July 13, 2015

The Problematic PFC

[Posted on L&P from June 6 to July 14, 2008.]
        David Nishimura posted, “While we are assembling this material for the record, it should also be noted that the mentions of collector get-togethers in the early Pen Fancier’s publications were expunged in the later reprints of those early issues.  From what I understand, it wasn’t long after the efforts to promote independent regional club activity began to bear fruit that there was an abrupt about-face.  I joined the Pen Fancier’s Club in the mid-1980s, and by then it was a club in name only, with no provision made for “members” to contact each other directly.”
        Claes Lindblad wrote that, “The first list of pen lovers I can remember is the one which “His Nibs”, Philip Poole, distributed in the 1970s.  Around 1977, when I joined the PFC, there was a club directory which was circulated, and I assure you that we did have cross contacts. :-) By the mid-1980s, Cliff presumably wanted to keep his list all to himself.  Oh, how time flies.”
        Rob Astyk wrote, “This brings back memories.  Dick Bauer and I organized the very first Boston Pen Show in January, 1980.  It was held at the Somerville Historical Society, which is about 2 miles from the Holiday Inn where the current Boston Shows are held.  When we decided to hold it, we sent the information to Cliff Lawrence who suddenly created a new policy of not printing such notices in the Pen Fancier’s Newsletter.  The consequence was that the attendees consisted of Dick, me, George Salustro of Bromfield Pen, and one young woman from Harvard.  Contributing to this small disaster was the fact that the caretaker of the Historical Society had forgotten about the event and failed to turn on the heat, not a good thing in New England in January.  The show was almost as brief as it was poorly attended.
        “Claes is, of course, correct about the directory in the original PFC Newsletters as is David about their removal.  As I’ve noted before, Cliff Lawrence is a very problematic fellow.  The only explanation that I’ve every been able to come up with for his behaviour is that he had convinced himself that he, and he alone, would control pen collecting forever.  It’s worth noting that the Pen Fancier’s Club was named as if there were one and only one pen fancier, whereas, had Cliff admitted of the existence of others, it would have been Pen Fanciers’ Club.  He interposed himself between the host of pen collectors, and the result was that he marginalized himself.
        “We all owe Cliff a great debt for popularizing and publicizing this hobby.  He is unquestionably the godfather of pen collecting, yet it is terribly sad that he couldn’t embrace that role.  He fought to keep pen collecting his exclusive province and has become the sad, bitter, soon to be forgotten man of the hobby.”

        And I wrote, “It’s a sad fact, but quite early on pen collecting diverged from pen research and became a big business.  And when big money was involved, it was every man for himself.  Every collector became blinkered, and thought he or she was “the center of the pen collecting world”, and that they deserved all the pens that were out there.  I say “he or she”, because there were quite a few women who were members of the Pen Fancier’s Club.  There’s a great early photo of Susan Wirth in those early issues of Pen Fancier’s Newsletter.  You might almost not recognize her.  When she was younger, she was as skinny as a rail, and she looked like a 1970s fashion or glamor model.
        “Claes contributed those great articles titled “Filling Systems In Fountain Pens”, and “A List Of The World’s Fountain Pen Companies” in the first few issues of Pen Fancier’s Newsletter.  It’s a shame that Cliff published only the first two installments of the pen company list.  He stopped at the letter “P” for some reason, probably because it didn’t suit his purposes in the newsletter, which was mostly concerned with the American companies.  And his article about filling systems reads like an ur-Taxonomy of the fountain pen that preceded my taxonomy by about 24 years.  I note that we both agree on the split of the fountain pen family tree into two major limbs, those that fill into the barrel, and those that fill into something inside the barrel.  And also about the other minor, or smaller branches on those limbs.
        “I don’t know whether Cliff Lawrence will be forgotten, or not, in the future, but if he deserves to be remembered for one thing, then it’s for those early issues of the Pen Fancier’s Newsletter, 1978-1981, and the Pen Fancier’s Magazine, 1982-1993, which were still full of youthful enthusiasm, and crammed with pen pictures, and ads, and catalogues, and pen company histories, and other information.  The Magazine quickly devolved into a disorganized pen-sales list, the Pen Trading Post, 1993-98, which at first was a section that colonized the back pages of the magazine, and then
in its last years completely took over the magazine, title and all.  And also not to be forgotten are the other books they published by distilling those early issues of the Newsletter.  But most important of all, we should not forget his co-conspirator and helpmate, his wife Judy Lawrence.  She received equal billing as co-author on all of his books, and not only did she help to put together the issues of the magazine and the books, but she also helped with the pen sales from the Trading Post.  I think it’s time to give both of them their equal dues and refer to them as Cliff & Judy Lawrence, as they themselves do on the covers of their books.
        “But it will be those magazine issues from the first fifteen years that will make up the major portion of the legacy that they will leave behind for posterity.  No one can expunge or redact that.”
        Claes Lindblad wrote, “Took me ages to make those illustrations look right in that article about filling systems.  Remember, all this was well before the computer era.”
        And I wrote, “I can believe it.  I remember doing some of my early university essays with the old-fashioned-cut-and-paste method, that is, with actual scissors and glue and Scotch tape.  Claes, you really should place those articles onto the net, maybe on your website.  They really deserve to be preserved on the net somewhere.”

        David Nishimura wrote, “If we’re still talking about the Lawrences, what I find sad is that the divergence between pen collecting and pen research took place long before pen collecting became anything remotely like big business”.
        Rob Astyk wrote, “You’re correct about the timing.  Back in the early 1980s, all anyone knew came from company histories, or from the pens themselves.  I don’t think that more than four or five people had looked for primary source material, spent any serious time in a library, or even thought about looking at patents.  I was amazed that so many pen companies were simply forgotten because they’d made contract items almost exclusively.  When Stuart Schneider published my first article on The Moore Pen Company it was poor and insufficient, but it was all but unique.  Even nearly a decade later when Jeff Krasner and I published a history of Crocker and Chilton in Pen World, there were only a handful of pen company histories.  As an example, just look at the Kraker threads on L&P.  They all stem from Dennis Bowden’s question, “What happened to all those Kraker pens?”  That a collector should have to ask that question in 2005 is both sad and revealing of what is and is not important in this hobby.”
        David Nishimura wrote, “Don’t be too glum, Rob.  I actually find all the research opportunities inspiring.  Glass half full and all that.  Look at other fields of historical inquiry that have been worked over by scholars for generations, and you still find new and revealing questions being asked.”
        And I wrote, “Don’t forget that some of the earliest pen company histories, Parker, Waterman’s, Wahl Eversharp, Conklin, were published in Pen Fancier’s Newsletter in 1978-79, and more were to come in the 80s.  They also were the first to re-publish the Maginnis Cantor Lectures.  I never met the Lawrences, but I corresponded with them briefly when I purchased copies of their books, and subscribed to their magazine and purchased back issues.  I never bought pens from them, but I have heard both good and bad stories about this.  My only encounters with them have been through their books and magazines.  Now, some can choose to see their experiences with them as half empty, but I choose to see my experience with them as half full.  Still, in hindsight, it’s too bad that the glass wasn’t completely full.”

        Rick Krantz wrote, “I had an opportunity to correspond with Judy a few years back.  I am unsure how Cliff and Judy will go down in history, with regard to the hobby, but I really want to think that they will be remembered as the pioneers they were.  My first encounter with any written item related to fountain pen collecting was an issue of Pen Fancier’s Newsletter that undoubtedly sparked my interest in the hobby tenfold.  I’m glad I was around from the late 80’s onward, but I can hardly imagine those that were out there in the 70’s collecting, and learning.  I think that it is important for a collector to consider establishing a library of early resources, and some of those resources are, in my honest opinion, a collection of PFC newsletters, and a collection of Cliff and Judy’s other printed works.  I spent several years gathering copies of all the publications I could, not too many of the newsletters, but I can say, I got all the books, and the repair guides.  Funny, all my pens are out on display, and being used, but my mint copies of the PFC price guides, and Illustrated History are all locked up in my safe. I would love to have access to a complete collection of the PFC magazine and trading post on CD, or flash drive, etc., or anything, just to have the resource.”
        And I wrote, “Rick, you should suggest that to the Lawrences.  It would be another way for them to merchandise that data in a digital age, and another way for many new collectors to encounter the resource.  Craig Bozorth recently wrote on Zoss, ‘If someone were to mention Cliff and Judy Lawrence, would someone else shout, Hey, they are from the BCHR days, and don’t relate?  Not so’.  I agree with him.  The Pen Fancier’s Newsletter is a resource for posterity.”
        David Nishimura wrote, “I was fortunate enough to assemble a complete run of the PFC magazine, excluding the later issues where all but the Trading Post was cut, and it is still an invaluable reference resource.  Many of the early issues are reprints, unfortunately, with the material regarding the early efforts at getting collectors together expurgated.  Yet while this diminishes, in a way, their value for retracing the history of pen collecting, they remain full of reprinted ads that are not always available elsewhere.  Digitizing the PFC magazine would be a big project.  I’m not sure it would be worth the effort; instead, one might more profitably put the time into scanning the original ads from which the magazine was compiled, this time in color, and with full references.”

        And I wrote, “Here are a couple of statements in old issues of the Pen Fancier’s Newsletter.  In the editorial in the February 1981 issue, Cliff Lawrence wrote, “There’s hardly a day that goes by without some one asking me when I’m going to write another book on our favorite subject.  Actually, I feel that I have been writing one during the past thirty eight months since Fountain Pens was published in 1977.  So far, it’s nearly a thousand pages long and is growing every month.  I call it The Pen Fancier’s Newsletter.  I’ve concluded that this newsletter is by far the most important “book” that I can write”.  And in truth, every book that the Lawrences wrote after that point was a distillation and re-arrangement of the information in those magazines.  And in the January 1981 editorial the Lawrences wrote, “This is our way of giving something back to the hobby we love”.  This is one of the first uses in pen collecting of some variation of the phrase ‘giving something back to the hobby’.”
        David Nishimura wrote, “There’s still a lot of pen collecting history that needs to be filled out by those who were there.  For example, while I’ve never asked anyone about it, it’s pretty clear that there was a rift between Glen Bowen and the Lawrences that opened up around the time Glen published his first pen book.  Before, Glen was one of the Lawrences’ lifetime PFC members in good standing.  Cliff wrote in the PFN about Glen’s book being in the works, all positive stuff.  Then, poof!  No more mention of the book, no more Glen Bowen in the list of lifetime members.  I have what I believe is a first edition of Glen’s book, and as I recall, there’s no mention of, or credit given to the Lawrences, or the PFC there.  Cause, or result of the rift?  I don’t know.  Before my time.”
        And I wrote, “I don’t care about the rift between them because on my shelves their books are side by side”.
        Rob Astyk wrote, “I don’t know what transpired between Glen and Cliff, either, though it was well within my time.  Still the sudden switch is absolutely typical of Cliff.  His attitudes toward people tended to swing like a pendulum.  One could be a good friend one moment, but let Cliff decide that the person was after a piece of the pen hobby which should be Cliff’s alone, and suddenly that person was persona non grata.  On the other hand, I cannot conceive of not crediting Cliff and Judy on some level.  This hobby would not be what it is today without the Pen Fancier’s Club.  By the way, I’ve always considered the placement of that apostrophe in “Fancier’s” quite revealing.  I’m sure that Cliff meant it to be the plural “Fanciers’” but that he made that particular grammatical error reveals something about his attitudes that his actions confirmed.”  And I wrote, “It’s a true Freudian slip”.

        Then I wrote, “That’s interesting behind-the-scenes info, David, but it’s not the full story.  I’m slowly reading and skimming through all the early issues of the PFC newsletter and magazine, so all the dealings are a little closer in perspective for me.  Glen Bowen Communications was still in Illinois at the time, and he actually placed a full-page ad announcing his “new book” in the October 1982 issue of Pen Fancier’s Magazine, p.46.  The same ad appears again on p.26 of the December 1982 issue, and then no more ads after that.
        “But here’s the curious thing.  There’s an uncharacteristically long, three-page editorial in the next issue of Pen Fancier’s Magazine, January 1983, pp.4-6.  In it he talks about his tireless efforts to find and publish information about pens, and about the relative “ignorance [that] prevailed in our hobby” before he published his newsletter and magazine, mostly at his own expense, and just barely breaking even.  He states flat outright, “We have been subsidizing this deficit with profits from our pen sales catalog.  How many other pen dealers do you know who would do this for your hobby?  All of those we know simply take the money and run”.  He then goes on to make a very telling statement.  “If someone has an original and worthwhile contribution to make to the hobby, we will be the first to endorse it.  But when they “borrow” heavily and unfairly from material that we have accumulated and published at no small effort and expense over the years, and do not even acknowledge this magazine as their source, we are not exactly enthralled.  Especially when they have the gall to claim this material as their own.  This kind of activity is not only unethical, but robs the P. F. C. of money desperately needed to continue serving you”.  It’s very simple.  And it sounds like a legitimate beef.  Bowen ripped off the Lawrences without citing his sources and giving credit.  It also sounds like what Ed Pasahow did later on in his books.
        “I’m up to 1984 in my reading of the newsletter and magazine, and Glen’s name still appears in the Lifetime Members list in all the issues for that year.  I looked ahead, and although I’m missing a few issues in 1985-86 I can say that Glen’s name disappears from the list somewhere between October 1985 and March 1986.  It should be noted that Glen was first listed as Lifetime Member #5 in the May 1980 issue of the newsletter, so he jumped onto the band wagon quite early on when ordinary subscriptions were still $20.00 and lifetime memberships were only $100.00.  Within a year or two that fee had gone up to $250.00, and ordinary subscriptions were only $25.00.  At the higher rate that should be good for at least 10-years-worth of issues, but $100.00 is only worth four years.  Perhaps Cliff felt that Glen had received his money’s worth, especially after that kind of mis-treatment.
        “As an aside, I think I found the source for another of those errors propagated from one pen book to another.  This one is for Ron Dutcher and Bruce Speary and all the other Wirt pen collectors.  There was an article about Paul E. Wirt in The Press-Enterprise newspaper published in Bloomsburg, Pa., in 1979 that was reprinted by Cliff in his January 1981 issue of the newsletter.  The article by Ted Fenstermacher states that Wirt “patented his pen in 1878”.  This is clearly wrong, because Wirt’s first patent dates to 1882, but the short history of the Wirt Pen Co. in the Fischler-Schneider “Blue Book”, on p.296, repeats the older date, probably another silent and uncredited steal from the PFC source material, but the smoking gun exposes it.”

        Then I also wrote, “And here’s a portion of another long editorial in the May 1990 issue of Pen Fancier’s Magazine, p.26.  He listed all the pen company histories that had been published first in his newsletter and magazine, before they had appeared anywhere else, so that “you can appreciate the scope of our research for this publication over the past thirteen years”.  Then he writes, “We have been and are now publishing this vital information to promote the development of our beloved hobby.  We have never refused any request for permission to use our work as reference material for articles and books.  And, although we’ve been hurt and dismayed when people have used our material without permission, as they have on more than one occasion, we have always refrained from taking any legal action against them.  This is because we do not want to discourage anyone who is trying to make a contribution to our field.  We believe our unselfish behaviour is the best proof there is of our sincere desire to foster the growth and development of our hobby”.  In an article called “Pen Tricksters” in the same issue of the magazine, p.9, he writes about another type of pen fraudster, and ends with, “Believe it or not, I had to watch four Frank Capra films to restore my faith in human nature after this episode”.  Nice film-history reference by a film-buff.

         David Nishimura wrote, “I suspect pen collecting is no worse than most other fields of collecting as regards rampant plagiarism.  Nonetheless, plagiarism is plagiarism, and absurdly easy to avoid simply by crediting one’s sources.  One of the reasons a full collection of the Lawrences’ magazines remains such a valuable reference is that so many subsequent books either ripped off the Lawrences’ information wholesale or, in turn, ripped off books that had done so before.  In nearly all cases, rather than refining the Lawrences’ conclusions with independent research, the copyists added distortions as they inexactly rephrased their source material.”
        And I wrote, “And here’s part of the editorial in the next issue of Pen Fancier’s Magazine, June 1990, p.6.  “We’ve also believed that the best way to beat the competition is to outperform it.  We’ve always tried to accomplish this by giving our members what they want in an honest, efficient and courteous fashion.  We do not subscribe to libel, defamation and innuendo in dealing with competitors or anyone else for that matter.  We sincerely feel that the limited space we have available each month in this magazine is much too valuable to waste a single line of it on tasteless mudslinging.  And besides, as publishers of the world’s oldest, most respected and most widely circulated vintage pen collecting magazine, it would be beneath our dignity”.  He leaves us to guess what to read between the lines.”

        Then I wrote, “As per what Rick and David said concerning the digitization of the PFC magazine, here’s a letter by David from the March 1992 issue of Pen Fancier’s Magazine.  “Any chance that the earlier issues might be reprinted, perhaps in book form?  There is so much information there, and it seems a pity that so many might remain unfamiliar with your tremendous contribution to pen scholarship.”
        “As I read through all the issues of the newsletter and the magazine it occurred to me that it would be nice to have all of Cliff’s “Editorial” and “Pen Trickster” and “Enrollment Information” articles, at least, collected together in a book, with personal and family photos and all.  It would serve well as a great history of the Pen Fancier’s Club.  Another book could also be put together from just the pen company histories.”
        And finally, David Nishimura wrote, “And sure enough, there was no collected reprinting, and the Lawrences’ contribution became that much more easily overlooked”.

George Kovalenko.