Thoughts from a Vandal Pen Repairer

One motivation for moving the collection away from vintage pens is the issue of repair. Old fountain pens found in the wild often need tender loving care. Of course buying a restored vintage pen from a reputable dealer saves you a lot of tinkering. Tinkering is part of the fun of old pens!

A proper sac replacement is an easy thing to learn how to do. Perhaps that’s technically a maintenance task rather than a repair. There’s a lot I cannot do… repair cracks, rebuild parts… yet there’s things I can fix. Lever-filler pens are appealing because they are easier to fix that a vacuum filler or piston pen. For moi, the ink capacity of most lever-filling pens remains, uh, unfulfilling.

When we talk about vintage pen repairs there is a lot of advice about what not to do. It can be difficult to find encouraging words. One of my pen regrets (there are two) has to do with an Eversharp Skyline. I acquired this pen during my early days of pen vandalizing. The Skyline had a nib I did not like. I wanted to replace it with a nib I would like more. The advice I received was to pay a professional to do the replacement as it would be very difficult to find a good nib to feed fit, the nib would need to be heat set, and so forth. Always, too, there is the danger of cracking the original section, a very real threat indeed. Better yet, it was suggested I trade the pen for a different Skyline.

The problem was not “them,” the advice givers. The problem was I forgot to be brave with my very own pens.

I ended up trading the pen—a lovely solid color standard sized—for a completely different demi-size Skyline. The only cost involved was postage. Turns out I didn’t like this other Skyline so much even though the nib more suited to my tastes. In hindsight I wish I’d kept my original Skyline and replaced the nib. At best I would have been successful. At worst I’d have broken a pen that cost me very, very little to begin with. Since that time there are more, uh, radical things I have tackled on my pens. Today with more confidence in my pen handling I not hesitate to tackle the nib replacement myself.

Complex repairs require the best of skill and experience. Thus, pens are sent off to those expert repair people. There are so few of these revered repair people, the pens can take a very long time to return. In one case I waited nearly a year for a pen to be returned from a repairer. By that time, the focus of my pen collection had entirely shifted. Costs of pen repairs are generally very reasonable. Even so, the cash for repairs is not always available.

While I love vintage pens, they are quite distracting and, honestly, my time is precious and grows more so. I want pens that write and don’t need tinkering so I can get on with things. Thus the collection has shifted to more modern pens and pens with less “parts” to worry about. I do not regret dipping into vintage fountain pens. Who knows, I may revert back to them in a few years time. Never say “never” because the word boomerangs on you. Promise. It boomerangs!

People have a lot invested in wanting to preserve vintage pens so that they will be around for many more years. There is a lovely history in these pens. While it seems to some the supply is endless, there is a limit to how many vintage pens exist in the world. They are not being made anymore. Seems obvious, right? And so many of the fountain pen folk have a lot to say about what we interlopers should and should not do. Many folks freely give away what they’ve studied and learned. I listen to the best of them. There is much to learn. There is no quick fix even in listening and learning. You have to sort through who is worth listening to and decide for yourself.

It’s important to use the proper tools. Why let impatience and expediency ruin a good pen? It’s important to ask questions of those who are willing to share their experience and knowledge. It’s important to be brave and to be persistent in your pursuit. Whether you repair pens or not, it’s worthwhile to read Pen Repair. The book educates you about what’s possible and can help you understand what likely happens when a pen is repaired by someone else. Demystification rocks!

I’m not a big fan of a lot of “don’t do this” and “don’t do that” advice. Right or wrong, human nature will resist too many such donuts, er…do-nots. Part of me wants to take back every post where I may have used those phrases…here, sing with me:

Everybody says don’t,
Everybody says don’t,
Everybody says don’t walk on the grass,
Don’t disburb the peace,
Don’t skate on the ice.

Well, I say
I say
Walk on the grass, it was meant to feel!
I say
Tilt at the windmill
And if you fail, you fail.
—excerpt, “Everybody Says Don’t,”Anyone Can Whistle, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Didn’t except a little song there, did ya? The voices in my head sing show tunes.

To be fair, if you sell a pen that you have vandalized, do the ethical thing and be upfront about it.