Saturday, April 30, 2011

Another Saturday Ramble

It had been a few months since I last checked out the downtown antique store and generally rambled around town, and today was a lovely sunny day, and so...why not?  This time around, I was on the prowl for old pen points/nibs or pen holders as well as typewriters.  Did I find any?  Well...yes and no.

First up was the antique "mall" in downtown Olympia: Finders Keepers.  As I keep saying, I really like Finders Keepers.  I don't always buy anything, but I always enjoy looking around.  There are lots of little divided cubicles with a whole variety of different goods.  As soon as I walked in, I spotted this:

Ooh, shiny!

It looks to be in pretty nice shape, but at $125, well out of my range.

The only other typewriter-like object at Finders Keepers was this odd little adding machine.


There were also a few inkwell type things, not in great shape, and this bottle of Red Quink, which I was mildly tempted by, but passed on.

I realized *after* I got home that I'd photographed the Spanish side. Ah well.

I didn't find any dip nibs though. Or any other writing related items, with the exception of this little portable desk, which I'm still thinking about going back for at some point.

Twenty-five dollars. It's fairly roughly made and nothing fancy, but I couldn't help daydreaming about finding an inkwell that would fit that hole, and keeping all my notebooks and supplies inside. We'll see.

After Finders Keepers, I finally made it to the antique store where notagain found his Royal. It's called The Rusty Roostery, and they're open rather odd hours...not until one on Saturdays. There were no Royals in evidence today, but they did have an Olympia SG-1 for $30...

It's verrrrry filthy and fairly rough, and I didn't do much testing of it...but might be worth a look to someone.

I did break down and buy some Quink at Rusty Roostery. They had turquoise Quink. I cannot resist turquoise.

It isn't a full bottle and the label and box are pretty stained with old ink, but it was cheap and I figure I can use it with the dip pens, just for play. I think I'd be scared to put it in my fountain pens. It's a neat old bottle, though!  They also had a single dip pen--a Speedball C nib of some sort (very battered) in a Bradley of Vermont holder (more battered still).  Neither looked usable, so I left them where they were.

I also found something only my family would be likely to get excited about: a copy of the same desk encyclopedia set we used for word games and such for years growing up, tossing the books back and forth during rounds until at this point they've become battered almost out of existence.

I had to buy 'em.

And then I came home to find a sampler of dip nibs from Speculator waiting in my mail box, and have been happily making inky messes for the past hour or so. What a day!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fountain Pen Love: a Cautionary Rant

What with my feeling cranky at typewriters right now, I've had the fountain pens and pencils out more than usual this week.  I've also been reading back through some journals lately.  I just passed the five year anniversary of my move to Washington, and the five year anniversary of starting my current job.  Time really has flown!  When I first moved out here, my oldest niece was a few weeks old.  Now she's a little chatterbox of a five-year-old and has been joined by several siblings.  When did all *that* happen?

Anyhow, in reading back through my journals, I'm again made cranky (cranky seems to be my theme of the week) by certain inks, which include some of those *most* recommended to fountain pen newbies!  Yes, they flow nicely, are relatively easy to clean up if you spill, and are more readily available than most.  However, they fade like the dickens.  Now...considering a lot of people seem attracted to fountain pens as tools for keeping long-term logs and journals, because they seem sort of romantic and old-fashioned and intimate, this worries me.  I realize I likely can blame some of my earliest troubles on bad paper and low quality ink--for example, here's a page I wrote in the late 90s using a basic no-name fountain pen and the washable blue ink cartridges that came with it, in one of those inexpensive, gaudy journals you can pick up in drug stores and Hallmark stores everywhere:


Can you read it without some sort of digital cheating?  I can't.  Not except for a word here and there.  And unfortunately, I didn't catch the disappearing act until it was too late.  I'm guessing the paper is acidic as anything, and the acid acted as a slow-mo ink eradicator.  It makes me sad.

When I discovered it, I (for the most part) resolved to stick with high quality paper and decent brand-name inks.  But, I discovered, that's no guarantee either.  Take this entry--nothing too earth-shattering if I lose it, but it's the principal of the thing.  It's not even five years old, yet it has already faded.  Waterman Blue-Black.  Exactly what the fountain pen folk would probably recommend to a newbie, no?  It's on Moleskine paper, which isn't great for fountain pen ink just because it bleeds and feathers, but should be pretty acid free.  And yet...


I have similar examples written in Parker Quink Black, Waterman Black, and to a lesser extent, Waterman Havana.  Granted, this example is still perfectly legible, but what will it look like in five *more* years, or five years after that?  My guess is that while these inks are wonderfully behaved and very pretty at first, making them great for short-term notes, you shouldn't depend on them to stick with you for the long haul.

As a side tangent, while Waterman South Seas Blue fades maybe a teensy bit, but strangely (considering how much lighter it is) is far less affected--I used a basic Waterman fountain pen (a school pen not available in the states) for quite a few of my journal entries when I was overseas, and while the Florida Blue entries are faded badly, South Seas Blue is still pretty bright.  (Even if it did fade quickly, you'd have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.  The stuff is world-rockingly lovely, though if you even *show* it a drip of water, it will flee the page without leaving so much as a shadow behind.)

Waterman South Seas Blue brush scribble--it's even prettier in person!

Now...I dunno that there are really any archive-proven fountain pen inks--particularly as most companies have changed their formulas over the years, and many of the big names today haven't been around much more than a decade.  You'll see lots of folks talking about family papers from relatively far back that are still perfectly legible though written in fountain pen ink, but my personal experience gives me pause.  Lately I've mostly been using pencil, though I admit, I've slipped a time or two into my fountain pen ways.  But I try to stick with inks that remain vibrant in my own older journals--it's not a *guarantee* of real longevity, but perhaps an indicator they'll be around at least awhile.  Most of the Noodler's colors are good, particularly their "bulletproof" or near-bulletproof colors.  I bought a few Private Reserve inks early on, and most of those look OK as well, though I found many of them more problematic than I cared to deal with on a regular basis (some colors are really hard to rinse out of pens, the inks take ages to dry on the page, and some ink colors faded or shifted in the bottle--Burgandy Mist, for example, turned to Industrial Sludge).  I keep wanting to try some other brands, J. Herbin and Diamine in particular, but it's hard to know (without risk) if their current inks will last a good while.  I'd be interested in the experience of others.  I don't expect my babbling to last centuries, nor do I want it to...but it would be nice if it at least lasted decades.

For the most part, I'm something of a Noodler's fan girl.  I've had good luck with most colors, and they seem to maintain their brilliance in my notebooks even after years on the shelf.  Right now, I'm really, really fighting the urge to order more colors: some Black Swan in Australian Roses (that color and the shading makes my heart go pitter-pat) and maybe some Zhivago (I'm a sucker for subtle near-black inks, and that one has been calling my name for years now--and speaking of names, I like the name of it, too!)

Bottom line: if you really, really want something to last, pencil is a great choice--even some of my journals written in ballpoint are faded quite badly in places, but my old grade school journals written in pencil have held up very well.  After all, they're pretty much written in stone, albeit stone in powder form.  Stone doesn't tend to change much over time, at least when closed up out of water and wind...  The paper will fail first.  Dip pens, with the ability to use old fashioned iron gall and pigmented inks, are also likely a great choice, and one I want to try out one of these days.

And if you (like me) are in love with the fountain pens and the wonderful rainbow of ink colors available, either assume your writing is likely to sneak away as the years roll by and just enjoy the present moments, or choose wisely, and (unlike me) think ahead a bit.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Driving Home From Work on a (Very) Rainy Friday

Naturally Gorgeous: USA Gold Natural

Pencils in the buff
Pencils in the buff: General's Cedar Pointe, Forest Choice, USA Gold Natural

Not quite a full review, and I know the photos are pretty lousy, but I couldn't resist at least a mention...

Last week, pursuing rumors of Rhodia notebooks on clearance at bargain basement prices, I stopped by my local Target. Alas, the only Rhodia notebook they had wasn't marked down all that much, and also looked like someone had dropped it on the floor and danced on it quite thoroughly in muddy shoes. So I passed. Since then, I've been able to fill my Rhodia longing at Powell's City of Books in Portland, OR, but at that moment, standing in the aisles at Target, what was I to do? I couldn't just walk away from the office supplies section empty handed, now could I? (Don't answer that...)

Fortunately I found an inexpensive consolation prize. Although I really, really, really don't need any more, I picked up a pack of pencils, namely some USA Gold Naturals.

USA Gold Naturals in Package
Yeah, I got impatient and ripped into them before taking any pictures...

The USA Gold Natural is made in the USA, as they make a bit obvious on their packaging. It is natural incense cedar, and smells like it--mmmm.  Very nice to sharpen.  It's also nice to sharpen in that the lead has been nicely centered in every one I've used so far.  This is important: poorly centered leads have become perhaps my biggest pet peeve when it comes to wood-case pencils.  Like the Forest Choice, the Natural seems to have a light coating of varnish or other sealant to protect it from dirt and graphite grime and moisture...which does mean it won't get that fascinating worn-in patina that the General's Cedar Pointes do, for better or worse.

Like its yellow-clothed brethren (the standard USA Gold), the Natural is a little on the slender side. (I believe the Ticonderogas have also lost a bit in diameter over the years in order to conserve wood.) It isn't terribly noticeable, though, especially after a moment or two of use.

USA Golds have dandy erasers, small but much better than is typical in this class--they don't flake, don't rip the paper, remove graphite cleanly, and the leavings roll into easily-brushed-away strands. And I like the colors of the ferrule: brass and green. Simple, yet distinctive.

USA Gold Natural Ferrule
Classy ferrule on these, in my opinion...

It writes well. Personally, I find it tricky to describe graphite pencils, particularly since I mostly use reg'lar HB grade without a lot of variation. You can only say "smooth and dark" so many times before it becomes meaningless. I'd say it's darker than a Ticonderoga, lighter than a Palomino or my Helix Oxfords, relatively hard-wearing without being gritty, and fairly smear-resistant, particularly compared to other inexpensive pencils. Howzat?  It's a good all 'rounder.


Ticonderoga/USA Gold Natural comparison. Difficult to show darkness and clarity in a scan...  I ran a finger over the word "smear," but pencil doesn't smear easily on Rhodia paper!

It's not a premium pencil, but it's light-years beyond the usual plastic-wood-mush pencil-shaped-objects that are typical in this price range. I like it.  Quite a bit.