“Ink, a Drug.”

― Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

My new ink shelf, with RGB LED lighting.

A few years ago, I bought a little wooden shelf unit at a thrift store for a couple dollars and mounted it on the wall above my secretary desk – which I mostly use for handwriting.

I’ve been reorganizing my office room and decided to use the shelf to store my fountain pen inks. It was about the right size and in a good spot. As I looked at it I thought it would look good with some illumination – so I went onto the internet and bought a one meter RGB LED light strip. It was from one of those cheap places so I had to wait a long time for it to arrive on a slow boat from you-know-where – but I was in no hurry.

When it arrived I drilled some holes in the shelf and the wall and ran a USB cord up to the shelf. I glued the strip down behind the ink bottles (I tried behind and in front – behind looked better) and there is was. The strip does blink and flash and rotate colors and all that stuff (It comes with a little remote) but I usually leave it shining a more or less “white” light. I thought that the colors of the ink would show but they are way too opaque and appear black.

Still I was very happy with how it turned out.

The beautiful fantastic Pilot Iroshizuku Ink bottles.

My favorite inks and, especially, ink bottles are the Pilot Iroshizuku ink from Japan. It is expensive, but I save the bottles and reuse them. When I have something I want to accomplish I will give myself the reward of a bottle of Iroshizuku if I meet the goal, as an incentive. I love the little well in the bottom to help get the last bit of ink out. The glass is heavy and really attractive.

Another bottle of Iroshizuku plus a couple bottles of vintage Waterman ink.

Down on the end of the shelf are four bottles of vintage Waterman ink. I bought these in a box at an estate sale for a dollar. They are old (the blue ink in the photo above is called “Florida Blue” has a new name now – “Serenity Blue”) but it seems to still work well. Very well-behaved ink.

Vintage Sheaffer Skrip ink bottle, with some green ink in the well.
Vintage Sheaffer Skrip ink bottle. There is a little well on the lip to hold ink when the bottle is almost empty.

If you look on the shelf you can see a couple of vintage Sheaffer Skrip ink bottles. I’m always looking for these at antique stores and such. The ink is long gone, but I refill them with modern ink from boring bottles. What is cool about these vintage bottles is that they have a little well along the lip of the bottle. When the bottle is almost empty, you tip the bottle up to fill the well. You can get the tip of a fountain pen in there and thereby use every drop.

It doesn’t work as well as it should (the well is too small for some modern large-nibbed fountain pens) but I still like the idea and history.

Pen or Bike?

I have a difficult choice to make. Pen, or Bicycle.

Last December, when people asked me what I wanted for Christmas, instead of the usual hemming and hawing and “Oh, I don’t need anything,” I answered directly and succinctly, “I want cash.”

You see, when I thought about what I wanted – it was too expensive for any one person to buy for me. I wanted a pen.

I’ve been collecting/addicted/messing around with fountain pens for a few years now. I am not a serious collector – I am what is known as a “user.” I am interested in actually writing with the things – getting ink on my fingers – which is odd, because I have the world’s worst handwriting – but it is what it is. I am not interested in glass trays of pristine pens in perfect shape and rare colors.

That is a good thing – because I can buy pens with small flaws (like scratches or engraved names) that do not affect the use of the pens, but lower the price. It is also good because it eventually came to limit the number of fountain pens I would buy. I can only use one at a time and once I have explored the gamut and found the pens I liked to use I could pretty much stop buying them.

That’s more or less where I am now. I have a goodly number of pens in my rotation, I know what I like, and I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to buy any more, really.

Except for one. There is what is called a “grail pen.”

I want a Pen for Men.

I have big hands and am always attracted to large pens – they simply fit in my hand better. I like the Sheaffer inlaid nibs. I like the snorkel filling system – the most complicated fountain pen. Put all of these together and you have the Sheaffer Pen for Men, or PFM. Sheaffer came out with the PFM in 1959, right at the end of the line for the classic fountain pen. The ballpoint was gaining ground fast and fountain pens would soon be known as an anachronism, a collectable, or simply an overpriced sign of affluence.

The PFM was an oversized version of the classic snorkel filling line (I have several older snorkels already – I do like the triumph nib style on these) and is highly desirable today – but was not very successful when it came out (few were made, that is one reason they are so dear now). They were only produced in volume for four years or so and all production ceased in ten.

So, in short, I want one. I figure I can get a nice, user grade PFM for a little over two hundred dollars. That’s a lot of money to spend on a pen. Too much money – but I so rarely desire material possessions, that when I do, it feels a little overwhelming. So I started saving up money until I had enough to pay for a PFM.

While I was saving up, I began to have second thoughts. I began to think that I was about to waste my money. At the same time, I noticed some internet ads for folding bicycles.

I have two bikes – both over twenty years old (a Raleigh Technium road bike and a beater mountain bike I bought at a pawn shop for ninety bucks) – though they are workable. The worst thing about my bicycles is the engine, of course: old, worn out, and not very taken care of. A goal I have for myself is to ride my bike more this year – see if I can get in better shape and see some countryside/urbanside while I’m at it.

So, the idea formed in my head – save some more money (maybe around four hundred) and buy a folding bike. I have the idea of keeping it in my car trunk and going for little rides here and there – on the way home from work, on the way to various spots, or on out of town trips. There are tons of bikes out there and I began to look… I’m thinking about a single speed model (less expensive, I live in a flat place, more reliable, and good exercise) – maybe a Dahon Speed Uno or a Dahon Boardwalk. I don’t need a high-end bike – this is for light use and short, flat distances.

So, what’s it going to be…. A bike or a pen. If I get a bike, is a folder a good idea? If I get a folder, what inexpensive model is the best idea? Candy suggested I buy the pen, then start saving for the bike. I’m not sure if I’m going to live that long. The bike would be a smarter decision – I can use it as a goal, a motivating factor.

The pen would be pure luxury. Then again, the pen would be pure luxury.

Decisions… Decisions.

Any advice?


Or Bike?

Pen Porn

We all have our addictions. I don’t think you can get away from them. I don’t think you want to get away from all of them.

Addictions are what make life worth living. Giving in to them is the spice that makes it worth getting out of bed in the morning (unless, of course, you are addicted to sleeping late). The trick is to choose your addictions.

There are addictions that are always bad. You see these on Intervention. Crack, for example… I think I can say that this is an addiction that is always bad. So don’t give in to your inner crackhead, channel him somewhere else.

Then there are addictions that might not be always bad, but are inappropriate, overly embarrassing, or catastrophic for you, personally. If I became addicted to anything overly expensive – say fast cars, supermodels, or gambling – I would be in big trouble.

So being the useless geek that I am, I tend toward useless, geeky addictions. One of the most obvious ones I’ve picked up lately is a rather silly obsession with fountain pens. I’ll talk more about that later, but today we will simply take a look at today’s single fix – and table the larger questions for another day.

Over that Internet thing… from that online commerce site that sort of rhymes with flea spray… I bought a cheap macro lens adapter for my camera. I did this for the sad purpose of being able to wallow in my stupid addiction in one more ridiculous performance method – I want to take pictures of pens.

Pen Porn.

And we’ll leave it at that. Judge if you must, it makes no difference to me. It is an addiction.

It came in the mail – an unmarked, brown paper package. I eagerly unwrapped my simple purchase, stuck it on the front of the lens, and put together a quick assemblage of tripod, desk lamps, and a cut up cylinder of translucent plastic (an old cover for a stack of blank DVDs) as a light tent.

I have a lot to learn about macro photography. I have a book. I’ll get better at it. But, of course, it is porn, so quality isn’t all that important, is it?

Today, let’s take a look at three different kinds of Sheaffer Nibs.

The nib is not only the most important part of a fountain pen, to a great extent, the nib is the fountain pen. It is the critical piece of hardware that conveys the ink from the pen body and deposits it onto the paper. Most people are familiar with a nib as a curved, triangular piece of metal with a narrow slit in the middle. Look close, and you will see a little rounded tip on the end that moves over the paper.

And that’s about it. Over the long decades, however, there have been many nib innovations and variations. I’ll take some pictures later of my Parker 51’s (if this raises the hair on the back of your neck, God help you… it does mine) but today we’ll look at three examples in the history of the Sheaffer nib.

First, we have the conical Triumph Nib. This is probably my favorite nib of all time. It is as stiff as a nail, but is very smooth and reliable, and it looks cool.

Sheaffer Triumph Nib

Sheaffer Triumph Nib

This is a Sheaffer two tone, touchdown filling pen, probably from around 1950 or so. I bought this one from a grubby pile of crap under the trees at Canton, rebuilt it, and now it writes like a champ.

The Triumph Nib ruled Sheaffer’s top of the line pens until the end of the 1950’s and the emergence of the Pen For Men (I do not have a Pen For Men, or PFM, it is really the only pen I really lust after. They were not very popular when they came out and are therefore rare, collectible, and expensive today. I simply can’t afford one) and its Inlaid Nib. The Inlaid nib dominated the Sheaffer line from 1959 to the present.

Sheaffer Inlaid Nib

Sheaffer Inlaid Nib

This is a humble example of an Inlaid Nib. It is from a small Imperial from about 1965 – 1970. It is a bit different because it has a “V” shaped triangular cut-out, rather than the longer diamond shaped one. It is a small, cartridge filling pen, nothing fancy, but it writes really well. I have some orange-colored translucent ink in it, you can see a bit of ink on the nib.

Finally, we have an oddball. This is a Sheaffer “Dolphin” nib. You can see the odd hump that gives it its name. The Dolphin is simply a cheap imitation of the more tony inlaid nib. It is a design that is supposed to look like an inlaid nib, but is really an ordinary nib with a bit of plastic and metal stuck on top of it to make it look better.

Sheaffer Dolphin Nib

Sheaffer Dolphin Nib

It may be cheap, but it works fine, this pen, again, is a very smooth and reliable writer. It is a cartridge fill. Candy gave me a touchdown filling Dolphin nib desk pen from an antique store in Granbury for Father’s Day – it is waiting for me to restore it – maybe this weekend. I love touchdown filling pens.

Sheaffer Pens

Sheaffer Pens

What is a touchdown filling pen? You’ll have to wait. More porn to come.