I must have been around 10 or 11, maybe slightly younger, when I bought a Platignum fountain pen with my pocket money. I don’t think it was my first and I doubt I would have been allowed to use it at school as they provided free pencils, plus dip pen shaped ballpoints to those in the final year who had passed the writing test (so everybody by the final term in theory). This calligraphy set will have come later, but I suspect I still bought it before I was 14 or 15, which in some respects was odd as I hated writing and my calligraphy (from mandatory art classes) was poor at best.
First off as the manufacturer’s name may confuse those not from the UK. Platignum are now over 100 years old, though not continuously. Founded in 1919 as the Mentmore Manufacturing Company they would become Platignum in 1925 when they rebranded. The intent was to be called Platinum to give an indication of quality (stop laughing those who remember their more modern pens before their closure), but on finding out there was already a Japanese company with the global trademark to that name, a g was added and Platignum came in to being. It was the 1960s when they started to produce the student staple which many of us will remember. Cheap fountain pens using their own proprietary cartridge and with a reputation for leaking, cracking, and many many inky fingers. These pens, however, were really cheap. Come the late 1990s and the increase in popularity of roller balls, gel pens, and ballpoints hit the fountain pen market and students moved away from unreliable products that left a mess. The company was taken over and then seem to vanish until it was once more bought, this time by Snopake. Around 2007 Platignum was relaunched with new pens, this time using a new proprietary cartridge which looks rather close to the standard international fit (can anyone confirm one way or another?).
I remember finding this set about 8 to 10 years ago when clearing some stuff out from my parents place. I decided to bring all my writing bits down south to where I live, including some dip pens bits. A few more years went by and something made me decide to try and ink it up. I had no converter and a quick search on the ‘Net indicated that while the brand was still around the new cartridges were not compatible, however some one on FPN inferred that Cross cartridges could be used. I had a couple of those spare and so tried one and voilà, it worked.
Of course the pen worked just like all the Platignums those of us who were at school during the 1960s-80s will remember, so varying for no apparent reason from dry to wet, flow problems and ink seepage.
Now I can’t compare the writing experience of this pen with the regular ones, after all this is a calligraphy set with five (I assume originally there would have been 6-9 different nibs) classic italic nibs, i.e. no tipping material, just bare steel.
One thing latter day (pre relaunch) Platignum pens were infamous for was cracking and this one is no example. True this could have come from age, but I do have vague memories of other Platignum pens in my possession suffering from the same or worse problem, normally being thrown out when the barrel would no longer screw on to the section (some thing my cheap Reynolds pen, bought at a hypermarket in France, never had a problem with). I’m certain the crack you see here probably appeared within a year or two of buying the pen.
From the photos you will also note that four out of the five nib units also are suffering from cracks. I think this time it is age, though I was able to get ink to flow through all of them (even if this possibly lead to ink lining the hosting part of the section). Forcing flow was more of a problem as squeezing the cartridge would push ink through and it would drip out, but it would also appear to ignore the feed.
Part of this whole exercise is to look back and reminisce as well as to see if my memories match the present. With this pen it will be difficult. I don’t remember much about my old Platignum pens aside from the cracks, inky fingers, and a feeling of satisfaction when I finished a cartridge – I think they were on the large side, I’ve not managed so far to find a picture of one, only the cartridge for the modern variant. Certainly this pen still works as intended, i.e. as an introduction to traditional calligraphy from before flex became an option (so no Spencarian or Copper Plate with this set).
So for me not the greatest trip down memory lane, however I hope this has reminded a few of you of your school days with Platignum pens, and for the rest of you an introduction to an old British pen company many will not know about.
As an after note, apparently the new Platignum fountain pens are meant to be quite decent for a cheap fountain pen, I may yet pick one up to try.
Jerome Tarshis said:
Although I grew up in New York, I can say that for at least a few Americans the reputation of Platignum’s horrible pens easily crossed the Atlantic. The plight of the English schoolchild. During my own childhood I didn’t know that when Platignum pens were introduced, in the 1920s, they were pretty good of their kind. Mentmore’s slogan was “as good as gold,” the Platignum pens having steel nibs while the concurrent Mentmore pens were of high quality and had gold nibs.
Until now I have avoided uttering the obvious question: Why did people buy such bad pens? In the United States we had inexpensive pens, too. I wrote with Wearever pens, which were pretty cheap but nothing like as awful as Platignum pens were reported to be. At a slightly higher price level there were Esterbrooks, an entirely decent inexpensive brand. Our German contemporaries got to choose between Pelikan and Geha in primary school, and there were other well-made inexpensive pens.
England was deplored as a nation of shopkeepers by the Corsican ogre, and pioneered mass manufacture. Adam Smith wrote of the invisible hand putting things right by market forces. What then is the explanation of all those schoolkids being sent out in the world with a Platignum pen?
It might be part of the old con that helped us keep the Empire together. If our kids are able to cope with these poorly made pens without complaining or using better then just think how strong they will be in the future. Fear our stubbornness, resolve, and ink stained stiff upper lip 🙂
Jerome Tarshis said:
What a splendid and thought-provoking paragraph! Although it may have been written in jest, the underlying idea can be applied to very much about British life as it was before post-1945 affluence really set in. For a small minority. Hear, hear.