If you have invested anything into your collection of writing utensils, whether that investment takes the form of time or money, there are a few things you should be doing to properly care for your collection.
Keep a Pen Log
It’s important to know what you have, where you got it, how much you paid, and any other details you think are useful. It’s a simple enough task, you can use a notebook or create a spreadsheet. In most cases, the hobby begins with just one pen. Fast forward a few months and that one pen turns into many, many more.
At some point, you might want to sell or trade a fountain pen. Guess what you’ll be asked: “Where did you get it? How much did you pay? What year is it?” I have a pretty modest collection of less than 30 fountain pens and there are a few I just can’t recall where they came from or how much I paid. You see, I didn’t start out with this good habit like I should have. Another reason for keeping track of what you have is for insurance purposes. I also strongly recommend including photos. If you have very nice pens or pencils, this is especially important.
Be Aware of Temperature, Chemicals and Handling
Any pen or pencil, no matter the age, is going to have sensitivity to something. Sure, your cheap disposable ballpoint will be better at handling a hot car than, say, your 1930 antique fountain pen, but every utensil will be affected to some degree by temperature, chemicals, and handling.
Extreme heat and extreme cold are great things to avoid. Heat causes things to expand, cold causes things to contract. Simple, right? It is simple, but easy to forget. Your fantastic antique pens might crack, leak, break, bulge or other horrible things after just an hour in a hot car. Room temperature or a little cooler is a great temperature for writing utensils. Even better than that is a consistent temperature. Avoid storing your pens in kitchens and bathrooms, three-season rooms and basements (unless they are dry 100% of the time).
Depending on your writing utensils and what cleaning needs to be done, you may find that the use of a chemical is in order to aid you in your quest. Need to flush out a pen? A mixture of ammonia and water should do the trick. Have a new plastic pen with smudging on the barrel? You might reach for a basic cleaner under your kitchen sink. Here’s the deal with this: be absolutely sure of what you’re doing before you do it. Many writing utensils are made of more than one material. Let’s take one of my antique celluloid pens; it has a celluloid body trimmed in what’s probably aluminum. I would not want ammonia to touch it because the ammonia will oxidize the aluminum super fast. If you are unsure what cleaning methods are best for your pen, your first step should be to check with the manufacturer. If that’s not possible, try one of the resources listed at the end of the post
It takes only one time of dropping a pen in just the right way to break it. Be cognizant of how you handle your pens (meaning: avoid multitasking to the nth degree and focus on what pen you have in your hand), and how you store your pens. I have a basic pen case that lets me store each pen separately and at a slight angle. Not all pens can or should be stored upright because of the mechanisms within the pen. Certain filling systems respond to this differently. Not all pens allow you to take them completely apart (mainly antique pens) and ink can harden inside causing clogs.
Use the Right Ink
Not all inks are created equal. It’s important to note that dip pen ink is not the same as fountain pen ink. Many a fountain pen has been clogged by ink formulated for another purpose. Before you purchase ink, make sure it says somewhere what writing utensil it’s meant for – dip pens, fountain pens, etc. Many times, manufacturers will list what inks work best with their pens. You can also find forums and blog posts online detailing what inks are best and which ones are not for your writing utensil. If you invest any amount of time or money into your pens, do the same with your ink purchases.
Talk To and Learn from Others
This post details my most basic pen care approach, but there is so much more out there. There are specifics on how to care for nibs, filling mechanisms, barrels, caps, cartridges and so much more. What should always be your first step is to build a good foundation. Once you’ve got that established, as you use your pens, you’ll naturally move on to more ‘advanced’ topics and you may find yourself one day grinding your own nibs! The internet is ripe with pen forums and enthusiastic bloggers. Seek them out and don’t be afraid to ask them questions, including asking questions here!
Call the Doctor
If something seems to be really wrong with a pen or other writing utensil and you’ve never done a repair before, you may want to just ‘call the doctor’ and let them handle it. There are several reputable pen repair companies out there run by honest people that charge a fair price. Even if you are someone who likes to tinker, consider the value of a having a professional repair your investment.
RESOURCE: Fountain Pen Network FAQ: This is a fantastic link roundup of some really valuable information found on the Fountain Pen Network. If you are not already a member of this network, you should join! Membership is free and it will allow you to search the forum.
Meet the Writer: Cole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of the How to Write series. Read the others here: