Thursday, June 25, 2009

How I Do What I Do

In the course of my wanderings through pendom I have seen a number of workshops, from the exquisite workspaces created by Richard Binder and David Parisi to the creative caverns of Victor Chen, Jim Marshall and Osman Sümer. My own space cannot compare to any of them.

We like in a small house at the northeasternmost reaches of California’s Silicon Valley, where even in these hard times the smallest house can approach seven figures in cost. Moreover, my small office must also do its duty to my academic work, such as it is.

Therefore, pens, tools, parts, shipping supplies all vie for space with books, papers and the like. Thus all my pen stuff must be storable.

This includes my “photo studio,” which lives in a nether corner of the office tucked between bookshelf, inventory box, and file cabinet; and when it comes out it gets set up in the dining room, often to Sharon’s patient dismay.

Recently, I undertook the largest update ever to the site, one which is still going on. Despite the fact that my workplaces are so humble and disorderly I thought folks might like to see what goes on behind the scenes. So here goes a tour of the recent update, for what it’s worth.
It all starts on my desk, so to speak, with pens, tools and a database
Although with an update this big, stuff got stacked on my Parker pencase alongside the desk
At this point stuff is getting unpacked to get examined, go through the first testing, and to get catalogued. After being entered into the database, I begin describing the pens for the website
Further testing and cleaning

Here a couple of 51s get resacced, the one on th top is for a client and the double jewel buckskin will go to webmaster Gilly who has finally gotten the 51 bug.
A trio of 51 sets, the buckskin set is the only one still available at this writing. Both the Nassau and Cordovan are in new hands.

This is the "photo studio." Ninety five percent of the images you see on the website are done in this fashion. Until recently I used the 500 watt, blue 5600 K photolights, but those seem no longer to be available. Note that they are supplemented behind by little table top fill lights. Recently, for top highlights I have begun using a fifth light, the camera's own flash. It adds additional dimension and highlight. When shooting metal pens I leave it off.

I do use photoshop after the fact, mostly to adjust exposure, occasionally to sharpen. Sometimes to adjust colour when the camera misses, especially now that I have had to go to 300 watt clear incandescent lamps, at least for the interim, until I decide what new light source to use permanently. Like much of what I do, it's pretty primitive, but it works, I think

Here's where the "studio" lives.
And, when I have finished everything the pens will live in the portfolios, boxed pens in the tub. For pen shows, all this has to go into a suitcase that I can carry onto an airplane. Wish me luck. It's part of the reason I lift weights, so I can hoist the seventy pound suitcase into an overhead compartment on a Boeing 737!
After seeing all this, maybe no one will ever want to buy a pen from me again!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The PENguin is Back!

As many of you know we have been closed for the past five months while I have been teaching and travelling abroad. I’m back, and I brought with me more than one hundred new pens. We now have our largest inventory of pens ever.

To celebrate, we are re-opening with our biggest sale ever.

For the rest of June and July there will be neither shipping nor handling charges on any pens shipped to the United States. Buyers outside the US will enjoy savings similar to those at home.

Purchases over $400.00 will enjoy a 10% discount.

Or if you buy two pens at any price, the pen of lesser value will be discounted 20%.

Also, watch for our new specials of the week, marked by a gold star. These pens, often, but not always, premium or limited editions, will be at significant discount. But only for a week. The pen of your dreams may become more affordable, but only if you visit often.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back to Pens

So, what did I get in England and Germany?

In truth some interesting stuff, most of it as you will see, for the website. It will be a few days before I can get all this stuff checked, restored as necessary, listed and photographed.

But for now, here are some teaser photos, not very good ones, yesterday was my worst day for jet lag, but here they are:

And, so what did I get for myself? Less than I did for you guys, but at least two were spectacular Pelikan finds, the short captop tortoise 101 and the three piece M/K/D tortoise 800 set. Before this one, which has a great backstory, there were no known tortoise pencils. So I am stoked. And there were a few English pens most notably an antique (read rmhr) Onoto 1850, a massive pen with a super nib. I also fed my interest in large German safeties with a RicLei number 6 and my fondness for Italian celluloid with a rosso verde large faceted “Duchessa,” which I think was one of many OMAS sub-brands.

The array of pens for the website
The Pelikans, most notably a yellow Pelikan 100 top left and a Magnum tortoise 100N. Bottom right, a wood OMAS and a LeBoeuf 6 set in jet and pearl.

Lots of interesting German pens top left and some other stuff
Parkers, including three DJ 51 sets, in cordovan, Buckskin and Nassau
This is a verrrry sweet three piece M30 in blue set in a designer case
An Aurora Jubilaeum
The M800 demo is the rarest of the rare, with the Spanish makings, but with an error. Only 19 of these are said to survive. At bottom an M750This is a tray of 140s restored by the Pelikan guru, Jürgen Dittmer
Mine, all mine, including a curious Ibis marked Pelikan Junior, the short captop 101, a lovely Carters oversize in blue, a couple of early swans, the Onoto,a rmhr Relief, the Duchessa, a lovely little Juska that needs some work, the Ric Lei and a Tibaldi Rosso Verde pencil, anyone got the pen? If so, you own me
I had a Nassau set, of course, but this last year 1948 set captured me
Sharon says the bird is ugly, but it's from the 1930s and rare, besides I kinda ike it. The desktop case will help me keep track of which early Pelikans I have inked. Better maintenance.
Well, that's it for now. I'm gonna ask that you penhounds refrain from inquiries for now until I can get everything going. Today, Wednesday, the jet lag seems to have lifted, but I'll need a few more workdays to sort stuff out.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Home Truths

Finally starting to settle in. We arrived in San Francisco at 2:25, a scant three hours after our departure from London at 11:35 Sunday morning. (Yeah, right!)

Despite the fact that I had arisen early hoping to be tired enough to sleep through the flight, that was not to be. The family in the row ahead of us were active enough to draw the notice of all around them.

Having gotten home, we began tearing into our suitcases, unpacking, sorting, laundering, finding places for new things, you know the drill. By the time we called for pizza (Mission Pizza in Fremont may have the best pizzas I haave ever had) we would actually rather have just crawled off to bed.

What kept us going were the greetings we got from Anna and Percy (the cat). We half expected Percy to have forgotten us, but to the contrary he has been our constant companion day and night since our return. Anna has managed to tear herself away from our presence.

By Tuesday morning when these images were taken, both Sharon and I were unpacked, laundry was complete and the house getting (mostly) back to normal. But after 4 ½ months in Europe and having been on the road for five weeks, we are both wiped out. Work’s getting done, but slowly and unevenly.

Still, it’s good to be home.

Still got suitcases in the living room
And more clutter, lots of mail to be dealt with, but not today.
My office piled with pens
Desk not fully rebuilt, need batteries for wireless keyboard and mouse, though I've gotten used to the trackpad and keyboard on the new MacBookPro
Bedroom looks good
This may be the feature of the house I most missed.
And the BMW actually started without a jump, though the radio seems to have dumped and won't take its code. Arrgh.

Anyways enough of this banal stuff, this is why folks don't read blogs. Next post--pens.

One Last Tour

We arose in Kent around 5:30 Sunday morning ready, more or less, to go to Heathrow airport, the start of our journey home.

I think I have mentioned before that by training our friend Ray Atkinson is a London cab driver, not one of those who drive the thousands of mini-cabs that swarm through London like so many insects. Ray is the real deal, having spent two years of his youth on a motorbike learning the backstreets and by-ways of London as well as the locations of all the city’s major sites. If you want to see this kindly man sneer in contempt just mention SatNav (global positioning navigation devices). Ray was, of course, going to take us to the airport on that gray, rainy Sunday morning. It was the darkest, wettest dawn in several weeks and as we loaded up in the rain he suggested that perhaps we had packed up our weather to take back home. The previous fortnight had been absolutely glorious as only England can be when the weather, all too infrequently smiles on them.

I assumed that we would use the London Orbital, the M25, as millions do each day. But Ray, like most Londoners, fears that road, especially in bad weather. When I first asked about our routehe noted that the road isolates you. Once you have made the choice, there are no reasonable alternatives and a traffic disruption, even on an early Sunday, could spell disaster.

So we set off winding in a westerly direction along the backroads and country lanes, first through Bromley, the biggest nearby suburb, through the notorious Brixton area, through Battersea and across the Chelsea Bridge. Here, of course, the urban landscape changed dramatically, from the mean streets of Brixton, which Ray replied to one of my many queries, had quietened in recent years, to the muted elegance of London’s west end. Through Sloane Square, Knightsbridge, Kensington--along the south perimeter of Hyde Park—through Earls Court, we wound our way across this corner of London finally emerging onto the A4 and its approach to the airport.

It was a lovely final tour of the city, and a part of it we actually had not gotten to during the visit. I did not ask Ray if he planned the route as a final tour much less if he meant the route as a tour de force. But we sat in awe at both the sights through rain spattered windows in the muted gray morning light and the tortuous route he was tracing with quiet assurance.

It was a lovely end to a long trip, one that began so tentatively in January and proceeded through more turns and adventures than I have even recorded here. As those of you who have followed our progress, we have gone from the initial gee whiz of touring with our students to our own journey of reconnection. Along with everything else, the touring, the teaching, the traumas of homesickness and student excess, for Sharon and me a major theme of this trip has been to connect and reconnect with friends old and new. Ray’s choice of this singular route seems to have highlighted this.

Had anyone been watching that Sunday morning as Ray dropped us off at Terminal 5, they would surely have wondered why first I and then Sharon hugged our cabdriver before setting off, him to drive for the day and us to cross an ocean and a continent to return home.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Last Hoorah

Tomorrow we take off for home, but made one last excursion with Sylvia, Ray worked today, to Down House, the home of Charles Darwin for the last forty years of his life until his death in 1882.

In a previous life, I actually managed a historic house museum, San Francisco Heritage’s Haas-Lilienthal House, and have retained both a professional and amateur interest in historic house museums, and I have to say that this house, operated by English Heritage, is one of the best I’ve toured. I would say that for anyone in the London area (the house is in Kent) this is a must see.

I j snapped just a few photos, including a few interior shots under the mistaken impression that non-flash photography was allowed. Oops, sorry!

Model of the HMS Beagle
The family sitting room, though he often had experiments running here, too.

The study where he worked and wrote, including the Origin. He did not write at a desk, so note the writing table that spanned his armchair where he composed.
The gardens were ornamental, provided for the kitchen and served as an extension of the great man's laboratories as well

Note the bee on the bottom flower. Darwin studied bees, along with everything else, and built hives. The hives have been recreated and the gardens are abuzz.
Sylvia had a party tonight, so we went with Ray to a local Indian restaurant. Tomorrow, Sunday, he will take us off to Heathrow and by day's end we will be back home for the first time since 23 January.

Folks have asked if we have had a good time, and the answer is that this has truly been the trip of a lifetime. We are blessed to have done a similar trip, for six months in 1972, and this time has been easily as wonderful. At some point I shall try to offer some sort of summation, but not tonight.

Great Britain, Labour Meltdown

For me, before there were pens there was politics. By my thirteenth birthday I was fascinated by the political process that led to the rise of John F. Kennedy, and in high school I was active in and a local officer of the Californai Federated Young Democrats. In college I studied politics as first a political science and then a political history major. My interest and activity extended through the late 1980s and into the 1990s.

So, it has been interesting to be in the UK for the past four and a half months during a period of political instability that now looks as if it might result in the parliamentary (but not electoral) replacement of an unelected prime minister by another unelected prime minister. Parliamentary politics can be complex.

For those who know the system, no prime minister is ever elected in the sense that a president is elected, even indirectly, by the people. In the UK folks vote for members of a party who have selected their leader. Should that party achieve a majority (or create a majority coalition) that leader becomes PM. Still with me?

In 1997, Labour, behind the seemingly skilled leadership of Tony Blair, who had reshaped Labour from a socialist to a moderate social democrat party, swept to one of the strongest victories in modern history. Blair called subsequent, early elections in 2001 and, finally, in 2005. But even then, there were cracks in the party, as many loyalists came to doubt the rightward swing of Labour and within the party Blair had to cut a deal with his powerful Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. It was a comedown for the man who, in 1997 all but destroyed the Conservative party. Two years later, as a result of a party revolt, Brown replaced Blair.

Since then, the British-- from his colleagues, to the media, to the people--have come to hate their leader with a ferocity that is hard to fathom. Perhaps the best parallel is with Gray Davis, the aptly named California governor who was replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Davis was a more than competent apparatchik who lacked the common touch. Add to this Brown's seeming inability to understand any aspect of modern political life and you may have the recipe for his downfall. For example, his own ally and Europe Minister, Caroline Flint, resigned yesterday calling for Brown's ouster, after having earlier pledged support, apparently no longer willing to be regarded as, in her words, "female window dressing."

All this notwithstanding, from a policy perspective it is hard to fault Gordon Brown’s brief tenure as Prime Minister. But almost from the start he has shown a remarkable inability to communicate with the British people. Add to that the economic meltdown (which he actually did much to mitigate both at home and internationally), the fact that Labour has been in power for twelve years through four elections and you have a recipe for regime change. That, along with the recent revelations about excessive claims for expenses by members (of all parties).

Still, in April when I had occasion to meet with the member for Bath, Don Foster, a Liberal Democrat (Britain’s somewhat incongruous third party), in response to my question about a possible coalition government coming out of the upcoming elections, he predicted a fourth electoral victory for Labour, albeit with a severely reduced majority. Today, no one believes Labour can win in 2010, especially behind the leadership of Brown who is under intense pressure to resign, presumably in favour of Alan Johnson, newly appointed as Home Secretary, or possibly Alastair Darling, Brown’s powerful Chancellor.

For an erstwhile political junkie, it has been fascinating to watch all this play out, even as I have been forced to observe the even more compelling advent of Barack Obama from a distance.

Once I return home, not only will I be able to watch the remarkable changes in the American political landscape closeup, but thanks to the internet I will be able to keep track of British politics, simply by keeping open the Guardian tab on my browser.

My guess is that it may take a few more weeks for the full impact of Friday’s elections in which Labour ran third and lost every single of the local council elections, to sink in. But if parliamentary elections were held today, the Tories under David Cameron, would win handily; and, in my opinion, that would be a tragedy for the British people.

Of the major nations, Britain seems the hardest hit by the current depression. Already their social services are strained beyond breaking (viz the recent Sannix trial and several child deaths due to lax social services). Nor does it seem that the Tories would do anything to arrest the British slide toward authoritarianism in the name of national security (for which Labour is rightly blamed).

It seems inevitable that Brown will be ousted. One of the hallmarks of a “free” society is that leaders are not only opposed, and even mocked, but when they start laughing, you, as a leader, are cooked. Brown is the focus of not just opposition, but both mockery and derision. His days seem numbered, his replacement as party leader and then prime minister ahead of the June 2010 elections inevitable. But even if that occurs, progressive government in Britain may be doomed.

Enough of my political ramblings. This afternoon we will undertake our last excursion, to the nearby home of Charles Darwin.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Final Days, partie deux

Catcher in the Rye

No big story here. On Thursday both Ray and Sylvia were able to clear their day and take us out to see Rye, which is part of what is locally called 1066 country, the area around Hastings, site of the Norman invasion.

Located too far inland to be an active port today, seven hundred years ago Rye was one of the cinque maritime ports and was important enough to have been invaded and burned by the French in the mid 14th century. Only later was it returned to English control and became one of the bases for the rise of English maritime power in the late 16th century.

While we only spent a few hours there, it was long enough to enjoy a brief walk through the town, have a lovely lunch in Thomas Fletcher’s house, and for me to get a hot(?) lead on a possible source for pens.

As you walk up , you are treated to this view

The approach to the church, the Fletcher house, where we had some great crab sandwiches and even better lemon and lime/raspberry tarts for dessert. The real surprise, throughout this trip has been how easy its been to get good, even great, food here.
The church dates back to Norman times

Sharon and Ray in the churchyard

Sylvia in her Hollywood shades