Mismatches [The PENnant, 1993]

Some 150 years ago a number of medieval and Renaissance churches in Venice were surveyed, and detailed plans and measurements were duly published. Yet instead of recording the buildings as they were with all their original irregularities, the authors evened out and regularized their plans in a misguided effort to show these churches as they should have been. Unfortunately, these plans were accepted without question, and until recently discrepancies between actual measurements and those of the survey were often "corrected" by well-meaning restorers, permanently distorting the historical record.

We pen collectors are already doing something similar in our eagerness to make our pens as complete and as correct as possible. Too often we end up swapping parts and making over pens which are entirely original, all in attempting to achieve an ideal of correctness that may not be correct at all. We thus erase some of our best evidence for what really was produced: only those pieces that fit our preconceptions are accepted, while all others are dismissed and often dismantled as mismatches.

If we want to stop this, we must become more active in dispelling misconceptions of what is and is not original. As a start, I have assembled a list of several kinds of mismatches that really aren't. Please share your own in future issues.

1. Waterman overlays often use golds of contrasting color; I find this very attractive, but many others find it so unacceptable that they see only a set of parts. Two examples: a 554 LEC HEV in yellow gold with pink gold clip and lever; a 514 PSF in yellow gold with no clip and a lever in green gold.

2. This is also the case with pens with gold and gold-filled caps. Parker 51s often came with clips and caps of different colors: gold filled clips on steel caps, yellow gold clips on pink gold filled caps, etc.

3. A year or two ago I saw an Eversharp roller-clip pencil, half lapis and half coral. It may well have ended up dismantled for parts, but it was original. A brief inscription indicated that it was an anniversary tie-in for the Chicago Bears in the team colors.

4. By now everyone should have seen enough 1941 Parker 51s new in the box to realize that not all first-year pens came with aluminum jewels; in fact, aluminum jewels seem to be the rule only on those first-year pens that bear the smooth sterling silver cap or the steel cap with the inlaid gold-filled band. Similarly, a number of 1941-dated 51s seem to have left the factory with plastic plungers.

5. Also, by now all collectors should be aware that Sheaffer sold pens with flat-ended barrels and Balance caps. For a long time, however, such pens were routinely parted out as mismatches.

6. Rumor has it that Waterman (and possibly other companies) sent out some pens with black hard rubber barrels and red sections and caps. This is hard to verify, but if such a pen were found in new condition in its original box, never having passed through a pen dealer's hands, this would be valuable evidence. Unfortunately, it would likely be transient evidence, since few collectors would see beyond the apparent mismatch to appreciate the significance of the piece. This may have been the case with a Parker Black Giant with a red cap, sold to a California collector by a general antiques dealer nearly two years ago.

7. The very earliest Waterman pens were available with or without Waterman-supplied gold nibs, and company literature noted that one's favorite steel nib could readily be used in the Waterman holder. Nevertheless, few collectors would be satisfied with one of these pens without a contemporary Waterman nib, even though this would be perfectly correct.

8. "Transitional" is a much-misused term in the history of design, and designs so labelled are often dismissed as only half-realized. Often, however, "transitional" models are better seen as pioneering steps in new directions whose integrity should be respected. The "transitional" Patrician is one such case: as far as I know, most collectors think of it as an ugly oddball burdened with a plain band and a clip and lever taken from old stock. Attitudes might shift a bit if collectors remembered that new pen designs were often test marketed in preproduction form, typically in limited batches only one step removed from prototypes.

9. And two final reminders not to make corrections until you're absolutely sure there's a mistake, both involving Waterman coin fillers: one, found at a flea market, was brought to have its missing lever replaced, but luckily the repairman knew better; the other, a filigree, was found at a pen show with a lever already installed – a costly repair indeed.


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Copyright 1999 David Nishimura. All rights reserved