that is not the case. The resulting clash isn't generational so much as cultural. This goes in both directions, for when buyers start demanding retail-style service from trader exhibitors, there can be pushback.

Let's pause for a moment for a closer look at the two market cultures. Shoppers expecting a modern Western retailing experience count on prices to be fixed and prominently posted, with items provided with descriptions and/or sales staff on hand ready to answer any questions. Buyer and seller roles are sharply demarcated. And though the shopper doesn't see it, prices are padded to factor in the cost of the customer services already noted, as well as 3-4% off the top for credit card or PayPal fees, and -- not least -- picking up the tab for any buyer blunders, such as breakage, handling damage, and returns of nondefective merchandise.

Collector-to-collector swap meets work very differently. Participants are equals, since virtually everyone both buys and sells. Pricing is flexible, bargaining is expected, and trading (bartering) is common. Not everything will bear a price tag, for a number of possible reasons: sellers may lack time or inclination (too much like work instead of a hobby); they may not be certain how much to ask (or even if they really want to sell); they may want to be free to adjust their asking prices on the fly (as when dealing with someone known to be a particularly hard bargainer, for example). Condition can run the range -- with pens, anything from straight out of an old desk drawer to fully and professionally reconditioned -- and sales are as-is and final. Though sellers are expected to disclose hidden and nonobvious defects, shoppers are also expected to exercise due diligence in inspecting prospective purchases and asking questions as necessary. Likewise, it's largely up to the shopper to ask about items of interest. Since shoppers are regarded as fellow collectors rather than retail customers, table holders typically give them space to look in peace rather than try to play the salesman: the eager attentiveness that many retail buyers expect can come off as offputtingly slick and aggressive in a swap-meet setting. And while most sellers will accept PayPal and some are set up for credit cards, the default payment method is cash or check, with prices negotiated accordingly.

How does all this play out? Let's take a look at some examples. Some of the conflicts illustrated here bring up issues other than the trader-retailer divide -- issues that we will discuss shortly, in further posts.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Celluloid storage and acid absorption

As celluloid ages, it emits a range of compounds. Some are benign, but as the celluloid begins to approach its expiration date, some rather nasty stuff gets released -- most notably, nitric acid. This in turn accelerates the process of deterioration, as well as attacking other nearby materials. For this reason, conservators recommend storing celluloid artifacts separated from each other and with ventilation. Keeping the temperature and especially the humidity low also slows the aging process. (see Julie A. Reilly, "Celluloid Objects: Their Chemistry and Preservation", Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, 1991, vol. 30, no. 2, article 3, pp. 145-162).

The release of acidic compounds begins well before any visible signs of material degradation, as has been demonstrated by wrapping old celluloid pens in litmus paper. Litmus paper, however, is just an indicator. It doesn't do much of anything to absorb or neutralize free acids. For that, elementary chemistry suggests the use of a mild base, such as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or calcium carbonate (lime). Museum conservators have indeed used calcium carbonate to trap acid gases, but as it turns out, far better options are available.

For pen storage, the best choice seems to be SPZ-grade zeolite, and in particular, MicroChamber papers. These papers are impregnated with high-absorption zeolite with an alkaline buffer, and can be used to line pen storage areas or to wrap individual pens. Standard-sized interleaving paper costs under $0.25 per 6.5 x 10.125 inch sheet, and can be bought through Amazon or directly from the manufacturer. Studies going back over twenty years show that these acid-trapping papers outperform calcium carbonate dramatically, both in thoroughness of acid capture and neutralization, and in retaining the ability to trap and hold acids and other atmospheric pollutants over time (see Siegfried Rempel, "Zeolite Molecular Traps And Their Use In Preventative Conservation" (Western Association for Art Conservation Newsletter, January 1996), Getty Conservation Institute, "Performance of Pollutant Adsorbents (2001-2003)", and the Conservation Resources website). I now have MicroChamber paper lining most of my pen and parts storage areas, supplemented by silica gel canisters to absorb excess humidity. Though standard-sized paper is what I have, 14-inch paper is required if you want to pleat it around the dividing ridges of a standard 12-pen slotter box. Finally, I have no financial stake in any of these products -- I am using them because all the sources I could find indicate that they offer the best protection option (noting that activated carbon filters are of comparable merit, though much bulkier).

NOTE: There are MicroChamber papers that also incorporate activated carbon. And as a Facebook commenter noted, one can also place strips of MicroChamber paper *inside* celluloid pens for additional protection -- though if the pen is to be used regularly, the paper will have to be cut and shaped carefully so as not to interfere with the filling mechanism. The greatest benefits would be with button-fillers and other pens with barrels that are tightly sealed.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Inner cap repair: adding a washer

Nearly every fountain pen with a screw-on cap is also equipped with an inner cap. The inner cap is a short tube, usually but not always closed at the top end, which seals off the nib when the pen is capped. The inner cap also provides a solid stop when screwing the cap in place, the section face ending up pressed firmly against the mouth of the inner cap. The inner cap often also serves to hold the clip in place, as is the case with the Wahl pen shown in the cutaway view above.

A damaged or distorted inner cap is easily overlooked, but can cause real problems. When an inner cap leaks or does not seal against the section, the nib may dry out and not write promptly when put to paper, while ink may make its way around the interior of the cap and onto the section and barrel. If the face of the inner cap is not square to the cap's axis, the cap will not sit straight on the barrel when screwed in place. And if the inner cap is too short or entirely missing, it may be possible to screw on the cap too far. This risks both splitting the cap if it is turned beyond where the threads end, and destroying the nib by bottoming it out against the inside of the cap top.

Since inner cap problems are so easily overlooked, and since they so often require a lathe to remedy, many dealers don't bother addressing them. We do; a recent example is shown below.

The pen is a British-made Mabie Todd Jackdaw, an economy-line model that ended up in Spain, where it was fitted with an elaborate Toledo-work overlay. Top-line makers such as Mabie Todd made sure that their pens' inner caps were problem-free, but in this case the maker of the overlay wasn't quite so careful.

The pen came to us unused, yet I immediately noticed that the exposed hard rubber cap lip appeared to bottom out against the shoulder of the barrel overlay, which is quite thick. If this was indeed the case, twisting the cap on tightly would compress and could crack the cap lip. And if the cap wasn't being stopped by the section coming to rest against the inner cap, as it should, there would be a gap there instead and no seal. But what if the overlay had been perfectly placed so that contact was made in both places simultaneously -- section and inner cap, cap lip and overlay? A quick measurement with the sliding depth gauge I use to ensure sufficient nib clearance was not decisive. If the contacts weren't simultaneous, they were very close

Next step was to back out the section a couple of millimeters, then to screw the cap all the way on so that the inner cap pushed the section into the barrel. Sure enough, there was a gap of just .025 inches. The cap lip was taking all the pressure, just as I had suspected.

What to do? The barrel overlay could not be moved, for its lever cutout was aligned with the recess in the barrel under the end of the lever. Instead, the inner cap would have to be extended. A washer was cut from hard rubber, inner and outer diameters matching those of the inner cap, .030 inches thick. It was warmed and then pressed into position against the inner cap's outer face.

The cap now seats on the inner cap, and not on the cap lip. There is virtually no change in exterior appearance, as the cap lip clears the barrel overlay by mere thousandths of an inch.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Nonproduction Watermans

Over the years I've seen several groups of unusual Watermans come to market from the estates of former Waterman executives and employees. The items shown above have such a provenance, though I bought them only recently, from an older collector. In many respects they resemble a group disbursed by the late Peter Stanton some twenty years ago, which included a number of clipless pencils with nonstandard features, as well as some interesting slender desk pens and a red and black Ripple 94 with a #7-style color band on the cap (which I still have, and need to photograph). Indeed, they may well have come from the same source.

From right to left, the items include: a completely unmarked 42-size safety, with Aikin Lambert-style feed and warranted nib; a slender smooth pencil, clipless; two clipless and unmarked Patrician pencils in black hard rubber; a 14 PSF cutaway demonstrator; and a truly odd pencil, whose oddness only became apparent once I opened it up.

Yes, this is a safety pencil! The mechanism is adapted from a small Waterman safety. It's all hard rubber -- no metal parts at all, and no imprints. The nose cone unscrews from the barrel, and when I opened it up I found a couple of extra pieces of lead inside. There's not really any lead magazine -- they were just floating around inside. The method by which the lead is held is also rather improvised, the propelling shaft being drilled and slotted at its end to hold and grip the lead.

And a bit more on the other items . . . 

The safety has a #2 New York nib, not a warranted as I first wrote. Initially I was under the impression that the packing unit housing had some distortion, as if it had been heated and then clamped, but upon looking more closely it seems the two flat spots may be intentional (when heated, the hard rubber did not spring back as it would if this were the result of pressure and heat).

Perhaps this was an experiment to see how rounded flats would look and feel, and if they would help provide more purchase for disassembly. Also worth noting is the surface of the pen, which looks as if it has a thin coat of opaque black lacquer. There are several spots where it seems to have worn away, allowing the hard rubber beneath to brown slightly.

The cutaway demonstrator is a 14 PSF. It's not all that early, as it has the flat barrel threads; the hardened sac is still in place, so I can't tell if the pressure bar is the later one-piece type -- though odds are it is. An interesting feature is the red-filled barrel imprint, which is likely original. Most standard production pens did not have their imprints filled, but one does sometimes find less common models with infill -- Signagraph pens being one example.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Pen tricksters: Pelikan edition

Long, long ago, Cliff and Judy Lawrence ran a few articles in their Pen Fancier's Magazine under the heading, "Pen Tricksters". Even back in the 1980s, people were "improving" pens without disclosing the work to potential buyers. As I recall, one of the "tricks" was cap lip replacement, hiding the seam under the cap band (a perfectly sound restoration method, if duly disclosed); another was reblackening -- though in one reported case it was the Lawrences who were in error, as they concluded that a Black Giant had been blackened since it faded when immersed in hot water (pristine hard rubber will indeed resist fading, but exposure to light will invisibly break down its surface; subsequent exposure to water will then result in instant fading).

I've seen my share of undisclosed repairs in pens purchased both online and face-to-face at shows. One that was completely new to me, though, is shown in the photo above -- the barrel of what looked like a nice clean unrestored Pelikan 100. Getting the filler unit out of one of these pens is delicate work, since the aged celluloid of the barrel is typically fragile. This is one of the few cases where soaking is an essential disassembly method -- which also has the side effect of loosening the barrel oversleeve (the "binde"). Which, once it slid off, revealing a whopping burn hole in the side of the barrel. The damage to the barrel must also have damaged the barrel's original binde. Someone then slid a new one in place over the hole, und Bob ist Dein Onkel.

Leroy W. Fairchild: miscellaneous notes


As I note in a forthcoming article in the PCA's Pennant [now published in vol. 34, no. 3, Fall 2016, pp. 6-13: "Leroy W. Fairchild: The Little-Known History of a Well-Known Company"], Leroy W. Fairchild was the Lewis Edson Waterman of the gold-nibbed dip pen era. In the last few decades pen historians have uncovered much about Waterman, but Fairchild remains almost completely unstudied. Rather than duplicate the contents of the Pennant article here, I will be using this entry to post additional information (genealogical, in particular), research notes, and source references, with links if available.

It was not easy to find Leroy W. Fairchild's middle name. He always used the "W", but the only way I discovered it stood for "Wilson" was in records where others provided it: for example, his son Leroy C.'s marriage record; a death notice in the New York Tribune on May 9, 1909; and Leroy C.'s obituary in The Suffolk County News, December 1, 1939, p. 4. Fairchild's first name was commonly rendered as LeRoy and Le Roy (ditto for his namesake son). This does affect search results.

It should be possible to find an exact birth date for Leroy W. Fairchild. So far, it can be narrowed down to around 1830, and probably the second half of that year, using the following sources:
  • In the 1840 US census, he is not listed by name, but is checked off in the category of males between ten and fourteen.
  • In the 1855 New York State census, taken in June, he is recorded as 24.
  • In the 1860 US census, taken on July 24, he is recorded as 29.
  • In the 1863 list of men eligible for military service, compiled July 1, he is recorded as 32.
  • In a typed index card, transcribing an entry form of Nov 6, 1867, for the S.S. Java arriving in Boston from Liverpool, Queenstown, and Halifax, he is recorded as 38 (possible that a handwritten "6" was misread as an "8"?)
  • In the 1870 US census, taken on July 29, he is listed as 41.
  • In an 1873 passenger list for the Cuba, signed Sep 10, he is listed as 44 (but ID uncertain)
  • In the 1880 US census, taken on June 10, he is listed as 50.
  • In the 1905 New Jersey State census, he is listed as 75.
  • In his obituaries, which all state that he died on May 8, 1909, in his eightieth year.
All of the sources above (and others) agree that Fairchild was born in New York City, with the sole exception of the 1880 census. There he is listed as Wisconsin-born, with English-born parents, but this must be a recording error, as it is completely at odds with all other documents and records.

Very specific dates and parentage are provided for Fairchild's father (Starr Fairchild, b. Mar 14, 1797 Fairfield Co. CT - d. Jan 17, 1838) in one online family tree. Unfortunately, no sources for this information are given, and I have not been able to find any supporting evidence independently. This particular tree was much stronger on earlier generations, it seemed, for while Leroy W. and his mother were listed, their death dates were completely wrong and Leroy's siblings, wife, and children were absent (I have since updated their records, using the information presented here). Partial corroboration for Starr was found, however, in Longworth's New York City directories. "Fairchild Star, tailor" is listed in the edition for 1827-8, p. 190, at 5 York; 1828-9, p. 219, at 76 Reade; 1832-3, p. 284, at 270 William; and 1833-4, p. 251, at 63 Warren. In the edition for 1834-5, p. 276, he is not listed. In Doggett's directories from the 1842-3 edition through that for 1847-8, "Fairchild Eliza M. widow of Starr" appears, each time at a different address: 1842-3, p. 113, 129 Mulberry; 1845-6, p. 124, 194 Hester; 1846-7, p. 134, 26 Grand; 1847-8, p. 142, 116 Laurens. The listing is absent from the 1848-9 edition. Another document, the death record of Leroy W. Fairchild's sister, Mary Jane, gives her (their) father's birthplace as Connecticut. Both this and the death record of another sister, Anna Eliza, appear to list their father's name as Starr, though the transcription available online renders it as "Stan". Note that our Starr Fairchild should not be confused with the contemporary Connecticut inventor of the same name (US patents 4038, 4414, 4990, 5413, et al.)

Fairchild's mother's name was Eliza M., the "M" as yet unidentified. Looking at the same records used to narrow down Leroy W. Fairchild's birthdate, we end up with a birthdate of around 1805:
  • In the 1840 US census, she is listed as Eliza Fairchild, head of household, checked off in the category of females between thirty and thirty-nine.
  • In the 1855 New York State census, taken in June, she is recorded as 50, born in Orange County, New York, widowed head of household, living in New York City 38 years.
  • In the 1860 US census, taken on July 24, she is recorded as 54, living in the household of her eldest daughter Anna Eliza.
  • In the 1870 US census, taken on July 29, she is listed as 65, living with her son Leroy.
  • In the 1880 US census, taken on June 7, she is listed as 80, living with her widowed daughter Mary, close by her daughter Anna Eliza.
Eliza M. Fairchild was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery on Nov 15, 1882 (lot 612, section 107).

Leroy W. Fairchild had three sisters: Anna Eliza, c. 1828 - Feb 14, 1896; Mary Jane, c. 1832 - Apr 10, 1888; and Amelia T., c. 1834 - Jan 1899. Anna Eliza was widowed young: her first husband, Charles H. Dudley, died on Sep 17, 1850 at the age of 27. At the time of the 1855 census she was living with her mother, brother, and youngest sister, along with her two daughters, Ada (born c. 1848) and Anna (c. 1850 - May 23, 1893). Anna Eliza remarried on Dec 29, 1859, to Henry L. Grant, a prosperous banker. By the following July, the 1860 US census records that her mother and her brother Leroy's family were all living in the Grant household. Anna Eliza outlived Grant, dying in Manhattan on Feb 14, 1896, at the age of 68.

Mary Jane married James Cushing not long after the 1850 US census, where he is listed as an 18-year-old banker living in New York City with his parents. In the 1860 US census, the couple were married, both 28, and living on their own with two children, 5 and 7. They were well off, recorded as owning $9000 in real estate and $3000 in other assets. Mary Jane's younger sister Amelia T. was also living with the family, along with her husband, Alexandre Waldron, a plumber. Mary Jane Cushing died in Manhattan on April 10, 1888. James Cushing would become one of Leroy W. Fairchild's first backers, and the namesake for Leroy's youngest son, James Cushing Fairchild. Cushing died on July 5, 1873, only 41, of dysentery. He was on the Board of Education, and was a former School Commissioner, all while "engaged in mercantile pursuits". His death notice in the July 16, 1873 NY Daily Graphiccols. 3-4, specifically mentions his involvement with Fairchild's pen business, as did an 1869 ad for the Homoeopathic Mutual Life Insurance Company, of which he was Vice President, in The United States Insurance Advertiser, bound with The United States Insurance Gazette, vol. 29, May-Nov 1869 (unpaginated).

Amelia T. married Alexandre Waldron on April 5, 1860, in Manhattan; he was 30, she 26. As noted above, they were living with the family of Amelia's older sister Mary Jane as of June 3 that same year, at the time of the 1860 US census. Twenty years later in the 1880 US census they are recorded as living on their own, with two Irish servants but no children (note that given the 20-year gap, there could have been children who grew up and moved out, or who did not survive to adulthood). Amelia Waldron was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery on January 25, 1899 (lot 17753, section H).

By the evidence we have, Leroy W. Fairchild grew up poor. The family was at a new address every year, and he was just a boy when his father died, leaving his mother with four small children. It was common for boys to begin apprenticeships around the age of thirteen, so it is quite possible that the foundation date of 1843 later claimed for the Fairchild company actually represents the start of Leroy W. Fairchild's apprenticeship (it is equally possible, however, that it represents the foundation date of the company in which he was employed, and which he eventually rose to own). For now, this is speculation; we do know that around 1850, Fairchild was working for John Rendell, and already making important contributions (under "Pen", in Johnson's Universal Cyclopædiavol. 6, 1889, p. 184):
Two other men, Alexander Morton and Leroy W. Fairchild —the latter at first employed by Mr. Rendell, and the former by Mr. Bagley—about 1850 or 1851 added two important particulars toward perfecting this interesting manufacture. Mr. Fairchild bedded the iridium points in the gold instead of soldering them, thereby avoiding the galvanic and corrosive action of the ink on the two metals, the solder and the gold, as well as giving the points a firmer hold on the pen, and modified the form and roundness of the pen . . .
The "at first employed by" above is suggestive, but not entirely clear. Whether Fairchild came to Rendell as an apprentice or as a young journeyman, though, is less important than the fact that by the age of twenty he was more than pulling his weight in the shop of one of the most innovative penmakers of the time, who elevated him to a full partner in the business on Jan 14, 1853. Fairchild would have been all of 22 years old, with little personal capital, so this promotion must have been based entirely on his personal merits and abilities. For more on Rendell & Fairchild and Rendell's demise in 1859, see my post on Rendell here (noting particularly the entry cited in the update, under "Pen" in The New American Cyclopaedia, vol. 13, 1861, p. 101, containing a very early description of the Fairchild factory).

The change in Leroy W. Fairchild's economic status between 1860 and 1870 is striking. At the time of the 1860 US census he was living at the house of his brother-in-law, along with his wife, two small children, and his mother. No assets are listed, neither real estate nor personal. In a list of the taxable incomes of New Yorkers in 1863, however (The Income Record: A List Giving the Taxable Income for the Year 1863 of Every Resident of New York, 1865, p. 138), Fairchild is listed as having earned $5400, putting him in the top 15% of New York City residents with incomes of $600 or more. And by the time of the 1870 US census, he was living in Norwalk, Connecticut, with six children, his mother, and three servants plus a nurse. The census further records no less than $18,000 in real estate and $100,000 in other assets.

Leroy W. Fairchild married Sarah Ann Cholwell on January 23, 1856, in Norwalk, Connecticut (New York Times, Jan 28, 1856, p. 8). She was born in New York or Connecticut around 1837, and died in New York City on January 8, 1890. She was buried three days later at Woodlawn Cemetery.
There were six children from the marriage: Leroy Cholwell (1857 - Nov 30, 1939); Anna (Sep 1, 1859 - 1896); George Winfield (Oct 17, 1861 - Sep 28, 1948); Harry Penton (Feb 18, 1863 - Mar 27, 1947); Charles Ring (May 1865 - May 30, 1902); and James Cushing (Jun 1869 - Dec 7, 1946). All of the children were born in Manhattan save James, who was born in Nemack, Connecticut. Leroy C., Harry, and James all went into the family business. George and Charles did not; George pursued a long and successful business career, but Charles died relatively young and apparently troubled.

Leroy Cholwell Fairchild married Julia Louise Moore on Oct 19, 1882 in Manhattan (the digitized record mistranscribes Leroy's middle initial as "J" instead of "C"). Their son, also named Leroy C., was born Jan 20, 1884 in Essex, New Jersey; the birth record lists the father's age as 28, the mother's, 21. Their daughter Adelaide was married on Dec 1, 1909 in Manhattan to John Welles Arnold, age 25. Their daughter Lila, 22, was married on Nov 4, 1915 in Manhattan, to Lucius Porter Janeway, age 23. Leroy C. and Julia L. M. Fairchild were divorced on Jun 4, 1913, in Accomack County, Virginia. On Jun 26, 1913, Leroy C. married Mabel H. Pigot of Brooklyn, herself recently divorced (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun 26, 1913, p. 1). Leroy C. was described as "of Wachapreague. Va." Leroy C. died on Nov 30, 1939; the following obituary appeared in The Suffolk County News, Dec 1, 1939, p. 4:
Le Roy Cholwell Fairchild, who resided on Seaman avenue, Bayport, died last night in Dr. King's Hospital at Bay Shore. He was in his 83rd year. Mr. Fairchild, who has lived in this vicinity for the last 27 years, was born in 1857, the son of Le Roy Wilson and Sarah Cholwell Fairchild. He had been retired for more than 30 years, having been in the jewelry business. He is survived by his wife, Mabel Hincken Fairchild; two daughters, Mrs. John W Arnold of Chappaqua, N. Y., and Mrs. Lucius P. Janeway of New York City; a step-son. Palmer Nostrand Pigot of Garden City, and three brothers, James C. of Sayville, Harry P. of New York City, and George W. of New York City. Funeral services will be held at the R. M. Harry Isaacson funeral parlors at 3 o'clock on Sunday afternoon with the Rev. Joseph H. Bond of St. Ann's Episcopal Church officiating. Interment will follow on Monday morning in Woodlawn Cemetery, Brooklyn.
Although the Fairchilds had been active members of local society, it seems Leroy C. had been relying more upon the income from the trust fund set up by his father than from any assets of his own (The Suffolk County News, Dec 22, 1939, p. 2):
Although the will of the late LeRoy C. Fairchild of Bayport, who died on November 30, provides for the establishment of a $60,000 trust fund for his wife, Mable [sic] H. Fairchild, the petition filed in Surrogate's Court at Riverhead states the the testator's estate is valued at less than $2,500 in personal property and "less than $2,500" in real property. The will executed on June 17th, 1938, bequeaths $60,000 in trust to the United States Trust Company.
Leroy C. had declared bankruptcy back in 1905. As reported in the New York Tribune, Sep 2, 1905, p. 10:

It is noteworthy that his largest creditor by far was his own father, Leroy W. Fairchild. The bankruptcy was finalized not long after (New York Times, Sep 25, 1905, p. 11).

With this as background, it is not surprising that Leroy W.'s will, signed on Nov 16, 1906, did not immediately disburse his assets to his four surviving children, but instead set up trusts to provide them with a steady annual income of $3,000 each. The original amount of each of the four trust funds was around $70,000; the will also discharged any unpaid debts between sons and father. The full will can be read via Google Books here. One of its provisions was for Leroy W.'s burial at Woodlawn Cemetery, plot 6858, section 13, stipulating that no others were to be buried there, excepting only his son Leroy C. The will provided for the trust funds to pass down to the next generation upon his sons' deaths, with the assets of each fund being paid out in full upon each grandchild reaching his or her majority. The one exception was the only son of his son Charles Ring, who received only a flat $1,000 -- a stipulation that was contested unsuccessfully in a case heard by the New York Supreme Court in the later 1940s.

Harry Penton Fairchild appears to have been more committed than his elder brother Leroy to the pen business, and more successful in it. Whereas Leroy C. retired on his trust fund income after their father's death (and may have retired, de facto, a few years earlier, at the time of his bankruptcy), Harry P. is still listed in the 1930 US Census as working, occupation "Manufacturer Gold Pens". By the time of the 1940 US census, however, the listing reads "no occupation", so at some point between 1930 and 1940 he had retired. Harry P. Fairchild died on Mar 27, 1947 and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. His last address was 390 West End, New York City. I have not found any evidence of any children; Harry P. was survived by his wife, Fermene G. Ayres (born Dec 1864; in various records one also finds "Fermina" and "Minnie"). According to the 1900 US Census, they were married twelve years before.

James Cushing Fairchild married Clara Porter in Manhattan on Nov 8, 1893. He died in Sayville, New York on Dec 7, 1946. According to his obituary in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mon Dec 9, 1946, p. 13, col. 4, James C. had retired from the family firm in 1920. He too was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, with his wife's family (the Samuel Porter plot).

George Winfield Fairchild did not go into the family business, though in the 1880 US census both he and his brother Leroy C., 18 and 23 years old, are listed as "Clerk in Store". In the 1900 US census, he was living in New Rochelle with his wife, son, daughter, and two servants. His occupation was listed as "Broker (stocks)". He appears to have been active in other business ventures; in 1907 he was appointed receiver for Alexander Typewriter Co, as judgement creditor. George W. was the last surviving son of Leroy W. Fairchild. He died on Sep 28, 1948 in Palisades Park, Bergen, New Jersey.

Charles Ring Fairchild also did not go into the family business. In the 1892 NY State census, he is recorded in Brooklyn's Ward 22, a 27 year old salesman. He makes a more dramatic appearance in 1896 -- or rather, disappearance (American Stationer, vol. 40, Sep 10, 1896, p. 416):
Charles Ring Fairchild, who is a son of Leroy W. Fairchild, the retired gold pen manufacturer of this city, and is a well-known Western jewelry drummer, is missing. The police of California and neighboring States have been searching for a week for some clue to his whereabouts. He was last seen at Butte City, Mon., where he was at the Hotel McDermott up to September 3, when he disappeared from the hotel. He traveled for several wellknown San Francisco jewelry houses, and left behind him in the hotel safe packages containing $5,000 worth of samples. News of his disappearance was received yesterday in this city by his brothers, Leroy C. and Henry P. Fairchild, who are in business at 220 Fourth avenue. The missing man's father is out of town. The brothers said yesterday afternoon that they could not account for his disappearance. Charles is a muscular six footer. He is thirty-one years old and married. Up to a year ago, when he went West, he lived in Brooklyn with his wife. He was of temperate habits and enjoyed the confidence of his employers to an unusual extent. His brothers received word from Butte City that it was thought at the hotel there that he had become demented suddenly, and that his absence had awakened fears that he might have met with foul play at the hands of persons who knew that he traveled with valuables in his possession. The brothers also learned that the dealers whose goods he carried had put in written claims for the jewels held by the hotel proprietor, and that the latter had refused to give up possession of the samples until they were fully identified by personal representatives of the owners. The brothers had heard nothing from the missing man since he went West. He was not interested in the pen manufacturing business in this city.
The story was also reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Sep 9, 1896, p. 1) and in the New York Times a few days later (Sep 12, 1896). Charles' reappearance was reported the next week (American Stationer, vol. 40, Sep 17 1896, p. 453):
Charles Ring Fairchild, the missing traveling salesman, has been located at Spokane, Wash., where he was seen on September 7 by a traveling salesman. He had been disposing of some of the finest sample jewelry in his possession to raise money to get home. He appeared to be unbalanced mentally.
I have not traced what happened to him thereafter in any detail. In the 1900 US census he is probably to be identified with the Ring Fairchild recorded living in Pigeon Township, Evansville, Indiana, a boarder along with his wife Maude, occupation "Travl. Salesman (books)". He died in Chicago on May 30, 1902, and was buried there at Oakwoods Cemetery. As noted above, Charles' only son was the only grandchild of Leroy W. Fairchild not to receive a trust fund. The son was also named Charles Ring Fairchild, and was born in Brooklyn on Jul 28, 1886. His parents were both 21 and New York-born, his mother named as Gertrude E. Brown. His 1917 draft registration record lists him as a married resident of Jersey City, a mechanical engineer in New York City for the Locomotive Feed Water Heater Co.

Annie Fairchild was Leroy W. Fairchild's only daughter. I have not found much about her, but the Brooklyn Daily Eagle report on Charles Ring Fairchild's disappearance, cited above (Sep 9, 1896, p. 1), also notes that his father Leroy W. Fairchild "is at present out of the city for the benefit of his health. Only a few months ago he lost a daughter."