Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Dark Side

I suppose it’s inevitable really, at some stage or other it probably had to happen. You can’t go buying lots of pencils made by pen companies and not have some thoughts of the Dark Side flit through your mind. This week, gentle reader, we journey into the realm of the Ink Lords, as I put myself to the test, face the Sirens of Inkish Temptation head on, and see if I can remain true to the graphite. Will I fall like Anakin Skywalker, or emerge like Luke?

So exactly how did I come to possess these instruments of liquid ink? Well, with my “Conway Stewart phase” in full swing, most vintage CS pencils for sale in this part of the world are sold as part of a fountain pen & pencil set. Thus to get my hands on the pencil, I had to buy the pen. Soon the little voices of temptation started whispering in ear. Go on, it couldn’t hurt, just buy a bottle of ink and give one a try. What harm could it do?

Actually it was little bit harder than that. Firstly of course these pens are many decades old, so they need servicing and new ink bladders before being filled with ink. Sometime earlier I had discovered that, much to my surprise, there is actually a guy here in NZ who does fountain pen servicing. Astonishing! Anyway, I sent my pens to him and then everything was ready.

So here they, are my two Conway Stewart No 15 pens, one blue marble / black veins the other green marble / black veins. I believe CS no.15’s were produced from 1952 to 1963 in the UK, and they were a common brand and pen here in NZ. I must at this stage apologise for the state of my photography of these pens. My camera is just a basic Kodak digital, and although I think my photos have got a lot better over the course of this blog, I can’t do justice to these marbled pens. They really are quite beautiful. Deep vibrant lustrous colours that come from way down inside the body of the pen. Good quality gold plated metal trims. Even after 50 years these gold trims show little evidence of wear. I think that Conway Stewart were one of those companies that marketed “top quality, but at an affordable price” - making good quality writing instruments for the market at large. The green pen was auctioned by a local person, and I arranged for my wife to call around to their workplace, and pick up the pen set. It turned out the seller was a young doctor, who had used the pen at school. Very unusual in this day and age, but his school insisted all students used fountain pens to learn the art of good handwriting. No ballpoint pens allowed on school property! He had always admired his grandfathers Conway Stewart, so when he had to have one for school, he saw this set in a car boot sale and bought it, and then used it through his studies. But then time moved on, he hadn’t used it for many years….my wife was half expecting him to back out of the sale, or shed a tear. Anyway she assured him it was going to a good home! Well, at least the pencil was. Moving right along….

So, my pens are serviced and ready to go. Down to the local stationery supplies store for a bottle of ink – I chose Watermans blue/black.

I had read a little on writing with a fountain pen, and a few people had given me some advice, so I knew to only press lightly, to let the nib glide over the paper, not push it into the paper as I can be prone to do with pencil and ballpoint. Every nib has its own “sweet spot”, the angle and position at which it works best, find that spot, and you are away.

I guess at first I was little afraid of the pens, or rather of them leaking and making a mess everywhere. You certainly do need to treat them respect, compared to a ballpoint pen. You can’t wave them around or just throw them down onto your desk like you can a pencil. You also need to answer the question, “To post or not to post?”, as in “Do I stick the cap on the end of the pen when writing, or not?” Personally I found either way alright to write with, but I generally prefer a heavier, and top-heavy feel, so in the long run I would probably be a “poster” and write with the cap stuck onto the end of the pen body. This probably does lead to some wear or damage on the body over the long term.

I quickly noticed that if my paper wasn’t dead flat on the desk then I did get some “drags” between letters. Also things were not so good if the writing surface wasn’t smooth – a thin sheet of paper on a lightly patterned desktop and the inkflow would become irregular. You also have to wait for the ink to dry, which may take more than a few seconds, but to experience the true sensation of a 1950’s businessman, I thought I should speed things up and invest in a couple of vintage ink blotters. Genuine “artistic” blotters from the 1940’s through 60’s are seemingly cheap and plentiful. I got these three - purely for historical research purposes you understand!

There was a huge difference in inkflow between my two pens. Both had Conway Stewart 1A nibs, but they worked best at quite different angles, and the green pen just hosed out ink in comparison to the blue pen.

The coverage of fountain pen inks is no where as solid as ballpoint pen inks, but I guess that’s inevitable as ballpoint ink is so much thicker and viscous. Also when you start writing with the fountain pen the very first part of your first letter can be missed as the inkflow hasn’t started in time. I did have occasional trouble with leakage on both my pens. It was almost as if the ink bladder had become pressurised and was forcing the ink out. A blob would form under the nib. I returned them to the serviceman for another look, but he said they were working fine, although I could try a different ink. I was sort of left a bit stranded, because I don’t think they were working quite properly, and I didn’t want to go buying half a dozen different brands of ink to muck around with.

Well eventually my trial was over, I had walked into the Inkish Abyss, and emerged from the Dark Side, seemingly unscathed - I think I will use these fountain pens every now and then, but I’m a graphite person, through and true.


Unknown said...

Thank you for that last sentence - I was starting to worry!

Anonymous said...

Been there too with a Lamy 2000. Nice pen and all - but what I love about the pencil is that you can write on most surfaces, upwards down, it doesn't leak in you pocket and you don't get smudgy finger when you need to refill it. Pencils are NICE!!!

Anonymous said...

Peew, for a moment I thought we had lost you to the Dark side. Fountain pens can be really tempting. Been there too a loong journey with Parker...

bill7tx said...

You can always visit the Fountain Pen Network. I double-dog dare you!

We're waaaaitinnnnngggg for yoooooou!

Kiwi-d said...

I stand firm in the face of temptation!

Actually I do visit the network from time to time.

Anonymous said...

I went through the same sort of thing. In th end I found pencils more useful. But nothing beats a gold nib fountain pen for striking fear into the hearts of your rivals.

Anonymous said...

But how? What do you do with it? Threaten to stab them with it? ;)

testcwb said...

Ink does really matter. I have some Caran Dache inks which just bleeds from my fountain pens, while MontBlanc, Pelikan 4001, Rohrer & Klingner works fine in the same pens.

Those CS is truly beautiful

Anonymous said...

Wow, not many people are posting comments about this blog entry -- too afraid of the dark side? ;)

Once I had become addicted to pens... so now I'm stuck with a few pens I bought for myself. I hardly use pens, because my friend had one too many accidents with exploding pens honestly. So, there's always a pencil in my pocket with a nice eraser ready to get to work. =)

J Ferguson said...

I've also restored some vintage FPs, but for day-to-day use, there's a fantastic Pilot 78G that ships for around $10. It's a lot more reliable than vintage pens. Pilot Blue ink is also my preferred FP ink.