Sunday, June 24, 2012

Too Nice to Use

I think most of us have heard of a collector who purchases items for the mere sake of having them. This happens with fountain pens, as with many other items; I’ve seen articles about these people, some of them famous (for other reasons), who have rooms full of glass cabinets in which lie “collectible” pens as if lying in state.  Of course the pens are never used; they’re collectible after all.

I’m going to be snarky here – Joe and I have always treated the thought of such pens with a fair amount of derision, referring to them as “beanie babies,” and marveling in a horrified fashion at the amount of money that can end up invested in these collections.

I’m not talking about preserving the one example left of a rare, antique pen, rather more about things like the Sylvester Stallone pens, which to me have reached a new height of the ridiculous, and at a price that equals it. 

I have always prided myself in thinking that, if I buy a pen, I am buying it to use as a pen and not to put on a shelf and admire. 

Well, pride goeth before a fall, as we all know and I am about to be reminded. 

I have a few items that I have only semi-consciously labeled “too nice to use.” They’re not tucked away in display cases, but I still have never used them, for varying reasons.  

Three come to mind in my fountain pen hobby: 

1.      The Conway Stewart Peacock – I purchased this pen off of eBay, pounced on it actually, as it’s a rather rare color and only the fact that it’s the “Dinkie” size made it affordable for me. The pen has a crack in the barrel, extending from the forward end of the lever perpendicularly out about an eighth of an inch. I sent the pen out to one of the foremost restorers in the US, and despite all of his efforts he was unable to weld the crack together to stabilize it. Thus, the pen is a tad bit fragile; that, combined with the rarity of the color, has prompted me to leave it in the pen case since it came back from the shop.  

2.      The yellow Duofold. I even posted photos of this pen just after I acquired it, then sent it off to be cleaned up and resacked. And then put it in the pen case and left it there. The old yellow Duofolds are known to be fragile, because something about the components in the material used for the yellows has not aged well and makes the material brittle. Once again, it might be fragile, and it's a bit of a rare color, so I let it sit and sulk in the pen box. 

3.      The TMLee journal. TMLee, of Singapore, makes lovely handmade journals, and sells them on the Fountain Pen Network. The saga of his self-taught skills journey can be found in what is probably one of the longest threads on FPN, here. This journal is beautiful, precise, and pristine; I can’t bring myself to write in it. It feels as if something momentous should be written in it, but I lead a perfectly ordinary life and doubt I will ever have occasion to write “Today I won a Nobel Prize” or even “Today I won the lottery.”  

My goal over the next few weeks is to consciously use these items, and get over my reluctance. What is the worst thing that can happen? A pen breaks. Well, no one will die or go bankrupt if that happens, and I doubt any wars will result. I write something less than worthy of preserving for all posterity, something not so awe-inspiring as to create a sensation or even become a meme. Oh well.

I will then dedicate a blog post to each of these three items, so you can see them for yourselves and hold me to my word. 

Target acquired; stand by.

(Azizah, this one's for you; your comments about Rhodia Dot Pads got me to thinking!)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Few Words on Paper

My husband Joe is a bit of a paper snob. (Is it good for a marriage if one calls one’s spouse something not-so-nice, particularly in a public forum such as a blog? I guess I’ll find out.)

My evidence is this: when he was working, he would buy his own notepads in order to guarantee FP-friendly paper at work. He has gone through almost every major manufacturer of bound journal on Earth, looking for just the right one. He likes Rhodia papers, but only the grid ones (really? I never thought it made that much difference!). He has been known to dislike papers others find perfectly useable.

Lately I’ve taken a rather different approach to paper. I see it as part of an equation, and adjust the other parts of the equation to get the result I want. 

I am better at math than he is. (This isn’t a not-so-nice statement; it’s true. Quicken was invented for people like him.)

Many of us get to use whatever is available at work to use; I don’t have much say on what my employer buys for copier and printer paper and notepads, for example. As at so many other businesses (and our homes as well), we are looking to minimize expenses, so the quality of paper available at work is – um, questionable. 

This being the case, my answer is to select my pens (and in some cases, inks) to accommodate the fact that at work I am basically writing on paper toweling. This means fine nibs are good for work. I get a medium line, but that’s fine. (Yes, the pun was intended!) If I use a broad nib, it looks like I’ve been writing with a Magic Marker. 

I do appreciate paper that allows for use of a variety of nibs, though, and one of my favorites is the Rhodia Dot Pad. My journal is currently a Rhodia Webnotebook, and while I like the hard finish and texture (or lack thereof) of the paper I do wish it came in white. I’ve had a few things to say before about cream-colored paper, and the color is definitely a compromise for me; I expect I’ll be moving on to something else when I’m done with the Webbie. 

My point here is this: one of the fun things about fountain pens for me is the chance to match the tools and materials to obtain the result I want – or to experiment to see what happens. This is not unlike an artist working within whatever media are chosen to obtain certain results. 

With this in mind, I don’t think I can reasonably say there is such a thing as good or bad paper, then; the stuff at work is certainly absorbent and not prone to delivering a pleasing look with, say, a stub nib or a broad one, but it’s inexpensive, recycled, and readily available, all traits that could be construed as “good.” 

Because of the varying papers I have available for use, my nib preference has grown to include a variety of widths and styles as well. I find I enjoy the variety, and the fun of trying different things to see what works.

All of which makes putting a few words on paper all the more gratifying.

What makes it fun for you?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Found in the Wild

Went out for ice cream, and came home with a pen

There's a great little ice creamery about 15 minutes away from our home. It being a sunny Sunday afternoon, we decided to run out to Snoqualmie Ice Cream and grab a dish of ice cream as a treat.

Snoqualmie Ice Cream is in a fairly rural area, at a crossroads known as Maltby. Just down the street, tucked behind some other buildings, is an old antique shop we've never managed to get to before - it's not open all that often.

Well, it was open today, so in we went. And just inside the door, in one of the cases, was almost an entire shelf full of fountain pens.

Nothing terribly fancy, but a pretty wide assortment - three or four Esterbrooks, a couple of Sheaffers, two or three Eversharps -  you get the idea. I got pretty excited when I saw a Parker True Blue junior for $15, but it was in pretty bad shape and had a Sheaffer student nib in it, so I passed.

I did come home with this - a Carter. Obviously used, with the de rigeur dried blue ink in it, it has a 14k nib and is in good shape with only minimal brassing. The barrel suffers a bit from the discoloring so common in certain colors of that time (about 1930). It was marked at $20, but it came home for $18 plus tax. (I paid cash, and had chatted up the owner about how it was going to a good home, I'd have it resacked and use it; I think it influenced his pricing.)

I don't think it's a sumgai find by any means, but it's a great memento of a lovely Sunday afternoon.

Oh - ice cream? I had toasted coconut, and salted caramel. Yum!