When Bad Repairs Happen To Good Pens

Parker Duofold

I’ve spent a lot of time this past week trying to decide the best way to talk about what was the saddest part of my Atlanta Pen Show experience. I mentioned to a vendor that I had a beloved vintage Parker Duofold vac filler but that the vacuum-filler didn’t work and he said “Oh, there’s a guy here who specializes in fixes those. You should take it over and have him look at it.”

I was very excited at the possibility of getting my pen in full working order so I hopped over to the repairman and he seemed fairly convinced that for a reasonable fee and a couple of hours he could get my pen in working order. I left him my pen and my phone number and headed off to lunch.

This is where things went sideways and I should have probably talked to people with more experience getting pens repaired to know what questions to ask and what outcomes I could expect.

Parker Duofold

I dropped off my pen around noon and did not hear back from the repairman by 4pm. I started to get concerned but didn’t want to pester him. I know how busy tables can get and the potential to get backed up but I also knew that the show floor closed up at 5pm and if he was not going to get time to work on my pen, I wanted to be retrieve before 5pm and either bring it back next year or make arrangements for shipping.

When I got to his table, he informed me that the prior owner of the pen must have epoxied the vac into the end of the pen and, as a result, when he attempted to remove it, the barrel of the pen melted and warped. In other words, my pen was returned to me more damaged than when I left it with him and I only received a cursory apology and a “these things sometimes happen”.Ā  I was not charged for the mishap but I was not compensated in anyway for the damage either.

As one of my first vintage fountain pens and a thrift store score at that, I have a lot of sentimental attachment to the pen. Yes, most of my love is a result of the pen having a beautiful, slightly flexible gold nib but still!

Parker Duofold nib

So, from my cautionary tale, I want to provide some advice to anyone seeking pen repairs, nib tuning or other manipulations from someone, either at a pen show or online:

  • Be sure to ask is there a possibility that the pen might sustain additional damage?
  • If so, whose responsibility is it? (Go into the transaction knowing ahead of time if the repairman is not held responsible for someone else’s janky repair work like epoxy so you are not taken by surprise like I was)
  • Does the repairman have spare parts on site should the pen need to be modified due to breakage or damage? At a show, he might not have all his spare parts but might be able to take the pen back to his shop and finish repairs and mail the pen back to you.
  • Get good cost estimates up front. If the repairman want payment up front, verify what refund policy he has should he be unable to complete the repairs.

In the end, it can’t hurt to ask all the questions and if a repairman (or person) is unwilling to answer them, feel free to share my experience as the reason you’re asking. Not that you distrust them but you know that bad things have happened to good pens.

Parker Duofold

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14 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Ana,
    I am so sorry for you. That was a terrible experience you had. I know ab out the sentimental attachment one can have with their pen.

    I have one that belonged to my father. It’s not rare.vintage, neither very expensive, but I treasure it. It had been standing idle for some time before my mothef gave it to me. Dried up ink in the nib and feed prevented it from writing. Fortunately, an easy, do it yourself, fix.

    Your pen , however, I don’t know what I would do. The nib could be salvaged and used on another pen, or perhaps you can look for someone who has spare parts off another Duograph pen.

    I would suggest checking online at Fountain Pen Network. You may be able to find help there.

    Your topic today was excellent and you gave some sound advice to your readers. I know it made me think and I will surely take heed from it.

    A big cyber hug to you from me, Ana. Sorry this happened to you.


  2. I am sorry you had this happen to you. I needed a nib to be tuned but I am new to the FP scene and the ATL Pen show/people were new to me. Thus, I was reluctant to trust anyone with repairs or tuning.

    That being said, you have put forth some valid questions and if I need work or tuning done I know exactly how to proceed. Sending you pen friend hugs.

  3. Thank you for sharing this Ana. I need to send a Shaeffer snorkel off to be resacced. Its history is unknown to me so your unfortunate experience might help others of us.

    For that, thank you.

    So sorry your pen was damaged so badly during the repair.

  4. Good advice, but would it have prevented this result? Curious if you got an expert or second opinion after-the-fact about whether the repair person did anything wrong. What little I know about repairing vintage pens includes taking care in applying any heat. If you can, like with every other type of work or service, also get recommendations from folks who’ve needed the same work or service. That’s one of the many advantages of this community and making friends at a pen show!

  5. That’s a shame. The only way you can really tell if a vac pen has been screwed up like having the filler epoxied in is to heat it up and try to unscrew the filler. That’s the only way.

    Normally they are shellaced in which softens up with gentle heat. He would know that and likely tried to turn it several times before it was hot enough to distort.

    The “good” thing is that nobody would have been able to fix it. It was toast when you bought it except for the parts.

    Those vac filling, striped Duofolds are pretty easy to find, esp since most people want the full sized ones.


  6. Before taking a step that may cause irreversible damage, the “Repairman” should have – stopped – to discuss the risks with you first. Regardless, enough heat to cause barrel deformation should never have been applied in the fist place!

    Vintage pen repair does come with an implicit risk of failure. However, this case goes far beyond that – it reeks of professional malpractice.

    I suggest you contact the “Repairman” once again and demand full compensation for the damaged pen. State your case as I have outlined above. I estimate the replacement cost of this pen to be (roughly) between $100 and $175 USD, plus shipping.

    This replacement cost estimate depends mostly on condition. Of course this estimate does not include very real “Intangible Procurement Costs”; such as the time and effort invested to find a replacement, and the associated risks.

  7. I am sorry for taking a few days to comment here – I needed to think about this for a moment. I was there at the Atlanta show in the evening when you showed the pen and told the story. I held the pen, and wanted to give you a hug. If what you lost is not just a pen, really, but a beloved memento, then I had a very, very similar experience.

    I was hurt. I didn’t even want the pen anymore, couldn’t look at it, and pondered strongly just throwing it away. But I’m glad I didn’t, because now as I look at it that pen represents so much more to me: A kind of painful rite of passage into a more full understanding of how our frailty bleeds itself into everything. Including my ideological pen world.

    As you, so have I learned more about what to ask and how to vet. I know its funny, but sometimes, when I see that pen, I realize how far I’ve come since then and almost feel like a veteran.

  8. oh man, that really sucks and I feel your pain! I actually had a similar experience with one of my pens, I think it was an Osmia with a beautiful art deco body. It was also a Vac but the previous owner done some damage to the section. gave it for repair, but sadly the front part got warped a bit and could not get fixed. It was sad, but all I got was also a “sorry these things happen” reply šŸ™ The repair guy I sent it to was also known as a good guy, but yeah, nothing to be done. it now hurts to look at the pen šŸ™ So I know what you’re going through. hugs

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