With all the new inks coming on the market, the experience can be daunting- and like many with vintage pens, I’m often tempted to put some of these great new colors in old pens. Richard Binder rather famously warns pen folks to be very careful with what inks we use in our vintage pens in this essay. The bottom line is that we generally can’t be sure that these inks are pH neutral and thus harmless to pens made from more delicate materials- and the results of a mistake can destroy a pen. I also firmly believe that component dyes also play important roles here, making some of this case sensitive. But what of those of us who don’t like that answer? Then we must take our own risks… and conduct our own experiments. Personally, I have many boutique inks outside the ken of the generally “safe” inks like Montblanc, Diamine, Waterman, Parker Quink, and the like. My flexy Parker Challenger is calling for Robert Oster African Gold, and my Vacumatic NEEDS to lay down some Sailor Jentle Oku-Yama. Yet, each and every time I consider inking those combos, I back down. I HAVE had Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-Budo wreck the sack of that Challenger, and a Snorkel as well- this happened before I was directed to Mr. Binder’s advice. Because I don’t have a nice pH tester that costs hundreds of dollars, I decided to experiment with some of these inks myself. Thus, this trial was born. Before we start: I assert none of these results as fact or hard science. This is meant to be informative, but take all my results with a grain of salt and know you use these inks at YOUR own risk. There, now I can’t be blamed when someone destroys a Waterman Patrician, right?
My idea was simple: take some of these inks that I like using and immerse a sac within for a period of time. Initially, the trial was to last thirty days- but as a job hunt and freelance work took over my life, the result ended up being sixty. The story this blog’s life, right? Anyway, I stuck chunks of latex sacs that I got from Monomoy Vintage Pens in a sample vial with the chosen ink and simply let them sit. The inks are: Krishna Jungle Volcano, Colorverse Dark Energy, Noodler’s Proctor’s Ledge, Noodler’s Provoke the Puritan, Robert Oster African Gold, Sailor Jentle Oku-Yama, and Waterman Inspired blue (the control- a very safe ink that I use constantly in my vintage pens). Once sealed in a sample vial, they sat relatively unmolested for sixty days (minus a midpoint checkup where I picked them up and looked in, but did not uncap).
The results of all this were both surprising and predictable. No ink straight up dissolved a sac, but one seemed to have started the process. The main conclusion I drew is this: I will not be putting Krishna Jungle Volcano in a vintage pen. This was the big one. The first thing to manifest was crust on parts of the sac that were not immersed in ink, which showed at day thirty. Now, I am known to say “don’t fear nib crust.” It just wipes off and everything is fine. Crust on a sac, however, is different. After cleaning the sac under water (at first just a rinse, as if I was simply flushing the pen), I noticed that it was also more than just a little crust. The sac itself had deep scores that were eaten almost like veins of a fungus into the latex itself. Very cool to see, but not good for an old pen if you inked it and forgot about it. I have to say this result didn’t blow my mind. JV is very saturated a sheen machine, things that are often a red flag as the high concentration of dyes can react. I also already knew that the ink was prone to crusting- but this was a bit different. Thus, while this ink is fantastic and HIGHLY recommend it, I will be putting it in my modern pens only.
The second interesting result was with Noodler’s Proctor’s Ledge. This ink is interesting- a black so thick that I can wipe writing I did over a year ago and still get this matte black streak all over my hands. The stuff is nuts. It also precipitated in a weird way. At first I was convinced I hadn’t cleaned the sample vial enough after it had PenBBS #235 (a shimmer ink) in it, but I found that vial on my tray upon investigation, empty and unused. The ink formed sludgy globs on the sac that were this weird, sheeny, nearly iridescent color. They also would not come off under normal rinsing- and therefore I do not recommend putting this in a vintage pen. I would not have before conducting this experiment anyway based on my experience with the ink thus far.
The last actual result was that Robert Oster African Gold stained the sac a bit. It also had a few crust crystals form but not many. Honestly I don’t care about this. I don’t see the sacs, and whatever staining happens to them doesn’t matter to me. The crust was pretty minimal and not surprising for a yellow left in a pen for some time. I will probably keep it out of a clear demonstrator, however.
Finally, the nonresults. I did not have any form of reaction that I could find from Oku-Yama, Dark Energy, Provoke the Puritan, or Inspired Blue (SURPRISE). To me this is great news, and I feel fine using them in my vintage pens. The Colorverse ink is perhaps the most interesting, because the company lists the pH of the inks in a booklet that comes with the box. They list Dark Energy at 8.8 (neutral being 7.0), which is on the alkaline side- therefore, I would also use this one with caution, but I will put it in a lever filler that isn’t too hard to mess with, like a Wahl-Eversharp Skyline. And there we have it!
Caveats: Some things to note as you form opinions on what I’ve done here- first off, I don’t know exactly when the changes noted above took place. Especially with African Gold staining, I suspect that if you went through the fill in a week or two, it would be fine- but I can’t prove that. Second, I left these inks in pens much longer than I ever would in reality. If you are done with a pen, clean it, especially if it’s old. I further don’t feel comfortable extrapolating my results beyond these specific inks, since formulations can vary vastly across the color spectrum but within the same ink brand. Again, I have to clearly state that you must make your own decisions regarding what inks are safe to put in vintage pens. I won’t take responsibility for someone who puts Dark Energy in pristine vintage Duofold and gets an penpocalyptically different result. Thanks for reading,and I do hope people found this entertaining if not a little helpful!