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Return of the fountain pen. Here's how to put a vintage pen back into service.

Return of the fountain pen Nothing lays down ink like a fountain pen. The smooth feel of precious metal on paper, the way the tip produces its distinguished script, and the wide variety of points available are luring many writers back into an old-fashioned fold.

If you have a vintage fountain pen or would like to find one and put it back into service, here's help.

Hunt in flea markets, antique stores

If you're looking for an older pen, be critical. Of the many kinds you'll find, the style pictured above is commonest and most foolproof to restore; other styles, like those with button pumps on the end of the barrel, can get a novice in trouble.

Check the following before you buy.

* Be sure the pen has all its parts, and that none is cracked, loose, chipped, or broken. Check for hidden cracks in the cap that open up when you push the cap onto the barrel.

* Look closely at the nib--the most important and vulnerable part of the pen. The ends should be aligned and feel smooth on paper, even without ink. To get a true feel, dip the nib in ink, wipe off the excess ink, and write a few sentences.

* Gently but firmly untwist the section (see photograph above) from the barrel. The two parts may be threaded or held together by friction. If they are hard to separate, look for another pen.

If you're able to separate the parts, look inside the barrel and work the pump lever; the pressure bar should move back and forth. If there's no pressure bar, or if it's separated from the pump lever, don't buy the pen. (When you separate section from barrel, expect hardened chips of old ink sac to fall out. That's not a problem: you're going to replace the sac.)

* Stick with major brands: Conklin, Esterbrook, Parker, Sheaffer, Swan, Wahl-Eversharp, L.E. Waterman. These are easiest to find sacs for, have the greatest resale value, and can usually be restored by a good repair shop.

Making a deal

Prices vary widely, with larger pens generally fetching more. You should be able to find a restorable pen with a steel nib for $5 to $15; pens with 14-karat gold nibs range from $10 to $100 or more.

New fountain pens with 14-karat gold nibs are in the $65 to $300 range; restored antique pens are $25 to $300. As with art and other antiques, buy what you like: the resale market is volatile and hard to tap.


First, remove the cap and twist the section off the barrel. If the ink sac (the rubber ink reservoir) is still attached, supple, and without obvious perforations, immerse the tip of the pen in a glass of cool water and squeeze the sac a few times to see whether it holds liquid. If it does, good; if it doesn't, you'll need a new sac.

To install a new ink sac, gently scrape old glue and pieces of ink sac off the end of the section. Then spread rubber cement around the end of the section and stretch the sac over it (shown above). Once the sac is attached, let the cement dry for 30 minutes before closing or filling the pen.

While the cement is drying, clean the pen with a cloth and dual-purpose metal and plastic cleaner (Brasso). Rubbing should restore the finish to almost-new condition. Use a soft toothbrush to get into cracks and under the clip.

Use the cleaner on the nib as well. If dried ink has plugged the channels between nib and ink sac, soak the section and nib overnight in a half-glass of water mixed with a few drops of ammonia. Then squeeze the sac a few times in a fresh glass of water to flush everything out. When all parts are clean, wash off residue with soap and water, and dry.

Before you reassemble the pen, remove any remaining pieces of old ink sac from the barrel. Scrape out residue with a narrow-bladed knife or pull it out with a paper clip bent to form a hook. Be careful not to damage the pressure bar.

Try the pen out. If ink flow is too light, gently push a single-edged razor blade down the split in the nib to open it up a little and increase ink flow. If it's too heavy, have a repair shop close the nib up a little for you: most will do it while you wait (it's too tricky to try yourself).

A word about modern fountain pens

If fix-up isn't your style, you'll find many new fountain pens at stationers, art supply stores, and pen stores. Ironically, though the fountain pen was invented in the United States, only two American-owned companies (A.T. Cross and Waterman) still manufacture them. European interests now own American-founded Parker and Sheaffer; Cartier, Lamy, Mont Blanc, Pelikan, S.T. DuPont, and a host of others have always been foreign-owned.

Are new pens better than old? In a few cases, yes. Many use the more convenient ink cartridges, and some aren't affected by changes in airline cabin pressure (most fountain pens tend to burp ink if you try writing with them in an ascending plane).


Ink sacs

The Pen Sac Co., Box 4470, Carlsbad, Calif. 92008. Send a stamped, self-addressed envelope for a catalog that tells which sacs fit which pens. Sacs are $1 each, plus $2 handling per order.

New and used pens, repairs

Thousands of shops around the West sell new pens, but only a few sell or repair used ones. All of these do business by mail.

Flax Company, Inc., 1001 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix 85034; (602) 254-0840. Art supply store sells new and, occasionally, used pens; does basic repairs.

Golden Gate Pen, 278 Post St., #301, San Francisco 94108; (415) 781-4809. Sells new pens only; repairs pens of any age, type.

Michael's Artist Supplies, 314 Sutter St., San Francisco 94108; (415) 421-1576. Sells old and new pens; does basic repairs.

Seattle Pen, 1424 Fourth Ave., Fifth Floor, Seattle 98101; (206) 682-2640. New and vintage pens and inks. Does repairs.

The Fountain Pen Shop, 315 W. Fifth St., Eighth Floor, Los Angeles 90013; (213) 626-9387. Sells new pens; does repairs.

For more information

Pen World Magazine, Box 6666, Kingwood, Tex. 77325; (713) 359-4363. This quarterly is America's major pen magazine. It's $30 per year, $6.95 per copy at pen stores.

Southern California Pen Collector's Club, Paul Hoban, 512 Portola, San Dimas, Calif. 91773. The only bona fide pen club in the United States has meetings, repair seminars, and an occasional newsletter. Annual dues: $10.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Nov 1, 1989
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