There aren’t a lot of places to buy fountain pens where I live, so when the Raleigh Pen Show rolls around each year Chad and I make a point to go. We ended up double-booking that weekend this year, though, so for a while it didn’t look like we’d be able to make it. I was pretty disappointed about that because I’d heard that Brian and Lisa Anderson (aka Mr. & Mrs. Esterbrook) and Henry Simpole were going to be there. Luckily, some unexpected house stuff meant we had to cancel our other engagement, which freed us up to head to the pen show.
I’m glad we made it, too, because this ended up being my favorite show so far.
Normally I spend the first day of the show going from table to table, checking out the pens and chatting with the dealers. Day two is reserved for buying, so I have all night to think about which pens I really want. This year my game plan was the same, except I needed to get some pens repaired and one nib modified, too.
My first stop was Deb Kinney’s booth, in part because it was close to the door, but also because I needed to see if she could fix a burgundy Sheaffer Touchdown I’d picked up last year as a gift for my brother-in-law. I couldn’t find anything wrong with it, but the pen refused to draw ink. (Oddly enough, I also picked up a blue Sheaffer TD for him that turned out to have a hairline crack in the barrel. That one shouldn’t have drawn ink, but it worked great.)
I figured Deb would have to take the pen back to her shop to fix it, but she disassembled it, declared the sac to be the problem, and re-sacked it right then and there. I had to wait 24 hours for the shellac to dry before I could ink the pen, but I’m happy to say it works great now. In fact, I used it to work on a short story yesterday. I only stopped because we had to take Freya to the vet. The pen was happy to keep going.
Henry Simpole’s table was right across the aisle from Deb’s at the pen show. If you’re not familiar with Henry, he’s a British artisan who makes some of the most amazing fountain pen overlays I’ve ever seen. I could have sworn I’d told Chad about Henry and had shown him pictures of some of Henry’s pens — along with a “I’d love to have one of these some day” hint — but apparently I hadn’t. So while Henry sat quietly behind his worklight engraving sheet silver, I whispered to Chad all about his work. Eventually Henry stopped working so he could offer us a brochure and a business card, and we got to chatting about his overlays, how he made them, and what got him started doing overlays in the first place. He even took out some sheet silver in various stages of completion and let me check them out.
Meeting Henry was one of the highlights of the show for me. But I felt guilty about monopolizing him — especially when I knew I couldn’t afford to buy anything from him on my budget — so after a while we moved on. I did run into some friends from my local FP group the next day and dragged them over to Henry’s table to show them the amazing things he makes, which led to Chad noticing that Henry had an Esterbrook with an England imprint. Henry pointed out some Reliefs he had, too, and we ended up chatting Esties for a while. He even mentioned a post that he wrote on FPN about meeting Jean Esterbrook and an article she wrote for Pen World that someone posted there. I tracked them down on FPN (the thread is pinned in the FPN Esterbrook forum, as Henry promised me), and both were fantastic to read.
Apparently a news crew was also wandering around the pen show, shooting video. Chad saw them, but I was so engrossed in pens and pen chat that I didn’t. However, the video is online, and includes footage of Henry working. He talks a bit about how he makes overlays, too. You really should check it out.
After leaving Henry’s table, Chad and I made our way through the rest of the room, picking up pens that caught our interest and chatting with the dealers. I got to chat Esties with Frank Tedesco again this year — always a delight — and Hirsch Davis not only introduced me to Chiltons but also showed me a security check pen that I’m going to have to work into a story sometime. It’s a regular fountain pen, but you take the end off and there’s a little mechanism there that you roll over your signature on a check. Tines on the roller embed red ink in the paper that doesn’t show up unless someone tries to alter or remove your signature. Then the red bleeds through. It’s a vintage pen, and honestly a brilliant idea.
I also tracked down a cartridge for my Esterbrook CX-100s. These pens only take carts, and no modern cart fits them, so I’ve been looking for a way to use them for a while. I’ve got two CX-100s but only found one cartridge, so they’ll have to share, but that’s okay. I’m just excited that I’m finally going to get to try them out. And, for my non-FP savvy readers, I’ll be refilling the cartridge with bottled ink using a syringe. Pretty standard fare, really.
During my meanderings, I told a dealer about my brother-in-law’s cracked blue Sheaffer TD that I needed to get fixed. He immediately recommended Ron Zorn for the job. So I made a point to stop at Ron’s table when he seemed — well, if not free, at least less busy. He looked at the pen and declared it definitely fixable, with the only caveat that he might not be able to make the crack completely unnoticeable. Since these two Sheaffers are intended as starter FPs for my brother-in-law, I was fine with that. If Victor decides he likes using FPs, we’ll get him a nice Pelikan or Lamy (or a C/C filler, if he’d prefer). Our big question, of course, was would it be worth spending the money to repair the pen, or would we be better off just buying a different one. Ron told us that he normally sells Sheaffers like the one we had for $120, and he looked stunned when Chad told him we’d paid $15 for the pen. So, we filled out the paperwork, and Ron will work his magic to repair the crack in Victor’s pen.
Another highlight of the pen show for me was getting to meet Brian and Lisa Anderson — even if I did go a bit fangirl and blurt out, “You’re my hero!” when Brian introduced himself. His site, Esterbrook.net, has been my go-to resource for researching Esterbrooks since I bought my first one. So, yes, he’s one of my heroes. He’s also very nice, as is Lisa. We chatted Esties for awhile, they pointed out some nice specimens in the pens they had for sale, and Lisa made me repeat after her that “there is no such thing as a root beer Estie.”
(Esterbrook made six standard pen colors: black, red, blue, grey, green, and copper. They did make pastels and white pens, but those six are the standard colors. However, there are some variations in the colors, much like dye lot in yarn, and some people have taken to giving these names. Like calling a dark brown copper Estie a “root beer”. But, really, it’s still a copper Estie, not a different color or a rare, limited production run or anything.
That said, sorry, Lisa, but I’ll still probably call mine a root beer, just to differentiate it from my more classically copper Esties. And I’ll keep looking for what I wistfully refer to as a “charcoal” Estie instead of the greenish shade most grey ones are. But I promise never to try to pawn them off as “rare” and “more valuable.” It’s just semantics, really.)
Faced with all the gorgeous Esterbrooks on Brian and Lisa’s table, it was hard not to spend my entire pen budget right then and there. In the end, though, I behaved and took a mental note of the ones I liked best so I could spend the evening deciding whether I wanted to get a grey pastel, a grey icicle, or a Trans J. (This ended up being a harder decision that I expected, and I ended up making no decision at all — but that’s a tale for my next post.)
One other item on my “must-do” list was to have Richard Binder modify one of my Lamy 2000s. I’ve got two Lamy 2Ks, both, as it turns out, with medium nibs. Rather than have one sit in its box unused, I thought it’d be nice to get the nib ground into a cursive italic. What I didn’t know was that Richard was also going to give me a short course in how to hold a pen right. If you’ve read some of my earlier blog posts, you know I’ve been working on that, trying to train myself away from using the “claw” grip that we all learn when we’re writing with ballpoint pens. I’m getting better, but I’ve never quite understood what they meant by “shoulder writing” — writing from the shoulder instead of the wrist or hand. Until Richard showed me.
But first he had to grind my Lamy’s nib.
It was fascinating to watch. At one point, Richard disassembled the pen so he could get at the nib better (Lamy 2ks have hooded nibs), then commented that the piston was stiff, so he lubricated it and showed me how to do that myself. He also showed me how to take the pen apart to get to the nib, if I needed to, and how to put the cap locking ring back in. Then he inked my pen and had me try it out.
Aw, what a glorious nib! It was a great pen to begin with, but Richard made it absolutely amazing.
And then he said, “You’re finger writing.”
Admittedly, I was. Even though I’m trying to learn to hold a pen the right way, when I’m writing fast — like when I’m working on a story — I still use the claw grip and still finger write. I’m not fast enough the other way yet. So when I’m trying a new pen, that’s how I write, to make sure I can use it the way I will the most (for now).
Richard took a few minutes to have me hold the pen in a proper grip and show me how to write from the shoulder. And he gave me three pieces of advice that are making it easier for me to get the hang of it: imagine your hand is locked in place so it can’t move; ride the “fat pad” on your forearm; and think of what it’s like when you’re writing on a chalkboard.
Obviously, I didn’t master it then and there, but it is getting easier. (And, Richard, if you’re reading this — THANK YOU! I promise I’m getting better. )
I also needed Richard to repair a nib on a pen. A couple of years ago, Chad bought a Ludo 42 with a flex nib. It’s a gorgeous pen with a beautiful pattern, but because it’s a flex pen and Chad’s a leftie, it hasn’t seen much use. I inked it with Noodler’s Black Swan in Australian Roses recently, since that ink really shines with a flex nib and the Ludo is the only true flex we have, and that’s when I discovered that the tines were misaligned. So I showed it to Richard to see if he could do anything with it. Like my brother-in-law’s Sheaffers, I’d brought the Ludo expecting Richard would have to take it back to his shop to fix the nib and I’d just be saving myself a bit of shipping cost. As I took the cap off, though, something fell out of it — the inner cap, as Richard explained. I handed Richard the pen, told him about the misaligned nib, then went to stick the inner cap back in the cap. By the time I looked up, Richard had fixed the nib. He then set about shellacing the inner cap back in place, and even re-seated it (he suspected the tine got misaligned because the inner cap was too low).
And then he told us why Chad’s pen is so cool. It’s a post-WWII European pen, probably German or French, with a steel — not gold — flex nib. And that’s what makes it interesting. In the 1940s, prior to when the pen was likely made, gold was considered a wartime necessity, so pen manufacturers had to figure out something else if they wanted a flexible nib. Anyone who’s used a modern steel nib fountain pen knows how stiff they are — modern flex nibs aren’t really what most folks would call “flexible”. And non-flex steel nibs can easily be used on multi-part carbon paper. But this pen is flexible. Richard inked it and wrote a bit with it, and, boy, did it shine! I wish I’d snagged the page Richard wrote on so you could see how flexible the nib on the Ludo is, because I’m not near good enough with a flex pen for that. (Maybe I can get Aubrey from the pen club to do an exemplar with it for me.)
Richard even showed Chad how he could use a flex nib — and make it flex — even though he’s a leftie overwriter.
I did end up buy one fountain pen that day — a Noodler’s flex pen from Deb Kinney so I’ve got an inexpensive flex pen to practice with (and because it was the only one I saw anywhere at the show). I also picked up a bottle of Noodler’s Heart of Darkness from Deb to replace my bottle that developed a case of SITB a week before the show. Thank God I check my ink every time before I fill my pens!
So, that pretty much wraps up day one of the 2011 Raleigh Pen Show. In my next post, I’ll tell you about day two, when Chad and I went back and actually bought pens.