Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Gooptu's pens: two that got away


The following was written back in 2005 as a short piece for the now long-defunct magazine Stylus. From what I recall it didn't end up getting published, and I never got around to sharing it properly afterwards.

The two pens shown above were acquired together some years ago.  One is a U.S.-made Waterman 55 from the 1920s; the other is an Indian-made eyedropper-filler with a transparent barrel, probably from the 1940s.  The latter is identified on its clip as a Gooptu’s “Perfection”, and it would appear that the Waterman belonged to its maker – for its barrel bears the personalization “RAI. SAHEB. F. N. GOOPTU/1925” [Fanindra Nath Gooptu, the company founder].

A small story, to be sure, but one that leads to another.  For while an online search for “Gooptu” and “pen” yields nothing about the penmaker [NOTE: this was back in 2005], it leads to an anecdote about Gandhi and another Gooptu pen, as recounted in 1948 by writer, teacher, and politician P. G. Mavalankar (d. 2002):

“It was May 1944. Bapu [Gandhi] was at Juhu.  I went to him with my father. After the talks (between him and my father) were over, I placed in Bapu's hands my autograph- book for his autograph. He took the book with the five- rupee note, and asked for a fountain pen, which was then offered to him by my father. But he returned it, stating that it was of foreign make. He even rejected my pen, which was known as 'Gooptu's Perfection' and was made at Calcutta, under the impression that it was of foreign make. He signed his autograph with a pen lying near him. While signing his autograph, he gave us, in a romantic manner, the history of his own pen. He said: "Once I had been to Banaras.  Mahadev was with me.  I lost my pen there.  Mahadev was naturally upset. So our host, the late Shivaprasad Gupta, presented a pen to me.  He gave one to Mahadev also.  I am still using that pen.  It is entirely Indian-made – manufactured in Banaras – and it works well." After saying this, he said with a smile: "I was told the story (of the manufacture of the pen) by Shivaprasad.  I do not know anything about it. But what he stated must have been true."

Several years later I ended up selling both of the two pens to an Indian collector, with whom I have unfortunately lost touch. Now, of course, there is much information to be found online about Indian pens and their makers, with Gooptu the subject of a biographical entry in Wikipedia and his pens eagerly sought after though very difficult to find. 

Monday, June 3, 2024

Dating those reverse-threaded Conklin crescent-filler sections

As if I weren't busy enough already, I've been serving for some time now as Librarian for the Pen Collectors of America (a venerable nonprofit collector-run organization, well worth supporting -- please consider joining, or rejoining if you've let your membership lapse). If you've not checked out the online Reference Library lately, you are in for a surprise: over the last few years fresh material has been added at a steadily accelerating pace, with no slowing in sight.

A recent addition is the Conklin service manual whose cover is shown above. While preparing the listing I noticed something remarkable: on pages 3 and 8 Conklin's notorious left-handed section-barrel joint is illustrated and described as a newly introduced feature. 

These left-handed four-start threaded sections have long been known to pen collectors, but I've never seen anyone propose a date or proffer any company literature in which they are described. Finding these mentions in a datable Conklin document is therefore a bit of a discovery. "Datable" rather than "dated", however, as the manual has to be dated indirectly. We can start by noting that the San Francisco address shown on the cover was in use no earlier than the very end of 1920, while the listing of the Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston branch offices has to predate September 1922, when London and Barcelona were added. On top of this, we have in the Reference Library a mailing that went out from Conklin to dealers under a cover letter dated January 20, 1921. The mailing was to promote Conklin's service kits, and the flyer included reproductions of two pages from the kit's manual, which correspond exactly with our manual. While it is possible that the manual was published in more than one version, in all likelihood we are looking at just one edition, printed at the very beginning of 1921. This would put the introduction of the reverse-threaded sections towards the end of 1920. How long they remained in production is another matter. To my knowledge they never appeared on any Conklin lever-fillers, nor do they show up on the Endura-era crescent-fillers with flat cap tops. I would guess that this "improvement" was quickly dropped after Conklin was flooded with dealer complaints about broken barrels.