February 09, 2015

A Vintage Pen Repair Shop

  , and a Waterman’s knock-out block.

[Posted on L&P, May 27, 31, & Oct 23, 2005, and Sept 5, 2007, & Jan 30, 2012.]
        In 1993 when I was researching all the old theaters in my city, I stumbled upon the last effects of a pen repair shop here in my city, including all the tools in my
“Vintage Pen Repair Tools” blog post.  Along the way I got to know an old jeweler, Ray Willey, who sold me some old, unrepaired pens from his old business, including a Moss Agate Patrician.  I was looking for a lathe, and he told me about the son of another jeweler who still had his father’s lathe.  The son sold me the lathe, and when he found out that I collected and repaired fountain pens, he mentioned that his father’s jewelry shop in the Eaton’s Store was just one block away from a pen repair shop called Specialty Repairs in the Standard Trusts Building.  I rushed over to an archival library that deals with the history of my city, a library where I have now been working since 1994, and located the address of the shop, and found out that it was in business from 1945 to 1965.  I also found the name of the proprietor of the shop, Albert Wendland, and where he lived.  I quickly grabbed a current telephone book, and discovered that someone with the same surname was still living at that address, his son.  When I contacted the son I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they had a box of his repair shop effects.  As well as pen repair tools, many of which were proprietary tools made by specific pen companies and issued exclusively to repair shops, there were long pen boxes and envelopes full of mint repair parts, and I mean mint, straight from the various pen company repair-parts departments, some in little envelopes with the part numbers written on them, a cigar box full of little boxes with 200 gold nibs in them, a display board with all the stages of the “Process Of Manufacturing Waterman’s Fountain Pens”, exactly one shipping label with the shop name and address, a few hundred rubber sacs that are still good to this day, and many carcasses of broken pens and pencils.  I’m sure that some of the pen repair tools are homemade.  They are just a little too crude to be mass-reproduced tools.  They were probably made by the repairman for his own use, and they must have served their purposes well because he retained them.  I have kept most of the boxes and envelopes of mint parts intact and have only very sparingly dipped into them.  I know a lot of this because of that single shipping label.
        It was my great fortune to be first to find this treasure trove, and they felt that the box had found a good home, so they let it go.  So, do you think that this qualifies me as a sumguy, at least for that year?  In 1998, I had some color photos taken by professional photographer Gene Hattori, and the pics were just kicking around, so I thought I’d share them in the links in the above blog spot.  They’re not the best quality images because they are scans from the photos, which pushes them three generations away from reality.
        I found one very interesting item in the batch of
pen repair tools.  At first I thought it was just a generic knock-out block that the local repairman made for himself.  It’s made from a nice block of shellacked or varnished golden oak that’s been drilled out with 3 holes, and reinforced with a top metal plate.  On one side it has a lead plate attached, and one corner of the block is shaped into a protruding stem.  I’m only guessing, but the soft sheet of metal and the rounded stem seem like they would serve perfectly as a nib anvil.
        Well, the golden oak wood looked so good, despite the fact that the wooden side was scorched by a cigarette burn.  The repairman must have forgotten his cigarette butt on the wooden side of the tool one day, I guess, so I decided to remove the burn, take the lead plate off, refinish both surfaces, and use it as my own knock-out block.  But then I made a fascinating discovery.  Look at what I found underneath the lead plate, on the
underside of the plate.
        I removed the lead plate very carefully, saving the nails, and trying not to damage the plate.  To my surprise, there was an image engraved on the underside of the lead plate.  It was part of a Waterman’s pen advertisement!  This lead sheet was part of a printing plate for a very cool, recognizable Waterman’s ad, the one with a row of various styles of nibs along the bottom edge with various widths of ink lines extending up from the iridium points, and an eyedropper pen placed diagonally across the ink lines.  The advertisement appeared in The American Stationer,
Apr 16, 1910, p.1, and another version of the ad with different ad copy appeared in the Canadian magazine The Busy Man’s Magazine, August 1910, p.1.  The two ads used the ad lines “Personal Pens”, and “You Can Suit Every Hand”, meaning, of course, that you had a large selection of nibs from which to choose, and with their legion of nibs marching towards the viewer, they also look like illustrations of the slogan, “The Army of the Dip-No-Mores”.  Someone really should publish a comprehensive book, or CD of all the early Waterman’s ads.
        Waterman’s must have had a stack of these types of lead printing plates kicking around in 

the warehouse and decided to pull them out of storage and put them to good use.  I have since restored the piece and replaced the plate, even to the extent of taking great pains to replace the nails in their original holes.  Each nail head had a distinctive shape and left its unique imprint in the lead.
        I found four historic photos, in the public library archival room where I work, that show the building called the Standard Trusts.  They’re actually just a few of the 68 pictures that you’ll find when you perform a search for the name Standard Trusts in this
search window.  The repair shop was in the basement of the building, the tall one in SPL-LHR photo number LH-6109-B.  And one of those tiny basement window wells on the front is probably the one for the broom-closet of a shop that he had.  Across the street is a stationery store called Hazen’s at the time of the photo, but at the time that the repair shop was in business, 1945-65, it was known as Hazen Twiss.  The two photos in this article in Bookseller & Stationer, March 1915, p.30, show what the facade and interior of this stationery looked like in 1915.  This is what the Hazen Twiss building looked like in the 1950s in SPL-LHR photo number B-1992, and this is what their bookseller label looked like, as seen on Fred Mason’s website, This Modern Epoch, dead link, but saved on Wayback.  I have fond memories of buying some of the last remaining stock of Sheaffer “Skripsert” cartridge pens with pastel green and clear barrels before they went out of business.  I couldn’t afford to buy the Parker 75s and 61s and 51s, to my regret to this day.  Sad to say, most of the buildings in the above picture were demolished, including the one that housed the repair shop where all those tools were once used, and where many “Razors, Pens, and Lighters” were repaired.  This is what the city block on which the Standard Trusts Building was located looks like in SPL-LHR photo number PH-96-33-1, but with the now-demolished building ghosted back in where it should have been.  The archival library where I work is just behind the new building in the background.
        In the late 1990s, decades after the stationery store had closed, my photographer friend from above was digging around in the encroachment under the sidewalk in front of the Hazen Twiss building before the encroachment was filled in.  You can see the glass-block prism lights being installed in the vault ceiling in the sidewalk in SPL-LHR photo number
PH-88-634-6, at the left.  He found some old Waterman’s master ink bottles from the late 1910s or early 20s stored in the encroachment, and knowing of my interest in pens, he gave them to me.

George Kovalenko.