The other night I was cleaning a vintage fountain pen-and-pencil set that I wanted to sell.  It was a 1930s Marine Green Sheaffer Balance mismatched pair – while the fountain pen was the standard length, the propelling pencil of the same pattern was shorter, sized for a vest pen.  (I originally acquired them together, from the Fountain Pen Network Classifieds section a few years ago.  Since then I was able to find a White Dot version in the same celluloid, so it was time to pass this pair on.)

I find that for some enthusiasts, the vintage pencil is an afterthought.  Not many actually use the pencils as much as they would the fountain pens.  Sellers sometimes break up sets in order to more easily sell the items.  Maybe that’s how my little vest pencil got orphaned, and later matched up with the wrong size pen.  Some people, on the other hand, end up collecting vintage pencils for their beautiful celluloid (unblemished by latex sacs or staining ink).

Propelling pencils are writing tip-loading twist action pens.  To expel old lead, you twist the pencil clockwise to push the lead upwards and out.  Then you twist the other way until the metal pin that pushes the lead is fully retracted.  You place the appropriate size lead in through the pen’s nose cone and press the protruding tip onto the paper to make sure the lead is securely lodged.  If you’re not sure how to load your pencil, the blog Dave’s Mechanical Pencils gives instructions, according to brand and era.

It was while learning how to refill the pencil that I realized it contained the wrong size lead.  It was a 0.9mm lead that kept falling out.  I cleaned out residue from the nose cone with a straight pin and tried some vintage Scripto 1.1mm lead that a friend gave me. It was a perfect fit! By the end of that exercise I realized I had fallen in love with the tiny pencil and just decided to keep it.


Richard Binder mentions that vintage Sheaffers and Parkers usually use 0.9mm leads, but Dave Nishimura is more specificPendemonium is another good source for vintage leads (the site navigation is not that intuitive, but go to Pen Repairs Supplies and select Pencil Leads).  The most common sizes sold locally are 0.5mm and 0.7mm leads for modern mechanical pencils, but 0.9mm is available if you look for Japanese or Korean pencil brands (I use MonAmi).


I couldn’t resist checking out the Waterman Ideal No. 3 propelling pencil that I received as a gift last January.  I took it apart and discovered that the cap end unscrews to expose the eraser.  I heard pencil lead rattling inside the eraser tube, so I pulled the eraser tube out and found a stash of short 1.1mm leads!  The nose cone twists to propel the lead, but there wasn’t much traction, so I lined the mechanism with a bit of latex and gently turned it with my pliers.  I’ll see later if a layer of dried shellac can thicken the diameter of the brass tube and provide traction for the nose cone (no, I’m not gluing them together). I’m not using the vintage eraser on this one – I have my favorite modern eraser (Staedtler Mars Plastic) for that.

For most daily use my 1940s Sheaffer Crest pencil with 0.9mm lead is pretty good.  It’s part of a set, too.  I do have a couple of other modern plastic mechanical pencils, but right now they’re not getting that much attention.  The pretty vintage celluloid and the solid build appeal to me.  It’s not a collecting direction I’ll be taking, but I sure do appreciate the fact that they’re decades old and still work!

To learn more about vintage pencils, check out Jon Veley’s The Leadhead’s Pencil Blog.  Jon Veley also wrote the book The Catalogue of American Mechanical Pencils and maintains The Mechanical Pencil Online Museum.



(Waterman inks photo by Cesar Salazar.)

More and more people are growing interested in using fountain pens here in Manila, as evidenced by the growing membership in our pen group Fountain Pen Network-Philippines.  For a long time Parker, Waterman, Cross and Montblanc were the only brands readily available in the local fountain pen market.  Now there are new brands available:  Lamy, Pelikan, Sailor, to name a few.  Waterman,Aurora, Cross and Rotring are now no longer being sold here, while Sheaffer recently reintroduced itself.  The local Pilot distributor sells only school pens, not the fine writing instruments, nor the ink.

I’ve compiled a list of stores that sell fountain pen inks, in bottles and cartridges as of 2013: (click on links to see directory info)

National Bookstore branches  – Parker, Lamy, Sheaffer, Inoxcrom (cartridges)

Montblanc branches – Makati (632) 813-3739, Powerplant Mall (632) 898-2347, Shangri-la Mall (632) 633-4636, Manila (632) 521-1140, Robinsons Place (632) 551-2095, Ayala Town Center (632) 850-5532

Scribe Writing Essentials – 3/F Eastwood Mall, QC.  (632) 900-0053, Shangrila (632) 654-5071, Glorietta 5 (632) 386-4826. – Herbin, Lamy, Sailor, Pelikan (4001 and Edelstein), Noodler’s

Cutting Edge (Greenbelt 5, Trinoma, Eastwood, Megamall, Mall of Asia) – Waterman

Times Trading– Lamy

Updated:  We now have a distributor for Diamine inks!  Since I don’t have permission to post the contact details here yet, please join the Fountain Pen Network-Philippines forum or on its Facebook page and make your order there, addressed to Peter.

Updated September 2013:  Scribe Writing Essentials now carries Noodler’s inks!  Contact Cindy Fulo at 0998-9983998 for which branches carry specific Noodler’s colors.

Updated August 2014: Scribe Writing Essentials now carries Platinum Mix Free and Carbon inks!

As of this time, there are no local distributors yet for Rohrer & Klingner, Aurora, Visconti, De Atramentis, Pilot (regular and Iroshizuku), and other popular brands of ink.  For these, we resort to buying from eBay or online stores based overseas.



Some Saturdays come with a happy surprise.  A package arrived for me last weekend!  A good friend from the US sent over a combined Christmas and birthday gift in the form of a vintage Waterman’s Ideal No. 3 set of fountain pen and matching propelling pencil!  It came complete with an original Waterman’s box, complete with paper insert of instructions on how to fill the pen and pencil correctly.

I could not stop staring.  The celluloid was beautiful!  The pen is pristine – the clip and lever are absolutely clean and shiny, the Waterman’s imprint on the barrel strong and easy to read.  There are no major use marks.  It’s been resacced, ready to fill and write with. The pencil still had its original eraser, and contained the right size lead!


When I removed the pen and pencil from the box I was delighted to discover a pencilled inscription: “Frank Jr. Christmas 1941 Annie Carrisa Edna John.”  I like to think this was a gift to Frank Jr. from his siblings.


The paper insert mentioned a patent date of 1932, so the date of manufacture could’ve been close.  (Later, my friend, a member of the Pen Collectors of America, discovered the very pen listed in a 1933 Waterman’s catalogue.  The beautiful silvery-grey swirls in a black matrix with random red flecks is a celluloid pattern simply called “Black Pearl”.)



The nib is a sweet 14k no. 2 flexible fine.  My friend tuned the flow to be able to write well under a light hand, and to be wet enough to handle flexing.  I haven’t really tried any sustained Copperplate-ish writing with it yet, but I feel it can certainly used that way.  (I’d say my Wahl and Swan pens have slightly softer flex nibs.) I did try a fancy capital W in my writing sample, however.


This pen and pencil set was acquired from an antique store sale.  Back in the 1933 people paid USD 3 to buy this fountain pen.  It might have been a bit more when it was given to Frank Jr. Vintage Waterman’s Ideal pens come from the time when the brand was still American and American-made – about 1884-1954. (Now owned by Newell Rubbermaid, today’s Waterman fountain pen brand is based in France.)


I have inked it with Cross Blue and intend to use it often – which is the best way to honor such a wonderful gift.  And the best way to start the New Year!