Tale of a Vandal Ink User: Running on Empties

While my main fountain pens hold a lot of ink as eyedroppers (3ml or more), cartridge/converter pens with tinier ink tanks get a lot of use this time of year.

Once upon a time, taking a converter-filled Pilot pen out and about for some letter writing, the pen ran out of ink very quickly. Alas, there was no ink on hand to refill it. Spoiled by my eyedropper pens, I’d forgotten to check the Pilot’s tiny ink supply. This minor life incident led me to consider options for carrying more ink for my converter pens.

My first thought was to reuse some very handy ink bottles. While most empty ink bottles go into my recycling bin, there are a very small number I’ve kept because they have good “after life” uses.

Left to right: Waterman, Sheaffer, Montblanc, Pilot (in front)
Left to right: Waterman, Sheaffer, Montblanc, Pilot (in front)

The Waterman and Montblanc empties are excellent inkwells. Because the Waterman bottles can be turned onto one of the sides, there’s no hassle filling nibs from them. Same can be said for the Montblanc bottle, with it’s slanted shape at the mouth.

Empty Waterman on its tilt
Empty Waterman on its tilt
Montblank empty ink bottle
Empty Montblanc ink bottle

The Sheaffer bottle I use for soaking nib units, when they need a more deeper cleaning. The division in the glass provides a nice shallow well for nibs to sit and soak. They’re easily removed, too.

Empty Sheaffer bottle with divided inkwell
Empty Sheaffer bottle with divided inkwell

The Pilot bottle has been used to carry small batches of Pilot Blue-Black, pouring from a large 350ML bottle into the smaller one.

Ultimately, glass bottles are great around the house-office, but a little clumsy to carry in the laptop bag. At the coffee house-office, the glass bottles can be a little conspicuous, and can cause perplexing fainting fits among barista managers.

Tiny Plastic Bottles

The next experiment concerned carrying extra ink in little vials, and even slightly larger nalgene bottles. These work fine, especially to carry in a laptop or tote bag. They’re kinda unbreakable, but the little plastic bottles prove more difficult to use when the ink runs low.

Portable ink bottles
Portable ink bottles

Refilling Ink Cartridges

The next experiment involved ink cartridges. Carts were a more successful vehicle, and provided larger quantities of ink for a pen.

Carts are very convenient, but seem a wasteful use of plastic. Yet ink carts, too, can have an after life when they are emptied of ink. That is, you can re-ink them.

A lot of fountain pen users employ the practice of refilling ink cartridges with their favorite inks. I’ve ventured into cartridge re-filling for my Pilot pens (an MYU 701, Namiki Sterling, Pilot Decimo), my small Danitrio Cumlaude, and occasionally an Edison pen.

The Pilots require a proprietary Pilot/Namiki ink cartridge. Using a cartridge, the MYU holds more ink than the Con-50 converter I normally use.

  • Pilot/Namiki Ink Cartridge .9ml (pretty good!)
  • Pilot Con-50 .6ml
  • Pilot Con-20 .8ml (a squeeze converter)
  • Pilot Con-70 1ml (none of my Pilots can use the Con-70)

When brand new, the Pilot/Namiki ink cartridge comes sealed with a plastic disc. When you install the cartridge in your pen, the disc gets shoved into the cartridge. Some people remove this. I leave it alone. Call me lazy busy.

plastic disc inside Pilot/Namiki cartridge
plastic disc inside Pilot/Namiki cartridge

My small Danitrio Cumlaude came with a tiny slide converter which holds very little ink. Predominately, I’ve used the Cumlaude in eyedropper mode (ED). Sometimes I like to use the pen with a little less ink than 3ml that it provides as an ED, and a little more than the slide converter provides. A standard converter, such as the Schmidt K5, will not fit. The Cumlaude’s barrel is too short. However, a standard long Waterman cartridge fits—just barely—in the Cumlaude.

Interestingly, a long standard Pelikan cartridge did not fit the Cumlaude. The cartridge is just a tad too long for my pen:


Here’s a Waterman cartridge next to a Schmidt K5 converter:

Schmidt K5 converter alongside Waterman long cartridge
Schmidt K5 converter alongside Waterman long cartridge

The Waterman long converter is about 72mm long (about 2 3/4″).  The short Waterman cartridges are about 38mm in length, and a lot of pens will hold two of those in the barrel (one in use; the other as backup). Short carts are far more common among ink brands than the long ones, and are just as refillable.

Since I’ve got a cache of Pelikan long cartridges, obtained as part of my experiment, they’re dedicated to the Edison pens. Both the Pelikan and the Waterman long cartridges hold 1.5ml of ink (any brand or color!).  According to this article at Edison Pen, a Schmidt K5 standard international converter holds .7ml.

The practice of re-filling cartridges is a new one for me. I don’t know how long a cart lasts, but I’ve heard they can last a very long time. Longevity is aided if you dedicate a cart to one pen, and don’t use it in multiple pens. Yeah, like I know what I’m talking about (insert maniacal laughter here). As I opened herein, the practice “is a new one for me.” I know nothing! Yet common sense tells me that sharing between pens may wear out the cartridge hole faster—because the nipples at the end of the section (to pierce the cartridge) can be different sizes among pens. Er… yeah, ya got that?

There’ve been claims on the pen forums of these Pilot, Waterman, and Pelikan cartridges lasting for several years. That’s pretty good, ay?

Of course, use only the cartridge that’s meant for your pen. Pilot, Platinum, Sailor, among others, use proprietary ink cartridges, and others like the Danitrio Cumlaude, Edison, or Bexley use international cartridges (short), and may also be able to use the standard long cartridges. (Not all “standard” c/c pens will take the standard long cartridge. For example, a long cart will not fit into my Bexley BX802.)

The friend of the ink cartridge is a blunt syringe. The syringe is used not only to fill the cart with your ink of choice, it’s also used to flush the cartridge with water when you want to clean it. The syringe makes cleaning the cartridge very easy. (Under “Need More Information?” below, I’ve linked to a video illustrating how to refill and clean an ink cartridge.)

Some folks use a glue gun to reseal a re-inked cartridge. They have cartridges at the ready whenever they need, wherever they are. I don’t do this because, well, I don’t carry spare carts around. Different practices for different pen peeps.

When the MYU writes to empty, I simply refill the cartridge in use.  Or, when the Danitrio runs dry, I clean the cartridge, and put the Cumlaude away for awhile. These non-eyedropper pens are among my “auxiliary” pens, not my main go-to pens that remain inked up for days on end.

I’ve one Platinum fountain pen, opting to use a converter over the Platinum cartridge. The converter gives me plenty of ink with the Kanazawa-Haku, and I’ve not had great luck with Platinum cartridges. The carts always seem to dry out before I get to them. YMMV, of course. The Platinum converter holds .6ml of ink. The cartridge holds approximately 1.2ml.

The Waterman and Pelikan long cartridges have a little plastic ball inside the cartridge. These balls were used to seal the cart. When you insert the cart onto your pen, the ball gets shoved inside. The balls can help to keep the ink from clinging to the plastic cartridge wall.

Pelikan cartridge with tiny ball at end of barrel
Pelikan cartridge with tiny ball at end of barrel
Waterman cartridge with tiny ball inside
Waterman cartridge with tiny ball inside

You can re-use whatever ink cartridges you desire, fill ‘em with whatever ink you love. Be aware not all plastic cartridges are created equally. Some may last a long time, and some might not fare well at all. The three cartridges I’ve selected for re-inking are pretty sturdy.

Refilling an ink cartridge delays sending the little plastic cart to the recycling bin. Hopefully for a long, long time.


The Visconti Travelling Ink Pot

Lastly, most happily, a really nice solution I’ve found for carrying ink for converter pens is the Visconti Travelling Ink Pot. It holds 5ml of ink. In fact, the Visconti Ink Pot is the reason I still use a converter in my Platinum Kanazawa-Haku.

Deb Kinney’s 2004 article about the Ink Pot still stands as a wonderful source of detailed information. So read it, ay?

If you’re patient, you can find the Ink Pots for sale well below the high retail price tag. I’ve snagged two of these Viscontis. One is always filled with Pilot Blue-Black. The other is filled with whatever Sailor ink has taken my fancy—currently Sailor Doyou.

The Ink Pot works with a large range of pen brands and filling systems. Among my own fountain pens, the Visconti Ink Pot works with Edison, Bexley, Danitrio, Levenger True Writer, Namiki Sterling, Platinum Kanazawa-Haku, and even my Sheaffer Tuckaway.

The Pilot MYU and Decimo are too thin for the Ink Pot. The rubber gasket inside the Ink Pot can’t grab onto those pens.

Converters get an excellent ink fill via the Ink Pot; even the puny Pilot Con-50.

I carry the Ink Pot in my pen roll. It fits just, uh, like a pen does. In fact, it’s about 5 1/4″ (13.34cm) in length:

Top to bottom: Edison Menlo, Ink Pot, Levenger True Writer, Ink Pot
Top to bottom: Edison Menlo, Ink Pot, Levenger True Writer, Ink Pot

It’s important to follow the instructions for filling. Uh, for example, if you overfill the ink, and, uh, forget how to make an ink draw, an inky mess ensues. Honest. *ahem* So do take the time to read the instructions as often as needed.

Pilot Blue-Black stain resulting from overfill of Visconti Ink Pot, and not paying attention to what I was doing...
Pilot Blue-Black stain resulting from overfill of Visconti Ink Pot, and not paying attention to what I was doing…

That accident aside… the Visconti Ink Pot is a very clean, efficient method of inking a pen.

The Ink Pot comes with instructions for converter pens, piston, and power-filler or vacuum pens.

Excerpt Visconti instructions
Excerpt Visconti instructions

A confused friend once asked how I used the Visconti to fill an ED pen. Uh, it’s not for eyedropper pens. ED pens are their own ink pot, ay? The Visconti’s for converter, piston, and vacuum-filling pens.

Using the Visconti Travelling Ink Pot is simple. Observe (1min 40secs long):

There’s no excuse for running out of ink with two Visconti vials at my disposal.

Between the Visconti Travelling Ink Pot, and a couple of long, refillable ink cartridges, my converter pens are good to go for longer writing sessions than they have in the past.

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Tale of a Vandal Pen User: What’s Mold Got to Do with It?

Remember the Sheaffer Cartridge pen? It came with a couple of ink carts wherein the ink had evaporated, leaving a few chunks of ink concentrate behind. Or so I’d assumed about said chunks.

Sheaffer Deluxe Blue evaporated
Sheaffer Deluxe Blue evaporated

I’d never reconstituted vintage ink before. Prevailing wisdom said to add some distilled water to the ink cart, shake it up and write. Doing so produced a decent looking Sheaffer Deluxe Blue:


The Sheaffer Cartridge pen went through two separate inkings. The first with an apparent clean cart filled with Waterman Blue-Black. The pen was flushed cleaned with water, and put away for a couple of days.

Later on, the pen was inked with the rehydrated Sheaffer Deluxe Blue. When that particular ink fill was used up, the pen was cleaned again, this time with a 10% ammonia solution, and put away for long term storage.

Recently I showed the pen to a friend. When he uncapped the Sheaffer, lo and behold, there was mold on the feed. Regretfully, I didn’t take a photo.

While I’m pretty sure the mold originated from the rehydrated ink cartridge, I can’t say so absolute certainty. Nor am I sure what’s been contaminated by what. And so, I’ve tossed the two carts used in this Sheaffer, and won’t be refilling them. Also I’ve tossed the blunt syringe unit used to fill both carts. And, the saddest act of all, tossed the remaining Waterman Blue-Black ink used during the first round of inking.

Okay, so this is my very first ever experience with mold in a fountain pen, and I don’t wish to repeat it. Intellectually I understand that many people use vintage ink, or revive old dehydrated ink without any mold at all appearing in their pens. Yet, I’ll be reluctant to use ink in this fashion again. I’ll stick to trusty Pilot Blue-Black, and Sailor inks for now.

I’ll grant too that normally when drying an acrylic pen section, I leave it on the window sill. It’s been very cold here, and everything’s been slow to dry. I’m sure those conditions helped the mold to party-hearty.

There are many recommendations on how to clean a pen that’s had mold in it; some recommendations within the pen forums even contradict each other. At least one pen repair pro suggests cleaning with a pen-safe germicide (specifically Basic-G).  Vinegar may be an option. Bleach is not a pen-safe chemical, especially for non-acrylic pens. Clearly the 10% ammonia flush used to clean the Sheaffer didn’t kill any mold.

[Please remember, too, that what you think you can do to a pen today without issue, may have ill effects way down the road. So let’s think hard before telling each other, “That never happens to me when I put my-favorite-poison in my pen.”]

I can imagine that more complicated pens might even need professional attention for mold eradication.

The little plastic Cartridge pen is a relatively simple disassemble: pulling the nib and feed from the collar. The key is to reach those hidden places in the feed, and ferret out any mold that may be hiding. The cap’ll need cleaning, too.

These parts are about to get a vinegar soak, and cleaning. We’ll see if the vinegar kills off the mold. The final word on the little Sheaffer Cartridge pen’s condition will be noted at a later time.

Mold in a pen feed, or in your ink, is serious business, ay? At least for fountain pen peeps. You don’t want it spreading to inks you dip the pen into, or spreading to other pens.

Be Sure to Read

Richard Binder’s, “Ick, What’s That Stuff?” also, “Care and Feeding: How to Pamper Your Pens”

Tale of a Vandal Pen Collector: Unexpected Acquisition

Queuing up Don McLean’s American Pie

A long, long time ago,
I can still remember

My first fountain pen was a Sheaffer cartridge pen. In the fifth grade, I thought the pen was horrible. It was scratchy, and the tines were splayed. I used the pen for the only thing it seemed good for: to gouge a wooden desk.

Very harsh admonitions and disciplinary actions followed.

Recently a “NOS” aka new old stock of a pen fall into me hands. When those who love you know you love fountain pens, they tend to bring you the ones they find; things they ordinarily would ignore if you weren’t lurking in the background somewhere in their minds. And so, another Sheaffer cartridge pen came to me. Complete in its original blister pack.

Sheaffer Cartridge pen circa 1978-1988
Sheaffer Cartridge pen circa 1976-1986 (ink in carts evaporated)

These Sheaffer cartridge pens are often referred to as “school pens,” supposing because so many students used or were given them.  Sheaffer merely packaged these fountain pens without so much as a name other than “Sheaffer cartridge pen.”

There was a pen that Sheaffer marketed as a school pen. It looked very different from these pens. The site Ravens March Fountain Pens posts an example here, along with a bit of history.

Some of the earlier versions of the cartridge pens had nib markings of 304 or 305. (There may have been others, but these are the two most commonly found in the wild today.) Sometimes you will see these pens referred to as “Sheaffer 304″ or “Sheaffer 305″ pens, but those were not labels Sheaffer gave to these pens.  The numbered nibs appeared on other Sheaffer pens as well, such as the Skripsert, and Fineline series.

The nib numbers translate as follows:

  • 304 – fine point nib
  • 305 – medium point nib

The nibs in these pens are steel.

Sheaffer made, and continues to make, a lot of cartridge style pens. We’re concerned here with those simply packaged as “Sheaffer Cartridge pens,” circa 1956-1998, with chrome caps, and with opaque or clear color bodies.  Well, even that is too simplistic. If you look, you may see many other pens labeled “Sheaffer cartridge pens,” and wonder why I’ve not listed those as well. An informative history exists, again on the wonderful Ravens March Fountain Pens site. Read it here.

Quick Super Simplified Dating of Sheaffer cartridge pens aka “School” pens

  • The first generation had rounded ends (barrel and cap) – approximate dates 1958-1963.
  • The second generation had conical ends (barrel and cap) – approximate dates 1963-1975.
  • The third generation had flat ends (barrel and cap) – approximate dates 1975-1998.

As I recall, my desk gouging pen was circa 1965-66. That would’ve been a second generation pen. It was a blue opaque version of the fifth pen from the left in this wonderful illustration from yaakovashoshana’s Photobucket public stream:
 photo fpn_1318195720__schoolpens.jpg3 generations of Sheaffer cartridge pens / All rights reserved by Yaakovashoshana’s Bucket

A semi-hooded nib model existed as early as the 1950’s. Some examples of those pens are found in Google’s magazine archives:

If you have found a Sheaffer inside an intact blister pack, you may be able to get a little more precise in dating your cartridge pen.  Some helpful pieces of information, IMHO:

  • 1907 Walter A. Sheaffer invents the lever-filling fountain pen.
  • 1913 W A. Sheaffer Pen Company is incorporated.
  • 1966 Sheaffer was sold to manufacturing company Textron, Inc.
  • 1976 Sheaffer was merged by Textron into its paper division, Eaton.
  • 1987 Textron sold Sheaffer Eaton to Gefinor (USA) Inc.
  • 1997 Gefinor sold Sheaffer Eaton to Bic.
  • 2002 Sheaffer’s ink manufacturing moved from USA to Slovenia.
  • 2008 closing of Sheaffer manufacturing in USA.

Printed on the back of the Sheaffer blister pack I received:  “Sheaffer Eaton Division of Textronic Inc., Fort Madison, Iowa 52627.” That tells me, so I believe, that my pen was manufactured between 1976 and 1987. The nib has a “Made in USA” imprint.

close-up of manufacturing information
close-up of manufacturing information
backside blister pack
backside blister pack

There is a model or ordering number printed on the cardboard, underneath the pen: B703-0769-0040. But that number has not been helpful.

Sometimes the cartridge pens can be found in the wild still in blister packs. More often than not, you will find them in used condition. They range in price from as low as $6.00, to as high as $30 in some cases. Average price in 2014 seems to be around $20.

Inking It Up

Someone once paid $1.98 for this particular cartridge pen, and then lost it in a drawer, leaving it unopened and uninked. It was tempting to leave the pen in its packaging, intact. Of course I could not resist, and had to ink the little pen up to see how it wrote.

Sheaffer Cartridge pen, green barrel
Sheaffer Cartridge pen, green barrel

Some folks perform the ubiquitous eyedropper conversion on these little pens. For the eyedropper (ED) obsessed, I measured with some water that the pen barrel will hold 3ml of ink. As good as any pen today, ay?

I opted to test out the pen with a cartridge because, hey, “cartridge pen,” right? Being ED obsessed myself, cartridges are not something I normally use. Still I found an old empty Sheaffer cartridge—never a surprise what’s found in a fountain pen person’s storage bins—and filled it with Waterman Blue-Black. After installing the cartridge, I set the nib in the ink for a little soak because I thought the feed might need a little help after all those years of sitting around doing nothing. (Leaving the nib and feed in the ink bottle like that jump starts the capillary action.)

Soaking the feed in ink
Soaking the feed in ink

The little pen wrote excellently, right like that. While the writing wasn’t crisp, the F (fine) nib was smooth. Even flipping the nib over, for a finer point, the pen wrote without any scratchiness.


No skipping, hard starting, blobbing of ink anywhere—just laying down words like a pen should. Even after several days, the aforementioned qualities remain true.

Pretty good for a pen that’s some 30 years old, ay? It’s easy to see why these little pens are favorites among many fountain pen aficionados.

The pen came with two ink cartridges marked as Sheaffer Deluxe Blue. The ink in both carts had evaporated, leaving only dried ink chunks clinging to the plastic walls.

Sheaffer Deluxe Blue evaporated
Sheaffer Deluxe Blue evaporated

I’d been told to add water to the carts to reconstitute the ink. Using a syringe holding a little distilled water, I wanted to see how hard it was to revive this dead ink.  Wasn’t hard at all, as the ink quickly dissolved. I put some putty over the hole in the cartridge because I’ve still got the Waterman B-B to write through before testing the cart of reconstituted Sheaffer Skrip Deluxe Blue.

skrip2 copy

Deluxe Blue revived
Deluxe Blue revived

The pen is small, and pencil thin. Posting the pen gives it more heft and balance. Can’t believe I wrote that, as I never post pens, yet this one I do. Even the tiny Pilot MYU701, I never post.

The word “never” is such a jinxy word to use.

Just the Stats

  • Weight inked:  11 grams with cap. 5 grams without cap.
  • Length: 12.2mm capped. 10.9mm uncapped. 14.5mm posted.
Pencil. Sheaffer Cartridge Pen.
Pencil. Sheaffer Cartridge Pen.
Left to right: Pilot MYU701, Pilot Decimo, Sheaffer Cartridge pen, Platinum Kanazawa-Haku
Left to right: Pilot MYU701, Pilot Decimo, Sheaffer Cartridge pen, Platinum Kanazawa-Haku

The arrival of this little Sheaffer on my desk made me laugh. It was my inroad into vintage Sheaffer pens that made me draw back and say, “Woa! The fountain pen trail is an endless one filled with acquisitions.”

Even with the reduction of my pen acquisitions over time, the one vintage pen that remained was a Sheaffer, another unexpected gift in the form of a Tuckaway.

Now there are two Sheaffers in the tiny hoard.

While many pen people call these school pens “vintage,” I’m hard pressed to do so because it is not older than I.

Sheaffer Cartridge pen (circa 1976) and Sheaffer Tuckaway (circa 1932)
Sheaffer Cartridge pen (circa 1976) and Sheaffer Tuckaway (circa 1942)

Funny how pens, like so many things or themes, keep circling round and round, and come back to you in some way. Except today there’s no one to yell at me for how I might use a pen. Rest assured, no longer do I gouge desks with them.

Resources for Sheaffer fountain pen information

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