Another Family Pen

Once again my son, Perry, has unearthed a family fountain pen.  This time it is a Sheaffer Balance pen and pencil set in the original box.  Specifically, the pen is a Sovereign (Lifetime, full length, slender girth) in Golden Brown, and the pencil matches it. Based on the style of the clip, the pen could have been made anytime from about 1936 to early 1942.

Although there is no personalization on the set, Perry found it among items that belonged to my aunt Laura Gaines, my father’s older half-sister.  This means that I now have pens that belonged to both of my grandfathers, my mother, my father, and my aunt. Laura Gaines was President of the Alabama Education Association sometime in the late 1940s, and she may have used this pen then.

One unusual feature of this set is the box itself.  When I opened the clamshell style box, I noticed that the insert with loops holding the pen and pencil seemed a little different than others I’ve seen.  I pulled on it and out it came, revealing that it is actually a snap-closure carrying case for the set.

Click on any picture below to open the gallery for larger views:


Flood Pictures

Images are titled by view direction, etc., Click on any picture to open the gallery and view larger views.


Heart Transplant on a 1st Generation Sheaffer Tuckaway

IMAG0560 copy

Pen and Pencil Set

I sent a 1st generation vacuum-fill Sheaffer Tuckaway to Gerry Berg to have the filler system restored.  Gerry is the best there is at this particular repair, and pens he restores are better than new.  In this case, though, Gerry contacted me to say that he was unable to complete the repair on this pen because there was an air leak somewhere in the barrel, in the part that is inside a gold-filled metal shell.  He had only found this problem after completing his usual repair work, including rebuilding the seals inside the packing unit through which the plunger rod passes and fitting new sealing washers on the plunger tip.  The problem would not have been detectable until these repairs were done.

I asked Gerry to return the pen to me as it was and he graciously charged only half price despite having spent more time and effort on the pen than usual.

Lifetime Tuckaway I vacuum fill with NOS barrel annotated

At this point it seemed that the pen was destined to be a display piece, never to write again.  Then an amazing coincidence occurred: someone offered a NOS barrel for a 1st generation vacuum-fill Tuckaway on eBay.  I purchased the part, intending to try major surgery on the pen.


I queried Gerry and a couple of other knowledgeable pen people about the internal construction of the Tucky, but it seemed that nobody had actually opened one up.  Undeterred, I came up with a plan.

The gold-filled metal shell was held captive between a flange on the gripping end of the barrel and a similar flange on the packing unit, with the latter apparently extending inside the barrel and being glued or, more likely, solvent welded to the back end of the barrel.  Annotated TuckieThus there was no way to extract the barrel from the shell without getting rid of one of those flanges.  I did not want to risk damage to the packing unit since I had no replacement available, so the barrel would have to be separated at the flange.

Lifetime Tuckaway I cutting the barrelUsing a very sharp x-acto knife, I gradually worked a groove into the junction of the sleeve and the barrel flange.  After quite a while, the barrel was cut in two and it seemed that I would be able to pull the remaining part of the barrel out of the sleeve from the back end.  Unfortunately that was not the

Lifetime Tuckaway I vacuum fill sleeve showing key annotated

case.  I was able to pull the packing unit end of the barrel out of the sleeve just about 1/8″ – no farther.  A close inspection revealed that a key soldered inside the sleeve engaged a slot in the side of the barrel, but because that slot did not extend the length of the barrel, movement stopped when the key hit the end of the slot.  What to do?

Since the junction of the packing unit and the barrel was now visible, I examined it with a loupe and notice that there seemed to be a small gap there – probably the source of the offending air leak.  I gripped the packing unit with my padded section pliers and gave a little wiggle; the gap widened just a bit.  More cautious wiggling followed and suddenly the packing unit slid free from the barrel!  That joint, glued or solvent welded in 1940, had begun to fail, causing the air leak, and now was weak enough to break free cleanly. More than likely I could have achieved this breakthrough without destroying the barrel, but I had no way of knowing that until I could actually see the offending joint.Lifetime Tuckaway I vacuum fill disassembled and with replacement NOS barrel annotated

At this time I consulted with Gerry Berg regarding what to use to secure the joint, and he recommended a good two-part epoxy/resin, which is what he uses when it is necessary to reglue other Sheaffer packing units.  I found some epoxy recommended for plastics at my local old-time hardware store and was ready to begin the reassembly process.

The NOS barrel slipped into the sleeve easily.  I inserted the packing unit partway into the barrel, then applied epoxy using a toothpick to place it in just the right locations, being a little generous to ensure a good seal.  Gerry had pointed out that epoxy expands as it cures, so this gave a little margin for error.  With the epoxy in place, I pressed the packing unit fully into the barrel, then clamped the pen longitudinally with a small bar clamp.

The epoxy package said that a full cure requires 24 hours, so I tried my best to be patient and not disturb the joint.  Exactly 24 hours later, I removed the clamp, inserted the plunger rod through the barrel opening and out through the packing unit, reattached the blind cap to the end of the plunger rod, and screwed the nib/feed assembly back into place. (This is the only model of vintage Sheaffer pen that I’ve encountered that has a screw-in nib/feed setup.)

First test was to stroke the plunger and listen for a reassuring poof – got it!  Next was a water test: insert the nib/feed/section into some water, stroke the plunger, and wait a few seconds for ink to be sucked into the pen, then reverse the process to see how much water was pulled in – answer…quite a lot for such a small pen.  Finally, immerse the entire pen in water, stroke the plunger, and look for any signs of tiny bubbles from an air leak – none!  Gerry’s repairs had worked and my surgery had fixed the air leaks!

Writing sampleSoon I had filled the pen with ink, smoothed a slightly rough nib, and was happily writing with a pen brought back from the dead!

Ballpoint Collection

I’ve posted here before about my new addiction to early ballpoint pens, but I’ve never shown the full extent of the collection before.  Here are pictures of the entire lot.  I have some duplicates not shown here.  NOTE: Golden King, Lifelong, and Cordell at bottom of gallery were added 7/24/2017.

Click on any image to open gallery for larger views:


Restoring a Fulgens Stilnova

I acquired a Fulgens Stilnova pen, made in Italy around 1950, quite by accident.  It was included in a lot of pens that I purchased on eBay.  I was immediately attracted by its beautiful design, but I found that the nib was missing its tipping material and the pushbutton filler was firmly stuck.  I first put it aside, but later felt challenged to restore it if possible.

With considerable help from folks on Pentrace and FPN, I finally understood how the filler system worked and how to get it apart.  Disassembly was not difficult, although things did not really want to come apart easily after nearly 70 years.

After a thorough cleanup to remove debris left by a long-gone rubber diaphragm, I crafted a replacement from a #16 latex ink sac and reassembled the filler.  A test with my finger over the open end of the barrel showed that the filler now made some vacuum, so I had hope that it would work.

Because the original nib was damaged, I found a suitable substitute in my parts bin and assembled the nib/feed/section/breather tube and screwed that assembly into the barrel.  A test with water showed that multiple presses of the pushbutton drew up quite a lot of fluid, so I emptied the water and partially filled it with ink.  It wrote!

The exterior of the pen was in very good condition, except that some previous owner had chewed on the blind cap.  I used micromesh to reduce the damage, then used Micro-Gloss liquid abrasive to polish the entire exterior.

I may opt to have the original nib retipped, or perhaps I will find someone in Italy who can source a replacement.  Either way, this very pretty pen – classic Italian design – is now restored to working order.

The barrel imprint, which is difficult to read without a loupe, says Fulgens Stilnova Brev. 26938, where Brev. means Patent.  The original nib also reads Fulgens Stilnova.  The clip is imprinted FULGENS.

The cap, section, and blind cap are black celluloid, while the barrel is alternating translucent and colored bands in the manner of the Parker Vacumatic pens.  The translucent bands are considerably ambered and I was unable to make much progress in restoring more translucency.

The clip is a clever and beautiful design, clearly inspired by the over-the-top clip of the Eversharp Skyline, but done better.  This clip pivots at one point near the top and is spring loaded.  An indentation in the very top of the cap allows the tip of the clip to move freely.

The cap has a single gold-filled cap band which is in excellent condition.

The manufacturer was Pagliero of Turin, who made fountain pens under a variety of names.  The Stilnova name was used in the 1930s, but they only trademarked the Fulgens name in 1946, and conflated it apparently with the previous Stilnova mark.

The pictures below show the restored pen, plus two diagrams from FPN and an exploded view of the pen while I had it apart. Click on any image to open the gallery for larger views.

My Aurora 88k

A few months ago I purchased a lot of fountain and ballpoint pens from an eBay seller because I could see that there were a couple of interesting pens and some useful parts pens included.  I planned to keep what I wanted/needed and resell the remainder of the lot.

When the lot arrived, I found that one of the items I had been unable to identify in the eBay pictures was Italian fountain pens of the early 1950s, an Aurora 88k.  I was completely unfamiliar with the Aurora, but it was a beautiful pen with a black barrel, hooded nib, and gold-filled cap – very reminiscent of a Parker 51 – and I was intrigued.

Some online searching yielded the history of Aurora, which dates from 1919 and is still in business today, and its best-known pen, the 88/88k/88P family.  Briefly, when the company struggled to get back into production immediately after WWII, they recognized the popularity of the Parker 51 and undertook to design a pen equally modern.  They hired well-known industrial designer Marcello Nizzoli, who created a design so successful that it ultimately resulted in sales of over five million pens.

The original Aurora 88 was introduced in 1946 and had sold 750,000 pieces before a slightly upgraded version, the 88k, replaced it in 1953.  The third version, the 88P, came along in 1958.  Almost all of the 88 family pens were serial numbered, and my 88k is number 2123809.

When I examined the pen, I found that its cosmetic condition was very good, but the nib was badly bent upward, perhaps from a drop, and the piston filling mechanism moved freely but did not draw in any water. While straightening the nib was within my skill set, I had no interest in learning to repair the piston system since I would not likely ever use that knowledge again.  So, I offered it for sale in this condition in the Fountain Pen Network classifieds.

Before long I received a reasonable offer for the pen and I mailed it away to its new owner –  Ralf St. Clair, of Victoria, BC, Canada – but only after making him promise that he would give me a full report on repairing it. Within a month or so I received an email from Ralf with a MS Word document detailing the entire repair process in words and pictures – much more than I had expected.  There definitely were some tricks to disassembling the pen that I would never have discovered on my own!  I commented to him that, had I known all that his report showed, I would have tried it myself.

Shortly afterward, I received an offer from him to sell me the restored pen at a very reasonable price, and I quickly accepted. Now the pen is back in my hands and I am using it every day because it is such an attractive pen and an excellent writer with its smooth fine nib.

Thanks very much to Ralf for his work in returning this classic pen to working order.

Here are some “before” and “after” pictures:

The following is the repair report sent to me by Ralf St. Clair:

Fixing up the 88

As requested, here’s the story! The Aurora are good to work on. The parts are stable and pretty strong, designed to be fixed up easily. There’s one exception, which I’ll come to later. The first step is to remove a tiny plastic cover on the butt of the pen to reveal a screw………………………………………………………..When it’s loosened, like this:

image-1image-2You can remove the piston knob. There is a tiny spring on the screw; it’s used to tension the piston knob. The screw isn’t tight; it’s just got enough torque to hold the assembly together. If you over-tighten, the knob won’t turn.


Under the piston knob there are a couple of different designs. In this case there is a hex-nut that the knob fits over. When the knob turns, it drives the hex-nut which in turn works the piston mechanism. It’s a brilliant design for a couple of reasons. First, the piston knob does not back away from the body of the pen when the piston is being operated, so it’s a very clean operation aesthetically and mechanically speaking. Second, the parts are light but not so specialized that a handy person couldn’t jury-rig something if they had to – quite an asset in post-War Italy.

The white plastic piece is a bushing for the piston mechanism. I usually don’t remove them (I’m always wary of screwing things in and out of celluloid) but in this case I had to, so we’ll see more of it later! The piston mech can be removed as one unit from the back of the pen, or in pieces from the front (section) end.

Now to the front. After application of heat, the incredibly tacky substance the factory use to hold the section on gets a little softer, and the section can be loosened. I find two bits of old inner tube work well for this- section pliers make me nervous. When fully removed you have this:


And now it gets interesting.  The section goes into cold water for a soak.image-5

And it’s time to strip the piston mech. Careful examination of the hex-nut shows that there is actually a tiny pin running through it. It’s not tight, but it is tiny. I usually knock it out with a drift until there is enough showing to pull it out with pliers. Here it is halfway out.


And when removed, the hex-nut slides off the brass shaft:


Now the piston and brass shaft come out the front of the pen, leaving you with:


These are the actual parts that move the piston:


The hole in the brass shaft is, of course, where the pin through the nut goes. The piston looks like this:


It’s hard to see in a photograph, but the piston consists of the big black piece with the hex shape (this fits into a hex shape in the white plastic bushing to prevent the piston just spinning when the piston knob is turned), a strange slotted nut that goes on the end nearest us in the photo, and a range of felt/leather/fibre washers in between. Taken apart it looks like this:


The most delicate piece of these old pens is the black piston itself. In the case of this pen it was definitely crumbly, which led to some challenges. The recommended repair is to replace all those little washers with two O-rings of a specific size (available from David Nishimura). This gives you:


And when re-installed into the piston unit, the whole assembly looks like:


(I left the pin slightly out for the photo, then snugged it home)

The problem with this 88 was that the piston was so soft that I couldn’t tension the o-rings correctly. By turning the slotted “nut” you squeeze the o-rings and change their diameter to get the right “snug but not draggy” fit inside the barrel. Eventually, I was able to get it right with one o-ring, a couple of packing washers, and a spare slotted nut I happened to have from previous Aurora repairs.

Talking of the barrel, after a good wash and scrub with a bottle brush, it looked like this…The ink window was back!!!


So now I had the piston assembly back in a nice clean barrel (This picture captures the hole for the pin through the hex-nut quite nicely).


And so to the front.

There are only three parts to the front end of an 88: the section/nose, the feed, and the nib. They tend to be a tight fit, and to glue themselves together with ink. After a good soak (there was a LOT of blue ink in this 88) they come apart, with the feed coming out the FRONT of the section (this is quite counter-intuitive looking at the parts).  NOTE: I asked the author how the feed/nib is removed from the section and he gave this explanation:

“The feed is not a very tight friction fit. It usually needs a light tap on the “inner” end to free it, but that’s about all if it’s been properly soaked. It seals nicely against the end of the barrel when the section is screwed into place.

The nib is a lot like a Lamy 2000, with little wings that fold over the feed and keep it in place. Theoretically, you could remove the nib from the front, with the feed in place in the pen, but I’ve always considered that bad practice.

The back of the feed has a screw affair in it in some version, and I’ve seen people claim that they can adjust ink flow by turning it. I’ve played with these a little, but I’m not convinced that they really make any difference at all.”


Look at that poor nib! It slides off the front of the feed.


You can see how tiny the nib is (the paper is 5mm square). I really thought this one was wrecked, but to my surprise I was wrong, and managed to get it lined up and working again. After some smoothing it’s very acceptable. Here is an overview of the whole pen.


And here are a couple of it re-assembled:



Written with the pen!