I had vaguely heard of handmade pens from Andhra Pradesh, but did not care to find out more till I read a feature in one of the leading English News Papers, The Hindu. The mention of Mahatma Gandhi being gifted one such pen from Ratnam of Rajahmundry and Gandhi’s letter of appreciation made me look for more details. I learnt about Ratnamson ebonite pens from Ratnam Ball Pen Works and Guider pens from the same city. I had made a mental note of getting one whenever my travels took me to that part of India. I was told that the pen makers were very conservative people who did not believe in advertising or selling by post or over the net.
Recently I chanced upon several good reviews of these pens in the Fountain Pen Network and also came to know that you could order them by post. It was also easy to obtain the postal addresses and telephone numbers of both the firms. On telephonic enquiry the kind and soft spoken gentlemen at the other end of the phone in both the firms confirmed availability and their willingness to courier me their pens if I made advance payment of the cost of pen and postage as Money Order. Money Order through India Post was the preferred form of payment. I do not remember to have received or sent a Money Order since at least the Nineteen Seventies! Instead of putting me off, this quaint little request impressed me. After all, these guys are so conservative, their workmanship and quality of their pens too must belong to a long gone era!
I ordered from Guider a small red celluloid pen with fine gold plated steel nib for two reasons. Firstly, I have no celluloid pens in my collection. Second, I was given to understand that Guider Pens people had stock of celluloid blanks dating back from 1946 when the founder imported them along with the pen turning machinery from Germany. Indeed that would make the celluloid pen a piece of history! How many pen makers can claim to still manufacture pens out of 1946 vintage blanks? To me it is the equivalent of 28 year old Single Malt Whisky from the Scottish Highlands!
Sending the Money Order was also an experience in itself. I had long forgotten how the Money Order Form looks like. I trudged myself to the local Post Office and found the place unlike what I recollected Post Offices were like in India. This looked more like UPS office in San Lorenzo CA! And the form was also neat and crisp. I was also impressed when the clerk informed me that the Money Order shall be sent through e-mail and that it will be delivered to the addressee next morning promptly! Boy! Is India Post pulling up their socks, smarting under stiff competition!
All of Rs600 ($13.5) for the pen and Rupees 100 ($2.25) towards postage was dispatched by email as a Money Order! What a harmonious blending of the traditional and the modern!
8th day, India post delivers a standard Speedpost envelope containing the precious writing instrument!
The packing is nothing to write home about. A small cardboard rectangular cover with the pen packed between two long strips of thermocol. The box is rather flimsy and with poorly printed labels. The whole thing is wrapped in bubble packing sheet and put inside a recycled corrugated paper boxing material held together with packing tape.
The pen itself is a beauty to behold. Tiny and cute. The colour of course was not the red shown on the web page, but the gentleman at the Guider office had warned me that due to depleting stock of vintage German blanks, he might not be able to give the exact colour shown on the net. Fair enough. I was contented with holding in my hand this cute little piece of history which 10 years from now neither money nor love can get me.
Pen posted with scale
Now, I have not filled ink in an eyedropper fountain pen in a while and needed to first locate a dropper! I had a few nice little ones with green and red bulb and nice hand drawn glass pipette. It transpires that along with eyedropper pens, the droppers have also vanished from stationers and pen shops! The only eyedroppers available were with chemists and they looked too flimsy and crude, I did not have the heart to use them. Finally the honour of transferring the ink from the bottle to the pen went to my glass syringe which I have carefully saved from the past (these too have, alas! vanished from stores. )to refill cartridges with my bottled inks of choice. Cheap me! I like to cheat! Yes I do.
The pen takes only relatively tiny amount of ink, as could be judged from the size.
Now the writing part
The pen is not a gusher, nor is it a hesitant writer. The flow is just perfect, to my liking. Fine nib pens are usually not gushers. The nib is flexible yet strong. It offers some scratchy resistance against the paper. Though I personally like a little resistance (good for slowing down and thus improving my writing) this nib offered tiny bit more resistance than I usually like. This was bordering on being scratch. Was it the way it was meant to be? Possibly. I have distinct memories of similar writing quality in several pens of my student days. Or, is it just my pen, as a result of not so vigorous quality assurance?
One word about finish. Though the polish and finish of the barrel and the cap are acceptable, the jewel on top of the cap sticks out too much to be pleasing to the eye. It does not take much to reduce the size of the piece and make it proportionate and aesthetically pleasing.
My wife has fallen in love with the Guider Celluloid. Three reasons.
1. It has the colour of her favourite Pilot pen of her school days,
2. It fits into her handbag unobtrusively, and
3. Because none of her friends have a handmade pen. Godd conversation piece!