The history of pens

Balance, History, Musings, Sheaffer -

The history of pens

There is a subset of the pen collecting community that find value in a specific pen's part in history, maybe it was used to sign some important document or perhaps an author's trusted tool. It is not something I typically think about when handling a pen for the first time. There are however two exceptions: 1) Pens with interesting engravings and 2) Pens with serious and unusual war wounds. For now we will leave engravings to another day and focus on damage. As you see more and more pens to repair you begin to see patterns of damage and know what happened. Other times you are just left pondering, "what in the world happened to you?".

I have two examples of this second situation; One is from my own collection while the other is one that was sent in for repair, ironically both are early Sheaffer Balances. The first is one of the first vintage pens I ever owned. This one has a large rectangular melted section in the cap. It is very geometric and does not appear to be damage from overheating with a hot air gun. My go to assumption has been it was used as a cigarette rest. While this was common in the day it has none of the blistering that is typical from cigarette burns. It has had a special place in my personal rotation for one silly reason. When holding it capped, my thumb rests perfectly in the indent and it makes an excellent "worry stone".

The second example is a Marine Green Balance that came in for a sac restoration. This pen has passed through the hands of 4 generations of a family and has been seriously put to work. There are two items that make me curious about its history.

The first is frequently enough seen that I should not really be all that surprised and that is the tipping material is gone; It has been snapped off at some point, likely from a fall. What is surprising about it is it is an incredibly smooth writing despite this, why? The pen was clearly used well past the damage to a point where there is a writing surface worn into the gold of the nib. Someone, at some point, was determined to use every ounce of life out of this pen. I have seen worn nibs showing a certain writing style but this is something else and just makes you think about those who once owned it.

The second item on this pen is the bent clip. A bent clip is not unusual, but for me the interesting point is that the clip as a whole is not deformed, just the ball. If the ball caught something and pulled away from the cap I would have expected the whole clip to be pulled away more from the cap. Instead there is a sharp bend right behind the ball. Was this done on purpose with something holding the clip in place to get this shape? Was it some weird fluke? We are just not going to know and it is fun to speculate.

What fascinates me about this kind of thing is that it is not about the pen being used in some epic historical event. Instead it is about the everyday lives of the people who owned these pens and how they used them day in and day out. It is an important reminder that while we consider rarity and condition as we hunt these pens down (early Balances are something I do love), those who came before us saw these pens as tools to be used for the task at hand.