Stories, etc.: Pens in the Pocket

Stories, etc. Index  ]

“If it doesn’t suck ink from a bottle, it’s not a Real Pen.” That slogan is a registered trademark of, and I’m a firm believer in the philosophy that underlies it. Which naturally means that “Pens in the Pocket,” for me, constitutes only fountain pens, two of them to be exact, in a leather case. I never carry a rollerball or a gel pen or — heaven forbid — a ballpoint. I have become so thoroughly attached to my fountain pens that it’s really quite impossible to conceive of a time when I should ever again choose to use any pen other than a fountain pen. In fact, I go one step beyond the slogan; all of the pens that might find themselves in my pocket are vintage models, the youngest being a mid-1960s Sheaffer Lifetime Imperial.

While I must in all honesty admit to owning two Hero 329s and a Cross Radiance, those three pens were gifts and are therefore permanent fixtures in my pen cabinet — but that doesn’t mean I have to carry them, and I don’t. One of the Heroes has never written properly despite numerous frustrating visits to my pen studio’s workbench, and the Cross writes well enough but just doesn’t trip my trigger.

Before I launch into encomiums for the pens I do carry, I should probably explain why I don’t bother with rollerballs or gel pens or ballpoints. It’s simple, really. The only task for which I could possibly want one of these devices would be to fill out a multipart form, and I do that but rarely. For three- or more-part forms, the person or agency for whom I must fill out such forms is bound to provide an instrument for the job. And credit card counterfoils are two-part forms, or they’re printed out on that horrid slick thermal paper, and a nice wet fountain pen works just fine in either of those situations. Actually, it doesn’t even matter whether the second copy of a credit card counterfoil gets a recognizable signature; that’s your copy, and the copy that matters remains with the merchant. So, you see, there’s no real need for me to carry one of those hated unPens in my pocket.

There’s an added benefit to using a fountain pen on a credit card counterfoil: not infrequently, I get to enjoy the clerk’s discomfiture when, after having been warned about the wet ink, he or she nevertheless completes the transaction with a thumb bearing indecipherable scribblings in a purple or black or, occasionally, green hue. I’ve learned, you see, that humor is to be found even in the most prosaic encounters; and it was my pens that taught me this.

If you’ve ever visited my Web site to browse through my collection, you know that I have a variety of different pens, from a Moore Finger tip to a "51" Flighter, to a PFM III. As you might expect, however, I have my favorites.

I like the Sheaffer’s Balance. I have several Balances, not a great number, but a nice variety. My "regular carry," as a gun owner terms the weapon that he always has with him, is a 1931/1932 Marine Green Pearl Sheaffer’s Lifetime full-length standard-girth model Balance. That pen, with its custom-tuned buttery smooth and perfectly wet medium nib, is the right size, the right weight, perfectly balanced in my hand, and lovely to look at. It is just so utterly "me" that the probability of its being relegated to my pen chest is slightly lower than the probability of the sun’s rising in the west tomorrow.

I have an even prettier 1933/1934 Marine Green Pearl Balance, but the older one is more beloved. To misquote Henry Higgins very slightly, I’ve grown accustomed to its face. And this Balance is always loaded with my favorite ink, a 1:1 mixture of Waterman Violet with Waterman Florida Blue.

The other slot in my pen case sees a variety of pens; I switch off from time to time, usually when I add a new pen to my collection. As it happens, I like Parker pens, too, and as I write this essay, that slot holds a 1941 Dusty Red Parker Vacumatic-filling Senior striped Duofold. Like my Balance, this pen has a very wet nib; in fact, it’s even wetter. This Duofold joined my collection very recently, and it is providing an elegant contrast, with black ink, to the jewel-like blue-violet. Before the Duofold usurped the second slot, I was carrying a 1945 double-jewel Parker "51", black, with a lined sterling cap; and before that a 1938 Silver Pearl Lockdown Vacumatic Standard. Recently, that slot has also seen a BCHR Waterman’s No. 52, a 1945 Blue Pearl striped Duofold, and — believe it or not — a Tuckersharpe whose steel nib I turned into a semiflex. Variety. Yeah, that’s it, variety.

I could go on here to list virtually all of the pens in my collection; I have at one time carried them all and will probably carry them all again. Each of them has a special significance. It might be the funky look of the Moore Finger tip’s nib and section; or it might be the fact that, having been built and delivered in 1946, I have a 1946 “51”; or it might be that the PFM looks like a heftier, sturdier version of the Lifetime Imperial that I mentioned earlier (and which, come to think of it, was in my pen case a month ago). That Imperial, by the way, was the first fountain pen I ever owned, so things really do come full circle. Why tamper wth a good thing?

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