May 2007: Ode to a Brass(ed) Targa

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BY DON FLUCKINGER • Every once in a while, Richard and I have these “Who’s on first” discussions. I admit, I like setting him up. Teeing him up like Tiger Woods putting the newest Titleist distance ball on an elevated par-5 blue tee.

I kicked off the latest such exchange with this:

Some dude put a brass (don't see these too often compared to others) Targa up on eBay. I got it with 6 days, 23hrs+ to go in a 7-day auction…I am surprised I even saw it before someone else took the cheap buy it now.

But it's brassed. All over the cap and barrel, 100%. Except the clip, gold plating's intact.

Richard took the bait, answering his email after a long day at the pen-repair office. Extra Fine Points

Targa collectors know I’m alluding to the peculiarly compelling Targa made entirely of brass. Not really brassed, per se, which refers to the base metal left behind when gold, silver, nickel or whatever plating wears off.

Fountain pen

Of course, Richard took the bait, answering his email after a long day at the pen-repair office:

I hate to disillusion you, but 100% brassing is not possible.

Brassing results only from wear, and there is no way that 100% of a pen's surface will ever be exposed to enough wear to brass every square micron.

Ha! I had him!

Apparently you aren't familiar with Targa model 1020: Imperial Brass.

(that was the whole point, it's a pen *made out of brass* except for the gold plate clip).

Digging in his heels, Richard starts clarifying:

If it's made of exposed brass it isn't brassed. Brassing is defined in the hobby as the wearing away of the surface metal (gold fill, gold plate, rhodium plate, etc.) to expose the base metal beneath.

And if you throw it to first, who gets it? Right. What’s brassing? I don’t know. Third base! Why? He’s in left field!

At this point, I let up on the email gas pedal before it conflagrated into an all-out flame war. Let me tell you, it’s never a smart move to have too many laughs at the expense of your favorite pen repairman.

(I learned that one the hard way. Imagine being on the receiving end of a Waterman Florida Blue water balloon.)

But the discussion testifies to the uniqueness of the pen. Who on earth would want a brass pen, considering that, in its normal context of base metal, the sight of brass makes the typical pen collector recoil?

Few collectors have seen these Targa 1020s, and if they have, they haven’t really looked twice at them. That’s too bad, because one has to actually write with one of these to understand its appeal. Its smooth, golden looks and nice feel makes the pen a bona fide keeper, in my book. And there’s never any worries about wearing off the plating. It’s a dressy pen that will stand up to black-tie appearances, oddly dignified and compelling even though it has barely a sniff of what Montblanc would define as “precious metals.”

Brass Targa casesClearly the Targa 1020 was a presentation pen. It can be found today bearing all kinds of corporate logos. While I wasn’t around at Sheaffer in the 1970s, it seems to me that the company made a blue million of these and couldn’t sell very many in their usual outlets. So they gave the sales staff marching orders to dump them for cheap on to the corporate market as awards and premiums.

Sheaffer even went so far as to make a large presentation set with a brass-plated case that holds not only the pen but a smaller brass-plated case for cartridges.

The eBay pen I referred to in emails above included a GM logo etched on the presentation case. A collector I met a couple weeks ago at the Boston Pen Show showed me one that came from the Carter White House with the presidential seal on top of the cap instead of the typical plain black circle.

The other odd thing is that the Targas made of solid silver and brass are called “Imperial silver” or in the case of this pen, “Imperial brass.” Sheaffer’s marketing scheme even included different logos for the brass and silver.

Who knows what makes this particular Imperial flavor of metal better than the usual silver or brass, but I can tell you they’re great pens with that all-time classic Sheaffer gold inlaid nib. Certainly they don’t call the gunmetal Targa “Imperial gunmetal” or the gold and silver plate ones “Imperial electroplate.”

I liked the brass one so much that I picked up one just like it at a dealer table at the Boston Pen Show, just to have one to carry and keep the other one nice. You know, to keep it from brassing. Or whatever Richard’s calling it nowadays.


cover Further Reading: Price It Yourself! The Definitive, Down-to-earth Guide to Appraising Antiques and Collectibles in your Home, at Auctions, Estate Sales, Shops, and Yard Sales, by David Harris

Ever wonder how the experts appraise something, and you want to figure out how close your “gut feeling” is to an item’s actual worth? You might not become a pro appraiser overnight, but you can certainly get in the ballpark.

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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