Polishing Vintage Pens

Some like their pens slick and gleaming. We are not big fans of highly polished pens, especially since recourse to the buffing wheel has left too many pens looking like melted popsicles (see our cautions in Pen Repair Don'ts ). Nonetheless, a bit of polishing can do a lot for the appearance of many pens, and in most cases best results come from doing it by hand. Popular polishing compounds include metal polishes such as Simichrome and Wenol, though polishing compounds intended for plastics may be a better choice in most instances. If a pen has deep scratches, it is best to start with a medium-fine grade of abrasive paper, moving step by step through ever finer grades until the final polish is achieved. If the same treatment is attempted using just one grade of abrasive (as with a buffing wheel), laminates and other multicolored materials may develop an uneven, rippled surface due to differential removal of harder and softer materials.

In recent years, many collectors have embraced waxing of pens. While this would appear to offer net protective benefits for hard rubber and casein-based plastics, the situation is less clear for celluloid. A relatively impermeable layer of wax would help exclude moisture, but would also restrict free venting of the acidic byproducts that aging celluloid naturally produces. On balance, it is likely that waxing of celluloid pens will do more harm than good when it comes to long-term preservation. It should also be noted that synthetic waxes may also be problematical, in that they are almost impossible to remove fully. This becomes a serious issue when these wax coatings inevitably turn cloudy as they age. Renaissance Wax is no longer recommended for museum conservation for this reason, as it is a mix of natural and synthetic waxes.