Monday, September 2, 2013

The Scariest Words……..

Joe in Seattle was recently the recipient of a gift horse pen. Here is the story:

“I know you like pens, so I bought you this for _______ occasion!”

“Oh, thank you so much, it’s just what I never dreamt of ever owning and can’t for the life of me think what in the heck to do with it.”

A friend wanted to thank me for some small service, so he presented me with a pen box with these words, “I know you like pens, and I’ve seen you use them, so I got you this. I hope you can make it work.” Dan didn’t say where it came from, or why he thought it might not work, just handed me the rectangular brown leatherette box.

I opened it to see the word “Dunhill” in elongated letters inside the lid and what appeared to be a 70’s slim tortoise enamel on brass pen. Clicking off the cap revealed (wonder-of-wonders!) a nib! Dan is an observant sort; he realized the pens I’m always using are fountain pens.

As always, all photos are clickable to embiggen

 I unscrewed the section to see that the pen had been put away with a no name grey plastic cartridge installed and it was dry. I thanked him for the thoughtful gift and said that I was quite hopeful that I could restore the pen to service from what I could see.

On the way home I wondered, “Is it really a Dunhill or a cheap Asian knockoff?” I’d hardly ever seen a nib that small and I’d never owned a pen so narrow, though I did recall seeing designer pens of that diameter in the 70’s.

At home, I took out the bottom of the box and found a universal converter with the Dunhill logo, a box of Dunhill cartridges (the same no name grey plastic as was moldering empty in the section) and the guarantee booklet which even appeared to be spelled correctly in several languages.

I got out my loupe. The nib was marked “Dunhill, 14K” yet it seemed to have a good bit of plating loss.  A fake, I was now pretty sure, but maybe I could get it writing for a lark. Dan had certainly meant well.

A closer examination of the pen body showed an “M” sticker on the bottom and “made in Germany” engraved or stamped around the body. The plating was pretty darn good for a fake. The pen did have the heft to be enamel on brass, but the section and feed looked …. Wait a minute! The feed is definitely ebonite; I could see machining that isn’t present on a plastic feed. The section had a similar feel, though it was cylindrical in shape and more finely finished. Ebonite or something unfamiliar to me?

Playing with the pen it capped and posted with a crisp “snick” that sounded just like the precision closing of a trunk latch on a Mercedes. Holy heck, this thing isn’t a fake! I went to the internet and learned it’s a Dunhill Gemline from the 1970’s. Dunhill sold pens made in Germany by Montblanc. In fact, Dunhill owned Montblanc and the Gemline series had feeds and nibs interchangeable with Montblanc's 1970’s Noblesse pens. The sections for both were a frosted finish steel that had a unique feel. I had mistaken it for ebonite. The steel gave the section weight and the frosted finish gave it a unique tactile experience – smooth, but not slippery in use.

After a cleaning I could see that what I thought was plating loss on the nib was just dried schmutz. A brief soak of the section in a glass of cool water and a few rinses with the baby ear bulb rinsed away what was probably decades-old dried Dunhill ink. (The ‘net had shown that Dunhill’s cartridges carried no name, only a colored ball in the nipple to designate the color within - just like what was installed in the pen when I received it.)

I installed an international cartridge with Pelikan Purple. It writes! A bit of hesitation on the first stroke, but I haven’t even cleaned the nib with Perfect Pen Flush yet. Cleaned, the pen writes very similarly, no surprise here, to the F nib on my Montblanc 146. It’s very smooth – just like a Mercedes drives, not a lot of road feel. The M nib is broader than I customarily use, but it’s pleasant and the nib width allows a lot of color enjoyment.

A few days ago Dan asked, “Did you ever get that old pen to work?”
“Yes,” I answered, “thanks again.”

What a story the 40 year old Dunhill might tell of a long, long wait in someone’s dark desk drawer until it saw the light again in Seattle. In fact, I think it just did!