Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Garage Sale Calligraphy

I love garage sales - you never know what you are going to find.  I was at a garage sale a couple of weeks ago when I spotted a basket of art and craft supplies.  I glanced through the contents and discovered a Sheaffer calligraphy set.  I've always wanted to do calligraphy, and since the set was only $3 (the original price on the box was $17.50), I couldn't resist.

The set contains 12 ink cartridges (only 2 are missing); fine, medium, and broad italic nibs; a Sheaffer fountain pen; an instructional booklet; and a practice pad ruled for calligraphy.  The previous owner of the set also put in a pad of plain paper and a card with further instructions.  Everything appears in good condition except for the fine nib (the other two nibs look like they have never been used), which was left in the pen with an old cartridge and has dried ink on it:

I'm not sure how I should clean it, so I would really appreciate any advice that you could leave me in the comments.

I can't wait to start practicing calligraphy, so once I get everything cleaned up, look for some of my experiments in a future post.


  1. My instinct would be just to use the common method of a (very) tiny amount of dishwashing detergent in a bowl full of water, and flushing it through repeatedly, but it's not something I've had to do myself. Perhaps have a look at - a veritable goldmine of information.

  2. that's a great bargain!

    I've had these pens for years, and quite often, I'm embarrassed to say, allowed the ink to dry in the nib. They just need a decent soaking in water - I've never tried detergent, but it probably wouldn't hurt (just the tiniest amount on the tip of a toothpick). But honestly plain water has been fine.

    It's quite possible that the ink in the cartridges has evaporated a bit - after piercing the cartridge with the nib section, it's sometimes possible to add a bit of water to the cartridge, unless you like the darker, super-saturated color. But quite often calligraphy is more attractive when the ink has shading.

    Have fun!

  3. Try hot water to help dissolve the ink. Also, try running it under the faucet at full pressure to dislodge some of the dried ink. What a find!!

  4. Thanks for the tips, everyone. I'll try hot water as soon as I can and report back to you sometime in the future. Hopefully all will go well.

    And Sophie, thanks for mentioning that about possible evaporation of the ink. I was wondering about that myself, since the cartridges didn't really look that full. I'll probably won't add water to the first one I use and see what the ink is like.

  5. Or if you want to spring for it, pen cleaner can be found at an art and supply store. I use just soap and water for my dip pens.

    I'm eager to hear about your calligraphy exploits--I'm an amateur calligrapher and am curious to hear how you like working with a fountain pen.

  6. I've always heard that you should NOT use hot water with fountain pens. Cool water with a bit of soap added is the standard for soaking, then rinse with clear cool water. You can use a soldering bulb to force water through the nib adn section if you don't have a converter. If the ink is really gummed up, you can run it through an ultrasonic cleaner. I got a pen once that wouldn't write because ink had dried up in the feed and was going to send it back, but tried the cleaner first. I call the pen "the squid" because it gushed black ink. This was after soaking overnight in soapy water and flushing till it ran clean. I love fountain pens for calligraphy, especially the Pilot Parallel! Hope you have fun with them.

  7. Before you clean that pen, go to one of the pen gurus for advice. I see that you follow Julie at "Whatever" - she will be the perfect person to ask! She has connections, if you know what I mean.

  8. Ginigin and Joni, you're scaring me now! I haven't done anything to the pen yet so maybe I should look for more expert advice before I do anything. Still, I did only pay $3 for the thing, so if I do somehow manage to wreck it, it won't be that great a loss.

  9. Definitely not hot water - even a slight deformity of the feed will ruin it.
    I killed a Parker once by leaving it in a briefcase on the rear parcel shelf of my car and hot water is even hotter.
    Lukewarm water is ok - leave the front end to soak overnight you shouldn't need any thing else.
    If you have a converter filling with plain water and emptying several times will usually flush out what the soaking has loosened. Holding it under a running tap works but most of the water runs down the sides.
    I'm in two minds about detergent. Cross say use it but other brands specifically say not to. I think there's a danger that it might attack the seals.
    I've one of these sets for the best part of thirty years now - they were called No-nonsense pens back then.
    I use them for drawing but they're a great introduction to italic writing.
    Have fun.

  10. Thanks, Sapphire. I'll probably try soaking it overnight in lukewarm to cool water and see what happens.

  11. Ahh, I didn't realize hot water isn't a popular suggestion. I have a set like this and hot water never ruined them. What I did notice is one of the ink cartridges dried out rather quickly once pierced. I put mine away for a few months and they might have been exposed to some heat while I was moving so that could have been part of the reason. When I took them out again, the pierced cartridge was completely dried out.

  12. Heather, it won't be that scary. It's true that other pens can be fussier, and other inks more problematic, but if the previous owner has really only ran a few Sheaffer ink cartridges through it, it won't be that hard to clean with just a soak in water.

    Like Sapphire, I have done this multiple times, with this exact pen and my 30+ year old pen/nib of this type are still going strong.

  13. I think the hot water thing is a bit like pulling a USB memory out without shutting it down - works 99 times then on the 100th you lose hours of work.

    Sophie, did your pen have silver decoration on the cap? Mine used to have swirly patterns in silver foil - it's mostly worn off now.

  14. Hot water is a definite no no! Every pen professional I have dealt with has used diluted ammonia rather than dishwashing detergent. The suggested ratio = 1 part ammonia to 3 parts water. I have also had good results with the pen cleaners branded Dr Martin/Bombay and Higgins. I only use them when the ammonia treatment is doesn't do the trick.

    The reason that hot water is not advised is simple - it tends to cook whatever chemicals are present (think proteins like blood or chocolate on fabric). The idea is to oxidize the dried stuff to float it loose.

    Don't let the whole thing scare you. It is a learning experience and the resources are plentiful.

  15. Thanks, Millicent! As it turned out, I ended up soaking the nib simply in room temperature water with nothing added and it came clean. If I ever need something stronger, I'll be sure to keep your tips in mind.

  16. This is the exact Calligraphy set that I won for a class contest way back in Primary School. I remember feeling too intimidated to use it properly. It makes me so emotional to see this. Thank you so much for reminding me of the name of it, because it went missing a long time ago.


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