The Reasons I Turn Replicas: An Essay
Some of the reasons I choose to make “replica” samples of past production pens are as follows. There will be some who do not agree with my motives and who would like me to redirect my efforts to simply making pens of my own design and “brand”. That day may come in the future.
A little history: 35 years ago, I was given a pen that had been turned from wood. Even the pocket clip was fashioned by hand. The ink refill was made by the Bic Pen Company. (I still have that work of art, and I prize it highly.) I mused to myself, “One day, I want to own a lathe and turn beautiful writing instruments.”
Years went by before I invested in a lathe. Then, in 1996, I received a wood-turner’s supply catalog in the mail. It contained several pages of supplies which supported the kit-pen hobby. My dream of turning pens was greatly facilitated because Mr. Jim Heusinger (of Berea Hardwoods Co., Inc. and a vintage pen collector himself) was importing kit-pen parts by the millions and distributing them to crafts people through retail outlets.
As I began showing individuals the pens I was turning, they told me about old fountain pens that they or other members of their families owned. Word spread that I liked pens, and little by little, I began to collect almost every fountain pen I came across. Being the mechanical person I am, I began experimenting with repair. In less than a year, I had obtained over 1,000 pens and had attempted to restore all of them. Many of them were broken beyond repair (or shortly thereafter), given the fact that the pen repairman learning curve is somewhat lengthy and fraught with failed attempts. Needless to say, my parts bins were ever-increasing in numbers of parts.
My favorite pens to work on were the Parker Senior Duofolds. The first Senior Duofold I collected was a Senior Mandarin Yellow, sold to me by a “little ole’ church lady” for $325. I had heard of Frank Dubiel’s repair book by then, and I had obtained a copy. Following his instructions to the letter, I quickly got out my oil lamp and began heating the barrel so that I could “safely” remove the section. In very short order I received an education in how close one should not hold early plastic pens to open flame! Fires fueled by early plastics tend to be violent! I still have some parts of that Mandarin Yellow pen.
Dr. Richard Barbee lives in my city, and he became a dear friend and mentor. My pen repair capabilities improved dramatically under his tutelage. He had 32 (!) Mandarin Yellows in his collection plus a drawer full of parts; so he became a great resource of pen parts. His collection of near 10,000 pens plus thousands of parts inspired me beyond measure.
The major frustration I had with my collecting was not locating old pens but rather what to do with the mounting number of parts. One day in 1998 the thought came to me, “Why don’t you take some of those parts and “marry” them to new caps and barrels, since the old caps and barrels were damaged beyond repair?” I knew that if I were going to do that project, I would want the new caps and barrels to mechanically match the original ones as closely as possible.
Aside from my primary profession as a clergyman, I hold a doctorate in the Administration of Vocational/Technical Education and have completed extensive research on the subject of work ethics—in fact, that was the subject of my doctoral dissertation. With this background, I derived two objectives for the pen project: 1) build mechanically correct pens; and 2) don’t try to pass them off as something they are not—original pens.
The next day I took three Parker Senior Duofold pens to the machinist’s gauge shop and had the thread patterns evaluated. Interestingly enough, none of the three were the same. That meant, in machinist’s terms, that according to today’s machine shop standards, two of the sample pens would not have passed a “go” or “no-go” gauge test. An interesting assumption can be made from this observation.
Originally, Parker Pen Company probably had several production lines, and each pen remained in line until it was finished. Each production line would have had its own tooling, and none of them were exactly alike. My guess would be that each lathe operator made his/her own set of cutters. Given the slight differences in each pen that I took to be measured, we did the math and decided to order taps and dies that divided the extremes of the three pens’ thread patterns. One thousand dollars later, I had a set of taps and dies with which I could efficiently duplicate caps, barrels, blind caps, and barrel end caps.
Now I had to wrestle with the second issue. Would anyone construe my work to be an original product of the Parker Pen Company? I put this question to three attorneys. All three answered me with basically the same answer which I paraphrase: “Parker Pen Company could object in order to protect its ownership of its patent and trademark if your work is perceived as a threat or cause for loss against the company.”
These professionals did not write me a formal legal opinion, but rather suggested I place a “mark” on each pen—not to protect me from possible litigation, but rather to inform the purchaser that this is not a product “in whole” of the Parker Pen Company. They also spoke with me about the power of public perception over time. When I asked what they meant, they explained that if the pens that I turn are sold to the public and displayed to the public for a period of time, and the general response toward them is positive rather than negative, my pen production would not likely be formally challenged.
With this information in hand, I decided to turn a few pens, and with them, test reactions. In 1998 I heard that there was a Pen Show in Kansas City, Kansas. My wife and I loaded up about 100 kit pens and my handful of replica Parker Senior Duofolds plus another 100 or so vintage pens, and we drove to Kansas City. I learned three things during the first few minutes of that show. First, I learned the meaning of a vintage pen “feeding frenzy”. Second, kit pens were of no interest to vintage pen collectors. Third, there was major interest in my replica Parker pens.
I came home and developed a web site, joined the Zoss Pen List, and the rest has been fun, educational, and much hard work. What I have sought to do through my pen-making is to honor the Parker Pen Company and others for pen designs that have stood the test of time and use. I have never entertained any intention to defraud any pen company or any individual through what I do.
I plan to keep on making pens and offering them for sale. Some of our pens will be our own design and will carry our own name. Others will be duplicates of proven designs. You can rest assured that each design that we create, or replicate will bear our “mark”.
In conclusion—Why do I turn pens? One cannot imagine how fulfilling it is to go to the shop with a piece of rod stock and a few parts and eight hours later, walk out with a tool that is as beautiful, useful, appealing to the senses, and powerful, as a fountain pen certainly can be.