Burnham B48 Fountain Pen in Black

Latest Update: I’ve now opened the pen up to see what’s inside – that gives us a better idea of what needs to be done. So far, so good…

I’m trying something a little different with this museum exhibit – turning into a bit more of a story. This is just the first part – getting the pen, and having a look around the outside of it. Next, I’ll update this post when I’ve opened it up, and checked a bit further into what needs doing with it. I’ll keep updating as I work on it, and try to turn it from car boot sale junk into a nice usable pen.

If I succeed, it should make a nice ‘how-to’ for getting and fixing a vintage pen. If I make a mess of it, it can act as a warning to you all on how not to treat a vintage pen.

The story starts at Radcliffe Car Boot Sale…

Getting It

This pen was my first car boot sale find. After reading so many stories of other people finding a barely-used Parker 51 in its original box, under the table at a car boot sale, from someone who was hoping to get £2 for it, we’ve been hitting the car boot sales pretty hard. We’ve had a few interesting bargains, and picked up a few assorted pens, but no vintage fountain pens at all.

I spotted this one, and although it’s not in great condition, didn’t argue over the price – £1. Not bad.

Examining It

At first glance, quite a nice looking pen, in fairly decent condition.

Burnham B48

The nib is realy quite dirty, but that usually turns out to be just dried ink, and rinses straight off with cold water.

Burnham B48 - Nib

Ah, the first bit of bad news. From the underside, we can see that the tipping is only still there on one half of the nib. Well, the camera helps us see – without the picture, it was more feel that told me what was wrong. Must get a jeweller’s loupe sometime soon.

Burnham B48 - Nib - Underside - Damaged

The lever looks good – it’s a simple design, and looks ok. It doesn’t move much, but it’s probably just down to the sac having dried out inside.

Burnham B48 - Lever

By this point, I still don’t know what the pen actually is, other than a Burnham. Peeling off the price sticker answers that question – a Burnham B48.

Burnham B48 - Barrel Imprint

A closer look at the cap shows more damage – there are small chips all the way around the edge of the cap. This is fairly common. If the caps are tightened too far, it puts a lot of stress on the plastics at this point, and many of these early plastics were brittle.

Burnham B48 - Cap - Chipped

Opening it Up

Fortunately, the Burnham opened easily – the section was just a screw fit into the barrel, and wasn’t stuck. If it had been stuck, I’d probably have started by rinsing it with water, then soaking it if that didn’t work (since it doesn’t seem to be made of hard rubber or casein). As it was, a quick unscrew, and we were there…

Burnham B48 - Opened, No Sac

No sac? There should the a rubber sac in there, attached to the back of the section – that’s the bit we were assuming would have hardened or turned to goo. A quick tap of the barrel against the desk, and out it popped…

Burnham B48 - Opened, Sac

The sac has hardened and dropped out as a single piece. The ‘nipple’ at the top of the section still has the remains of part of the sac attached to it, which will need to be scraped off, but the rest came out cleanly, and the lever now seems to work ok. All fairly lucky so far – a replacement sac is fairly easy.

What Next?

It will need a bit of repair work doing…

  • It needs a new sac before it can be used. I’ll need to get the right size sac from somewhere – probably Cathedral Pens – and fit it. I’ve resac’d a Sheaffer Snorkel, so this one shouldn’t be too difficult. Hopefully.
  • The nib will need some work. I’ll probably start by attempting to break the tipping off the other half, and see if it can be polished up to a usable state from there. If not, it’ll either need cutting back, or a new nib.
  • The chips in the cap will need something doing about them. I’ll probably try filing the cap back slowly, until it’s been shortened enough that the chips are all gone. Then, try reshaping the new edge to a smooth shape – maybe not too thin, so it won’t chip so easily in future.
  • The gold parts look like they need a good polishing, but I think the clip at least is probably more worn away than just dirty. A good cleaning should get it as good as it can be, anyway.

There are plenty of options for what to actually get started on next. I could work on the nib, and try to make sure it writes when dipped first, or I could have a go at fixing the chips in the cap. I also need to try to find out what size sac I need to order, or just order a selection of sizes, so I can get that replaced.

To be continued…

Update: Probably never to be continued, really – I lost interest long ago, and more interesting pens have been along since.

3 thoughts on “Burnham B48 Fountain Pen in Black

  1. Pingback: Museum of Creativity :: PigPog

  2. have acquired my first oldie – a burnham 50 – similar to the one in your story – now, how do I open it up? is it caked shut with old sac (the lever works but doesn’t take ink/water) or is it a reverse thread???

  3. My Burnham is just screw threaded to take the section out of the barrel, and it opened up quite easily. If it’s not threaded, it’ll just be a friction fit, but in either case, could well just be badly stuck. Reverse threads are fairly unusual, and I’ve not heard of them in Burnhams – doesn’t mean they never used them, though, I can’t say that it’s a make I’ve actually read much about. I’d guess it’s a screw-in or friction-fit, but just jammed with years of finger poo and dried ink.

    Best tips I’ve seen so far…

    • Get a rubber jar-opener grip. They’re usually available in supermarkerts – just a round rubber sheet for getting a good grip on a jar lid. I got mine, shaped like a flower, from Morrisons, for around £2, and cut it in half. Half of one is plenty to grip with, and that way I have one half for each part I’m trying to pull or twist apart. It also helps that this left a straight edge.
    • Gentle heat can help. Maybe a hair drier or hot water. Too much heat will damage the plastics, so you need to be careful with it, and hot water can damage hard rubber pens. I’m not sure what the Burnham 50 is made from.

    I’ve got a copy of ‘Da Book’ now (thanks, Sam!) and Frank says…

    Always begin with a gentile rocking and twisting. Done in a quiet location as you gain experience you will often hear the pen “speak” in a series of cracking sounds. This is almost always the cracking of dirt, dried ink and possible cement holding the section in place. If the section makes no noise and will not budge soak in plain tap water.

    The only problem with soaking is that hard rubber will be discoloured by it, and it can harm casein, which some Burhams were made from – I’d probably not soak it for too long unless you have to, but even getting a bit of water up through the feed might just dampen any ink that’s in there. If the sac is pretty much gone, you may even be able to squirt water in around the lever, and shake it out through the feed – it may bring the dried ink out with it.

    Best of luck with it, anyway – hope it opens up for you.

Comments are closed.