Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Ravages of Time

Time and tide, they wait for no man.
The clock ticks for mechanical pencils too.

Warning – Disturbing Content. Readers of a delicate disposition may require emotional guidance and support. Please be seated before continuing on.

One thing is for sure, none of my pencils are getting any younger, and some of them are not aging well. Collectors of vintage pens and pencils are well used to corrosion, tarnishing, brassing, flaky plating and all manner of metallic ills, as well as shrinkage, cracking, hardening and so on of rubber and plastic. The moment a new mechanical pencil is manufactured it starts its journey to becoming a future vintage pencil… if it survives that long.

As well as restarting this blog I have also recently been reviewing my collection with the goal of rationalizing it to the things I really like. This review of my collection has made me realize just how much degradation is going on, and so I share with you some sad stories and sorry sights.

My first encounter with aging of a modern pencil was a while ago my Sensa Carbon Black Mechanical pencil.
After about 5 or so years in storage I noticed that the plasmium grip was deforming under the force of gravity. The plasmium gel was being dragged down by gravity and pooling on the lower side of the grip. After another few years droplets of oily liquid started to form on the outside of the grip as if some liquid was migrating through the outer skin of the grip. Eventually after 10 years or so the outer grip skin was very tacky and the gel pimples burst with gel oozing out of the little tears. Sensa had ceased business, and it’s doubtful they would accept any warranty claim after such a period, so my sticky oozy Sensa pencil went into the rubbish bin. That was a fair few dollars gone.

My next encounter with modern aging was much more disturbing.

I really liked my Lamy Dialog 1 ballpoint pen. I always meant to get around to reviewing it but never did. After about 7 years I noticed some discolouration on the body. Small dark spots, that you could feel with your fingernail. The Dialog 1 is Titanium PVD coated metal and somehow the titanium coating seemed to be corroding, which seemed implausible. Some research into PVD coatings did reveal that the thin coatings used on decorative objects like jewelry are “porous” and much thicker coatings are required for maximum corrosion resistance. I don’t know what’s going on with my Dialog’s coating, whether it’s some sort of poor metal substrate cleaning at the time of coating, coating porosity, or biological attack from a microorganism that has got into the metal structure through the so called porosity. In any event my Dialog 1 is no longer an attractive premium writing instrument. Lamy customer services have been silent.
Lamy Dialog 1 degradation
So annoying!
PVD coatings are very thin and the forums of jewelry and watches have many stories of how they wear off so I was not keen to try any metal polishes on the titanium finish, but after taking these pictures I thought, "What the heck? What have I got to lose?" So, I tried a proper metal polish on the marks. Well after several goes the marks are 99% gone. I say 99% because where most of the dark spots were there is still a tiny little speck the size of a pin prick left where they were. So small you  wouldn't notice if you weren't specifically looking with the knowledge of history. I will see if this is a long term fix or if the corrosion will grow again. So far the polishing does not appear to have affected the PVD coating.

Here’s another disappointing one that hasn’t lasted. Ten years ago when I got it, this Platinum Mistake Double Action multi pencil was white, but now it is a creamy yellow, and I can assure you it has been stored in the dark, away from sunlight and UV. You won’t be able to see them in the picture, but the lower half of the body also has two hairline cracks starting along its length.

Now for the biggie. When I started this blog I declared my dislike of rubber grips, but constant contact worked like some sort of psychotherapy and I came to begrudgingly accept them. That was a mistake, I should have stayed a hater. If you go searching the forums of camera, optics, hunting and nautical people you will come across lots of discussions about rubber coated and rubber armoured cameras, binoculars, telescopes, rifle scopes and the like, going all soft and sticky over time. Then there’s the kitchen utensil, mobile phone, IT and gaming forums… it’s a sticky gooey rubbery mess out there. I too have experienced this with my reputable Japanese brand telescope's rubber armour becoming a soft sticky mess over a 10 – 15 year period. Bushnell optics even has a FAQ for your binoculars going all sticky, and requests that you contact them. Basically with natural rubber it is a process sort of like it returning to its original latex gel liquid state, and a similar degradation process with many synthetic rubbers. Complex long chain molecules break into smaller sections, plasticizers and lubricants migrate to the surface and so on. Anyway, there’s nothing you can do about it, it just happens, although the circumstances of use and storage can affect the timescale.

Down in my mechanical pencil storage department you don’t have to look too far to find a soft sticky wet feeling rubber grip. There is a vast range of different service lives for different synthetic rubbers. From my experience, ten years seems to be about the average time for degradation becoming obvious. If you don’t see any changes after 10 years then it is probably one of the silicone or other synthetic rubbers with extremely long service lives.

Here’s two Faber-Castel Grip Plus mechanical pencils, both obtained 12 years ago at the same time, both stored side by side in the same container. Visually they look nice, but when you pick them up one rubber grip is noticeably sticky and leaves a residue on your fingers. The other is much less tacky and does not leave a residue but is clearly starting to degrade like its cousin. Of course who knows what their actual date of manufacture was.

Maries Leadholder only lasted a couple of years in my office drawer before it started becoming disgustingly sticky and I relocated it to the rubbish bin.

To be fair, most of the rubber gripped writing instruments are in the economy and low price range brackets, so the manufacturers probably only think of them as needing to last a few years, and they certainly would not be thinking about future classic vintage pencil status.

Related to this rubber issue is the degradation of presentation cases. PVC is a very common and useful hard plastic used to make all sorts of things including roof gutters, house cladding, LP records and helmets but if you add plasticisers to it, it becomes very flexible and we then often start calling it vinyl and making erasers, clothing, furnishings and so on. The thin flexible vinyls tend to breakdown over time and some seem to become susceptible to biological attack from mould. I imagine it’s related to the particular plasticisers and additives used in the plastic formulation.

Here is my Pilot KICPA case. It was very slightly tacky when I first bought it, but now things have gone further. It is still only slightly tacky to the touch, but the case is a very strong spring loaded one and you have to grip it quite firmly to open it, which means you press the soft plastic covering, and sometimes the vinyl or PU or whatever plastic it is sticks to your fingers and comes off its fabric backing.

One thing of genuine concern though is that virtually all mechanical pencils with a ratchet lead advance system have some form of lead retaining rubber ring or similar at their tip. Let’s hope that they use one of the good quality very long service life rubbers for that!

And if you think I am getting bent out of shape over all of this, at least I’m not like the old floaty pens from the 70’s or so. Virtually every one of them I have seen in real life is bent to one degree or another. Releasing moulded in stress over time… all those floaty ships, cars and beautiful ladies… all warped.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sell / Swap

Just updated the Sell / Swap, and split into three pages.

Don't worry, a proper post coming real soon :)

Friday, April 06, 2018


Well, I have been making some progress.

I believe I have found and updated all the broken links on the blog. If you find any broken links, other than in peoples comments, then please let me know so I can fix them up. A lot of the broken links could be updated to new addresses but of course a number of websites are just entirely gone so the link is permanently gone.

I updated Jeopardy in the sidebar. It went up quite a bit. That's a crazy number. I am out of control.

To help get the collection rationalized I have created a Sell Swap Trade page, you can access it by the Page links just under the blog header up above. Ebay is not an easy option down this way. You see eBay started up here with some fanfare, but after 5 years or so they quietly shut down without saying a word, as our local opposition auction site smacked them down. Thus buying from eBay is quite easy, but with no domestic site, selling as an individual is quite hard. Unfortunately for me the number of mechanical pencil buyers on our local auction site is nearly zero when you don't count me :) Starting out with a bunch of Papermates and some older vintage stuff. I will be adding things slowly to the trade page, so if you do want anything then give me a yell and lets see if we can work something out - sell for money, swap for something, all options are on the table.

It has been interesting watching Google slowly accept my return. Before I took the blog offline I had about 750 URLs indexed by Google. Of course that fell to zero when I shut down, but over the last few weeks the Google Bot has slowly started worming its way through the blog, and now has about 150 URLs indexed. It's slow going. I guess I just thought that once the Bot found your website it would index it all quite quickly in one go, rather than crawl slowly through it at a snails pace.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Newman Mechanical Pencil

I have tripped across a few Newman mechanical pencils over the years, but know very little about the company, and their pencils haven’t leapt up and slapped me across the face to get my attention… until now.

What little I can find out about Newman can he summarised as follows. Newman were a reasonably common and successful Japanese brand in the 1960’s through 80’s. The end. If you know more, then please do enlighten me.

Anyway, quite a few years ago, Germ of the now long gone Pencils11 blog sent me a box of “odds and sods” and within it a Newman mechanical pencil caught my attention. With this blog being on hiatus for so long, it has taken me all this time to get around to posting about it, but here goes.

At first this seems like a reasonably ordinary slim line stainless steel mechanical pencil with lightly grooved grip section and a rather attractive bright red push top button.
newman mechanical pencil

Let’s push the button to advance the lead.
sleeve partially retracted

That’s a bit strange; the red push top button is actually a sleeve around the real inner stainless button. Pushing the button down has pushed the sleeve about half way into the body, and it stays there. Also, the sleeve is attached to the pocket clip, so the pocket clip has also slid down a channel in the body and now exposes the letter “BP”. I’m confused. Ballpoint? The multi-national oil conglomerate? I don’t know.

But the pocket clip channel is longer still, so you can slide the pocket clip and the sleeve further down, all the way down, down and out.
newman mechanical pencil top button sleeve fully retracted

Now just a tiny little red ring is left. Rotring as some might be tempted to say.

Really, I’ve got no idea what this system is all about, perhaps the sleeve is some sort of anti-accidental activation device? Or perhaps it is just purely aesthetic, for when you have the pencil clipped in your shirt pocket the shiny red sleeve is fully extended? Has anybody got any other ideas?

A couple of other images for you.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Parker Esprit Mechanical Pencil Review

Parker Esprit Mechanical Pencil Review

So here I am, back again nearly four years on from my last review, and I am effectively picking up where I left off because back when I gave up on this blog, the Parker Esprit was next in line for review.

Parker launched the Esprit back in 2008, and some sites suggest the target market was businesswomen looking for a small relatively minimalistic but colourful writing instrument. 

First thing out of the box, a very nice protective carry case for your Esprit. That certainly does strike me as something suited to a ladies handbag.

Open up and we have the mechanical pencil, or pen. It certainly is a bright colourful object in metallic blue and chrome trim.

The Esprit is a telescoping design, so you carry it retracted and then you extend it to write. Officially to me it is a mini-pencil. The Esprit is though fully functional when retracted, so if you just have to scribble a quick note or you are happy with a short pencil then the lead advances whilst retracted and you can write away.
Perker Esprit mechanical pencil retracted
To extend the pencil you simply pull the front section out of the main body. It has a rather satisfying suction sort of feel as you pull the front section out and a definite stop at the end. You then twist the two sections through about a quarter turn to lock them in position.
Parker Esprit mechanical pencil
I really like the little graphic printed on the barrel showing the lead size and indicating the direction of turn to lock the extension in place.

To retract you simply reverse the process, but that worries me a little. My Esprit mechanical pencil has a rather metal on metal sort of feel and sound during the retraction process and I wonder over time if somehow the barrel is going to get scuffed. I must stress there’s not actual physical sign of that; it’s just a suggestion from the feel and sound of it. If you are a bit heavy handed then when the barrel hits the retracting end stop you can accidently activate the lead advance.

The lead advance mechanism is a standard push top ratchet. 10 clicks will get you 7mm of lead. As usual there is a small eraser under the top cap, and you remove it to access the lead refill chamber. The pocket clip is quite strong.

In the hand the Esprit feels quite light. The grip section does not feel particularly positive and the ringed grooves are certainly a necessary feature.

Well, I am not a businesswoman, and might not be the target market, but I liked the Esprit well enough. It is a lightweight colourful attractive interesting mechanical pencil for carrying around in a purse or bag. Apart from the carry case it’s certainly as unisex as most other mechanical pencils out there. I suspect though that Parker have decided the Esprit is on its way out so availability will decline.

•    Best Points – Interesting telescoping design
•    Not So Good Points – Not pocket safe without the carry case.
•    Price Range – Mid
•    Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? – No

Dimensions – Length 124mm extended and 106mm retracted, diameter 10mm across the grip section. Balance point about 70mm up from the tip when extended.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Back With Triple Sets

I shut this blog down a few years ago and took it offline a while back, but I have recently been trying to get my "pencil-life" better organized. Part of that has been the long overdue decision to reorganize (down size) my collection. Over the years I have ended up with a lot of stuff I don't really want. Things that looked good online but aren't in the hand, duplicates, minor variations, etc, etc, etc.

The review of things to keep or sell got me thinking about triple sets - fountain pen, ballpoint pen and mechanical pencil. Not that they were ever that common 30 - 50 years ago, but I guess they are basically a thing of the past now unless you make up your own one by buying three separates. I do have a couple of triple sets... but not for much longer :)

Conway Stewart


Faber-Castell E-Motion - the one I'm keeping, although it is a make up of three separates in a flip top hard case.

So, someone who knows about ink, why isn't the Faber-Castell nib gold?