REVIEWING BLUE-BLACK INKS

For the longest time the only colors of inks to be had in Manila were Black, Blue and Blue-Black.  It bothered me that most Black was often grey, while Blue was usually watery and faded.  That left me with Blue-Black, a dark blue that stayed, well, dark.  Parker Quink Blue-Black with Solv-x, which was widely available in the 80s, was one of my favorite inks.  Now that other ink brands have come to our shores I have a happy range of colors to choose from, but blue-black remains a favored color.

I decided to write this after buying Lamy Blue-Black, my only iron gall ink.  I also have Waterman, Parker Quink, Pelikan and Pilot Blue-Blacks.  Waterman. Parker and Pelikan are dye-based.  My Pilot Blue-Black is vintage NOS (new old stock, possibly from the 1980s) and is pretty waterproof, so I’m wondering whether it’s iron gall or not.

blueblack inks (crop1)Color

It is immediately obvious that both recent incarnations of Waterman and Parker Blue-Blacks result in a totally different color – teal.  There is speculation that they are made by the same manufacturing facility in France, after Sanford (a division of Newell-Rubbermaid) acquired both brands.  Whether they are the exact same formula of ink hasn’t been proven, but they are quite similar. Pilot and Pelikan Blue-Blacks are a blue-grey without any hints of green, while Lamy, being iron gall, starts out dark blue and dries to a darker shade.  Very retro, “vintage” colors.

Flow

Waterman Blue-Black has been called a lubricating ink – which in general means you can use it in any sort of pen and it will flow well.  Parker Blue-Black has a similar flow.  Pilot, Pelikan and Lamy are all dry inks and are best matched with wet-writing pens.  Dryness is an ink’s quality that controls its flow in pens where the feed is designed to direct a generous flow to the nib.  German fountain pens like Pelikan tend to be wet writers, for instance (at the other end of the spectrum are Japanese fountain pens, which write dry).  Dry inks tend not to feather or bleed through on different qualities of paper, although using them on equally dry pens might result in “scratchy” or “balky” writing.

blueblack inks (crop2)Water Resistance

The above photo shows a drip test, similar to what happens when you spill your drink on the writing table.  It’s not a very extreme example.  Water can totally lift Waterman and Parker Blue-Blacks off the page as it runs.  Water will wash off a layer of Pelikan Blue-Black from the page, but will leave a legible “ghost” of the writing.  Pilot and Lamy Blue-Blacks are waterproof and permanent.  Which makes me wonder whether Pilot is an iron-gall ink.  There’s no official word on this.

Fading

Waterman and Parker Blue-Blacks in EF nibs will fade, depending on the quality of the paper used.  Pilot, Pelikan and Lamy Blue-Blacks stay dark.  This is assuming regular exposure to fluorescent lighting and not direct exposure to sunlight.

Summary

I would continue to buy Waterman and Parker Blue-Blacks for their flow qualities and teal color and not their blue-blackness.  They are affordable and make good testing inks for new pens.

I am unlikely to be able to get more supplies of Pilot Blue-Black since the two bottles I have were from an old bookstore that has since closed down.  There are no importers/distributors of Pilot fountain pen ink in the Philippines, which is a shame, because this is an attractive and permanent ink.

Pelikan Blue-Black is a personal favorite, one I would not hesitate to order online.  Alas, it is no longer available in the US due to import restrictions on certain of its ingredients.

Lamy Blue-Black I would definitely buy again. I think its permanence and waterproof qualities are a plus.  It  also behaves well on cheaper, lower-quality papers (does not feather or bleed through). The 50ml ink bottle features a roll of blotting paper at its base, which is a very cool and useful thing.  However I would only use it on wet writing pens, modern pens that are easy to clean (piston-fillers or converter/cartridge fillers).  I would not let it dry out in any pen, because the particulates that form are likely to clog it. It requires regular flushing.  Due to its being iron gall it probably just a little higher maintenance than other inks but in the right pens it makes for a lovely ink.

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Waterman, Parker and Lamy inks are available at all branches of National Bookstore.  Pilot inks are available online at Jetpens.com.  Pelikan 4001 inks are available at Scribe Writing Essentials in Eastwood City Mall.  I am not affiliated with any of these establishments.

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PEN STORIES: PARKER VACUMATICS

vacumatics-01The first time I ever saw a Parker Vacumatic was three years ago, at Prof. Butch Dalisay‘s house, during Fountain Pen Network-Philippines‘ first anniversary.  Butch (“penmanila” on FPN) and another member, George, displayed their collections of Vacumatic models in different colors and vintages.  Now I’m not much of a Parker girl (more of a Sheaffer one), but I thought it would be nice to have at least one of these iconic fountain pens.  I ended up with three vacumatic-filler pens.

vacumatics-02Parker Vacumatics were manufactured from the 1930s-40s as a fashionable alternative to its Duofold line.  Parker created a modern new filler system to complement the pen’s beautifully translucent body of clear and pearlescent celluloid.  (The pearly stripes on the Vacumatic remind me of a city skyline at night.)  The Vacumatic came in several different sizes and colors.  One removed the blind cap at the end of the pen, placed the nib end into an ink bottle, and depressed a plunger several times to suck up ink into a rubber diaphragm inside the barrel.

vacumatics-04My first was a Golden Pearl Vacumatic Debutante from the second quarter of 1940 – a small ladies’ pen.  It came with a matching pencil, which fits a 0.9mm lead.  The lady in this case was someone named “Esther M. C. Ward”.  In my romantic imaginings Esther must have been either a teacher or a nurse.  The pen was missing a bottom tassie (metal fitting).  The nib probably started out as a fine, but had been worn down to a medium.  It had lots of feedback, as if someone experimented on grinding the nib with low-grit sandpaper and inadvertently wore an an angled foot in the remaining tipping.  I ended up taking my 12k grit micromesh to it and polished the rough edges carefully.  Now it writes a consistent line without making scritchy noises, which used to annoy me so much I at first regretted getting it.  Now I feel better about using it more often.  I never thought I’d have much use for the propelling pencil, but I ended up using it regularly – sometimes more often than the pen!

vacumatics-03My second is a standard-sized Azure Blue Pearl from the second quarter of 1945, with a semiflex medium nib (most probably Canadian-made, but I’m not sure).  I got it from my friend Carl, who sold it because he realized his tastes ran to more modern pens.  Another girl had had her eye on it, but decided not to get it at the last minute.  At the time I acquired it, I realized it was a wet writer.  It remained unused for several months because the paper of my journal at the time couldn’t handle wet, wide-nibbed pens – ink would feather or bleed through.  Recently I started using a new journal with more fp-friendly paper (the local Yeah! brand notebooks, available in National Bookstore).  I decided to fill up the Azure Blue Pearl with some J. Herbin Vert Olive ink, and realized they’re a good match.  The color, considered a novelty for its lightness, came out a darker olive because of the nib’s wet springiness.  Writing with it is a pleasure.

vacumatics-05My last pen for this blog entry is a Parker 51 Demi with a Vacumatic-filling system.  It’s a frankenpen, a gift from Bleubug, whose considerable repair talents include creating usable  writers out of ersatz pen parts rolling around in his cabinet.  This lady’s name is “Josephine E. O’ Hara”, aka “Demistein”, and she’s grey, blue and maroon.  She’s part of an array of well-loved frankenpens Bleubug has created for his friends in FPN-Philippines.  Demistein is a broad-nibbed pen.  On my first use I stupidly filled it with Waterman Purple, only to discover that purple inks (and red ones) took forever to clean out of vacumatic-fillers.  One day I just stopped flushing it with water and let it dry, and vowed I’d use friendly colors next time.  I’ve since used grey (Pilot Iroshizuku Kiri-same) and orange (J. Herbin Orange Indien) inks to delightful effect.  It sort of writes like a Sharpie, but using nice shading colors I can journal with it.  No more dark colors in this one!

My pens are daily users, not display cabinet queens.  They have faint use scratches and sometimes a ding or two.  I try polishing them now and then, but I’m not fussed about it. What matters is that they write.

Vacumatics can be had on eBay from USD 50 and up, depending on whether or not the pen has been restored to full working order.  Do your research first, there are different fountain pen forums and online sites sharing lots of information.  As with most vintage pens, if you want to avoid the hassle of sending a pen out for restoration and repair, it’s probably safer to buy it from a local collector, who can let you try it out before you buy, or from overseas collectors at the FPN Marketplace or the Pentrace Green Board.