January 2004: The Joy of Junk: The Second Wave

Extra Fine Points Index  ]


BY DON FLUCKINGER • Las Vegas. Sin City. To some people, a veritable carnival of hedonism, to others a wealth of untold riches waiting to be won. To me, it’s the world’s moral dumpster, outfitted with plush leather couches and supreme sushi dinners available at hours when sensible people should be sleeping in bed.

Against this backdrop, of course, it’s a great time to give some pens from the proverbial junk pile another look, like a blackjack player coming off the edge of broke and into a long-overdue hot streak. Extra Fine Points

The camera shots in the latest “Fabulous Las Vegas” television ad campaign strategically avoid the lines of shivering Cambodian and Mexican peddlers at every Strip intersection trying to shove calling cards for “all natural” girls and pulp magazines hawking escort services in your hands, loudly slapping the mags together or snapping the cards in their hands to get your attention. Funny, while watching the Travel Channel I’ve never seen footage of tourists trying to cross the street through one of these clickety-clackity pornographic gauntlets.

In the ads you also never notice signs like the one at Gilley’s in the Frontier announcing “Bikini Bull Riding Every Night, We Ride ’Em Hard and Put ’Em Away Wet.” Wonder why that is.

Every once in a while, however, you see a mostly sober, seemingly well-adjusted couple from the Midwest or Wyoming or Georgia or California walking down the sidewalk, or a group of infatuated-with-Vegas Japanese tourists wielding microscopic video cameras, trying to cram the whole Bellagio water show or the Venetian’s artful architecture into their tiny lenses.

That’s good, seeing normal people. Reminds me that I’m just visiting, like the rest of the normal people. I wish I’d brought my video camera, too. By the time I get home, it seems I’ve imagined this town, which can’t possibly be as surreal as I remembered it.

Against this backdrop, of course, it’s a great time to give some pens from the proverbial junk pile another look, like a blackjack player coming off the edge of broke and into a long-overdue hot streak. Or Wayne Newton. Or two years after his prime-time comedy show got cancelled, Wayne Brady.

Fountain pen

Which brings me to the first of our fine rejects — which Richard pushed on me like the ladies blasting CK cologne at the Penney’s perfume counter — a (roughly) 1937 Inkograph No. 72, a marvelous blue-marbled plastic job with gold-fill trim, 42932" in length capped and 6316" posted.

It’s a good-looking pen, and it works pretty well. I shied away from stylographic pens because I just didn’t believe they possibly could work, or at least work well. But it’s pretty good, makes a relatively smooth line, and will write at weird angles I’d never get some of my other pens — one being my flex Vacumatic Junior — to write at. Still, not my cup of tea. But I did learn something, namely that they work. Oh yeah, and that you must empty stylographic pens before you get on an airplane, unless you enjoy a capful of ink running out onto your hands once you’ve landed again.

The next one, of all the “junk” pens I’ve looked at, is by far the most beautiful. It’s a Good Service, with a brown-and-yellow marbled plastic cap and barrel, with fez-shaped tassies and gold-fill trim. Sized nicely for my hand at 518" capped and 61116" posted, it definitely has the gravitas to shed the “everyday writer” moniker we reserve for wallflowers that might not bring top dollar at a pen show but actually are pretty darn functional.

But there’s a catch: It’s a ringer. Since we truly did pick this off the junk pile, it needed a nib. Richard loaded it with a brand-new broad Pelikan M200 nib, knocked off its feed and adjusted to my persnickety left-handed style. So of course it writes with a sweet, smooth line.

Does that invalidate this pen as joyful junk? Nah. What it does is give us a compelling argument for reclaiming and restoring good old pens and bringing them back into circulation. And if it takes a well-adjusted new nib of gold-plated steel to make it work, so be it. Half the time, when you spot these babies in the wild, they have nibs hopelessly mangled, worn, cracked — or no nibs at all. If that’s the case, it’s no travesty to load it with something you like.

It also gives you specialty-nib people (I am not yet in the club) a reason to get another italic, stub, or oblique italic without altering your $1,200 Montblanc LE that you were thinking of maybe selling someday still pristine, new in box.

The last pen Richard gave me for the trip was a total doggie of the kind I’d never, ever even look at, let alone try out: Not only was it a gray striped, clipless Sheaffer Tuckaway (458" capped, 5316" posted), but it was the smallest I’d seen, a Vac-Fil, with lovely nickel plating that was only slightly brassed, circa 1942ñ45. I think, once, I accidentally bought one of these on eBay and ended up using it to level a bookcase at a friend’s house.

But you know what? It turns out that this little guy is still a Lifetime classic, and it has one of my all-time fave nibs, the Triumph two-tone. Nice. Miraculously, the Vac-Fil mechanism survived the decades. The dry XF point produced a good, smooth, almost needlepoint line, a welcome relief on the pages of my smallish Crane’s travel diary after the comparatively inky fireplug of the broad Pelikan.

The size, I thought, would be trouble, but it was long enough to clear my hand, and thicker than the ballpoints I used all week, signing credit card slips and trade-show paperwork. Funny how the tiniest fountain pen — at the time marketed for purse or vest-pocket use — can seem so substantial compared to the ballpoints the rest of the world uses, eh?

I give this pen high marks, and cannot recommend it more highly, especially to Sheaffer collectors who, like me, passed on it in the past, thinking its size and profile made it unworthy of our collections.

I’m told these pens might end up for sale on Richard’s Web site or possibly offered as a prize in a benefit raffle for one of his favorite online haunts. Well, not the Sheaffer. I’m scooping it up for my own collection, so sorry, ladies, this one’s spoken for. That’s how much I think of it.

There you have it: Three more pens in which I’ve found redeeming value for us — and we have Vegas, baby, to thank.

I figured out, by the way, the exact reason I hate this place: The forced hedonism. Don’t get me wrong, hedonism can be a good thing, especially when you’ve toiled hard and have earned a break. But when it’s forced upon you whether you like it or not — and worse yet, it’s someone else’s idea of what you think is a good time, and for you it isn’t at all a good time — it’s terrible.

I’d much rather be trying to open my mind to new pens by playing with three rehab projects, not playing slots with them. Writing on nice Crane paper. Now that’s hedonism.


cover Further Reading: Las Vegas for Dummies, by Mary Herczog

How do you play craps? What is a “comp dollar?” What’s on the South Strip as opposed to the original casino district? What’s the weather like? What if I’m not looking for a fleabag joint to stay in, but I can’t afford the penthouse at Caesar’s, either? This little tome will help you sort it out, with advice for people of all budgets and levels of experience in this Nevada neon outpost.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the Biddersedge.com collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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