Kathleen and I have shared a passion for fountain pens beginning in the third grade when we were taught cursive using inexpensive, see-through, Schaeffer fountain pens.  By fifth grade we had graduated to non-cartridge pens.  We had matching “marshmallow leather” handbags with bamboo ring handles that worked to carry our traveling stationery supplies that included paper clips, scotch tape and a bottle of ink.  Neither one of us has lost our passion for fountain pens.

In my early twenties I pinched and saved in order to purchase a Mont blanc pen.  It cost me dearly, in cash, time and frustration.  I doubt that I was able to get even one minute of writing or drawing pleasure from that pen.  Three times it was sent back to the factory and three times it came back to me refusing to let its bellyful of ink flow forth onto a piece of paper.  I hung on to that pen for another decade only because I had spent so much money on it.

Finally, I found the Mont blanc a new home.  During a difficult stage of divorce I was assigned to a middle-aged, male psychiatrist.  Sitting in a high-backed leather chair at his banker style desk he assured me that he could help me become a “normal” wife.  I noticed he wrote notes with an expensive fountain pen.  Having committed to a month of sessions with the gentleman, I continued my visits, striking up a conversation about fountain pens before leaving each time.  At the end of the fourth visit I told him it would be my last visit and that I would like to thank him for his help by giving him a lovely fountain pen that I no longer used.  His face lit up when I presented him with my beautiful Mont blanc.  I have always hoped that it caused him as much trouble as it caused me.

Since then, I have purchased dozens of fountain pens, inexpensive fountain pens, hoping to find one that I love for drawing, one that doesn’t leak, one that flows freely the second, third and fourth time I uncap it.  My search for a satisfying pen continued to be fruitless until two weeks ago when I tested a Phileas Waterman that was in the “pen” drawer at the prop shop where I work part-time.  It was valued at $8.00 and rented for $1.76.  I knew its value was far more than $8.00.  Occasionally props disappear or are not returned at the end of the rental period.  Fountain pens have often vanished.  I knew that the Phileas had a good chance of disappearing and I ended up losing sleep thinking about it.  Reflecting back on my Mont blanc I convinced myself that it didn’t write well anyway.  Finally, I had to have proof that it was a lousy pen, so I tried it out.  Hah!  It didn’t even need to be cleaned!  Linda agreed to an exchange of several of my lousy fountain pens for the Phileas and now it lives with me, dancing across the pages in my sketchbook, happy to be the expressive instrument it was meant to be, in spite of the fact that it is a low end Waterman Fountain Pen.

As a prop, vintage pens and simple black fountain pens are the most in demand.  In addition to the two or three pens of my own that I exchanged for the Phileas, I searched eBay for several vintage pens that were in terrible shape so that I wouldn’t care too much if they vanished.  My passion reared its demanding nature and I ended up deciding to learn how to repair fountain pens and to give new life to some of those old beauties that might still have a lot of expression left in them.  I am still in search for a pen with a much more flexible nib that the ones that are made now.

Though my passion has been alive and thriving for fifty years, I know very little about these pens.  Thanks to the Internet, I can now stay up all night long in the comfort of my own studio, sipping coffee or wine and begin my apprenticeship as one who refurbishes fountain pens.  My copy of The Complete Guide to Repair and Restoration, by Frank Dubiel, commonly known as “da book” is, I hope, in the mail as well as several packages of vintage pens won on eBay last week.

The first package arrived yesterday from England, a small box of Aqua-Pens manufactured by Universal Fountain Pen & Pencil Co., 808 Driggs Avenue, Brooklyn 11, New York, NY.  In the box were five pens along with seven Guarantee papers.  Four of the pens are complete with cartridge and one is missing the cartridge.  All five pens look in very good shape.

I have never seen a cartridge such as the ones in the Aqua-Pens.  The directions state to dip the pen point section in a glass of water, squeeze the clear cartridge, release to allow water to fill the cartridge and viola! start to write with a new flow of blue ink.  Hmmmmmmm.  There is a visible hard lump of dried ink in the tail end of the cartridge.  Strange concept… fill with water and write with ink.  I tried it and it worked!  I guessed that it was like painting with pan watercolors, hard as a rock until water is added.  The paper states that the cartridge is good for ten refills of water, providing 50 hours of enjoyable writing.  I don’t know how many fills are left in my pens.

The next two hours were spent hunting on the Internet for information on the Aqua-Pen.  All I could come up with was an advertisement in a 1959 magazine announcing the new Aqua-Pen…. just add water …..

I love them.  All five work well, responsive and flawless.  No repair needed on these beauties.  I experimented by adding walnut ink rather than water to see if I can extend the use of the pens after the hard lump of ink has been used up.  I doubt that it will be easy to find new cartridges for these pens. The experiment was a success.

Already the memory of my painful Mont blanc experience is fading.

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