Tag Archives: vintage

Pilot Murex

More than 40 years after its creation, this design still looks sleek and modern.

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Grail #2!

I jumped on one on Reddit for $200 and it came in excellent condition, save for a little cosmetic issue with the feed (more on that later). I already had money set aside for it and had been looking for it fairly half-heartedly on eBay — many of them were going for more than $400 new. But it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time for mine!

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The pen’s functioning bits.

The pen itself is a cartridge/converter model, but what really sets it apart from Pilot’s other metal offerings is the shape of the nib. Melded right into the section, the breather hole and tines are part of the same piece of steel. This makes the nib impossible to swap out, of course, but it’s possible to dissemble the nib assembly into section+nib and feed along with a couple other smaller parts. 

The snap cap is tight and very well designed, with the clip separately sprung so it moves quite freely and the MR logo pre-dating the Metro by several decades. (See featured photo for close up.) The pen tapers into flat ends on both sides, making it slightly shorter than the Metro.

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Urushi-coated feed, showing bubbles.

Now about the cosmetic issue: the pen came looking practically new, with the sticker still in place. It’s rubbed off a little since I started using it, but the main “problem” was that the urushi had started bubbling due to moisture and heat. Apparently this was a common problem, but it doesn’t affect the ink flow at all, and lends a touch of attractive imperfection to an otherwise robotic-looking pen. But, as always, here is a writing sample on Fabriano paper — and it wrote far better than I expected it to:

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It looked like it might have been scratchy… but no!

As the nib is literally part of the steel, it is very firm with no bounce at all, but the way Pilot has shaped the tipping means there is a very smooth line. It absolutely flies over Tomoe River but even on toothier paper (like Fabriano) there is almost a sense of enjoyment at how it glides around with no hint of scratchiness. Definitely something to pick up, if one comes across your path!

Look at that point! The Murex looks like it could draw blood. I promise I haven’t tried…

Pelikan 400NN Brown Tortoise (1950s)

I jumped on this one because Pelikan no longer makes anything near the range they used to have, both in terms of pen shapes as well as nib types:

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Look at the rounded cap finial and piston knob.

The 400NN was developed after the 400N was a “neu” version of the old 400, which looks like the modern M400. The finial and knob gradually got rounder, finally arriving at the rather cigar shape above. The binde of the vintage tortoise variants also varies far more in colour and evenness compared to the modern browns on the M400 and M800 pens; mine shades from dark brown to as light as yellow and green in some places — to my eyes, much closer to a tortoise’s patterns than the rather averaged-out modern colours!

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Such a beautifully uneven brown binde!

It arrived clean but definitely shows signs of age and wear: the finial is rubbed fairly smooth, not to mention the brassing on the clip and the cap band. The nib itself is in excellent condition though it has a slightly stubby quality, which is a sign of long periods of intense use.

Indeed, it was the nib that attracted me to the pen. Pelikan used to make a range of italics and obliques and “ballpoint” (Kugel) sizes with different sorts of tipping, and this dates from the era of pre-ballpoint carbon papers, when special nibs were made to withstand larger pressures without flexing. Mine is a DF (Durchschreib-Fein) nib, or a manifold fine, and comes in almost as fine as my Japanese pens — no modern Pelikan “fine” here! It is a single-tone 14k gold nib and has shorter tines. Unusually enough, it also has two breather holes. 

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Old-school cool: the DF nib.

In writing on Fabriano paper (below), the pen gives a very pleasant sort of toothy feedback — a sign of wear — and yet absolutely glides along on Tomoe River paper. As with my other Pelikan fines, it writes on the drier side, but is wet enough here to show the shading in Oku-yama. The pen itself is light to hold, as one would expect from the rather small 400 size. And while it is very firm, it does not feel like a nail…

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My most even fine nib!

A size comparison (in featured photo) places the 400NN as intermediate between my M200 and M620s, which is only to be expected. More delicious photos in better lighting here:

Montblanc Slimline (1980)

Another Montblanc I didn’t buy…

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Sleek as heck.

My mother gave this to my father almost forty years ago and it has made its way to me after not being used for most of the intervening period. (I guess it’s sensible to keep expensive pens away from the kids.) For such a slim pen, it has a total of four(!) Montblanc stars on it: one on the nib, one on the clip, and one on each end of the pen.

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Slap a star on every flat surface! The one on the barrel is slightly raised.

There is a model without the star on the clip (the Noblesse) and that has a gold nib. The Slimline, on the other hand, has a gold-plated steel nib. While I have never tried the Noblesse, the way this Slimline writes makes me feel that Montblanc certainly were doing something right: this is a joy to behold.

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The other two stars.

It seems to be a common complaint about modern Montblancs: that their nibs are very average and that the way to find a good nib is to go vintage. My admittedly fairly limited experience with Montblancs definitely bears this out; having tuned an old Montblanc 32 and tried some modern 146s and 149s, I can safely say I enjoy this pen far more than the far more expensive Johannes Brahms I wrote about last week.

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Very smooth, and with far more character than an anonymous modern nib…

Aikin Lambert Capitol Lady Dainty (1920s)

More eBay trawling resulted in this little dinky pen:

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Not an actual Conway Steward Dinkie.

This is the first Aikin Lambert I own, but not the first I’ve tried. About half a year ago, a family friend had heard I was “interested in pens” and so taken out something she had bought thirty years ago. It turned out to be an incredible overlay pen, slim, similar in size and length to my Mabie Todd Swan, and when I uncapped it, revealed a very slim nib. By then, I was experienced enough to know at sight that it was flexible. And I was allowed to dip and try it…

Having remembered the feel of that pen, I proceeded to add the maker’s name to my occasional eBay searches. Which is how I got this:

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Back of the nib, and the name wearing off the cap.

A Capitol Lady Dainty: similar in size to a Waterman 42 1/2 V (as in featured photo), it was far less troublesome as a lever filler and, while also far less flexible, was much eaiser to fiddle around with. The branding is also on the cap instead of the barrel.

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Flexible nib, latex sac and pen barrel.

The pen itself writes with a feed back unexpectedly similar to my Pilot, and though not as flexible as the one I first tried, definitely qualifies as a vintage semi-flex. It is also firm enough to use as a regular point nib, for which it writes a very pleasant Western fine. There is a toothy quality to it on Fabriano paper, which is slightly textured, but it glides across Tomoe River, the feed being juicy enough to keep the contact point well-lubricated. Using an excellent ink like an Iroshizuku helps greatly as well.

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A very expressive line and easy control make this pen awesome.

The nib has the capability of very expressive swells when called upon to function that way, though since this is one of my firmest vintage nibs, I often use this as a regular fine when I am rotating through my collection. Perhaps I should start looking again for one that is truly flexible…

Salz Brothers Peter Pan (1920s)

Another eBay vintage find:

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Just…

Dating from almost a century ago, this was in such good condition I could scarcely believe myself. The Peter Pan pens used to be worn as jewellery (thus the ringtop) and it was a challenge to fit a completely functioning pen into something unobtrusive and very very light.

Mine is among the smallest specimens ever made. At 59mm capped and 51mm uncapped, it’s really quite something to behold…

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Size comparison: Lamy LX on top, the Peter Pan below.

Unlike most vintage pens, it’s easily taken apart. Because of its size there are no levers or sacs to deal with; even so, it holds a maximum of 0.25ml of ink, and I usually only fill it to 0.2ml.

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L to R from top: Cap, nib, feed, section, and barrel. 

That nib contains the magic of the pen: a size 0, it is the smallest gold nib ever produced. Mine actually happens to be a stub that is also rather flexible — but of course there is no chance of the feed keeping up with a nib this size! You’d also run out of ink almost immediately if flex was involved.

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Macro shot of nib. PETER PAN is visible, as well as the top of 14KT.

I have been tempted on many occasions to modify the feed on this, except I risk damaging something older than my grandparents. Anyway, it’s a rather crisp stub, though not quite as unforgiving as an italic. There’s plenty of line variation, which is surprising for a piece of jewellery!

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I wrote this unposted.

Later versions grew in size and eventually had lever fillers. Perhaps they even became large enough to use comfortably without posting… at any rate, since I don’t like to post my pens in case I scuff the barrel, I felt as if I were writing with a toothpick. This is a definite novelty, but such an unusual one!

Mabie Todd Blackbird (1930s)

There’s nothing more fun than trawling eBay and then realising you’ve got an absolute treasure when it lands in your hands.

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Very unassuming, until you open it up…

The Blackbird is regarded as Mabie Todd’s slightly lower-tier pen, beneath the Swan series. They come in a smaller range of designs, which, at least for someone like me, means a less bewildering time having to hunt them down. I managed to track down a date of 1933–38 for mine, which is pretty good indeed considering the condition of the pen!

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The imprint is still crisp, as is the chasing on the body and cap.

On the barrel it says “BLACKBIRD SELF FILLER” in the first line (see above), which is an early name for any pen that didn’t require eyedroppering or syringing ink into the barrel. This is a lever filler, and although the lever is a little rusted, the mechanism still works absolutely fine, and the sac must have been newly changed when I got it.

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Slight tarnishing on the lever bar.

The nib is a tiny little wonder, amazingly flexible despite its diminutive size. Made of 14k gold it is the only part of the pen that doesn’t have silver-coloured furniture and so it draws attention to itself. The stamped imprint on the nib is still crisp even though there the tiniest bit of brassing, probably from 80 years of exposure to ink.

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Made in England; the last line is set inside the section.

This is a rather small pen, on par with the size of the Pelikan M2xx/4xx series. It’s also rather light, though the metal lever mechanism draws the weight towards the back of the pen slightly; for me, the centre of mass rests just on the skin between my thumb and index finger, feeling perfectly balanced. The cap is a screw cap and mine opens with 2.5 turns, though this definitely varies between individual pens.

The true test of buying vintage is the moment of putting pen to paper. In this case, I was not disappointed at all! In fact, the nib was more flexible than I had hoped, judging from the photos the seller had posted. It does require a little pressure to flex, but the response is wonderfully snappy and it’s possible to get some really fine lines with high-angle writing.

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I cannot remember what recipe I used to mix this ink…

Mine is a rather juicy writer. I highly recommend anyone interested in vintage flex to search for these as a possible budget option to the high-profile Watermans (52/54, 42, 12) which tend to go for far higher prices online. To finish off, the Blackbird writes the word “blackbird”:

Esterbrook SJ (1950s)

If ever there was an entry-level workhorse vintage pen, this would be it.

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So much depth in that copper colour.

Esterbrook was a hugely-respected company that made so many cheap pens that it’s not hard to find a specimen or two for almost the same kind of money one would spend on a modern entry-level. The J/LJ/SJ models are by far the most common, and they are the easiest to find these days, only differing in size. J is the longest and fattest pen, the LJ slightly shorter, and the SJ both shorter and slimmer.

I actually bought 3 Esterbrooks in total, one blue J and two copper SJs, but gifted the other two to stationery-enthusiast friends. This here is the first one I received.

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Mine is in incredible condition for its age!

The best thing about these Esterbrooks is that they operate on a one-size-fits all model: the nibs are swappable, and there is an absolutely staggering array of nibs to choose from. From a super extra fine cartographic nib (#8440) to several kinds of broad nibs (flexible, firm, rigid, or stub), an Esterbrook user usually ends up with a few to choose from. They even take nibs from other brands: a Pelikan M2xx nib fits in these pens, as do the Osmiroid nibs. Pictured below are three from my collection:

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Left: #1550 Extra Fine / Right: #9128 Extra Flexible Extra Fine / Front: #3668 (English) gold-plated Firm Medium

I was lucky enough to come across not one, but two #9128s nibs for a steal  they now cost upwards of $40 on eBay. The different nibs were made to different specifications: the old #1xxx and #2xxx series were untipped and made for disposable use; the newer #9xxx ones were tipped. My #3668 is a rarer English variant of the usual steel “sunburst” nib, which also exists in an even rarer frosted/matte version. And so on…

Given the age of these nibs and pens, there is a lot of variation between individual specimens. My pen uncaps in 1 1/4 turns, while the other two I gave away opened with 1 turn. New old stock (NOS) still exists and might be found if extremely lucky, while there are easily thousands of nibs that still exist unopened in their little original cardboard boxes. The writing sample below thus represents how my nibs write. My #9128 is just a little fragile and I have been told that the #1550 nib I own writes with an especially fine line.

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Just like Lego!

Sometimes I am tempted to go on eBay and pick up another one in a different colour, but then I realise I would probably end up with another three or four of these nibs. I have way too much fun swapping nibs, sometimes on the fly… It never ends!

Waterman 12 1/2 VS (c. 1910)

The second half of my first vintage purchase, this is the oldest pen I own; the latest date I was given for this pen was 1910! This means the pen managed to survive two world wars and the fall of the Soviet Union. It came to me in a cardboard Waterman box with papers in Hungarian, on which someone had tested out a bunch of inks and also ripped off a corner. There were some notes and dates written on it as well. The box itself has Sole European Representatives (in English) on it under the Waterman logo, so I can only assume that the pen had remained in Europe for over a hundred years, eventually making its way to me.

And here it is, in all its ebonite glory:

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Such a beautiful chased pattern. The pen is almost warm to the touch…

From left to right we see the cap (with a clip; clipless models exist), and then the pen body, which is quite short, and a little knob at the end. That knob rotates, and I’ll explain later.

For now, we can see that the earliest date is 1903, since that actually appears on the pen body.

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PAT’D.1884 | MAY 23, 1899
WATERMAN’S | IDEAL | FOUNTAIN-
PEN N.Y. USA | & AUG.4.1903
SAFETY PEN

Pretty amazing I’d say. I’m aware fountain pens can write beautifully 130 years after their production if well taken care of, but to actually hold one that’s easily 110 years old is an incredible thought. So much technology went into the construction of these pens.

The safety mechanism is one of them: a safety pen was an eyedropper pen that could be filled as usual, with one major difference – the nib sat in the ink when the pen was capped. And that was achieved by using the knob and an ingenious helix-screw system to retract the nib into the pen body:

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View when uncapped: that little white dot in the hole is the tip of the nib catching the light.

The nib rears its beautiful head with just over a complete turn of the screw. The variation in colour you see are due to a few things: the silver tip is from a retipping and the purple blob is from reddish inks (I’ve put Yama-budo and Tsutsuji inside, among others).

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Very ideal for a flex fiend!

This Waterman tends to write a little on the wet side, of course, which is expected for a feed that can keep up with flex as wide as 2.5mm. When unflexed, it lays down a medium to fine line depending on paper softness and how little pressure is being used. Again, this writing sample is done on Fabriano A5 dotpad.

Whoa. Proper flex, that is.

Only that swirly figure below VINTAGE FLEX comes anywhere close to pushing the nib hard. The rest of it was written easily, with very little pressure. Look especially at how fine the hairlines are! This is a pen that works for Spencerian and various Copperplate scripts, flexing almost like a dip nib. (In fact, it is softer than any of the G nibs I have used.) And yet, when used with a light hand, the ink flow is dry enough for small writing.

Anyway, after all that, here is a video of the nib doing its quite magical thing. So addictive…!

Mabie Todd Swan 2C (c. 1920)

It gets interesting here: this is (half of) the first vintage purchase I made, and it has a real flex nib. I bought this off eBay, and it came fairly cheap because of a previous owner’s personalised engravement on the cap. I didn’t mind that at all; it was really strange to realise that this was a pen used by generations of people up to a hundred years previously. It was the first time I felt like I was holding a real piece of history in a writing instrument.

I sent it to John Sorowka in Oxford, who gave mine a date of 1913–20. There are several kinds of Swan out there; the earliest were made in 1887, and there were lever fillers as early as the 1910s. But here we go:

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Vintage pen number 1; several more to come…!

A very slim pen, made of finely chased hard rubber, the cap unscrews to reveal a very interesting feature: a slim gold stalk with a little hole in it.

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It’s really quite hard to take a photo of things that are the same colour…

I have been told this is rare in Swans, and indeed I haven’t managed to find another example like it.

That’s an overfeed, and it keeps the ink flow to the nib going even when the nib is flexed hard away from the (under)feed, as below:

Hey, I tried.

The overfeed still exists today in nibs like the Sailor Emperor series, though that is not designed to deal with flex like this.

The nib itself is pleasantly fine for my taste, if slightly toothy on the upstroke. A little 12000-grit micromesh made it sufficiently smooth for reverse writing as well.

Close-up of the nib, too!

That’s a 5mm Fabriano dot grid, the same paper as I used for the Namiki Falcon review. And with all of that business going on in the section, it still remains very slim – all of these parts are delicately balanced. I had some trouble with the way the parts came together, and initially had to readjust positions so that the overfeed did not touch the paper when I flexed. And for the true test…

Writing sample with different types of cursive writing.

That’s a line thickness that varies from 0.3mm to 1.5mm easily; 1.8mm would perhaps be possible with a little pushing. But I’m not risking springing this nib! What a beautiful piece of art.

In closing, here is a complete tear-down of the pen:

Namiki Falcon

This was my very first major purchase, after a few Platinum Preppys and some experience using dip pens. I scoured various sites and reviews and worried about springing the nib, since r/fountainpens was, at that time, under a wave of stories about people pushing their Falcons too hard. But I had also been practising cursive and pointed-pen scripts using a Nikko G and a Brause blue pumpkin, so I thought myself up to the challenge.

And here it is!

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My very first purchase!

Made of resin, it came in a soft medium nib. Having searched on eBay, I pounced on a slightly under-priced offering of an uninked NOS (new old stock) pen. I am aware that Pilot now calls them the Pilot Falcon, and the Elabo in Japan, though I can spot no difference in their nibs. My cap band does say Namiki instead of Pilot, funnily enough, and it came in a nice Namiki box.

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Old enough to not be branded Pilot!

I have not tried very hard to find out how old this pen is, even though I really enjoy using it. From my varied half-hearted attempts though, I have not found anything that tells me when Pilot started using Pilot as the brand for all the lower- to middle-end pens, leaving Namiki for the top-of-the-line offerings. Anyone who has information to offer can comment below! At any rate, both the cap band and the nib have NAMIKI etched in them; PILOT is now standard on all Falcons. (Edit: I later took a 20× loupe to the nib and found B908 etched in it, right above the section. It means it was made in September 2008, on the B production line at the Hiratsuka factory.)

And boy, does it write! When I first got it, I only had a 30ml bottle of Pilot Black to fill it up with, but my ink collection has expanded somewhat since then, and this nib lays down enough juice to show up shading beautifully. (Also, the composer John Adams used this pen to autograph my score of Hallelujah Junction.)

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Colour-corrected in Photoshop. I find the name Verdigris inexplicable for this colour…

Even as I continued amassing pens and inks, I never left the Falcon uninked except when washing and drying it out. It sits in my everyday carry pouch and has never lost its place to any other!

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I really should memorise more pangrams.

To finish off: happy International Fountain Pen Day! There will be far more to come, as I work my way through cataloguing my collection, so stay tuned…

(Below is a link to my not-purely-pen-stuff Instagram account, which you can follow for more pen stuff!)