Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day Nineteen: Esterbrook Dollar Pen with Midway Blue

For day nineteen, I chose a vintage Esterbrook Dollar Pen made in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Esterbrook made relatively inexpensive but very durable fountain pens for many years, but their main claim to fame was their "re-new point" nibs. All of the later Esterbrooks, including the dollar pen, featured a nib and feed unit that could be unscrewed and replaced with another. They offered many different types of nibs, so the user could select a nib that suited them. To fill this pen, I chose Noodlers Midway Blue, part of the V-Mail series of inks from Noodlers.

This particular Dollar Pen has a clip whose details reveal that it was made between 1941 and 1942, at about the time America was entering World War Two. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the nib is not original. It is a newer 2556 nib, a firm fine for "fine writing". A pen made in 1941 might have been fitted with the same type of nib, but it would have been of an older style. And a pen made once wartime material restrictions went into effect would have been sold with an 8000 series nib, made of palladium tipped with "osmiriridium" (presumably, an alloy that may have included osmium and iridium). Still, an ink with a wartime theme seemed appropriate to use in this pen. It is a lever filler, and it filled easily with enough ink to last for all but the last few lines of writing.

This particular 2556 nib is no longer anything like the usual Esterbrook nibs of this type. Although it still works, after a fashion, it is badly damaged. Although the tip is vertically in line with the rest of the nib, it is bent at roughly a thirty degree angle. This is how the pen was sold to me (by a seller who shall remain nameless) without any warning of the nib's condition. Nevertheless, I've delayed replacing the nib, simply because for all its annoyances, it has a few interesting characteristics.

After you fill the pen, or once you set it down for more than a few minutes, it is very hard to get ink flow started again, although once it is started, it flows as well as it might in an undamaged nib. This is no doubt due to the uneven gap in the slit that is inevitable given that the tip of both tines is bent in a single direction, yet the whole nib remains reasonably flat. The nib will not write at all in a normal position; in fact, once you get used to writing with this nib, when you first take up another pen, you are likely to hold it at the wrong angle.

However, once you learn to roll the pen to one side, so that you are essentially writing with the angled portion (instead of trying to write with the side of the tip of a single tine), it writes well enough, although with a somewhat scratchy feeling. The interesting point is that, without flexing, this nib somehow produces thicker and thinner strokes. I'm sure a nibmeister could explain the precise reason for this, but it is an interesting and attractive effect.

The pen as a whole was a pleasure to write with, and the fact that the nib will work at all even with such severe damage is impressive. The fact that once you grow used to working with it, it can be used for an extended period of time is even more impressive. For me, the real attraction of this pen is the fact that I know it existed during World War Two. It was probably used to write letters to one or more soldiers at the front, or perhaps by a soldier to write to "the homefront".

Since my story is set in an alternate World War Two, the association was an inspiration. Filling the pen with an ink based on those used at the time only heightened the sense of history. These pens still don't cost too much, and they would make a good working pen for any writer, but I especially urge any writer who has an interest in World War Two to consider one of these. There are other pens made during the war, but unlike some other models, the changes in clip design allow a Dollar Pen to be accurately dated. Of course, even if you get one made earlier, during the Depression, it was probably still in use during the war.

In addition to providing the opportunity to write in a hue similar to the inks used at the time, Midway Blue is a nice, attractive blue. I usually prefer blue-black or turquoise, and most ordinary blues seem very humdrum to me, but I actually like this colour. It flows well, dries quickly, and is a very well behaved ink to use. According to Noodlers, it is only partially waterproof, but you should be able to recover your work under almost any circumstances. This is a great ink to use for writing a manuscript. It would even work well for markup, as long as you used a black or very dark or bright ink for the original manuscript.

On day nineteen, I wrote 2,339 words, for a total so far of 41,470 words. The story is going well, and my chances of finishing 50,000 words before the end of the month look increasingly good. I do intend to continue working on this draft until it is done, and posting here, although perhaps not daily, depending on how often I get the chance. And I will also update this blog with occasional posts as I edit the first draft, and consider what will happen to the completed story.

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