Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bad Laurel, No Biscuit

So, I really hate admitting things like this, but confession is good for the soul or something, right? :P

Well, on the weekend I opened up one of the cases I use to store Japanese pens in, and selected two Platinums which I was planning to ink up for the week ahead. The pens in question can be seen in the above image, (4th and 5th from left). These are pens from the early 1970s, when Platinum was designing some extremely interesting and beautiful writing instruments. They were released in the same year and share a very similar design – flattop, tapered barrel, seldom-seen ball clip, and a cap band decorated with neat little squares. The nib units are identical, and each has a large Fine 18K white gold nib. One pen has a quiet and utilitarian stainless steel body with acid-etched black squares, while the other is flashy solid sterling silver with red urushi-filled squares.

As I picked up the stainless steel pen, I suddenly remembered that this pen had not been cleaned and emptied; I had put it in the box to photograph it, and then not taken it back out. By now, I had a vague sense of impending doom. I picked up the second pen, which I had been using around the same time as the other one, and with a sigh, I realised that this one wouldn’t have been cleaned either. Crap.

I headed off to the bathroom sink, and pulled the cap off the stainless steel pen (maybe it was my imagination, but it did seem harder to remove that cap with the images of a sticky and gross grip section in my head.) But no, there was no ink-soaked section, but there was a gross ink-covered nib, and a suspiciously ink-encrusted trim ring. The feeling of doom intensified. I looked at the semi-dry ink on the trim ring a little closer, and immediately noticed two things:
  1. The stuff looked like iron rust.
  2. The stuff smelled like iron rust.

Amidst a small panic and some swearing, I broke out a baby’s toothbrush and some ammonia. Soon I was gently scrubbing the nib, and blue-grey ink was coming out, but the rusty stuff on the trim ring wasn't moving (see the trim ring here). A half hour later, blue-colored water was still coming out of the nib, and the rust (it was definitely rust) was still there. Meanwhile, the nib unit of the sterling silver pen had cleaned free of its ink (poss. Sailor Red Brown) very easily, so I dried it off and put it away. I was feeling a little bit sick over the nib unit of the stainless steel pen at this point. It was such a nice pen! I scrubbed at it some more, but blue was still leaching everywhere and I could still clearly smell rust, so I ended up soaking the unit overnight.

The next morning I flushed the last of the blue out (finally), and then dried the nib off and sat down and looked at it. The rust around the trim ring was still there, but some of it had stained the tissue I was drying the nib off with, so I kind of rubbed at it a bit more, and surprisingly, more rust appeared on the tissue. I scratched at the rust with my fingernail. It was slightly stubborn, but soon shifted to reveal shiny *stainless* steel underneath. Aha! I suddenly realised what it was – ferrogallic (iron gall) ink!

I examined the trim ring with a 20x loupe, and could see no pitting / damage. Now, I have had flash corrosion damage on a nib unit in the past, but it occurred with R&K’s Scabiosa, which is a strong ferrogallic ink (indeed, the corrosion occurred within two weeks.) The ink which my stainless steel Platinum pen had been inked with was 15+ year-old Platinum Blue-Black, and (to my shame), the pen must have been sitting in the case for well over six months.

Evidently, Platinum’s Blue-Black ink must have once been made from a weak iron gall base; much like LAMY Blue-Black is made today. I say, "been made" instead of "is made", because I have current stocks of Platinum Blue-Black and while the attractive ferrogallic characteristic of the ink colour dramatically fading when drying still does occur, I believe it does so to a lesser extent than the old ink.

While I was lucky, and I learned something new, I’m not in a hurry to have a repeat performance, I think I’ll be extra disciplined about cleaning my pens in future. ;)

PS: I know pictures of the nib would have made this post more interesting, but I had other things on my mind at the time!