Monday, July 11, 2011

Guider Celluloid Handmade Pen

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!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Parker 45: First Love

My first pens were cheap Indian fountain pens basically meant for students. Some of the names I remember are President, Plato, Wilson and Bismi. Unfortunately, none of the early pens have survived, partly because I lacked a sense of history and partly because they did not survive the rigorous handling of an energetic and not too careful youth.

There were also a horde of Chinese pens like Youth and Hero, some of which have survived till date. I would write a review of these later.

Today, I want to review my favourite fountain pen of my college and early career days, the venerable Parker 45.

This pen was gifted to me by an uncle who used to work in Kuwait. He was particularly fond of me and would bring small trinkets for me every time he comes to Kerala on vacation, which was only once an year. The year I was to go to college, he pleasantly surprised me with the gift of this blue gem of a pen. During the early Sixties, a Parker pen was not an item easily found in the procession of anyone less than the Aristocracy, and even among them, a 14 year old student would consider himself lucky to own one. The Parker made me a hero among my class fellows and I, contrary to my usual nature zealously protected and kept it secure.

Coming to the pen itself, the Parker 45 has been one of the most popular fountain pens made by this US company.Though Parker was known as the makers of luxury deluxe pens like the Duofold, it is indeed a tribute to Parker Pen manufacturer's commitment to writing that they took pains to maintain a line of cheap but excellent writing instruments addressed to the students and the less affluent. Parker 45 is the most successful survivors among the latter category.These pens managed to maintain the quality of writing which made Parker famous by retaining designs, but making them affordable by using cheaper materials like plastic bodies and steel nibs.

Parker 45 was designed by the most famous of the designers of the company, Don Doman, who was inspired by an Eversharp design, “10 000” which was practically the last pen designed and marketed by the iconic Eversharp before its pen division was acquired by Parker.

The Parker 45 was tapered on both sides, making a very slim design loved by small handed students and women. It had the classic Parker Aeromatic ink filler system which could take modest amounts of ink and hence requiring biweekly filling of ink. During the three hour Language and literature examinations, it was my practice to carry a small bottle of ink, just in case. However, I cannot recall a single occasion when the ink bottle had to be put to use during exams. The carrying of a spare ink bottle did convey an air of studious scholarship, which invariably impressed girls and teachers.

The nib is a very short and stiff steel of medium broadness. It is smooth enough to write fast, but offers the right amount of stiffness and resistance to keep proper control over handwriting. May be, it is due to the constant use of this pen for over eight years, I feel comfortable with a pen which offers some resistance against paper. Smooth writers like parker Duofold or even the Lamy Safari tend to make me write fast, and even a bit carelessly, affecting the quality of my writing. Similarly, I find a slightly stiff nib as compared to flexible ones helps me draw crisp and clear lines, making them more legible and easy to read.
It is indeed a tribute to the quality of the materials and the meticulous attention to details of the Parker Company that one of the cheapest of its pens have successfully withstood the constant use and abuse by a student like me who loved to take voluminous notes, wrote verbose answers to questions in the examinations and in spare time wrote articles, essays, poetry and doodled. I cannot easily think of another pen which would have done better under the circumstances. Well may be a Pelikano or a Sheaffer School Pen!
My beloved Parker 45 is still my proud pcession, though the barrel has warped a bit and developed a crack when it was crushed between the table and the wall, when it fell down in 1985

Now a sample of my writing with this pen. Pardon my poor handwriting.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I have always loved pens. As a toddler I was never allowed near one. So just like anything forbidden, pens, among other things like cigarettes and knives became an object of fascination. In rural Kerala of my days, there was much emphasis on handwriting and the steel pen (as opposed to a quill pen?) or dip pen was considered to be the ultimate instrument for improving one's handwriting. I too started with these anachronistic relics. They were mostly very simple affairs. A long tapering handle made of wood turned in a lathe with a holder at the broad end to hold a steel nib in place. The nib itself had odd shapes and were rather long for my tiny hands. What I fondly remember of the 'steel pen era' of my life, however was the ink holder and the process of DIY ink making.
The glass ink holder had an ingenious design with double walls that trapped the ink if the bottle happen to roll to the side, as it would often considering the lack of dexterity of its young users. Ink was mostly home made. There were small tablets of the size of an Anacin tablet which was solid ink. It had to be dissolved in water and diluted to the correct strength to ensure the proper colour, its fastness and viscosity. Not many could master the art. It was like gourmet cooking.
From Middle School ( Classes 5 to 7) it was compulsory to use fountain pens. Probably, looking back, it may not have been compulsion, but sheer convenience that prompted many to use a fountain pen. The other option being lugging along an ink pot and a steel pen.
Ink stained fingers were common identification marks of students. The larger the stain on fingers and deeper the color, the more studious the person. It's another matter that many who chose to bunk classes would also apply ink on the index and middle fingers, but they could fool no one but their illiterate parents.
So it was in class 5 at the Government Upper Primary School in a remote village in Kerala, the southern State of India that my love affair with pens started. An affair that has not only stayed, but has strengthened over the passage of time and flourishes even today.
This blog is the journal of that love.
And yes. I suffer from Pen Envy!