2004 Washington, D.C. Fountain Pen SUPERSHOW

2004 Washington, D.C. Fountain Pen SUPERSHOW

Bob Johnson has consistently managed to produce the biggest and the best pen show in the world with dealers and collectors gathering from around the world. Many attendees are repeat regulars who have attended for many years and their presence is a statement to those who have yet to come. The show is a nice blend of vintage pens and new production pens with major retailers and manufacturers exhibiting and often unveiling new year Limited Edition models. DC is a convenient East Coast location, it’s easy to travel with direct flights from Europe, South America, and Asia. If you have ever said to yourself “I wish I could make the DC Pen Show”, try for next year.

Hotel and airfare rates are a bargain in August, this could be easier than you think. The earliest sell-out of hotel rooms and exhibit tables occurred this year, with a waiting list up to the last day for any cancellations…and there were none. The DC Pen Show is one that is well worth the travel…and with new faces every year it seems to generate more anticipation with each show. When new faces, dealers, and products need to be offered to the public…it’s the D.C. Pen Show that seems to be the pen show of choice.

The Sheraton Premiere Hotel in Vienna, VA, right across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. was a magnet this week with some early arrivals settling in on Tuesday. They come early, those who simply can’t wait for the trading action and those who take the opportunity for sightseeing. It was not the usually hot and steamy August, rather it was mild and pleasant so the days were very comfortable. The Sheraton Premiere is a great pen show hotel with huge rooms for pre-show trading, easy access to anything one needs and most importantly everyone on the hotel staff was terrific.

Thursday, up at 3 am, a limo at 4, airport by 4:45, I waltz through security in 3 minutes then a power nap for 2 hours. I arrived early at DC, not so much for the pen action, rather I was consulting with a few first-time exhibitors and came to assist them with show preparations. We spent many months of very detailed planning to cover every day, coordinating many suppliers, every event from arrival to departure and after, now it was almost “Showtime!” By afternoon I saw the early trading room was really one half of the ballroom and quite full with about 50 tables, some traders were already set up in the hallways. It was all I could do to dive into the melee, the poking with searching eyes on open pen cases.

I spot a Hawaiian shirt and a red cap, sure enough, my old friend Will Thorpe. Subtle in the crowd but big as life to those that know him and Will was happy as Antonios Banderas on a Paso pony to be there. Most dealers today are vintage traders with the new pen dealers setting up on Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the day and evening was pretty busy tending to business so my pen hunting had to wait for the next day. That afternoon and evening I helped Nakaya organize their products and work show orientation with their translators. It really did not work, it was a special honor and I enjoyed every minute as every package was carefully unwrapped and explained. At one point I sat on the floor with the Wajima artists showing me how to paint bamboo leaves on an ebonite tile with urushi paint. Not too bad I think, I happily received polite applause for my effort and was very pleased.

The Nakaya Fountain Pen Company team arrived earlier on Tuesday. Nakaya had such a success at the recent Chicago Pen Show that Mr. Nakata decided shortly after he must attend DC. Tuesday was for touring DC and the Museums, Wednesday and Thurs for training with the hired translators and getting to know the hotel. Mr. Nakata’s first wish was to meet Nakaya customers and be sure they were happy, making nib adjustments if needed. I arrived Thursday to assist them with a myriad of these details from hiring the team of translators who blended beautifully with the Nakaya team. If you were there you would not even know who they were. Mr. Ed Sumoto, Brian Yang, and Tom Logan were brilliant as to how quickly they were able to learn about Nakaya products and the pen business. We were very happy they were able to assist and they are now permanent Nakaya fans.

Mr. Watanabe, Master Nib Maker was kept busy from Friday, custom shaping nibs for the hands of new and old customers. Mr. Matsubara sat at his lathe shaping ebonite caps and barrels. Using his own lathe shipped from Japan he made it appear very easy cutting and shaping ebonite rods as ribbon shavings fell into piles on the side. You can see in the photo album his trusty leather belt-driven lathe that has served him for almost 50 years. The ebonite rod is placed in the wooden mandrel with a hardwood collar which is simply hit with his hand to lock in and remove. Simple tools such as this have produced museum-quality Japanese products for centuries. Watching this made it appear as if I was stepping back into early Edo history. Visitors were invited to autograph the side of Mr. Matsubara’s cabinet, which gave him great pleasure, this is like a badge of honor he will proudly display in his shop.

Maki-e artists from the city of Wajima who decorate Nakaya pens attended also, demonstrating their skill at brush painting and maki-e-gold decoration. Visitors were invited to paint and also sprinkle the gold dust. I hand-painted one ebonite tile for practice, drawing bamboo leaves and Mr. Daiku added my personal kanji. The Wajima artists were Mr. Daiku who was accompanied by his wife Yoshiko and Mr. Kimio Wakashima. Ms Arisa Sato is assistant to Mr. Watanabe and Ms Nahomi Kusakabe is Nakaya Vice President. Mr. Shinichi Yoshida is in charge of Nakaya Design and Development. A very enthusiastic young man, Shinichi tells me “my goal is to make Nakaya products the very best possible.” Many new products are in development right now and I can say they will be outstanding, soon to be unveiled. Nakaya’s display was four tables displaying magnificent works of maki-e products such as small incense holders, leather and wood pen rests, Yatate pen carriers, and desk weights. I could not resist the tamenuri business card holder which perfectly matches my first tamenuri pen.

It almost seemed as if Japanese arts were the sub-theme of the show. I happen to appreciate maki-e and Japanese arts so I am very keen on the designs and materials. Take a look at who has produced Japanese arts designs or maki-e on their pens. Certainly, Sailor, Pilot and Nakaya, Krone with the Sun Tzu Art of War, Visconti today and as early as the Shunga series several years ago, Pelikan, Parker Asian market LE’s, Andy Lambrou’s Classic Pens on Duofold’s, Loiminchay, and DaniTrio pens are outstanding and reasonable. Fahrney’s Pens even commissioned Sailor for a 75th Anniversary pen called Cherry Blossom. David Ushkow specializes in Japanese and maki-e pens, his table is literally a small museum. It is always a wonderful experience talking to David, I make it a point to learn from him at every show. Walking a large pen show such as DC is an outstanding opportunity to see the mother lode of variety, and they’re sure is something for everyone.

Bernard Lyn from DaniTrio came to his first DC Pen Show. Bernard recently published his outstanding new book Maki-e, art for the soul explaining the arts, the artists, the tools, techniques, and history. Bernard brought some of his own maki-e collection, a beautiful display of very unusual designs, very unlike what I was expecting. His new DaniTrio eyedropper pens are stunning. I was drawn to the black maki-e. This is a raised design of satin black galloping horses on satin black barrels. The only other pen I ever saw like this was a Nakaya black dragon on satin black ebonite. Some day…someday that will be in my pocket. These handsome full-size eyedroppers with traditional Japanese ink shut-off design may be one of the next trends among pen manufacturers.

Honored Guest Geoffrey S. Parker was invited to attend. Geoffrey exhibited the Parker Pen Co. aircraft models along with a great laptop slide show of vintage Parker family archive images. He displayed the entire fleet including the WWII Spitfire GEO S. PARKER and the P51B Mustang “PARKER 51”. Aviation and Parker aircraft have long been a long-time hobby to both of us, so we were very happy to bring this to DC. The display was set up in the lobby so there was a nice crowd of visitors. It’s amazing how many people were drawn to the display, I met an A300 Airbus pilot, several WWII vets and I was soon in the thick of “war stories”. Geoffrey happily autographed many posters of the P51B Mustang as gifts and really impressed everyone with his knowledge and anecdotes of Parker’s family history and aircraft. Geoff has actually traveled in some of the Parker DC3s many years ago with his family so he had some great stories to relate, such as traveling from Janesville to Florida with his pet parrot cackling and whistling like crazy all the way.

Honored Guests of the show Juan Carlos Pallarols, his wife Milta, and son Adrian attended from Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a sterling silver lover…I can say they are a sensation, to say the least. This name may not be familiar to many in the pen collecting community, however in the craft of silverwork the Pallarols comes from the oldest continuous family operation of silversmiths in the world, originating in Barcelona, Spain 250 years ago. Only a few things have changed from founder Vicente’s times. Presently, Juan Carlos uses some tools kept for more than 250 years, some were actually used at this show. Juan Carlos is teaching his son, Adrián, who works by his side. This way of working as a silversmith makes Pallarols workshop one of the most famous around the world. Pallarols is now producing custom order sterling pens for DuPont and at this show, several pen manufacturers expressed interest in collaboration with Pallarols.

Honored Guest Yukio Nagahara came from Japan representing Sailor pens and adjusted nibs for customers. Trained by his famous father, they are legends in Japan and now worldwide as creators and Master Nib Designers. In Japan, there is one word for the Master, it is “Kamisama” and everyone knows there is only one person honored with that name and it is Nagahara. Dick Egolf and Michael Masuyama of Luxury Brands USA are the U.S. distributors for Sailor and showcased their entire line of representation. Mary Burke is associated as Director of New Market Development in the U.S. for Conway Stewart pens.

INK !! This was ink heaven and rivers of color were flowing. The lobby had about 6 tables with every imaginable color from Private Reserve, Herbin, Diamine, Noodler, and every other pen maker brand. Every bottle was open and capless ( so they don’t walk away ! ) Clairfontaine test pads of papers were donated by Karen Doherty, VP of Exaclair, the U.S. distributor of Herbin inks, Clairfontaine, QuoVadis, and other high-quality stationery products. Dip pens were donated by Pandemonium. Visitors used Q-Tips to create their own ink samplers, and amazingly I did not see a single overturned bottle. I wondered who had all those caps and how they were going to figure out which belong to which !!

Friday morning dealers were streaming into the showroom by 8 am, the tables are first-come-first-serve and wall tables were preferred. By 9 am the room was full of dealers and plenty of early buyers some with pretty serious looks on their faces. This was a time to move quickly and try to get to those treasures before your good buddy. I really had a great pleasure, in particular, watching the Nakaya and Pallarols exhibits. From their first nervous anticipation of the crowds, seeing their eagerness to explain and show their products, then finally settling into the comfortable routine of knowing they were simply talking the same language to friends about their mutual love of pens and pen products.

The Friday evening Welcome Reception. Promptly at 7 pm, I was happy to introduce the honored guests of the show, Nakaya, Geoffrey S. Parker, the Pallarols, and Nagahara. This event was sponsored by Stylus magazine and Pentrace. Representing Stylus magazine were Publisher Gary George, Jon Messer, Associate Publisher, and Nancy Olson, Editorial Director. Yours truly representing Donal Higgins and Pentrace. People filled the lobby reception area mingling and meeting the Honored Guests which made them very happy. I guess I was not surprised, as honored as the crowd was to meet the special guests, the moment the pizza was brought out, there was an instant vacuum as the line formed and 360 pieces of assorted pepperoni and cheese slices disappeared in 14 minutes. Momentarily the room was a little quieter as the food was consumed, washed down with wine, beer, and soft drinks. Lips “smack” and not to waste a moment…back to the sport of pens, the crescendo builds again and it was either back into the trading room or everyone split off into groups and adventured out to local dinners. Dominos just loves it when the pen show comes to town.

Saturday morning, bright and early everyone finds assigned tables. I find a temporary glitch…my table next to Nakaya and Andy Lambrou is occupied by the table with huge coffee pots. Ok, at least I won’t have far to go for my morning java jolt. Andy is not smiling, he’s so serious, and I’m laughing trying to figure out how to keep it close by. In about 2 minutes the coffee was moved, I insisted “not too far” and we were set up in business. Good crowd, actually a terrific crowd with 800 people streaming into the show in the first 3 hours. Bob tells me this is a new record !! And, they were not all tire kickers, I heard great reports from many who had their best show ever simply on Saturday visitors. The crowd was thick all day, I hardly had time to leave my table and roam the aisles. Watching Nakaya I saw lines forming behind the chairs for visitors, not only to look and test the pens but also watching the Wajima artists. Mr. Nakata was constantly on the move from one end to the other meeting and greeting customers and new friends. Nakata had a very good idea with a large card printed on the table with common phrases in English and Japanese, so customers could either speak pen-show Japanese or just point to the right words for nib and pen adjustments.

In the main lobby leading to the showroom, the exhibitors were the Pen Show theme pen manufacturer Delta with Jerry Greenberg who was passing out his free Delta Maori Indigenous Peoples ink bottles to the first 200 visitors each day. The David Oscarson display is a compact glass-enclosed chest of stunning sterling silver and enamel. Jim Newman of Newman’s Pens, entirely made of crushed pearls are also unique to themselves, no one produces anything like this. Co-sponsors Glen and Susan Bowen from Pen World were handing out complimentary copies of Pen World and InSync magazines. They also sponsored an Ink Survey awarding prizes of inks and subscriptions. Jon Messer and Nancy Olson from Stylus magazine had loads of free International Watch and Stylus magazines. Stylophiles magazine was also represented by Bill Riepl, with his new bride Mary Burke stationed at Luxury Brands exhibit as Sailor’s new Director of Market Development in the U.S. Patrick Chu from Loiminchay was showing the new Olympiad Collection and you just have to see Jade in person to really be impressed. White and green jade under lights will glow as if full of life, incredibly beautiful and incredibly expensive. Rob Rosenberg displayed new Conklin pens, including a new model in all satin gold-filled cap and barrel with gems stones. I saw the first prototype, as yet unnamed. Bert and Alice Heiserman from Pen Haven with Louis Wolfy, huge display with one of the largest vintage selections of the show. Bert is expanding his new pen shop again and he just remodeled it a year ago. Fahrney’s Pens with Chris Sullivan is always the primary attraction in DC, as well as Bertram’s Inkwell, the best-known name in the DC area.

Adrian Pallarols with his mother Milta and his father Juan Carlos who was working on a beautiful sterling pen barrel, using his 200-year-old tools. Chuck Swisher had a huge display with his staff, and he was proudly displaying his newest lineup of Conway Stewart pens. Famous for his Southern smile, Chuck looked calm but was non-stop all weekend. New pen dealers surrounded the room, Maryann and Steve Zucker were there with Kim Sosin to display Signum pens. Maryann was so busy I hardly saw her and Steve together, so here’s an image of Steve and Kim. Richard and Barbara Binder were swamped. The lines formed as soon as they were set up and I rarely saw anything but the top of his head. Norman Haase and his wife were a popular table, Gary and Myrna Lehrer had their minty restored vintage pens, literally a traveling museum, and a walking history book. Ross McKinney and the Triangle Pen Club were a huge help to Bob Johnson and everyone came by to say hello.

Sam Fiorella of course had the biggest of everything you need for writing with a special edition run of Diamine inks, tons of Clairfontaine and Rhodia papers and journals, books, and everything pen-papers-inks you can think of. Sam announced the new book on Parker “51” by David Shepherd will be released at the London Pen Show in October and also at the Ohio Pen Show in November. She is taking pre-publication orders now let her know if want to reserve a copy. I’m sure this book will sell out quickly. My friend Miroslav Tischler, author of the book on Penkala pens was there, coming from Zagreb, Croatia. The country of Croatia will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Penkala in 2006 so Miro’s new Penkala book edition will be printed along with a special Penkala replica I have designed for the event.

What would a pen show be without Joel Hamilton and Sherrell Tyree? The gems from New Mexico are good friends and we were happy to see them. Terry Mawhorter, promoter of the Ohio and Raleigh Pen Shows was there. Of all things, he showed me a Raleigh Pen Co ink blotter, so guess what one of the show giveaways will be for Raleigh 2005? Legendary master craftsman pen repair person Rick Horne sat with another pen legend, 84-year-old Abe Schwartz. Abe flew B17s in the thick of things in ’44, participating in the single largest sortie of B-17s and P51 Mustangs in history. Besides pens, talk to Rick Horne about restoring vintage cars, his other long-time passion. From Israel Zilibi Moshe attended, fortunately, able to arrange his schedule as DC is a prime event he loves to attend. Vintage pens are pretty hard to find in Israel so he was here on a serious mission to find a few nice pens.

Susan Wirth, the only person with convenient standing height writing tables displayed hundreds of pens, every one inked and ready for testing in every imaginable nib size. No one is more patient and determined to get a customer the right pen and Susan is a walking encyclopedia of pen knowledge. Do you like desk pen bases? Paul Sameth always displays his collection at the show, and they are outstanding. The photos show only a small part, and these beauties are the ones for sale. Desk bases are getting harder to find, especially the nice ones with cast metal figures such as elephants, golfers, and horses. Lately, the only sources I find are on eBay and they go very quickly, but I still find some beauties there. I’ve suggested to pen makers for years to produce them again, and just maybe we will see some really nice new-vintage designs soon.

A very beautiful new line of pens is Taccia International. Owner Shu-Jen Lin attended with her young son and daughter. They were very near my table so I was able to study and appreciate the beautiful materials. Brilliant colors, gold nibs, a great crushed ice pattern that was quickly sold, and some Japanese lacquer design pens.

Tamara Stoneburner from the Washington Calligraphy Guild was demonstrating her calligraphy style on Saturday. If you ever have a chance, just sit and watch a calligrapher. It is almost a Zen experience. I find I hold my breath and concentrate with her as she forms every stroke. Watching the creation is a beautiful experience. I especially liked her gold calligraphy on dark blue papers. Mr. Nakata was so impressed he gave me some special Japanese paper scrolls after the show to have her create appropriate quotations.

So another great DC show has come and gone. Every moment was a wonderful experience. Every table had either a new friend or an old friend, a new story to tell, some history to learn, and always new knowledge that was shared. Of 200 exhibitors I could not mention everyone, hopefully, we’ll have more reports from others to fill in some blanks and share some stories. I look forward to next year and am quite amazed by show host Bob Johnson, his sister Barbara and his family that manage to present such a wonderful show. I just spoke with Bob on Thursday after the show. The show takes almost a year to prepare and it even takes a few days after to wrap it all up.

Hope to see you next year at DC, in the meantime, happy trails spread the word on the pleasures of pen and ink and write someone a nice long letter.

Some submitted photos were provided by courtesy of Jim Mamoulides of PenHero, Jay Pulli, and Elaine of Pentrace.

Recommended Reading



There is a wealth of information published on the internet on Pelikan fountain pens. In order to facilitate easy access to this information, I have compiled a list of links to all of the information that I have been able to find. I would like to thank the individuals and companies who have generously provided this information for the benefit of the fountain pen collecting community. I welcome any comments about this list, more information about Pelikan pens, or links to sites that I have overlooked.



Pink and Purple Inks Part II

Pink and Purple Inks Part II

Note: The scans are in the same order from left to right as the reviews are from top to bottom

Pink and Purple Inks Part II

Pelikan Rosé (Rose Colored): Very unique interesting bright and light rosé-orange color, actually pretty similar to the color of rosé wine, but a little bit more intense. Might be mistaken for a strange bright red color and still too light/pale for writing, but great for underlining. (cartridge only)

Pink Inks:

Pelikan Pink: Light pink color with lesser intensity. Similar to Lamy Pink, has not had as many magenta tones as Waterman, Herbin, Rotring, and Jansen pinks. (cartridge only)

Herbin Rose Cyclamen: Light-medium pink color with good intensity, but slightly less intense and lighter than Waterman Pink. (bottled ink and cartridge)

Rotring Pink: Medium intense pink color, very similar to Waterman Pink with better intensity; slightly darker, but not as intense as Jansen Magenta. (bottled ink and cartridge)

Waltraud Bethge Papier Cool Colors Lavendel (Lavender): Nice blueish violet color similar to Herbin Violet but a little bit darker and with more/good intensity. Not as dark as Waterman Violet. (bottled ink only) learn more about Inks at http://pentrace.net/ink-review-water-resistance-of-blue-blue-black-and-black-inks/

Herbin Violet Pensée: Paler medium violet color similar to Sheaffer Lavender, but a little bit bluer and slightly darker. (bottled ink and cartridge)

Rotring Violett (Violet): Lighter medium violet towards the magenta tones, similar to Pelikan Lilac, but more blue and less intensity. Color is inbetween Pelikan Lilac and Sheaffer Lavender. (bottled ink and cartridge)

Pelikan Flieder (Lilac): Medium violet similar to Pelikan Violet, but lighter, less intense, and definitely more magenta tones. More intense than Rotring Violet. cartridge only)

Nib grinding experiences

Nib grinding experiences

So, I had this Edson, with a broadish medium nib, and a small burr on the right-hand side of its tip. How it all got this far, is a story I might share some other time.

However, the nib with the burr was a deliberate choice. It was the broadest medium nib available at the store, as the broad was more than double its width. This medium was just right for me, and I had been reading on the Internet that it was possible to change the nib style anyway. Fixing a nib with problems was something the good men and women of PenTrace were hinting at as well. As I had promised to share my experiences, I decided to take notes of my adventures. Well, here they are…

I went out and found 1200 grit wet&dry sandpaper. Some people on the Internet had suggested that 1000 grit was good enough, so I wanted to give it a try. I already owned a small black Arkansas stone, which seemed smoother than the wet&dry; so why not try that too, I thought.

And one evening, after checking that the tines were aligned correctly, I just did. Very carefully, by writing on the wet&dry; in a small puddle of water, I tried to get rid of the burr.

Moving up and down, left and right, in a slow, almost pressureless fashion, and lots of testing in between by cleaning and dipping the pen, the burr was removed. I tried to use some very fine car polish paste to try and polish the end result, but it was rather difficult to apply to a surface as small as the tip of a fountain pen, and I did not dare use a buffing pad on my Dremel. Anyway, as it was, this only required less than fifteen minutes of work. Great, I thought.

However, when using the pen in practice, in real-world use, it felt a bit rougher than before. So, out came the Arkansas stone. Holding the pen still, and moving the stone in a circular motion over the tip in all directions, no pressure applied, seemed to do the trick.

After using the pen “in the field” as it were, for a couple of days, I was not at all that satisfied anymore. The pen tended to write drier and more scratchy than ever before. A kind of grinding experience…

Asking more questions on PenTrace learned that one should really use a very fine grit mylar (12000 grit or thereabouts) for the final finish. Scouring all the hardware stores in the neighborhood of my hometown and my workplace did not result in tracing any mylar whatsoever, or anything like it.

What I did find was a 30 X loupe normally used for small gemstones and diamonds, and a Dremel emery polishing disk, however. The latter was not only very cheap, but also finer than either my Arkansas stone, or the 1200 grit wet&dry, and was flexible as well. learn more about parker pens at http://pentrace.net/parker-100-an-evolution-and-a-revolution-in-design/

Good. Gave that a try, holding the pen once more in my left hand, and the disk in the right one. A lot easier to work with than the Arkansas stone, making circular movements in a single plane, and rotating my hand all the way around the tip of the nib. Just making sure not to catch the nib in the hole in the middle.

The result was quite a bit better than before, and basically, it became a double-sided nib as a side effect, medium on the one side, and fine when reversed, a bit akin to the ItaliFine nibs of Richard Binder, I guess (not Italic obviously, but certainly a dual nib).

In the meantime, I had also acquired an ST Dupont Orpheo, with a fine nib, which was incredibly smooth. Smoother than the Edson either way around, or than it ever had been.

Listen, it was writing very well indeed now, better than any other pens in my possession, like my Pelikan M800 for example (yes advancing my pen collection rather rapidly), but, after all, I happen to be a perfectionist.

Getting frustrated and all, and not having too much time to spare, I decided to do a search on the Internet, and finally found what I was looking for. 3M 12000 grit on a plastic film, called International Lapping Film (that would be the mylar, I assumed), and Micromesh, up to grit 12000, in Micromesh terms, which in fact turned out to be approximately 6000 grit.

Both could be had from the same shop, in Belgium, but not very far away from where I live, only 25 kilometers (15 miles) down the motorway. My hometown is in the Netherlands, but only just.

So, one morning after a phone call to see whether this shop sold to private persons as well, as it seemed to be an industrial supplier rather than a retail shop, I found out they actually did and set off to visit them. I ended up buying a Micromesh set up to grit 6000, good for polishing a perspex airplane canopy to perfection, added additional sheets in grade 8000 and 12000, a sheet of 3M’s International Lapping Film grit 8000, and one in 12000, plus a quantity of water-soluble polishing paste, also for use with perspex, and thus only very mildly abrasive.

Tools used

  • plenty of water
  • plenty of ink
  • plenty of toweling
  • different kinds of writing paper
  • loupe (30X, diamond loupe)
  • small black Arkansas stone
  • grey Dremel emery polishing wheel
  • 1 sheet 1200 grit wet-dry sandpaper
  • Micro-Mesh set (6 sheets MicroMesh grainsize1500, 1800, 2400, 3600, 4000, and 6000, 1 bottle of antistatic water-soluble polishing fluid, 1 foam rubber polishing block, 1 very fine linen polishing/cleaning cloth), with an additional
  • 1 sheet of 8000 and 12000-grain size.
  • 1 sheet 3M Imperial Lapping Film, light green, 1 micron1 sheet 3M Imperial Lapping Film, white, 0.3 micro
  • scanner, and simple rig to scan the nib at 2400 dpi

A couple of days later I had the opportunity to try out my newly acquired set, on a pen that had its nib bent 90 degrees, and straightened again. It needed buffing, as the pen repair person had to do a job for me in a hurry. I needed the pen the day before yesterday.

So I buffed at the little nick it was showing because some of the gold on the nib had burrs where it was bent previously. It worked out really wonderfully, no problem. Using the 12000 Micromesh on the foam buffer pad that came with the set, the burrs were worked away quite easily. Finishing it to a shine was achieved by using the liquid polish and the buffing cloth that was provided with the Micromesh set.

Lovely. No damage could be seen anymore at all, and the pen wrote like a dream, smoother than my Edson, comparing favorably to the Dupont. Ok, I thought, this is it, I just have to try it. Not today, though, other things to do, and I want to play with this on some cheap pens as well, before having a go at the Edson.

A week later or so, the converter of the Edson happened to be empty again while I was sitting at my desk in the basement. Right in the weekend. what an opportunity! It was 

Saturday night late, and I was not going to disturb anyone doing it either. I cleaned it out, rinsed, splashed, flushed, and gargled, got all the tools out, and worked the nib first with the 12000 Micromesh on the buffing pad. This was done again by making circular movements in the three dimensions of the nib point, while holding the pen still, using plenty of water as a lubricant, and checking often with a 30 X loupe.

Now over to the International Lapping Film, 12000 grit. A piece was cut, big enough to cover the foam pad and hold it comfortably. The same technique was applied, and now I noticed that the nib point, the “iridium”, started to shine, which it did not do before.

Testing it revealed that there was a slight bit of sharp tooth left on the right-hand side of the nib, so I worked it a bit more, concentrating on that side.

Next try: it was fine now, it felt smooth. A good rinse, flush, and cleaning followed suit. Testing it on 5 different kinds of paper, from cheap, rough stuff to very smooth and G. Lalo, proved that it was writing absolutely fantastically now, on any paper! Well, at least the stuff I had around.

Time to fill the converter, and do a comparison. Seemed to be as smooth as the Dupont now, with still some feel to the paper. It was gliding marvelously across the paper, totally effortlessly.

Ok, what about my M800? That was still a bit rough also and tended to start with some difficulty. Studying its nib with the loupe revealed a couple of very sharp edges to the point, so it got the same treatment. A bit more carefully, though, as it was (is) an oblique nib. I wanted to maintain its specific character after all. Well, needless to say, really, but this seemed to succeed as well. It now has still some bite, but it writes smoothly, rather than catching the paper as it did before, and the shading it produces is still ok.

As I had this awful Duofold Centennial lying around as well, which used to be messed up due to dried-up Penman ink in combination with a bad nib. The second nib it had now, was still a rather scratchy one, even having been back to the manufacturer or importer twice in the last six weeks or so. Ok, why not take a look at that one as well, while I was busy torturing nibs anyway.

Got it out of its pen wallet, and tried to scratch some words with it on paper. This actually made me furious, and I got working on it like a madman for about ten minutes. Actually, before doing so, I noticed, having a bit more experience, that it really had a funny sweet spot. You could only write with it well when holding the thing at an awkward, almost vertical angle!

It was fixed for the most part, as I can write with it now under any angle, almost, but it is still a bit of a scratching exercise. Maybe I’ll just turn it into something else sometime, but rather not now. Enough for a day’s (night’s) work…

You may wonder how much time was spent doing all these jobs. Getting all the stuff out, fixing these pens, and cleaning up took all of about fifty to sixty minutes, that’s all. And I was getting faster at it as well…

A couple of days into writing with the Edson, the converter was getting empty again, I noticed that there still was some bite in the nib, especially moving it sideways, to the left. Of course, I did not like that, and got out all the tools again, cleaned the pen, and looked at the tip aided by the loupe. I noticed the edges of the “iridium” on the inside, where the slit is, seemed rather sharp, so I stuck the Lapping Film between the tines and started to move it forward and backward while bending the film a little, both around and over the nib, to catch all sides of the slit. Turned the film around, and did the same with the other tine.

Less than 10 minutes later, I could see the difference with the loupe and tried to write with it again. Wow, smooth! No catching anymore. Cleaned everything up, flushed out the pen once more, and refilled.

This is now my best, smoothest writer, even better than the Dupont. Absolutely no effort required.

It’s two weeks later now, several refills later, and it is absolutely great. Wow! I love it.

Now, you may ask, would I recommend this practice to others?

Well, if you’re not afraid to do this kind of thing, in very little doses with the right kind of tools, I would exclaim wholeheartedly “Yes, go for it!”. However, make sure you’re comfortable with it and practice on some cheaper pens first. I know, I did not in the end, but I think I have been lucky…

As long as you take it in small, tiny steps, exert no pressure, check your work continuously with a loupe, and by trying out the pen, you are fixing, on paper, the chances of doing harm to a pen are minimal.

Use your common sense. If you can’t get at least some of the results I described here in 20 minutes or less, you should send your pen to a nib meister.

Don’t grind away all of the “iridium”. You should not really be able to see you’ve ground anything away, apart from seeing smoother edges on the tip, unless you’re trying to achieve stubs, obliques or italics starting off from a standard type nib point. But that might just be something for another installment.

What Material is Best for Flex Nibs?

What Material is Best for Flex Nibs?

The performance of flex nibs depends on two factors: (a) a properly shaped nib from good material to withstand flexing and (b) a proper feeding system not only to supply adequate ink but also to follow the rapid changes of flow requirements flex nibs.   The amount of flexing (the opening of the tines) depends on the geometry and the material of the nib. The focus of the discussion here is going to be the nib material.

The discussion on best materials for flex nibs is often clouded by a number of misconceptions or unclear use of terms.  For example, the stiffness of a nib is confused with its strength.  For a flex nib, we want

  1. Low stiffness, so that a small force can produce large reversible deflections of the tines.
  2. High strength, so that after large deflections the tines return to their original shape (i.e. do not deform permanently.

The stiffness or the strength of a nib can be adjusted by changing its geometry, e.g., by changing the thickness of the nib.  For a fixed geometry, however, the performance of a nib depends on the material. For a good flex nib we need a material with:

  1. Low elastic modulus, to get low stiffness which allows for large tin opening at low force
  2. High yield strength and fracture strength: which allows for large openings of the tines without permanent deformation or cracking at the tip of the breather hole.
  3. High fatigue resistance: to avoid opening of cracks at the breather hole due to repeated flexing of the pen.

Additional criteria that apply to all nibs (flex or not) are:

  1. Weldability of tip alloy  (this essentially excludes plastics, composites and aluminum)
  2. Corrosion resistance to inks (this excludes a number of otherwise good materials)
  3. Ease of manufacturing.

There are steel alloys with excellent strength and fatigue performance but the modulus of steel is 2-3 times that of gold alloys (~200GPa versus 60-100GPa).   Therefore any advantage offered by steel due to high strength/fatigue performance is lost due to the high modulus (stiffness) of steel.  The strength and fatigue performance of some gold alloys is quite remarkable.   The low stiffness of gold is its biggest advantage.  In simple words, if you had two nibs of identical dimensions, the gold one would give you the opening of the tines at a force that is half or a third of the force needed to flex the steel nib to the same tine opening.  As a result, the stresses that may cause fatigue will also be 2-3 lower in the gold than in the steel nib.

It is possible to compensate for the high modulus of steel by decreasing the thickness of the nib/tines (or other geometric characteristics such as the length of the tines, the curvature of the nib, the width of the shoulders, etc).  A thinner steel nib can match the opening of a thicker gold nib.   Steel nibs with some flex exist (e.g., 9128, 9048 Esterbrooks).  The thickness of nibs, however, is ~25 thousand of an inch, and often close to the tail it is as thin as 5 thousand of an inch. Getting such thickness in high-performance steel is much more difficult than in gold. Nib punching from a metal sheet will cause high wear on the tools.  The problem is similar with titanium nibs – in fact, the properties of titanium are even better than gold (about the same modulus and high strength/fatigue).   The difficulty in processing and the high capital cost of tools make the processing of steel and titanium nibs unfavorable given the small production sizes.

The advantage of gold is even stronger if you consider the corrosion resistance which excludes some other interesting materials such as memory alloys. Stainless is more sensitive than gold to acids and titanium is slightly worse than gold to bases and acids. I would rank the material selection criteria for flex nibs in terms of importance (high first) in the following way:

  1. Weldability of tip alloy
  2. Corrosion resistance to inks
  3. Low Modulus
  4. Ease of manufacturing
  5. Fatigue resistance
  6. Strength

Therefore gold is better than steel for flex nibs because of the low modulus (stiffness), reasonable strength/fatigue, excellent corrosion resistance, and good formability.

There are two other facts that also lead to confusion in the discussions on the best material for flex nibs:

1.     A single material can have a range of properties depending on processing (rolling + heat treatment). In simple words, we can change the properties of the metal by rolling the sheet before stamping the nibs or by heating the nibs to a high temperature than induces changes in the internal structure of the alloy.

2.     Generic materials designations are not enough to specify the material. For example, when we say 14K this includes a very large range of materials.  The karat designation only specifies the gold contained.  The other elements in the alloy (e.g., silver, copper, etc.) can affect the properties and may result in a large variety of properties. 

We say that in general 14K is better than 18K for flex nibs because we can make 14K gold alloys that have lower elastic modulus and higher strength than the 18K alloys.   This is shown in the table below that compares some of the common nib materials.


Gold 14K80-90   200-500*      150-450*     Very good/Very Good/VeryGood    Good
Gold 18K90-100              150-400*120-350*     Very good/VeryGood/Very GoodGood
Stainless 302SS200750-900440-750*     Very good/Good/Very GoodDifficult
Ti-6Al-4V110450-750       610-650*Very good/Good/GoodDifficult

*The wide range of properties indicates variation in composition and processing.

Remember we want

  • low elastic modulus
  • high strength/fatigue limit
  • good corrosion
  • good formability

It is interesting to note in the table above that it is possible to get a 14K alloy which is totally inappropriate for flex nibs if its properties (strength and fatigue resistance) correspond to the low end of the range.

There is a lot of room to optimize the composition and the processing of gold alloys for flex but the cost of R&D with gold and the small market size for flex nibs are not favorable for such a pursue.  I hope to get back to you with a detailed report on the geometry of flex nibs.

On the Trail of Tolkien: Part 3: In the Land of Mordor, where the Shadows Lie

On the Trail of Tolkien: Part 3: In the Land of Mordor, where the Shadows Lie

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for the Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie,
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
– The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien

This is the final part of the present series discussing the life of the author and scholar JRR Tolkien and his inspirations in the Midlands of England, and perhaps the most controversial.

The first parts comprised a concise biography and early bibliography, and a tour of places in the Birmingham area where Tolkien lived in his childhood, and which are said to have influenced and inspired the author when he came to write his much-loved books ‘The Hobbit and ‘The Lord of the Rings. These influences are fairly well-established, although occasionally open to some debate.

One area which is also often claimed to have had a darker influence, however, is open to far more conjecture, as Ronald Tolkien never, as far as I am aware, went into any detail about his inspirations for places in the Land of Mordor, home of the Dark Lord Sauron, chief instigator and inspiration for most of the evil to be found in Tolkien’s fantasy works.

Tolkien makes clear his distaste for industry and its unnatural destruction of the countryside. Whether he deliberately wrote The Lord of the Rings to make this point is debatable, but it is undeniable that this abhorrence influenced his thinking and his writing, however unconsciously.

As a result of this, and of its proximity to Birmingham, it is often suggested that one area, in particular, may have inspired Mordor – a place, in fact, a series of towns, heavily industrialised, run-down and blackened by centuries of industrial revolution and poverty, and only in the late 20th-century managing to drag itself into the light of day. This place is known as ‘The Black Country.

This article aims to let a little light into the shadowy corners of Mordor by suggesting some places that if Tolkien had seen them, might indeed have sparked thoughts of the black land of legend, and to give you, gentle reader, the chance to see them in a brief tour herein.

Tolkien purists already foaming at the mouth with indignation should remember, however, that this article claims no greater authority than mere conjecture in the spirit of fun. This author, being a denizen of The Black Country, simply allows himself a little amusement and speculation in the light that he may yet live today in the land of Orcs and Goblins, of rock trolls, black riders, of Mount Doom and barad-dur, and the all-seeing Eye of Sauron, Oh my!

Where is The Black Country?

‘Day was coming again in the world outside, and far beyond the glooms of Mordor the sun was climbing over the eastern rim of Middle-Earth, but here all was still dark as night. The Mountain smouldered and its fires went out. The glare faded from the cliffs. The eastern wind that had been blowing ever since they left Ithilien now seemed dead.’
– The Return of the King

The Black Country – shaded area.
Note Bloxwich, my home, on the northeastern border!

The Black Country, in fact, borders on the Birmingham area, in the Midlands of England, and as you can see from the map, it is not far from Tolkien’s homes in Sarehole (Hobbiton, The Old Forest) near Moseley, and Edgbaston (The Two Towers, Orthanc), so it would make sense that Tolkien might be influenced by it.

This group of towns, some small, some large, was at the heart of the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, and became known, because of its black ground and the choking black smoke from innumerable furnaces, as the Black Country.

Wednesbury by Night, mid-19th-century painting

Elihu Burritt, the American Consul to Birmingham in 1862, said that the place was ‘Black by day and red by night’. In Tolkien’s youth, certainly, it was. Today, The Black Country owes much of its heritage and image to the period when the iron and steel industry was at its height, but has also cleaned up its act a great deal, and has made great efforts to modernise and become more clean and green.

The boundaries of the Black Country are somewhat hazy and often the subject of much pedantic debate, but in today’s tourist-conscious times, four main Boroughs, each incorporating many Black Country towns and villages, all lay claim to being part of it: Dudley, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Sandwell.

Certainly, Dudley is at the heart of it, as are many parts of the other Boroughs. These days, part of nearby Warley comes under Sandwell, and some of it tends to get lumped in with Birmingham, but it has a historical claim to being part of The Black Country, and any trek to the heart of Mordor from The Two Towers would surely have led through it.

Whatever its boundaries, the Black Country was certainly something that would dismay Tolkien and nature lovers anywhere. Great iron foundries and abominable structures abounded, just as the open-cast quarries and deep mines scarred the land. Grim and black indeed: certainly the Mordor amongst us.

While The Black Country today is by no means as black as it’s painted, and is a great place to live, being full of friendly people (orcs being rarely seen nowadays!), fascinating heritage, pubs, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, ghosts (grin) and even the odd green patch of vegetation, you can still see that when young Ronald Tolkien was a lad, it would have been a grim place indeed, bustling, harsh, noisy, black and dirty.

But where to site the chief dark places of Mordor?

The Morannon, or Black Gate
– Blackheath

‘This was Cirith Ungor, the Haunted Pass, the entrance to the land of the Enemy… …Across the mouth of the pass, from cliff to cliff, the Dark Lord had built a rampart of stone. In it, there was a single gate of iron, and upon its battlement sentinels paced unceasingly. Beneath the hills on either side the rock was bored into a hundred caves and maggot-holes; there a host of orcs lurked, ready at a signal to issue forth like black ants going to war. None could pass the Teeth of Mordor and not feel their bite, unless they were summoned by Sauron, or knew the secret passwords that would open the Morannon, the black gate of his land’.
– The Two Towers

High Street, Blackheath, photographed from the junction with Halesowen Street in 1905.
Coombs Wood Works in Rowley Regis was an independent steel producer before being taken over by British Steel, and was responsible for the influx of many workers from South Wales into the area.
Coombs Wood Works in Rowley Regis was an independent steel producer before being taken over by British Steel and was responsible for the influx of many workers from South Wales into the area.

Directly on the route from The Two Towers – Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul – lies the chief entrance to Mordor – The Morannon or ‘Black Gate’. In the ‘real world’, geographically speaking, a fine place to situate the Black Gate would be at the all-too-similarly named ‘Blackheath’ or ‘Black Heath’, a rather run-down but nonetheless historic town within the area of Rowley Regis, now in the Borough of Sandwell.

The development of Rowley into an industrial area had very early beginnings going back to Roman times, but the first recorded industry of the Manor of Rowley was nail making which started in the 13th Century. The development of coal and iron industries led to a rapid transformation of the region from green to Black Country. By 1880 over fifty collieries poured their smoke into the atmosphere, and four blast furnaces lit up the night sky. Truly a candidate for part of Mordor.

Mount Doom
– Sedgley Beacon

‘Still far away, forty miles at least, they saw mount Doom, its feet founded in ashen ruin, its huge cone rising to a great height, where its reeking head was swathed in cloud. Its fires were now dimmed, and it stood in smouldering slumber, as threatening and dangerous as a sleeping beast. Behind it there hung a vast shadow, ominous as a thundercloud, the veils of Barad-dur that was reared away on a long spur of the Ashen Mountains thrust down from the North.’
– The Return of the King

Mount Doom, or the volcano Orodruin, stood in the plateau of Gorgoroth in northwestern Mordor. With an elevation of some 4,500 feet, and a base of seven miles diameter, it would not be much competition for Mount Etna in Italy, which towers some 11,000 feet and has a base of around 21 miles diameter, but nonetheless, it was a sinister and dangerous place.

Frodo entered the Chambers of Fire and approached the Crack of Doom through tunnels, certainly, tunnels are common in The Black Country – the former limestone mines, now abandoned caves, at Wren’s Nest in Dudley, and in Castle Hill, are a few of the man-made examples of such in the area.

I have placed Barad-dur on Castle Hill (see more below), and thusly, geographically placed to the east of Barad-Dur, Mount Doom may most attractively be identified with Sedgley Beacon, a prominent hill famed in its name for the great fires once lit atop its heights. While not on the same scale as the ‘real’ Mount Doom, it is certainly in the ‘right’ place.

Sedgley Beacon, 1904
Sedgeley, Beacon Hill and Monument in the distance, c.1921

Sedgley Beacon is situated on a limestone ridge, 654 feet above sea level. It gets its name from a great signal fire once lit atop the hill, perhaps as part of the series set up in Tudor times or earlier to warn against invasion from the sea.

Victorian historians once entertained the thought that ancient Druid priests had ‘oft-performed their mystic rites’ atop the Beacon, and though modern scholars might pour scorn on this, such rites might well inspire thoughts of Sauron’s magical ring-forging in the flames of Orodruin.

The Beacon Monument, which can still be visited today, is a circular stone tower built in 1846 by Lord Wrottesley for astronomical observations and as a fitting landmark for Sedgley Beacon.

It certainly also seems fitting that this high place near the centre of The Black Country, with, historically, a great flame at its summit, might symbolise the mighty volcano of Orodruin or Mount Doom, where the Rings of Power were forged, and where the One Ring was destroyed. It even happens to be west of Dudley Castle, where I have placed Barad dur, as it was in The Lord of the Rings.

Oddly enough, in geological time, there were volcanoes in the area, in the vicinity of nearby Wolverhampton, and volcanic rock was long quarried at Rowley Regis, but none at Sedgley itself.

‘Barad-dur’ – the Dark Tower of Sauron
– Dudley Castle

‘…for here as the mountain drew near the air was ever mirky, while out from the Dark Tower there crept the veils of Shadow that Sauron wove about himself.’
– The Return of the King

The Keep of Dudley Castle
Dudley Castle towers over the Black Country

For over 900 years Dudley Castle has surveyed from its lofty vantage-point the changing face of the surrounding landscape. This most important of the town’s buildings were mentioned in the Domesday Book when the small village of Dudley nestled amidst fields and woods. During the days of the Industrial Revolution, the fields were built on and the woods were cut down for building materials and to burn.

Coal, iron and limestone were mined, to make iron and steel for industry, and to build steam engines, railways and iron ships, to such an extent that many parts of The Black Country suffer from subsidence even today.

Dudley Castle is at the heart of The Black Country and occupies a truly commanding position on Castle Hill, near the centre of the modern town.

Castle Hill itself is a fascinating place, full of caves and canal tunnels to the nearby Wren’s Nets limestone caverns. It overlooks a remnant of the historic Black Country industry much beloved of tourists, the Black Country Living Museum, where the visitor may get some feel of what it would have been like to live and work in the area during Tolkien’s youth.

Could Tolkien have visited Dudley, and been inspired by the ancient castle on the tunnelled hill to dream of Sauron’s dark tower of Barad-Dur? Who can say, but I know that it inspires me? Hopefully, it will inspire you, young Hobbit.

So ends, gentle reader, my series of articles introducing to you to the life of JRR Tolkien and some of the locations in the Birmingham area which have influenced the landscape of The Hobbit and, most significantly, The Lord of the Rings. I hope that you have enjoyed the quest, and maybe inspired to visit these places yourself one day. If you do, please contact me – I would love to show you around his world.

It may be that in the future I will return to the world of JRR Tolkien to introduce you to his haunts in Oxford, during the days when he became a great scholar and the author whom we know and love today. But that, young Hobbit, is another story…

Stuart Williams
Bloxwich, England