Fountain Pens And A Bit Of Doggerel . . .


I like to use the old-fashioned fountain pens. Always have. Here’s the nib of one of my favorites; a Parker Duofold Centennial:

In my mechanical drafting, cartographic and drawing days, I had to use either a ruling pen (the less said about those abominations the better) or the old Koh-i-Noor Rapidographs with India ink. Those were a nightmare if you allowed the India ink to dry and had to clean the pen. And you would and did! In high school, a girl I wanted to date turned me down because my fingernails always looked dirty; I told her it was the darned India ink that kept my fingertips ink stained and was the very Devil to clean. So it goes . . .

A normal fountain pen with normal ink is a lot easier to manage, though I’ve still had a couple of accidents when I’d forget to cap the pen before sticking it back into my pocket. Then you walk around the office with a big blob of ink on your shirt. Luckily, dry cleaners are used to removing those stains!

Now, there was a stretch beginning in the late 1970s where I was filling out FedEx counterfoil labels all the time, and, for that purpose, a fountain pen isn’t the right tool. Reluctantly, I switched to a MontBlanc rollerball pen, but once FedEx labels could be generated online and printed on a laser printer, I went back to fountain pens.

What attracts me to fountain pens are the feel of the pen on paper, the infinite variety of inks available for them and the lovely designs available. The history of the things is overwhelming and it’s fun to look into that.

My collection isn’t extensive; I have a couple of each by the major manufacturers. I prefer a wider nib or pen-point than most folks do and that’s easily achieved with fountain pens.

Here’s the doggerel I promised. It’s from a pen-nib manufacturer in Scotland or England many years ago and at one time, signs with this verse were evidently all over the place in the UK:

Here’s what a box of those nibs looked like.

I still have a few boxes of that type of nib from my high school and college days. The ones I have are made by Speedball or Hunt, but they look just like the ones in that sign.

Who Killed the Burma-Shave Poet?

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Actually, Burma-Shave brushless shaving cream, sold in tubes or jars, died from the growing popularity of shaving cream packaged in aerosol cans, and their advertising signs were killed by the growth of the U.S. interstate highway system. Drivers were moving too fast after that to read the Burma-Shave signs.

But, as a marketing guy, I have to admire the spirit and fun of the Burma-Shave signs, which were sequential red-and-white signs along the sides of roads during the period from 1925-1963. They were usually a comic verse, and during the time they were used, they were the most effective marketing device known.

Here are some examples of the more than 600 verses used to sell Burma-Shave. You can find plenty more on the Web.

Within this vale
Of toil
And sin
Your head grows bald
But not your chin–

Save your skin
Your time
Your dough–

When the stork
Delivers a boy
Our whole
Darn factory
Jumps for joy–

If you
Don’t know
Whose signs
These are
You can’t have
Driven very far–

The big blue tube’s
Just like Louise
You get a thrill
From every squeeze–

The tube’s
A whopper
35 cents
Easy shaving
Low expense–

From New York town
To Pumpkin Holler
It’s half a pound
Half a dollar–

Many signs cautioned drivers to drive safely.

If daisies are your
Favorite flower
Keep pushing up those

Thirty days
Hath September
April, June
And the speed offender–

What you shouted
May be true
Did you hear
What he called you?

Take it slow
Let the little
Shavers grow–

Don’t lose
Your head
To gain a minute
You need your head
Your brains are in it–

A man
A miss
A car–a curve
He kissed the miss
And missed the curve–

My favorite:

A peach
Looks good
With lots of fuzz
But man’s no peach
And never wuz–

Why were these signs and slogans so effective? They were funny; people slowed down to read them. Folks talked about them and remembered new ones they’d read or old favorites. A very effective job of advertising! They made consumers feel like friends.