August 14, 2015

Dick Johnson

[Posted on L&P on Sept 15-16, 2008.]
        To get back to pen research, Cliff Lawrence published a 17-page article about Conklin in the August 1981 issue of Pen Fancier’s Newsletter, and in response to it Dick Johnson, one of the major pre-1977 Conklin collectors, wrote a page-and-a-half letter correcting some mistakes and deficiencies in the article.  This letter appears in the April 1982 issue of the Pen Fancier’s Magazine.  Dick lives in Ohio, and has collected Conklins so long that he could give probabilities of finding certain rare models in numbers of examples out of 100 Conklin pens found in the wild.  Already at the time of the letter, he had hundreds of examples and variants to work from.  One time, at a pen show, he told me that he literally had barrels, plural, of broken pens and pen parts [and whole pens].  He gives the correct number-and-letter model codes, and the percentages of their rarity.
        Concerning red hard rubber Conklins he writes on p.5, “Crescent fillers were made in orange, but only one or two of every hundred found are in this color.  They must have been made over a period of several years, and one is identical to the small Endura, except of course for its Crescent filler.  One of these pens has a round cap top like the older Conklins, but has a black section and donut [retaining ring].  Another has a flat cap top and a red and black MBL [marbled=mottled] section.  None of the orange pens have model numbers, but the patent dates and markings are the same as older pens”.  Cliff adds this editorial note, “We’ve seen several orange hard rubber Conklins with red-black sections and believe they came this way”.
        At another pen show in the 1990s, or early 2000s, because he knew that I liked rhr, Dick told me another pen-finding story.  In an instance of what we would now call “a someguy find”, he told me that he found a box of about 50-75, I can’t remember the exact number, rhr Conklin sections at a pen repairman’s shop.  He almost died with excitement.  They were all dirty with ink, so he took them home and cleaned them, and one after the other his heart sank when he found that every single one of those sections was cracked or broken.  But he said it proved one thing, that Conklin probably originally released its rhr pens with rhr sections, to start off with at least, and all those rhr pens with bhr and rmhr sections are replacements, either by repairmen, or in later production runs once Conklin became aware of this vulnerability in the part.
        By the way, donut is a quaint, early name for the retaining ring, but mathematically speaking, a retaining ring is not a true torus.  It’s actually a split ring, or a bagel that has come apart at the seam, or maybe a donut or bagel with a bite taken out of it.

        David Nishimura wrote, “This is another worthy addition to our efforts to see the torch passed.  Dick Johnson has an accumulated wealth of knowledge that is truly peerless, yet he has published next to nothing of it, and few Internet-era collectors even recognize his name.  To update the post, it should also be added that Dick is still active, and though his 1982 response is worth citing, it’s not as if he has been holding still.  He would surely be able to add a lot more info and a lot more detail, were he to rewrite that response now, with over 25 years MORE experience than then!
        “As for the barrels, they were 55-gallon drums, and they were used not just for broken bits, but also for whole pens.  That’s how many pens Dick had, at one time.
        “And a brief comment about nomenclature: “convergence” is a rather trendy word, but I don’t think it should be used where what is meant is continuity, or making a connection.  When you have a generation of older collectors retiring and a new generation coming in without getting to know them, you can call it a break, or a disconnect, or something similar, but please, leave convergence out of it.  If my flight to Chicago arrives too late for me to catch my flight onwards to San Francisco, the problem isn’t lack of convergence.  Let us use “convergence” properly, to indicate a coming-together of various trends—such as the connections that the Internet makes possible, between collectors, between collectors and research tools, and in the ability to track markets and the objects passing through them.”

        And I wrote, “Thanks, David.  We’re lucky that Dick is still alive and active in pen collecting, and collecting pen history, and collecting the history of pen collecting.
        “You also wrote, “He would surely be able to add a lot more info and a lot more detail, were he to rewrite that response now, with over 25 years MORE experience than then”.  That was the whole point of my updated story from a pen show in the 1990s, or early 2000s.
        “I still think that some convergence is necessary, trendy word, or not, since there is some disconnection between the three generations or waves.  But you’re right, continuity needs to be re-established.  I’m good with both words, and I don’t have a lot invested in either word, so I’ll go with the consensus of the opinion.  The break, or disconnect, or discontinuity between the waves has to be repaired, and that will require a lot of reading on the part of all participants.  To that end, the convergence of the old-fashioned print technologies and word-of-mouth stories of the old-time collectors and the research tools on the Web of the new-time collectors is our objective here.  The stories of those living resources like Dick, with over 45 years of experience in collecting pen history, have to be committed to print, whether hardcopy, or online.”

George Kovalenko.