Monthly Archives: August 2017

Red Ripple Is Nice…

A show pen. A show pen. A show pen? We’re doing a show pen! Yikes.

One of the first important things to consider in designing any kind of pen is what material it will be made of. Plastic is cost-effective, but can be soft. Metal is quite robust, but can be both heavy and expensive. And hand-in-hand with material comes appearance: colour & pattern. The choices are complicated before you even begin.

Now, Philip and I have been hanging out doing pen-related things for about eight years now. And after comparing lots of pens, both our own and others, we have a pretty good idea of each others aesthetics.

And so this conversation was much shorter than the last:

Philip “I think it should be a nice red ripple hard rubber.”

David “Yes, it should.”

And so it was decided.

If you wanted excitement from Parker in 1918, it had to be metal overlay.

You may, however, be asking yourself: “who in this day and age would make a pen out of hard rubber?” After all, as a material in pen production, hard rubber’s heyday was almost a hundred years ago. And it’s a good question.

Around the turn of the 20th century, hard rubber—also known as “ebonite”— was the material of choice for almost anything handheld and black: pens, pipes, musical instruments, telephones. It was cheap, easy to work, and tough. Especially after World War I, hard rubber was such a good material that Parker Pens used to throw pens out of airplanes (and tall buildings) as a sales gimmick. (They survived just fine, and even wrote.) Pen companies invested in rubber factories, and produced millions of pens.

Waterman in particular made use of striking marbled patterns made of different colours of rubber, mixed together. But all of the significant pen manufacturers made pens of rubber: coloured, plain, patterned, overlaid.

However, the material wasn’t perfect. It would oxidize quickly when soaked in water (which is foolish anyways), or left in the sunlight (which is even more foolish). And thin hard rubber could be brittle, although new blackening agents developed after 1914 accidentally improved it’s quality tremendously.

Just nine years later, the lid was blown off the fun box, and a rainbow of colours leapt out!

The end of hard rubber in pens wasn’t due to a stronger, or otherwise technically superior material. It was due to something else entirely: the pretty factor. When early plastics were developed, and introduced by pen makers, they came in beautiful colours, and in striking patterns. For the “roaring” 1920s and early 30s, it was just the sort of thing people wanted. And clinging to the use of hard rubber for too long nearly put Waterman out of business.

But as many vintage pen connoisseurs know, hard rubber was, and is, a great material. Combine that with 21st century chemistry, and it’s even greater. And a few—just a few—modern manufacturers still offer it as an option. In red ripple!

There is something to be said for the classic red and black rippled look. Olive, meh.

Philip “I’m going to contact Howard at Bexley this week.”

David “Huh.” As a rule, I don’t know much about modern pen makers. You have to draw the line somewhere. But I met Howard a couple of years ago, at the Ohio Pen Show. He seemed like a nice guy. And anyone who offers red ripple hard rubber in a new pen has to have some sense.

Philip “I’ll let you know what he thinks.”

And as soon as he does, I’ll let you all know what he had to say.

I Think We Should Do A Pen…

So, Philip and I were sitting in the official Scriptus offices in downtown Toronto, also known as Balzac’s Café at the Toronto Reference Library. We try to meet there every month or so, to compare notes, work out Scriptus strategies, show off nice pens, and enjoy, respectively, double espresso and chai-tea-steeped-in-plain-steamed-milk.

The Scriptus offices, in downtown Toronto.

Now, usually these meetings are pretty predictable. They get longer as we approach the show date, but after four years of Scriptus we know what to expect.

But this time was a bit different. The conversation went a bit like this:

Philip “So, I think we should do a pen…”

David “Huh.” (That’s my usual response to being whacked alongside the head by a giant new idea.) “You mean, do a show pen?”

For the uninitiated, some pen shows (often the American ones) will produce a limited edition fountain pen, to be sold only at the show. Tapping into the enthusiasm of collectors attending, these usually sell quite well, and can be an excellent way of generating revenue for future shows. They are also a good indicator that the show commissioning such a pen is healthy and robust. Having a show pen is for grown-up shows.

Philip “I was talking to Heinz at the pen breakfast, and he said he thinks that we should think about doing a pen, and that got me thinking. After all, it is Canada’s 150th birthday.”

David “Huh. That’s a lot of thinking. You know it’s only three months until the show?” (That’s my usual second response to a big new idea: think of reasons why it might not work.)

Philip “Well, yes. But why not look into it? If we can’t do it this year, we can always shoot for the Scriptus 5 year anniversary. Although that’s not nearly as exciting as Canada 150.”

David “Huh. Sure, why not?”

So, we are thinking about doing a pen, for Scriptus 2017.

Frightening? Yes. There is a reason that only grown-up shows do pens: they are expensive. Amateurs design pens at their own risk, and much like organizing a wedding, it is all too easy to get carried away and end up with something remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Exciting? Yes! We love pens, obviously. Philip has excellent taste in pens. I have done some industrial design work over the years, and have handled thousands of pens for repair, both good and bad.

It also occurred to us that you all might enjoy being in on the fun. So we will be publishing regular blog entries, walking through the process of “doing a pen” with us. So check back here soon, and enjoy our trip.