Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Pens and happiness

with 4 comments

I am getting a good deal of pleasure these days from my fountain pens and fine stationery. As I wrote to The Niece this morning on a sheet of handmade Crane 100%-cotton-rag stationery, now no longer made, a little-known secret of letter-writing is the enormous amount of pleasure one gets in writing with a good pen and ink on good paper. (The Crane’s has quite a bit of tooth, so I used the Montblanc Agathie Christie—a black pen in which the gold nib has on it a silver snake’s head engraved, and the clip is a silver snake slithering down the cap, with rubies for its eyes. John Mottishaw did the nib work to make it a perfect medium italic point, and it writes a little wet, just right for this paper. The ink was Noodler’s Ultrablack or whatever it’s called: their blackest, most light-absorbent ink. On the creamy white stationery, it made quite an impact.)

So, if you’re going to write a letter, you can really pump up your enjoyment of the task by using really nice stationery. It’s just as in shaving: if you have a task you feel you must do, then exert some ingenuity to make the task a pleasure. If you’re going to have to do it anyway, become drawn to it by the pleasure that doing it affords: shaving in the one case, letter-writing in the other. And so for all tasks, to the extent that you can: cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, and so on. (I have not succeeded with all, but with more than you might think.)

One impetus for this post was, not the Agatha Christie, but another pen I brought out just now for use: I can’t even recall the name of maker or model… ah, but they’re thoughtfully engraved on the cap: it’s a Marlen Eclisse, and the “Eclisse” refers to the moon theme: a sort of faux-primitif flat silver clip, slightly rounded, with an odd little offset at the top, stamped with a Sun at the top of the clip, an Earth at the bottom, and (quite out of scale) somewhat below the Sun, a partially eclipsed Moon.

The moon theme continues—because an eclipse is all about the moon, of course—with the color—black, with whorls of color, iridescent and inside the plastic, forming a haloed moon on the side, though you don’t at first see it—and also with the cap screwing onto the barrel eccentrically. You get quite an odd feeling when you start unscrewing the cap and it begins by going a bit sideways. And as you continue to unscrew it, it bobs eccentrically about as if on an epicycle (as the moon in its orbit, as we so painstakingly learned when we read worked through Ptolemy’s Almagest).

It should go without saying, but: regardless of how you start the cap, it screws back on—again disconcertingly eccentrically—to stop a final flush finish with the barrel: no remaining eccentricity to be detected. (I take that as a comment on the eccentricity that we each harbor within, however conventional a façade we present.) And the same thing happens in reverse on the opposite end, as you stow the cap for writing: you screw it onto the eccentric knob, watching it swing in and out, as if on an epicycle, and then finish, flush again with the barrel.

This pen has an extremely nice point—another italic point made by Mottishaw. As I filled the pen—a converter, but you can’t have everything—I thought about having tried all sorts of inks—excellent inks: the Noodler stuff I got recently, some Private Reserve, and I even have two unopened bottles of the redoubtable (but now unobtainable) Doctor Black, the darkest, most bulletproof ink known: proof against water, sun, outdoor weathering… incredible (The guy who does (or did) the ink sampler books had a permanency test in which he dabbed some ink on paper and put it out for 24 hours on the roof. One time he forgot, went on a two-week vacation, it rained off and on, and when he finally remembered and checked his samples, all but a few were simply blank paper. Only one was absolutely crisp, dark, and distinct: Doctor Black.)—and though I have tried and liked many of the inks, I keep coming back to Waterman: Florida Blue when I want washability, Blue Black for permanency.

That little thought, when I unpacked it as I went, was larger than I expected. The whole point is that I like Waterman inks, a thought I had when I filled the pen, but I suppose the context is part of the thought.

And, actually, this post (the one I’m writing) itself has its own context, which for it is another post, pointed out by the ever-invaluable Jack of Amsterdam. Worth reading, and he (rightly) advises clicking the Strauss link therein.

Another thing recently giving me great pleasure is (appropriately) rediscovering Epicurus. As I read the slim booklet that remains of his writings, I realize that it was this book that led me to St. John’s… but enough context for now, I think.

UPDATE: I’ve been searching for a good photo of the Marlen pen, and I discover that Eclisse is not the particular model I have (the model I describe above), but a more general name for Marlen pens. I do not in fact know the name of this particular model. I’ll have to track it down. Maybe Detlef Bittner knows—he’s the one who sold it to me in his little Carmel store.

UPDATE 2: The moon being so close to the Sun bothered me, so I just spent some time looking again at that clip. I realize now I had it backwards: the top emblem stands for the Earth—this is a Ptolemaic clip, in which the Earth is the pre-eminent body in the equation, and I had been looking at the clip with post-Copernican eyes, assuming that the major and most important body in the system shown would (naturally) be the Sun. Except that people don’t live on the Sun, they live on Earth, so it’s the important one. And then, just down from the Earth lies the waxing or waning Moon, and at the very end of the clip, off in the distance, is the Sun, its disk just beginning to be eclipsed.

Quite an extraordinary pen.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2011 at 1:49 pm

4 Responses

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  1. That ink sounds like Heart of Darkness, my favorite of the few inks I’ve used. It’s so black it makes me blink.

    And what a great description! Now I’m drooling for a picture of your Ptolemaic pen.

    Matt Smith

    30 August 2011 at 3:42 pm

  2. Yeah, that’s the ink. And a photo: good idea. I’ll do it later on (hence the blog name).


    30 August 2011 at 4:24 pm

  3. Will this someday lead to Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Writing? One can only hope so, as there is no such book in publication, at least not that I have seen. As is the case with wetshaving, this type of how-to book is very much needed in the fountain pen world.

    Thanks much for another intesting, well-written post.


    31 August 2011 at 3:32 pm

  4. You’re welcome. I hadn’t thought of a pen book, though the page of Useful Posts (see menu at right) does have a link to a post on italic handwriting.


    31 August 2011 at 3:43 pm

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