Guest post #2: My obsession with the Parker Vacumatic

22 12 2009

Okay, so many of you may have visited my friend Dan Smith’s blog and learned that he grinds custom nibs and that he loves to restore Parker Vacumatics, but one day over lunch not too long ago, I asked him why he loved Vacs as much as he does.  This was his answer.  It’s a great read and he’s got some great eye candy in the article, too!

Let me start off by saying this is not going to be an essay about why the Parker Vacumatic is the greatest pen in the word, because it’s not. It’s not even the greatest pen in the the world to me, but I am completely infatuated by it and it is and probably always will be the core of my collection.

I suppose the main reason I collect Vacs is because there are so many different variations. What initially attracted me to the Vacumatic was the celluloid they’re made from. There’s so much depth and character to the celluloid. You can clearly see the difference between the real thing and a cheap alternative. The bargain pens that are made to look like the Vac celluloid look like an image has been printed on the pen. There’s no depth, no character, nothing special to them. One of my favorite aspects of the Vacumatic is there’s not a color I don’t like, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be a close call between the Burgundy Pearl and the Azure Pearl. The celluloid just mesmerizes me like a deer in headlights. And when you find one with excellent barrel clarity it makes it even better.


My favorite Vacs by far are the first generation models with the section, blind cap, and jewels all made from the same celluloid, especially the oversize Vacs. My least favorites are the third gen, single jewel, plastic fillers. I don’t care for the non-jeweled blind cap, and the plastic filler looks out of place.

If you get lucky you’ll find some with spectacular nibs. For me that means flex. I have two Vacs with super-flex nibs: a ’34 Silver Pearl Oversize and a ’47 Emerald Pearl Junior. I also have a ’38 Burgundy Pearl Shadow Wave with a semi-flex nib, which is the pen I used to write the first draft of this essay with.

The one thing Parker deserves props for is building a solid pen. They were not intended to be fancy collectors items. They were designed to write and write and write and write. There’s not a single item on the pen that feels cheap (except for the plastic filler on 3rd Gen pens). They have good weight, feel great in the hand, and are very well constructed. Their system for dating pens was an ingenious idea. On very early models they used a two digit system where the first digit indicated which quarter of the year the pen was made and the second digit indicated the year. This system was used in the mid to late ’30’s. Parker then moved to a slightly different system where they utilized a single digit to indicate the year and then up to three dots around the number to indicate the quarter. Three dots = 1st quarter, 2 dots = 2nd quarter, and so on with no dots meaning the pen was made in the fourth quarter. It was done this way so that Parker could grind one dot off the stamp and keep using it throughout the year. I wish more pen companies had implemented some type of system to accurately date their pens.


So now that I’ve gushed about all the good, its time to bring it back to reality because there are a few things about Vacumatics that I can’t stand. The biggest being the filling system. Go figure. The filling process is so tedious and time consuming, especially if you’re trying to clean the pen out to switch colors from, say, black to orange. Thank God the lock-down filler only lasted as long as it did. Why didn’t they just start with the speed-line filler? Who knows, probably for the same reason it took Apple until 3.0 to get copy and past and MMS into the iPhone. The thing that bugs me the most about the lock-down filler is that once you have the pen completely filled you have to push the filler back down, emptying a good amount of ink in the process.


The other minor thing I don’t care for is the Vacumatic cap band. Not the cap band with the actual word “Vacumatic” stamped into it but the one with all the stupid ///\\\\///\\\. The triple, and even the double, cap bands were so much more elegant. Oh, and I’ll take mine in silver, please.

So, should you go out and try to find your next vac, or maybe for some of you your first one, on ebay? No, you should buy one that is restored and polished by me (what a plug, eh?). Seriously though, Vacumatics are not for everyone. I collect them because there are so many variants and quirky uncatalogued pieces. Its easy to start collecting them yet some people may never have a what can be considered a comprehensive collection even after a life time of collecting, unless you’ve got some serious cash to drop. If you want my recommendation, go out and find a really good example of a first or second gen Vac and play with it for a while. You’ll either be in love or it’ll just get a “meh” from you.

If you really want to get into some cool items then look for the desk sets made entirely from the stripped celluloid. Or, the Ripley versions made from alternating Burgundy Pearl and blue celluloid. Then, there’s the Imperial (one of my grail pens) which is sort of a 51 with a traditional nib and made from celluloid, or you could think of it as just a Vacumatic with a slip cap but closer in dimensions to a 51 than any Vac.


So there. In case you ever needed a great reason (or three) to buy a Vac…I think you just read it!


Guest post: Why your first vintage pen oughtta be an Esterbrook!

7 10 2009

So a few days ago, Bruce made a comment on my blog that probably got him a little more than he bargained for…he suggested more guest posts, so I drafted him. 🙂 He graciously accepted (not that I would have let him off the hook very easily) my demand request for a piece about the pens that really have his attention…Esterbrooks!  (I knew Bruce was big into Esterbrooks, and I hadn’t had the chance to write a piece about them yet, so I figured he was definitely the go-to guy for this one!)

So, without further ado, here’s a few thoughts (and some scrumptious photos) from Bruce about why Esterbrooks should be high on your list for a first vintage pen.  Thanks, Bruce!  I knew I could count on you, and I really appreciate you stepping up!

Estie Spread

When the time comes for you to consider your first vintage fountain pen, the multitude of examples still readily available from the various 1st, 2nd and 3rd-tier pen companies popular during the heyday of fountain pens can be stupefying.  Though the name Esterbrook may not come to mind as quickly as the more recognizable names such as Parker, Sheaffer’s or Waterman’s, I feel there are numerous reasons why and areas where Esterbrook excels above all the others. In the areas of variety, lasting quality, durability, ease of repair and restoration, cost and especially adaptability, you’ll be hard pressed to find another pen company that can provide today, in their vintage pens of yesterday, what Esterbrook can.

The most widely available J family series of Esties came in 10 different colors and 3 different sizes. There are the SJ and LJ models, both slightly thinner with the SJ being a bit shorter for those with average to smaller hands. The “full sized” J comes pretty close to the size of many modern fountain pens. Almost all of those colors and sizes also existed in the Dollar pen family by Esterbrook that preceded the J family though being older, the Dollar family is a bit harder to find today. Combining all those colors and sizes gives you a range of possibilities unequaled in my opinion by any other pen maker.  While Esterbrook not only had more colors than most any of the other pen makers, they also had more patterning variations within those colors. Most of the other pen companies were very set and unvarying in their colors and patterns so many of their pens in the same colors look exactly alike. With Esties it’s very likely you can find a variance in color and patterning that you won’t see exactly duplicated in 10 other pens of the same color.

Note the variations in the celluloid of nearly identical pens!

Note the variations in the celluloid of nearly identical pens!

While during their heyday, The “big three” of pendom were courting the customer looking for a “pen of distinction” or a “fine writing instrument”, Esterbrook (IMO) was content to be “the people’s pen”, the (original) VW Beetle or Ford Mustang of fountain pens if you will.  While the big three were fighting it out amongst the individual pen consumers with their visulated celluloids and gold plated (and filled) trim, Esterbrook was selling millions of simpler, less flashy, much less expensive pens to the monstrous Bell System (phone) monopoly, AT&T, AAA Auto club, various school systems nationwide and the “Joe (and Jane) Sixpacks” of the day.

While most of the other pen makers were wowing their customers with visulated celluloid that ambered as it aged  and changed colors due to the outgassing from their ink sacs, Esterbrook used a very durable opaque celluloid that is immune (for all intents and purposes) to those color changes and ambering.  While other pens’ gold plated (and filled) clips and trim rings looked distinctive and “rich” in their prime, today many are discolored, worn and brassed, while Esterbrook’s “plain jane” stainless steel furniture soldiers on looking in many cases as clean as the day it was made over 50 years ago.  Even with an internal component as simple as the latex ink sac, some how Esterbrook managed to excel over their competitors. It is very common today to see Esties with their perfectly pliable and serviceable 50+ year old original “Esterbrook” stamped latex sacs, while the other pen company’s sacs crumbled to rattling chips long ago.

You might wonder where the prior mentioned trait of “adaptability” enters in as that’s not a word you might normally see associated with fountain pens. It comes into play with the manner Esterbrook chose to nib their pens. While the other makers were “blinging” their customers with 14kt gold single and dual toned nibs, Esterbrook stuck to the same theme of stainless steel it did with its clips and trim. Now, don’t be lured into the “Snootinista” position of “it’s got to be a GOLD nib to be a GOOD nib”; that simply just isn’t the case. A properly aligned steel nib can write just as smoothly and flow just as well as any gold nib. Esterbrook called their nibs “Re-New Points” and at times there were as many as 52 different Estie nibs available (yet ANOTHER benchmark no other pen maker could touch). Any and all of the Re-New Point nibs can easily be screwed into all the Dollar and J family pens by the user.

Therein lies perhaps the most effective “secret weapon” that makes the Esterbrook such a winner in the vintage pen arena.  With almost all the other vintage pens, you are “stuck with” the nib the pen comes with. While you can have those nibs re-tipped or replaced by a pen repair person you are usually looking at a minimum of $50 to do that.  (Be sure you make the right choice there, it’s at least ANOTHER $50 if you choose a replacement nib that doesn’t “fit” you.) That same $50 can easily buy you 3-6 different NOS Esterbrook Re-New Point nibs that you can swap around at will in a minute or two yourself.  (Very few if any of the replacement nibs available now for vintage big three pens will be NOS, almost all will be used nibs.) While they are somewhat pricier, in the $25-35 range, there are even flexible Estie nibs available <though some may rate them as only “semi-flexible”> when during the day, the big three weren’t generally fitting flex nibs in their pens.

While there are other less common and more expensive Esterbrook Re-New Point nibs, they generally fall into 2 categories, the 1XXX/2XXX numbered nibs and the 9XXX series nibs.  While a few of the 1XXX/2XXX nibs have no tipping whatsoever and can be somewhat scratchy, most have a tip formed by folding over the end of the nib and soldering the fold along the bottom of the nib point and can write just as smoothly as any “iridium” tipped nib. The 9XXX series nibs have the standard “iridium” tipping on them and are generally slightly smoother and last longer than the other series nibs. While there are a lot of good usable used Re-New Points available there are also still Lots of NOS Estie nibs to be had. The more common NOS nibs are available for between $10-20 depending on the nib series and the specific nib’s popularity. There are numerous locations on-line that show the full chart of all available Esterbrook Re-New Point nibs.  (, hosted by Estie guru Brian Anderson, is a great source of Esterbrook info along with Richard Binder’s most excellent page on Esterbrooks on his site.)

In the day, many of the big three’s pens retailed for $10-15 while the lowly Esterbrooks sold in the gazillions for $2-3 depending on mainly your choice of the 2 grades of nibs. Thankfully, the lower prices of the Esties seems to have carried forward to today where even a very good condition example can be found on eBay for $12-18.  Even fully restored examples are readily available in the Fountain Pen Network’s Marketplace for $25-35. (While there are less common Esties than the J and Dollar family pens that command prices in the $150-250 range, those are more the targets of collectors than those searching for their first Vintage pen.)

The ease with which an Estie can be repaired or restored makes their wide availability on eBay a big boon to Estie lovers.  Though it probably wasn’t purposeful at the time, the materials Esterbrook used and the way they assembled their pens make it especially easy for even a non-skilled, non-mechanically inclined person (like myself) to not only bring an Estie “back from the dead” but yes, even easily return them to looking and writing as nicely as the day they were made.

Unlike other pen makers who may have used special section sealant or shellac to secure their nib sections, Esterbrook used only a pressure fit that can often be separated by hand with no tools whatsoever (though some dry heat is suggested to minimize the chance of a cracked section). Even so far as cracked sections go, Esterbrook is known to have used some of the toughest celluloid ever put into pens. Being lever fillers, all that’s usually needed to restore the filler is a new sac, some shellac and some pure talc. The basic supplies to re-sac an Esterbrook will cost about $10 for one pen and only $2 more for a new sac for each pen after that. There are methods using common household materials to polish an Esterbrook you’ve re-sacked for $2 to a mirror like, better than new finish. So, after your initial outlay of $10 for supplies, it is easily possible to buy an Estie in nice shape on eBay, restore it yourself and have a total outlay for that pen of between $15-20.  And you wonder why I like Esterbrooks…

Speaking of “”Why I Like Esterbrooks”. When Ryan and I originally discussed this piece, that was the title he suggested. I, in turn suggested “Why an Esterbrook should be your first vintage pen”.  Hopefully, you can now see that the reasons for each scenario are pretty much the same.

You should be warned though, around the Esterbrook forum on the Fountain Pen Network, Esties are compared to Lay’s potato chips. Just like the chips, once you get one you can’t stop yourself at just one.

A neat Aurora 88P!

2 10 2009

Notice anything different about this little Aurora 88P?

Aurora 88P

Aurora 88P #2

I’ve owned this one for a while now, and really enjoy it (the vintage Aurora 88 models are absolutely top-notch pens), but I really got tired of it showing fingerprints all the time. So, one night while watching TV, I decided to give it a satin finish. Out came the abrasives, and a few hours later I had a nifty satin-y finish that feels GREAT in the hand, looks really elegant (the satin & chrome combo really looks good, in my opinion), and is almost impervious to fingerprints! Since the 88P is an all-celluloid model (there were a handful of different versions of the 88 – read my friend Andrea’s outstanding profile of this iconic pen here), it took the satin finish very nicely and very evenly, too. The best part about it is that it’s totally reversible with a little bit of polishing (I didn’t remove much material at all, so it should be able to be polished back out to a glossy finish without disturbing the imprints on the section).

At any rate, it doesn’t take much to do this, so if you’ve got a pen that you want to experiment with, grab some soft abrasives (I use these in 1000, 2000, and 4000 grit) and start with the finest grade and work backwards until you get the finish you’re looking for! Experiment with wet and dry sanding, and see what happens! You might be surprised the way your pen responds to a satin finish!

(*Disclaimer: You’re doing this at your own risk…if you choose to do this to an Omas Arco Paragon and you don’t like how it turns out, I can’t take responsibility for that. In fact, if you DO decide to give this treatment to an Arco Paragon, please email me your address because I’m gonna find you and kick you for even thinking of it. You’ve been warned…) 🙂

Vintage Italian: Tibet Extra

29 09 2009
(Some of you may have already seen this, as I’ve posted it elsewhere; I’d forgotten that my original intent was to put it up here!)

I really love blue pens. Many of the “keepers” in my current collection are blue pens (Cedar Blue “51”, Conklin Duragraph, Pilot VP, blue-striped M805, Levenger True Writer, etc.). So, when this strange lapis blue pen called a “Tibet-Extra” came up for sale back in February/March 2009, I was keenly interested. Sadly, I missed out on it because my message was too late. I was heartbroken about it, and since I wasn’t sure who picked it up, I was pretty sure that I’d never see it again. I saved the pictures on my hard drive so I could still have something to reference if I ever ran across another one, but I was pretty sure that this one was long gone.

Never say never…

About a month or so ago, I saw a post in the Fountain Pen Network’s Marketplace that advertised an old flat top that I had originally restored and re-ground and sold, along with a bunch of other pens for sale. Curiousity got the better of me, and I clicked it. I was pleasantly surprised (shocked, actually) to see that same Tibet-Extra on sale again! Needless to say, I wasted no time in laying claim to it. It arrived a few days later, and it’s time to do the review.

First Impressions
This is a gorgeous blue & white lapis blue pen. For its age (which I’d estimate at about 70-75 years), it’s in remarkably good shape. The nickel-plated clip and capbands are in reasonably good shape and they’re nice and tight, and the celluloid body is in great shape with only minor wear marks. The color is also very nice, and it hasn’t discolored much at all. The hard rubber section (?) is still a deep rich black. All in all, it’s beautiful.

The Tibet-Extra is a very traditional Italian shape, complete with lots of classic Italian design elements that you’ll still find in many modern Italians today. See the pictures for a handful of close-ups of these.

Triple capbands and very thin caplip
Black celluloid discs on top & bottom
Button filler
Compared to an Italian of similar vintage, the Black Star. Note the similarity of the disc on the cap, and the thin caplip.

The shape is really very nice, and extremely comfortable. It’s not quite a torpedo-shaped pen per se, but has some swell around the middle (strangely, it seems to have taken the shape of its new owner!). It feels great in the hand, and although I’m more comfortable using it posted, it’s not horrible to write with un-posted. It’s about 5″ tall capped and 6″ posted. It’s also nice and lightweight in the hand; it weighs somewhere in the 20-ish gram range when full of ink.

The original nib on this pen was a steel ABT #4 with some flex to it. As the pen needed a little work when I got it, though, I opted to switch it out since I already had it apart. I took out the nib for a variety of reasons, but mainly it was because as a lefty, I can’t use flex nibs as easily as a right-hander. It was more comfortable to put in something more rigid. Right now, it’s sporting a two-tone 14K Sheaffer’s Lifetime nib from an old Balance that was a basketcase when I got it. If I can determine who manufactured this pen (I’m guessing it might have been Columbus, but I wouldn’t swear to it), I might look for a period-correct nib, but for now this Sheaffer’s Balance nib is working out just fine. It’s very firm, quite smooth, and flows quite generously. Thick, saturated inks work pretty well in this one. Might be a good pen for Noodler’s HoD.

Note the profiles of the section, and how closely they match up with each other.
*Update: Not too long ago, I swapped the Lifetime nib out in favor of a better-fitting 14K Eversharp Skyline (rigid M).  Haven’t had the chance to take some new pictures of it, though!

Filling System
Button filler, which I have restored with a general cleaning, new pressbar, and a new sac. When I got it, the pressbar had pretty much fallen apart, so I replaced it and fitted it with a new sac. Works great!

Cost and Value
No idea what this one is worth, but I’d imagine I’d have a hard time replacing it for the $100 I paid for it. I’ve done a fair bit of looking on the web in some of the various nooks & crannies where you might find vintage Italian information, and nothing has turned up. The original seller also noted that this was the only Tibet he’d ever seen, and I know he’s been collecting for many years longer than I. I doubt I could replace it for double my investment, if one could be found.

Vintage Italian pens are great ways to have a lot of fun in this hobby. They had some great designs, interesting takes on the design elements that they borrowed from other manufacturers, and many of the vintage Italians that show up on the open market today make terrific writers even though they don’t say Omas, Visconti, Ancora, Aurora, or any of the other big names. Many of these pens bring up more questions than they provide answers (as regarding origins, anyway), and that’s part of the big fun for me.

Handwritten: Waterman’s Commando review

25 09 2009

Decided I’d handwrite this one. These old Waterman’s models from the 40’s are, in my opinion, highly under-rated. Granted, they don’t always look perfect (Waterman’s had some issues with the materials they used during the 40’s before more stable plastics were available), but their nibs often make great writers!

(Click the individual scans for full(er) resolution so you can read them; otherwise, clean your glasses and enjoy!)

All about the Benjamins…($100-ish)

20 08 2008

Well, here we are at the $100 mark.  This is a fun category, because there are so many different ways that you could go, as far as options.  Without further ado, let’s get started with the list, shall we?

  1. Taccia Staccato

    What a truly fantastic pen!  The fit and finish is excellent, there’s a nice variety of colors to choose from (mine, shown in the picture, is called Lunar Blue), and the way that these things write is just amazing.  As Patrick Rhone put it in one of his posts, it’s “extremely smooth to write with.”  Elsewhere, I’ve heard Patrick wax more poetic about this pen (might have been in an email to me) saying that nib simply “glides across the page.”  Click the bottom picture to go to a review he posted on The Fountain Pen Network.

    He ain’t kiddin’, folks.  Taccia’s steel nibs are among the nicest nibs available at any price point, and certainly at the top of the heap when it comes to steel nibs.

    Lots of retailers carry these pens, and they’re all right around $100-120; well worth looking at one, if you ask me.  They’re not the shortest pen in the world (actually, the Staccato is among the tallest pens I own), but they’re exceptionally well-balanced regardless of whether they’re posted or not, and they look gorgeous.  If you’re in the Twin Cities, give Barry a phone call at Ink and ask if he has any of them in stock.  Make an appointment to see the store, too (and then lock your wallet in your car). 

    The vintage purists may get after me for saying this, but I think that this design is very reminiscent of the original Parker Vacumatic designs of the 30s (see below; the Vacumatic is on the list, too).  (Ducks to avoid being hit by airborne fruit…)

  2. Pilot Vanishing Point

    This is either the most loved or most despised pen in the universe (actually it’s not; it’s a dead heat between this one and the Lamy 2000, covered below).  Why?  The answer is in the wrapup paragraph.  I don’t like starting on a “downer” note. 🙂

    The Vanishing Point has been around since the mid-1960s, and has enjoyed huge success.  It’s no wonder; it’s a top-notch product in every sense of the word, as far as I’m concerned.  The design is what draws many people to it; the fact that a fountain pen can be operated like a ballpoint is a big curiosity to most folks.  But, the proof is in the pudding.  There’s a ton of people (lots of tech folks and programmer-types) who use these pens religiously.  I fall into that category, too. 

    Pilot has these available in a number of finishes and colors, and there are even a handful of limited editions out there (the orange one above is one example).  They all retail right around the $90-110 mark, depending on where you buy them (eBay is a great resource for these, and you’ll find them at pretty competitive prices, too – click the first picture to go straight to a search).  The best part about this pen, in my opinion, is the interchangeable nibs that can be purchased for them.  Pilot’s standard F/M/B nibs in 14 or 18K are really nice, but then there are folks like Richard Binder who specialize in grinding these to oodles of different shapes (I’ve got three of them – a 0.6mm stub, a 0.8mm stub for my wife’s VP, and a XXXF for when I decide I want to write on grains of rice).  Swapping out nibs takes a total of around 10 seconds, and if you’re so inclined you can change them on the fly.

    So why the love/hate relationship with the VP?  The clip is the issue.  With this pen’s clip placement, it will either work with the user’s fingers, or tragically fail.  I’ve personally witnessed three “Hey, this is great!” statements, and one “What in the @#%$ is wrong with this thing?” reaction.  Basically, it boils down to this.  Find one somewhere (if you’re in Des Moines, The Art Store has a handful of ’em), and give it a try.  The nibs on these pens are typically terrific (although it should be noted that they’re a size down from the normal Western size designations; a VP F nib is more like a Western XF), and the construction/weight/balance/fit & finish is usually fine for most.  It’s the clip that’ll make it or break it for you.    

    Oh, one other thing.  These pens are also known as the Pilot Capless in places other than North America.  So, if your eBay searching or online shopping isn’t panning out like you’d like it to, try searching for the Pilot Capless or Namiki Capless.

  3. Sheaffer Targa

    First off, special thanks to my friend Bill Sexauer in Washington for lending me this picture.  Bill is a huge Targa collector, and there aren’t many of the known/catalogued Targas that he DOESN’T own; he was kind enough to lend me this picture that you see below, since I don’t have one of my own to photograph (if you run across one and you don’t like it, please do drop me a line!).

    Sheaffer introduced the Targa sometime in the latter half of the 1970s and kept it going until sometime in the late 1990s, so there are a bunch of ’em out there – some that have never been inked, either.  The Targa continued Sheaffer’s proud tradition of the inlaid nib design that they’d introduced 20-some years earlier with the Imperial and PFM (Pen For Men) lines.  The Targa typically writes as well as any of those early designs (which are highly regarded in their own right), but features a little different take on the styling.  For those of you who are car buffs like I am, Sheaffer did run some advertising with Porsche, but I’m not sure that they ever did a Targa pen just for Porsche.  I hope they did…and I hope I’m able to get my hands on one!

    The basic models of the Targa come with the inlaid steel nib, and if you look a little (eBay is usually best for these, although will have some for sale in September – no idea where they’ll price out, though), you’ll be able to find a number of models with 14K nibs; there are even a couple of limited runs that have an 18K nib (good luck finding one, though)!  The Targa is also available in two sizes – a regular size that’s about the same width as a Parker “51” and one that’s a bit skinnier called the Targa Slim.

    I’ve written with a few of these, and they’re on my list.  I don’t want a special one per se – the one pictured below would be fine with me!  I love the inlaid nibs on these things, and they’ve never failed to impress me with their smoothness.  The design is a little different, too, which I really like.  Different is good!


  4. Pelikan 140

    Some of the best Pelikan designs are the ones that haven’t changed much over the last 50-60 years.  In fact, most their most popular models today can trace their history back to these pens from the 40s and 50s.  They’re nice and light, normally write really well, and since the 120 and 140 were a pen marketed to German schoolteachers as classroom/student pens, there are lots of them around today.  Many of the modern nibs from Pelikan will screw right into these, too, so if you’ve got a spare Pelikan nib that’s custom-ground or something, it should fit right in.

    If you’re looking for one of these, eBay is always an option, as there are usually a handful of sellers with these available.  I’ve never been real excited about the prices on these, though; seems that all of the sellers that have them available are pretty “ambitious” (this is a very kind adjective) about their pricing, sometimes asking $180 or more for them!  Trust me on this…if you’re looking for one, you need to look for another bird…The Penguin!  Rick Propas usually has a bunch of these on hand at the $100-ish price range, and his work is very good.  I’ve written with a few of the pens that he’s restored, and his work is exceptional.  He’s probably one of the world’s foremost Pelikan historians, too; go ahead and try to stump him with a question!

  5. Sailor Sapporo/1911M

    Another of the great Japanese offerings at the $100 mark (the Japanese manufacturers compete really well at the $100-120 mark; I’ve included a couple on this list, but there’s a bevy of other ones out there that are well-worth considering), the Sailor Sapporo and 1911M (or 1911 Midsize/Medium) are absolutely outstanding pens.  These pens are lightweight, available in a raft of colors depending on where you look (there’s a handful of special editions available from Japanese eBay sellers – usually collaborations with Japanese department stores, etc.), look great, and won’t break the bank as far as prices are concerned.

    The ones with the flat ends are the Sapporo (also known as the Professional Gear Slim), and they come with a 14K nib in a huge number of sizes (remember, they’re Japanese, so order one size larger than you normally would), and many folks think that the Sailor gold nibs are the best nibs available at any price range. 

    The ones you see in the picture below with the rounded ends (in black, they look really similar to a Montblanc) are the 1911M.  Same nib as in the Sapporo, just a different design.  James Partridge once told me that these and the Sapporo were the two most popular sellers in his product catalog, and with performance like this, I wouldn’t doubt it.  I have a larger size 1911 in black with rhodium trim, and it’s one of my favorite pens.


  6. Parker Vacumatic Major/Striped Duofold

    The Vacumatic was Parker’s creme de la creme for the 30s and 40s, and with very good reason.  These are simply gorgeous pens.  They write really well in most cases, they’re easy to find (eBay is your best bet for a cheap one that you can have restored), and the celluloid that Parker used for these is truly stunning.  I wish I had some better pictures of some of the different colors available – black isn’t the greatest color variant for showing off the terrific colors of these pens.  The one you see below is a pen that I picked up at an antique shop for the lump sum of (get this) $5.30 after taxes…with a bottle of vintage Parker ink!  To boot, it didn’t even need restoration – just a quick cleanup and flushing!  Writes like a dream, too!

    Parker made these pens in various sizes for about 20 years or so (if you count Canadian production, which lasted until the early 50s), but their 3rd generation, dubbed by most as the Vacumatic “Major”, is the one that was made in the highest numbers.  Most of what you’ll find on eBay are Vac Majors, and it’s a great entry-level Vac.  If you buy one and really fall in love with it, there are scads of other variants and styles (see David Isaacson’s outrageous display of some of these here), but these will be harder to find on eBay as they’re a little older and made in fewer numbers (and I think that David’s already scooped up most of ’em!).

    The Vacumatic filling mechanism is really cool, and holds a lot of ink; Parker got a lot of mileage from this mechanism, using it in a bunch of different models – notably the Vacumatic, the early generation of “51”s, and the Striped Duofolds (see below for a piece on these).

    I’ve had a handful of these pens over the years, but I think my favorite one is one that I got from PenRx fairly recently.  It’s quite possibly the best-writing Vac I’ve ever owned, and even if it doesn’t look like much (Sean did a terrific job of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear), it’s my favorite.  Someday I’ll put up some pictures of it, but I didn’t have the time to pull out the camera this morning and get any.

    Check out the barrel’s clarity on the one above!  I found this one in Michigan a few months ago, and I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it comes back from being restored!

    Another option, if you’re surfing around eBay, is to look for the Striped Duofold, which was slotted just below the Vacumatic in the model lineup during the late 30s and early 40s.  These are nearly identical in construction (minor differences in the body styles), using the Vacumatic’s filling system, and the same nibs.

    The Striped Duofolds are actually a fair bit less common than the Vacumatic, as they didn’t sell as well (probably due to a smaller selection of colors – blue, greenish brown, red, and a black one).  The patterns in the celluloid used for these are just as beautiful in my opinion (the blue one is my favorite), but the pattern is vertically oriented, whereas the Vac’s pattern is horizontal in most models. 

    These pens are really great, and the colors really snap when you look at them (for instance, the blue in the cap pictured above).  They’re terrific writers, they’re really nicely balanced, and since they don’t have quite the same degree of popularity as the Vacumatic, they can often be found for a little less money on eBay.  They’re well-worth considering if you like the vertical styling.     

  7. Bexley Simplicity

    Well, since I already reviewed this pen here, I’ll keep the comments brief on this one.  Suffice it to say…this is a fantastic pen for the money.  Great vintage styling, a hassle-free steel nib, and typically awesome performance.  Bexley has a real winner on their hands with the Simplicity.

    The one pictured is a special edition that was made a year or two ago for Parkville Pen, and I’m not sure if Dennis has any more of these in stock, but it’s worth checking with him.  Click the bottom picture to go his site.  If he’s out of them, but enough of you folks pester him about it, maybe we can get him to talk with Bexley about another re-edition.  Dennis has done a number of really beautiful special editions with Bexley, and probably has Howard Levy’s number on speed dial, so anything is possible! 🙂  (Dennis, if you’re reading this, sorry to put you on the spot like this!)

  8. Waterman Charleston

    The Charleston is probably my favorite modern Waterman.  I love the look of this pen, even though I don’t own one.  I’ve written with a few, but haven’t purchased one for myself yet; maybe for my birthday next year!  As is fairly typical with Waterman’s gold nibs, this one is an 18K nib, and they typically write exceptionally well.  The ones I’ve written with have all been buttery smooth!  The balance on these is great, too.  It’s hard to believe, after writing with one, that they usually retail for somewhere in the $100-120 neighborhood.  Of the handful of folks I know personally who own these, most of them wouldn’t give theirs up for all the money in the world.  They’re that good.

    What I like most about this pen, though, is that it takes a couple of subtle design cues from the Hundred Year Pen, which Waterman made for a short time in the early 1940s.  The little rings in the barrel and the metal bands in the center of the barrel are very similar to those that appear on the early Hundred Year Pens. 

    You’ll find prices on these ranging from the absurd (I saw a completed eBay auction about a month ago for $62 shipped, if you can believe it), to sellers who’ll sell them at their normal MSRP of $160 (I think…it might be $180), so be sure to do some digging around when you’re looking for one of these.  

  9. Lamy 2000

    Here’s what I would consider to be Lamy’s best offering at any price.  The Lamy 2000 is a very minimalistic pen, made from simple plastics, steel, and an awesome gold nib.  The design hasn’t changed since its introduction to the market in 1966, other than a couple of stampings on the clip and a mark or two on the barrel.  The fundamental design is centered around a pen that simply works.  Everything on the pen is designed for a function; the cap, the spring-loaded clip, and the nearly invisible piston knob.  These facts aside, though, this pen is one of the best pens you can possibly own…assuming three things are okay with you.

    A.  The style.  It’s not for everyone.  Some folks like more ornamentation.
    B.  The nib.  It’s absurdly smooth, but runs at least one size wider than normal.
    C.  The “fingers” that hold the cap on the pen.  They’ll bother some people.

    I say these things more as a caveat emptor statement.  The 2000 is a lot like the Vanishing Point, in that it’s a pen that you’ll probably want to try before you buy one – at least to judge whether or not the “fingers” are okay with you.  They’re cool with me, and a friend of mine in Minneapolis ground my 2000’s nib down to a true XF that I really love.  The style, as you’ve probably guessed, is right up my alley.  When I’m in a meeting with tech folks, I’ll often use this pen (or my Vanishing Point), as there’s a decent chance that one of the programmers I’m working with might recognize it, and it leads to a fun side conversation after the meeting is over.

    These are really easy to find, too.  Lots of sellers on eBay, and quite a few sellers in the retail environment have these, and most of them end up pricing them at about the $100-120 mark in order to stay competitive. 

    *Side note for you history buffs…if you do a little digging on eBay, you’ll find 2000s stamped W.Germany on the underside of the clip every so often.  They make for a neat piece of history!

  10. Waterman Carene

    Here’s the pen for the heavyweight crowd (no, I’m not making a fat joke).  But, for those of you who are after a heavier pen in the $100 range, you owe it to yourself to check the Carene out.  18K nib, distinctive styling, and awesome performance!  Waterman’s MSRP on these is in the $140-160 range (I think), but most of the time you’ll find them going for much less than that if you check around.  Bear in mind that there are a number of different styles (caps, finishes, etc.) out there and that some are a little spendier than others.  The standard models, though, are usually found in the $100-ish range.

    What I like most about this pen, though, is the nib.  This is one of the most unique nibs in the world.  It’s inlaid, but with a massively different style than what you’ll find on a Sheaffer model like the Targa.  This one is shaped like a fingernail! 


So, there you have it!  The full breakdown of the $100 list from where I’m sitting!  Sorry this one took so long to get posted, but this was a pretty tough category as well, and it took quite a bit of time to narrow down the list!

Where do we go from here?  Here’s a sneak peak. 

  • Vintage best bets (there’s more out there than what I’ve covered on these past few posts), and where to dig ’em up.
  • The “also-ran” pens from the past few posts, and why they didn’t make the list.
  • I’m still working on the big Moleskine showdown post that I’ve been hinting at for the past 8 months.
  • Closer looks at some of the vintage (and modern) stuff that you may not have heard of, and why you might want to dig around in your relatives’ desk drawers and boxes of old junk for them.
  • More photography; I’m still in love with my new digital camera (a Sony Alpha A200, for those of you scoring at home), and I’m always looking for new and interesting things to take pictures of.
  • A piece about custom nibs and why they’re lots of fun.

And I’m sure there’s more where this stuff comes from…stay tuned!

More photos, just for fun…

17 07 2008

Went out with the 20/30 Road Rally alumni the other night for a cruise up to Ames, where I got a couple of neat pictures (with apologies to those who’ve seen these before).