September 2007: Loupe de Loupe

Extra Fine Points Index  ]


Using a loupe to check a Hundred Year Pen

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Loupes look pretty geeky to the uninitiated. But most vintage fountain pen collectors will tell you that it only took one bad buy to convince them to drop the $20-$50 for a decent loupe.

What kinds of things are you looking for? Richard says that the main things are surface damage — nicks or scratches not visible to the naked eye — as well as missing iridium, cracks, and scratches on nibs. Furthermore, loupes assist in reading imprints, hallmarks, and the 1/10 12K GOLD FILLED and similar marks on metal caps.

“We’ve seen pens that people brought us at shows after having bought them,” he says, “only to discover when I look at the pens that there’s missing — or no — iridium, or a cracked or bent nib.”

I’ll add one that I’ve missed for lack of a loupe: hairline cracks on cap lips. Basically, the pen-collector school of hard knocks teaches you what to look for when buying a pen. Once you know that, a 10x loupe reveals what the eye can’t see.

Collector Dennis Ryder examines a Hundred Year Pen before he lays his wallet on the chopping block. (Photo © 2007 RichardsPens.com)

Basically, the pen-collector school of hard knocks teaches you what to look for when buying a pen. Once you know that, a 10x loupe reveals what the eye can’t see. Extra Fine Points

Which one’s best?

You have several choices, and I’ll outline the pros and cons of each below:

David Fortier examining a gemstoneGemologists care about color a lot more than pen collectors do, so their loupes must correct for any chromatic aberration in the lenses. Their loupes also need to be corrected for spherical aberration to best evaluate inclusions — defects — in stones they’re about to purchase.

“Inclusions can represent not only the difference between a synthetic or natural ruby, but these inclusions can help a trained gemologist differentiate between an African ruby or a much more expensive Burmese ruby,” Fortier says. “We like for the inclusions to look like they really look and not like they would appear in a funhouse mirror. It can mean substantial differences in value.”

Fortier uses BelOMOs in his work. The lenses are aligned spot-on — an eyestrain preventer, he says. Their adjustment for chromatic and spherical aberration in contrast with the competition, he admits, is up for debate, but a lot of gemologists agree that the BelOMOs are at minimum as good as Bausch & Lombs, if not better. They’re also bigger than most other loupes.

“The larger diameter lens makes the field of view larger; I have been told that it also makes it more expensive to manufacture,” says Fortier. “Had the Cold War not built such a nice facility it would be an expensive little gadget.”

And, to boot, a BelOMO loupe costs half of what a Bausch & Lomb would typically set you back.

Loupe-y tips

While a lot of pen collectors probably have developed their own loupe techniques, what do the newbies need to know?

“At the Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences in Bangkok,” Fortier says, “they will strike you if you close an eye.”

And he’s got first-hand knowledge of that as he attended classes — and plans to attend future classes — there.


cover Further Reading: The Illustrated Guide to Antique Writing Instruments, 3rd Edition, by Stuart Schneider and George Fischler

Now you know how to choose a good loupe, go out and buy one — and then use the thing. If you need a handy reference book, here's a good one. Richard considers it a field guide, and he takes it along when he heads for the fleas in Hollis and Rowley.

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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