Fountain Pen Show Season Is Here

Delta Vintage Green with Fine Nib

My first ever pen show purchase

This year’s pen show season is already well underway with Philadelphia and Arkansas, along with the Eastern Pen Show in the UK, already part of history. Although for me it begins (and may end) with the Long Island Pen Show coming March 14th and 15th. I’ve only been to four pen shows (Long Island twice, Boston and Washington DC) so I’m far from an expert, but here’s my pen show strategy.

Pre-Show Prep

  • Check the pen show’s website or Facebook page, if they exist, to see who’ll be at the show and any workshops that may be available.
  • I keep a wishlist of pens I’m interested in buying. If it’s not updated I research typical prices and what I’m willing to pay. Plus any other info about the pen such as finishes or nib sizes I’m interested in. When I was collecting Esterbrook nibs I kept a list of the ones I didn’t have along with what they were generally selling for if they became available along which which ones were on the rare side.
  • I make of a list of pens or brands I want to see even if I’m not particularly interested in purchasing one of them. For example, when considering Pelikan M800 and M1000 I took a look at several samples at a show and was able to write with one of each. This let me know that the M800 was more my type of pen, but I wasn’t ready to buy until recently.
  • Set a budget. It’s easy to go crazy at a pen show so I set a budget. This also forces me to be more careful about what I buy. I don’t want to hit my limit and then find something I really want.
  • Generally, pen shows are more vintage than modern, although Washington DC is big enough so almost all brands and models of modern pens are represented. Smaller shows, like Long Island may not have a lot of modern brands. So adjust your expectations accordingly.

Part of the pen show fun is finding and learning about new things so I certainly don’t limit myself to these lists.

Esterbrook Dollar Bandless with 9555 nib

My first ever vintage purchase was at a pen show.

Things to Bring

  • Bottled water and energy bars/snacks. Most shows (if not all) have some sort of restaurant or cafeteria at the show so this is optional but it does make it easier to stay in the show if you’re pressed for time.
  • A loupe to examine nibs.
  • A pen case to hold any pen purchases, especially used pens which may not have a case.
  • A bag or backpack to carry any purchases. Many vendors will have bags so this is optional and also depends on how much you could potentially buy.
  • A vial of water. It can be used to test vintage pens for leaks. It’s not a bad idea but I admit I’ve never used it and didn’t bring one my last show. Some vendors will allow you to dip pens. But always ask before filling with water or ink.
  • A pocket notebook and pen to make any notes.
  • Cell phone. You’ll probably already have this just because you carry it all the time. But it can be used to take pictures of things you want to remember. You might be considering a pen but decide to move on and see what else is available. Take a picture of it and the table it’s at. This can also replace your pocket notebook, but where’s the fun in that?

At the show

CS Marlborough with Binder Stub Nib

My first nibmeister visit – also at a pen show

  • If I want nib work done the first thing I do is find the nibmeister I want to do the work and get on their list. Maybe not all of them maintain a list, but the three I’ve been to at nib shows did. While it may vary by person, if all you need is a nib tuning it’s probably OK to be inked, but if it’s going to be ground to a new point it should be empty. It never hurts to bring the pen empty since they’ll have ink to test it with. Richard Binder has a pen show FAQ, while specific to him it will give you a general idea of what to expect from anyone else.
  • Either first (if I don’t look for the nibmeister) or second (if I do) I make a pass around the entire show to get a general lay of the land pen show. Unless there’s something I want and it’s rare or a really good price I won’t do any actual shopping yet.
  • Enjoy the rest my time at the show.
  • I usually buy ink and paper when I’m getting ready to leave (unless, of course, it’s a bottle of Montblanc Bordeaux for $10) so I don’t have to carry around the heavier items.

Anything suggestions or anything I missed?

Additional Reading

I wrote about my first pen show and the Washington DC show.

2014 Atlanta Pen Show – The Pen Addict

2014 Commonwealth Pen Show (Boston) – Modern Stationer

2014 Long Island Pen Show – EDJelley.com

Comments on Fountain Pen Innovation

TWSBI Vac 700 with Montblanc Burgundy Red

TWSBI Vac 700

Dr. Deans, on the Fountain Pen Economics site, recently put together a Brand Taxonomy to categorize various fountain pen companies based on their competitiveness. He classified the brands based on their “…performance in the competitive environment.” The four categories are: disruptive, innovative, competitive and uncompetitive. The article is worth reading and provides more detail on the categories, but they are pretty self-explanatory. He’s since published an additional article about the disruptive and innovative companies but I wrote the draft of this article before it was published. I’ve added a few comments based on that article but I didn’t rewrite the whole thing. Hopefully this doesn’t make the article too disjointed.

How do my personal favorites fair on the list?

Sheaffer 300 - uncapped on standI own more Sheaffers than any other fountain pen brand and it’s a sentimental favorite. Despite this my search for it started at the bottom of the list. Sure enough, it’s in the “uncompetitive” list. Unfortunately I can’t argue that it’s wrongly accused. Only two of my twenty-three Sheaffers were manufactured in the last five years. While I like the Sheaffer 300 it’s only one pen and it’s neither perfect or unique. At best if proves Sheaffer can still make a good pen if they want to. The recent Sheaffers seem to get good (but not great) reviews but the lack of a large number of reviews indicates others are as uninspired by the pens as I am.

Franklin-Christoph Model 66Franklin-Christoph is the one brand I consider wrongly classified although I do admit that it’s one of my favorite brands and I own eight of their pens. He puts it in the “competitive” category with a note that it has the potential to move to “innovative.” I’d argue that it’s already innovative. I find their designs subtly unique and they have a recognizable design aesthetic. I do admit the materials aren’t fancy but they work well with the designs. Most (maybe all, I haven’t checked) of their fountain pens come with 20 nib options and their Mike Masuyama nib options are the best value in the business. I’m not aware of any other manufacturer offering so many nib options across their pen line.

They only sell through their website (and a couple pen shows) which probably holds them back. This may be by choice since their Mike Masuyama nib option may not scale well. (They’ve recently done some special editions for individual retailers.)

Edison Huron Grande Extra Fine Nib and R&K Blau-Schwarz LE inkEdison Pens is in the “Innovative” category. Edison is two companies in one. Their custom pens (the Signature Line) puts them in the “Innovative” category, no argument from me. The available filling systems may be based upon older designs, but they are unique among modern fountain pens.

Their Production Line, sold through retailers, has some nice material and designs. The build quality is excellent. But I’d still put them in the competitive category. I don’t argue that the company isn’t innovative, but I’d like to see that innovation trickle down to the production line. Overall I’d consider Franklin-Christoph as innovative as Edison Pens, much more so when the custom pens are ignored or cost is considered.

Edison Pens, unlike Franklin-Christoph, is active in pen forums and has a community built around their pens. They do group buys every year to make a Signature Line pen available at a lower cost.

I’m not sure what I think about the two “Disruptive” companies: Noodlers and Twsbi. They are certainly disruptive although personally I’m not particularly fond of either companies’ products. Despite this there’s no doubt Twsbi has a loyal following and many people love their pens. Both companies make low cost fountain pens, especially based on the types of pens they provide. Their prices are certainly disruptive.

Both companies also suffer from some quality problems. Noodlers pens have a reputation of needing tweaking to get them to work right (although my own pens have worked fine after flushing the manufacturing residue). Twsbi has redesigned pens to resolve design weaknesses. They make up for this by having terrific customer service.

While Noodlers ink has a bad reputation among some (Bay State Blue?) they’re the only ink manufacturer I know of that makes inks which such a wide range of properties. Maybe it’s just because I noticed Noodlers first, but it didn’t seem like permanent inks were so popular until Noodlers was making them. Is there a manufacturer with so many color options?

The business philosophy between Noodlers and Twsbi couldn’t be more different. Noodlers is very much a one man show. Twsbi involves their community early in the pen design and (I assume) takes their feedback when designing a product.

I don’t know much about Visconti but the other two Innovators (Edison & Nakaya) are both relatively low volume producers. Nakayas are high priced premium hand made pens. Their innovation seems to be having a viable company that makes only high-end pens. They have a narrow focus on Urushi pens. While not as expensive as Nakaya, the innovative Edison Signature Line are hand made premium custom pens. Like I said, I don’t see the Edison Production Line pens as innovative despite owning two of them. Does this mean innovation can’t scale? Or does the price of innovation in fountain pens mean the cost forces the market to be small? Or is the cost high because the market is small?

How do your favorite pen brands rank on the list? Do you agree with their placement?

Winner of the Bad Pen Giveaway

I was a bit delayed and didn’t get a chance to draw the winner until today but it’s done and Chris Edwards is the winner of the bad pen.

Winning Number

Winning comment

Chris, please respond to my email or contact me using the contact form within 7 days so I can ship everything out to you.

There were 47 entries plus two bonus entries for previous commenters. (For those of you keeping track, the post shows 48 comments because I replied to one.) Chris had commented previously but it was the number of his original post that was drawn, not the bonus.

I was surprised at the popularity and didn’t expect so many entries. If you’re looking for “Da Book” Richard Binder is still selling them from him website for $20 which is slightly less than I’ve seen it for on eBay.

And to answer a question that was asked – the pen was born bad (I think). It was one of two I bought as new but from a clearance bin. I worked on the other one, not very successfully although it was an improvement. I decided not to try this one. Despite the gold nib, which I usually wouldn’t pick to practice on, these pens were cheap enough be practice fodder.

Good luck Chris!

Bad Pen Giveaway

The current giveaway itemsI’m trying to thin my accumulation and one of the first pens to go is a truly bad fountain pen. I also found some extra pen adjustment supplies that might help the winner revive the pen. This giveaway is open worldwide. Included in the giveaway is:

  • Conklin Ohio (Blue) with a really terrible 14K gold nib. Misaligned tines and scratchy. The pen also has flow problems. Converter included but no box.
  • “Fountain Pens – The Complete Guide to Repair & Restoration” aka “Da Book” by Frank Dubiel
  • Two 3-way buff sticks
  • Nib smoothing kit with two abrasive sheets (green and white sheets in the photo) and a brass shim
  • One 10X loupe (used)

The giveaway has the usual rules:

  1. Leave a comment on this post by noon eastern US time on Saturday February 21, 2015. Include the line “I want the bad pen.” to prove you read this post. Entries without those five words will be discarded. You can add anything else, just include that line.
  2. One entry (comment) per person.
  3. Previous commenter bonus: If you’ve left one or more published comments on this blog in the past you’ll receive an extra entry. (Even if the comment was another giveaway entry) You do need to leave a valid comment (see rule 1) and you need to use the same screen name as you’ve used in the past. You also need to use the same email address (which is never published or shared) so I’m sure no one is hijacking your name. Using an account such as WordPress, Google, or any other that the WordPress commenting system supports works too. Do not leave a second comment, I will add the additional entries.
  4. The comments will be listed in a spreadsheet in the order received and then the previous-commenter bonus entries will be added to the list. The winning row number will be selected using random.org.
  5. The email address for the comment is a required field but does not need to be valid, although your should remember it to confirm you are the rightful winner. I will publish the winner on the blog and they will have one week to contact me and provide a shipping address. (I will try to contact you using the email address provided if it seems valid.) Email addresses will never be shared or published.

Good luck!

Brand Revival?

Esterbrook Dip-Less taken apart

Not a new Esterbrook

As many of you probably know, the Esterbrook trademark was recently acquired and some new Esterbrook pens are available. (If this is the first you heard of it, don’t get excited). There’s been a long discussion of it on The Fountain Pen Network. And by long I mean it’s currently 17 pages. I admit I haven’t read every post in the thread, probably less than 10% of them. I hate discussions like this because they seem to be a waste of time, at least of my time.

But this bugged me for some reason so I sat down last night with some bourbon and began to write a article about what I thought of it. This isn’t that article, it was four pages long when I stopped, and I wasn’t done. I started the article by saying writing it was a waste of time. The only reason it wasn’t is because I organized my thoughts and cleared my head (maybe that was the bourbon). The new Esterbrook no longer bugs me. Since that’s accomplished I don’t see any point in spending the time typing it up for a post. It would be a waste of my time, and yours to read it. So this isn’t what I wrote and will hopefully be shorter.

If you are curious about the new Esterbrook these two links are well worth your time.

Brian and Lisa Anderson review and show the new Esterbrook J Series in this video. It’s thorough and you should watch to the end where comparisons are made to other pens in the price range.

Leigh Reyes wrote an excellent article that really covers what bothered me most about the new Esterbrook. I didn’t see any connection between the brand message, the brand history and the companies actions. (I’m not sure what the brand message really is, but they keep saying “Americas Original Pen Company.” over and over.) Leigh calls this dissonance. Speaking of a brand disconnect – an Esterbrook pen only available with a medium nib? Really?

I’m not really sure why they bought the Esterbrook trademark. I don’t think the brand is well known outside of vintage pen circles, yet they don’t seem to be marketing towards fountain pen enthusiasts. (Posting old ads or ephemera on Facebook is not marketing to enthusiasts.)

There’s also been some controversy which I’ll skip (so that I don’t have to waste time researching it) but Brian does mention one personal thing in the review.

Esterbrook J Double Jewel

Also not a new Esterbrook

Finally, I have to mention their Kickstarter campaign (no link, but should be easy to find if you insist). I don’t get it. All they did is set up a storefront (with seemingly minimal effort). I’m not sure what they hope to fund. They already have photos showing the pens in stock so they don’t need funding for stocking up yet they say that is what the money is for. They could have really promoted themselves through Kickstarter, especially by offering non-pen rewards that harken back to the Esterbrook heritage. Something that would get the Esterbrook enthusiasts to rally around them. Blotters with old ads printed on them seems like a no-brainer, or even notebooks with the Esterbrook logo on them. Instead they wrote about the old Esterbrook. It’s the type of Kickstarter project I run away from.

My lunchtime is up so it’s time to get on to more important things. I won’t be buying a new Esterbrook, at least not until things change a lot. Too much of what the company is doing or saying sounds the warning bells for me and I avoid doing business with these companies, even if I end up curious about the product.

CursiveLogic Kickstarter

I was recently contacted by Linda Shrewsbury of CursiveLogic with an offer to let me review the system. The CursiveLogic system is currently being offered as a Kickstarter project that closes in just over two weeks. I passed on the review offer due to time restraints and it didn’t seem fair to say yes when I was unsure I could complete a review before the project closed. But I did checkout the CursiveLogic Kickstarter and the CursiveLogic website.

I don’t write in cursive anymore. I can’t remember when I stopped but I reverted to printing because my cursive was illegible, often even to me. The system makes sense to me and since I would like to relearn cursive I did back the project.

I should point out that the system should allow learning cursive quickly. If I was willing to focus I could probably do a thorough review in the two weeks. But I know from experience I just won’t focus on improving my handwriting since it’s been on my “to do” list for well over a year and I’ve yet to make a serious effort.

Be sure to hit the previous links to review the Kickstarter and CursiveLogic website.

Permanent Ink Question

Picture of my ink drawerI recently had a reader question about permanent inks. I thought FPQuest readers may be able to add some answers and comment on my answer.

Question:

I’m interested in a fountain pen with an extra fine nib that uses waterproof, archival ink. I have heard that DeAtrementis is that such ink, but am having difficulty finding much info on it.
Do you know:
1. Is there a non-clogging waterproof ink for fountain pens?
2. If so, do you have recommendations?
3. If so, do you have a great extra fine pen for sale per the above requirements, or a recommendation for some?

My Answer:

I typically use Montblanc Permanent inks (Blue or Black) for permanence. I’ve left these in a extra fine and fine nib pens for over a month, close to two, without any clogging or other adverse affects. Unfortunately they’re more expensive than regular MB inks.

I also like Rohrer & Klingner Salix and Scabiosa along with Diamine Registrar’s although they are iron gall based. While mild compared to older formulas I don’t like to leave them in my pens for more than a couple of weeks, although I gone about a month a times. Flow has never been a problem but the iron gall could corrode the nib over time.

If you need real archival (as in centuries) and don’t want the iron gall inks I think the sailor Nano-Carbon inks (KiwaGuro Black and Sei-Boku Blue) or Platinum pigmented inks are the best choice. I’ve use the black from each brand and find them to flow well in extra fine and fine nibs, even my Platinum ultra extra fine nib. I do have to use the pen every couple days or so otherwise they are hard to start. Other than that the flow is good.

I don’t have any experience with De Atramentis document inks. Noodler’s also has a few options but I’ve never used them.

As for pens, I like Platinum’s ultra extra fine nib which I have in a 3776 pen. Platinum also has a desk pen which sells for about $15 (or less) which they say is designed for their carbon inks and has an extra fine nib. I did find the desk pen can go longer without use so there may be something to their claim. Platinum has their own proprietary cartridges/converters which have a wide opening which helps the flow. I also like Pilot nibs which seem to be universally better than their price point. I’m also partial to older Sheaffer gold nib pens. They can be found reasonably priced.

Any additions or suggestions, let me know in the comments.