vintage and modern pens at the track

On alternate weekends  I sit as anchor of the cable television live coverage of horseracing events at the Philippine Racing Club’s Santa Ana Park in Naic, Cavite.

There are usually 12 races on Saturday, 13 on Sunday. They start at 2:00 pm and are held at 30 to 40-minute intervals. I’m on-cam at the opening and closing of the show. In between, only my voice (and that of my co-host) is heard to introduce the entries at the post parade, give the pre-race and post-race analyses, read announcements, race odds, results, and pay-offs, and crack jokes. There are no scripts, it’s all ad-lib, and it’s pretty free-wheeling as long as you stick to the sequence.

I’m stuck in the studio the entire day, unless there are awarding ceremonies to emcee, which isn’t often. To amuse myself between races and spiels,  I doodle and test fountain pens and ink.

I play!

Last weekend I brought along these babies to the track and put them through their paces.

From the top, a Lamy Purple AL-Star EF; a Lamy Coffee AL-Star EF; a Parker Ringtop; a Sailor Pro Colors 500 in Geranium Red, originally a medium and modified by nibmeister Chito Limson into a stub;  and a Wahl 3 Greek Key.

Along with pens, ink gets tested too. Pilot Iroshizuku has a wonderful line of ink based on colors found in nature, in the earth and plants and trees of the Japanese countryside.

The Sailor running Pilot Iroshizuku tsutsuji (azalea).

Once a fountain pen is altered from its original state, the practice among pen collectors is to mention all changes made to it. In the case of nib modifications, a word is coined that refers to it using the nibmeister’s name. In the case of this Sailor, it is “Chitofied”.

To give a few more examples: “Binderized” (Richard Binder), “Mottishawed” (John Mottishaw). To use in a sentence: “Sorry, kids – your only inheritance is a Pilot Vanishing Point with a Binderized cursive italic nib.”

Most fountain pen nibs in gold and steel are tipped with “iridium”, a term that refers to metal alloys that are long-wearing and protect the softer gold and steel tips. In less expensive pens, the tip of the nib may just be turned back on itself to create the characteristic bump on the tip.

A nibmeister creates a stub nib by patiently grinding away the “iridium”, often by using abrasive pads like Micromesh. He may leave a soft-edged tip, or grind a straight line with rounded edges – a “stub”. If he sharpens the edges a bit more, he comes up with an italic nib. Sharpening even further, he creates a “crisp” italic nib.

Stubs and italics offer more line variation than the usual kinds of nibs (extra-fine, fine, medium, broad). They are more interesting to write with.

To obtain more variation and fancier effects, nothing comes close to vintage flexible nibs. The best, to my mind, are gold flex nibs from the 1930s and earlier. Below is a gold-filled Wahl 3 Art Deco pen from the ’20s.

Wahl 3 inked with Waterman Havana Brown. To see a Wahl (and a Nakaya elastic fine and flexible fine)  in action, watch this video at Leigh Reyes’s blog.

Lamy is a fantastic brand that marries contemporary design with reliability and performance. Here’s their Lamy AL-Star, which looks the same as their popular Safari model, except that the AL-Star’s barrel and cap are made of aluminum while the Safaris are plastic.

Lamy comes out with different colors of their AL-Star and Safari every so often and discontinuing them after each production batch, making each new color a collectible. This one’s called “Coffee”, rendering it irresistible to me. It lays a striking line when paired with gentle-for-pens Waterman ink in Havana Brown.

Modern steel nibs are “nails’ – they are unyielding and sturdy, making them suitable for daily road-warrior work such as note-taking, writing drafts and long letters, and defending yourself against muggers. (That’s a long story. Tell you next time.)

See the difference between the Wahl 3 and the Lamy.

Lamys at the track: Purple AL-Star, Coffee AL-Star, Aluminum AL-Star, Pink Safari. Save for the Aluminum, these are LE (limited edition) colors.

I bring at least four Lamys with me everyday, inked with different colors. But I also bring a flex pen or two to play with, and another vintage favorite is this Parker Duofold Jade ringtop with gold-filled cap trim from 1929 or thereabouts.

Pilot Iroshizuku momiji (autumn leaves) gives gradated effects when used in a flex-nib pen.

The Parker Duofold’s nib is glorious; I can do calligraphic tricks with it, creating thick and thin lines and all kinds in between by altering the pressure on the nib.

Doodling in between races with pens old and new, using inks of rainbow hues, relaxes me after each task and clears my head, so I approach the commentating of each race with undiminished energy.

“Aaaaand they’re off…!”

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  1. [...] Safari is also available in clear plastic (called the Vista demonstrator) and aluminum (the AL-Star line). [...]

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