Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Choosing Pen Names - Gerry Hancock

I read somewhere recently that a good fountain pen should be heavy in the hand when held flat, but well balanced when gripped so that when the nib comes in contact with paper the words seem almost to form themselves. This is especially true of the pen under discussion which boasted a beautifully styled 15 carat gold nib. Eat your heart out Laszlo Biro! But then I realised I knew all this already…
My maternal grandfather, Charles King, had been in the British Army from 1912 to 1919. His skills it appears lay more in administration than in actual fighting so he began his service in supplies – making endless lists of of uniforms, boots, belts and their sizes and quantities. Later of course following the outbreak of the Great War he would learn to develop more soldierly skills quickly if he were to survive. Thankfully he did and in 1919 he resigned his position in the army and successfully applied for a position back in Ireland with the then Dublin Corporation as a clerk in their Pump House in Ringsend, again ensuring that he was as far away from the literally dirty end of the stick as possible.
He began work there in November 1919 armed only with a Conklin Crescent fountain pen. This he bought in Bristol with the larger part of his army gratuity for 7 years service. To many at the time this seemed an extravagant purchase for a humble clerk but Charles always had a great love of handwriting and indeed his calligraphy skills had often been in demand among his army buddies and later among his co-workers. What may be more surprising is that the pen he purchased was manufactured by an American company – the Conklin Pen Company – which had been established in Toledo, Ohio, in 1898. By 1903 this company had established a firm foothold in the quality pen market and Samuel Clemens, pen name Mark Twain, was a proud owner of several of their products. Clemens praised the Conklin on two grounds: primarily because it was the first pen that had its filler built in so that, as he pointed out with great delight, this eliminated the need to keep safe not only the pen but its filler as well. The the new Conklin pen had a sac inside which filled with ink by pressing on a crescent shaped piece of metal which protruded from the pen’s body. This design feature greatly impressed the aforementioned author not just for its convenience but also, as he put it, for its role as a “profanity saver” as the protruding crescent prevented the pen from rolling off his desk.
The model Charles purchased was new to the market in the United Kingdom in 1919 and was the Conklin 2. It was not the most expensive model however being a black hard rubber 3/4 length body though with a rose gold filled filigree overlay, about 8 inches long and the date 1919 engraved on the cap cartouche. It was obviously a wonderful instrument nonetheless as Charles used it on a daily basis right up to his death in 1986. Indeed my Aunt Mavis, with whom Charles lived for many years following the death of his wife Elizabeth, remarked recently that on Charles’ death the local bookmaker declared that he would “mightily miss” my grandfather’s beautifully scripted betting slips which always stood out among the rest.
On his burial the pen was placed with him in the coffin so that Charles would be as well equipped for whatever role he would play in the next life as he had been on his return to Ireland almost 70 years previously.
I remember seeing the Conklin in my grandfather’s hand on many occasions as he completed his daily Irish Press crossword but never gave it a second thought. Recently I have begun to scour the internet for Conklin Crescents but so far I have found only one or two in what is described as “fair condition” with an asking price usually hovering around the “offers above $500” mark. And so my search continues for that elusive pen in mint condition but at what price I dread to think. Whether or not I ever purchase such a pen will of course depend on two things: most practical of which will be the price but much more importantly will be my ability to live with the extra burden it will impose on me to write and so justify its purchase price. Somehow or other I do not feel that writing betting slips with it will be enough to salve my conscience.

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