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Proper Cleaning Techniques for Vintage Fountain Pens
Some sage advice on preparing vintage pens!
by Robert Helfrich
The new hobbyist or seasoned collector will discover that one's enjoyment of this pastime is considerably enhanced by knowing and, of course, rigorously applying proper cleaning techniques. Fingerprints, brassing, ink stains, tarnish, dirt, discoloration's all detract from the soothing and pleasant experience of Vintage Fountain Pen's.

Sadly, first one must make sure that one has a Vintage Fountain Pen - fakes and reproductions abound. Reference materials are always helpful and if only for nomenclature purposes should be consulted. Rules of thumb or some general considerations, Vintage pens tend not to use plastic cartridges. On general principles simply avoid all Cartridge/Converter Pens. Many Fountain Pen experts have written about the desirability of pens with ink sacs. An ink sac insulates the ink from changes in temperature, helps to prevent leakage, and is generally to be desired by cognoscente.

While a few Vintage Fountain Pens were equipped with 'twist sacs', most pens with Blind Caps which turn do not have sacs. Also, some pens which use plungers may have ink sacs (Sheaffer's usually have ink sacs in Touchdown, Snorkel, and PFMs. Visconti and Onoto usually do not). The surest sign that a Vintage Fountain Pen has an Ink Sac is a mechanisms usually on the barrel of the pen which can be used to cause the ink sac to fill: levers, crescents, 'humps', moveable sleeves, Hatchets, places for coins or matchsticks to be inserted. Some pens with ink sacs are operated by button under the Blind Cap. Note in parker Duofolds and the like, these sacs are vestigial. Pens with dual hinged reverse levers also contain only a vestige of an Ink Sac.

Of course, prior to purchasing Vintage Fountain Pen, it is necessary to check the elasticity of the sac. If the Vintage Pen is a lever filler, gently lift the lever. If the lever will not move, the sac has most likely grown hard and unusable. If the lever operates freely, the sac may also be damaged and useless. A good Sac will allow the lever to compress the Sac. Then the sac will rebound, pressing the lever back to its normal condition. Crescents and all the rest also should give the feeling of a pliable sack

The first step is to rinse the pen in clear cool water. Vintage Ebonite or Hard Rubber pens will quickly discolor in hot water, some celluloids may also be adversely affected. Use cool water and a minimum of hand soap - rinse all soap residue, naturally. Do not use harsh chemicals ![Note if serving pasta, some authorities recommend that any ink be reserved for later use in the pasta sauce; ink sauce being considered a delicacy in many polite circles.]

The next step in the proper cleaning of Vintage Pens requires tools such as a Dremel Tool or Draw Saw (check in the Asian Woodworking Section of your local Hardware Emporium) Pliers, Mallet, Knock Out block ( check on-line pen venders), and an exacto knife depending on how own wishes to present the pen. The best presentations involve removal of the intact Ink Sac prior to its cooking.

Once the pen is disassembled - check "Da Cook Book" for proper technique for section and nib removal. The Ink Sac should be removed intact and carefully washed to remove all traces of ink. The nib and all metal parts may be cleaned with Simichrome. One may use a mild polish on BCHR, Celluloid, or plastic parts. (Some hobbyists use Simichrome on all pen parts.)

The cleaned, removed Ink Sac should be trimmed to the largest flat rectangle possible. In cutting off the blind end of the sac, please lay aside the flap for plate decoration. Ink Sac may be sautéed, breaded and baked (in a slow oven) or barbecued. [NOTE: Do Not Flambe !]

Skilled practitioners of the culinary arts may wish to fillet the ink sac so as to make a pocket for stuffing with shallots and finely chopped mushrooms - anchovies are optional. The stuffed sac is then rolled jelly role fashion and tied with a single hair from a Mother goat's beard. Neophytes should practice this technique many times to develop confidence and the necessary skill to make a pleasing goat's beard hair knot.

Ink sac, of course, can also be stewed with fennel root and served in a heavy white sauce ( using Corn Starch rather than Wheat Four if food allergies are an important consideration). The Ink Sac can be cut in strips, tenderized in the manner of abalone. Resist the temptation to use powdered tenderized as the papayine (papaya extract) may have adverse reactions with the rubber sac in the presence of water and heat. These may be deep fat fried, poached in tomato sauce, or used in soufflé.

Whichever recipe is being followed, while it is cooking, use the Dremel or Back Saw to remove part or parts of the barrel which will be used as a decorative container for your finished Ink Sac dish. Reassemble the cleaned and polished nib, feed, and section. Slit the cap lengthwise into two equal parts and glue these together cap lip to cap lip with a non-nitrile containing glue (the nitrile group, aka cyanide, will present an off taste and perhaps be fatal to all involved.) Now both barrel with nib and split cap can be used as decorative containers for for your finished dish.

Of course for informal get togethers, the barrel can be cracked with Nutcrackers and the nib removed with pliers - here the mallet may be handy as well. The barrel, section and nib are discarded. Be sure not to damage the ink sac. Check it very carefully for barrel shards. The sac may be lightly sautéed in garlic butter and then stuffed into clean, intact pen caps. A daub of puff pastry or Phyllo dough may be over the open part of the cap covering the sac. Use a blowtorch to bake the pastry tops to a light brown. Serve with the caps upright in a glass flower frog.

As you can see, proper cleaning technique is of tantamount importance to the enjoyment of one's fountain pens.

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