FOUNTAIN PENS - HOW TO GET THEM FIXED By Brian Northgrave (Article)

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Brian Northgrave

If you have a fountain pen that you want to repair, or if you want to buy a unique one, Ottawa now has Jean-Daniel Gauthier.  He has given new life to two of my pens, more than thirty years old, that otherwise would have remained at the dusty deep of my desk drawer.

Jean-Daniel is now working at his new location, in Vars, in Greater Ottawa, 147 Eadie Rd.  Webpage is http://uniquepens.ca/contactus.html.   He has a vast workshop, machines, parts inventory, and materials. 

 

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It can be a challenge if you decide you to get an old pen working again.   About 4 years ago I decided that I would get the Pelikan I have owned for over forty years working again.  There seemed to be nobody in Ottawa who repaired pens, so I began by phoning Fahrney’s Pens in Washington DC – a legendary mecca for fountain pen owners that I had visited when I lived there.   The guy (‘clerk’ sounds too much like Downton Abby) at Fahrney’s knew the Pelikan plunger re-filling system and said my problem must be that dried up ink had gummed up the system and I should try filling the system with a mixture of ammonium and water, letting it sit for a day or two, then emptying it and doing it again.   After a month of plunging and un-plunging, I gave up.  Then I thought, - these stores that sell $450 and up Mont Blancs and Pelikans and others must have some answer when customers need to have one of their pens fixed.  “Folio’s” on Sussex sold expensive pens, so I went there.  The guy there wasn’t happy to see me, and said I would have to leave the pen with him for a month or so and he would send it somewhere in the US.  When it came back, if I agreed to cover the cost of the repair which would not be known in advance, then I could have the pen back.  Funny thing was that when the pen came back, I was told there would be no charge.  Funnier still, not finding familiar marks on the pen, I realized that while the pen cap was mine, the pen itself was a new one.    

 Great to have the Pelikan working again.  Buoyed up by that success, I decided next challenge would be the Sheaffer desk pen – an old friend of many years and locations - again a problem of not being about to fill it.   But while the Pelikan story had a happy ending, I was no nearer finding someone who could fix a pen.  But I had been keeping the habit of dropping into stores that sell expensive pens, and in a store in the market I was given Jean-Daniel’s business card.  Imagine someone IN Ottawa who fixed fountain pens!  It took him about a month, but what was the hurry when the pen had not been working for at least ten years?  Heaven knows how he got it apart, but here it is again on my desk, working perfectly.

I had always been interested in old pens, but never thought of buying one because I didn’t want a non-working fountain pen around.  But knowing Jean-Daniel changes that.   So last summer, in a street market in Montevideo, I saw a pen I had used in high school, maybe even in elementary school – an Easterbrook, a grey striped one.  So that went to Jean-Daniel.  When I showed it to a friend, he noticed that it tended to leak into the pen cap.  “Right on” I said, “that’s what they did in school, always had to be twirling a Kleenex into the cap to blot the ink.  Couldn’t be more authentic than that.”

As a result of getting the pens fixed, and talking to Jean-Daniel, I have come to learn that the world of fountain pens is vibrant and growing.   Doesn’t seem to make sense, though.  Think how impractical fountain pens are, and how far other writing instruments like ball-points, roller ball pens, and filter-tip pens have come.   Seems counter-productive to carry around a writing instrument that needs to be filled out of a bottle often, that leaks on your shirt and on your fingers every time you fill it.  Not only that, but with the demise of fountain pens you use every day, they are making writing paper thinner  so a fountain pen often does a messy bleed into the paper.

Why are fountain pens becoming more popular, why, in fact, have they not disappeared already?  Sure, we see the Mont Blancs on sale in airports, but I had always thought that those who buy them were part of the small group of super rich who buy five thousand dollar watches.  Products with no functional advantage over cheap alternatives, but with a display advantage.  No so, Jean-Daniel tells me.  Part of the growing market is young people in the digital age, who feel like decompressing with something from the past that could not be more non-digital, he says.  There is certainly the nostalgia market – people like me.  Often people that used fountain pens many years ago say there is still nothing quite like the “feel” of a fountain pen.  And there is the appeal of owning something unique.  When you look over Jean-Daniel’s tray of pens you can know that there are no duplicates around.

So don’t you have a fountain pen around that you would be happy to be using again?   Or perhaps one that has a family history to it?  No matter what shape it is in, Jean-Daniel will be able to get it working again.

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