Thoughts on Celluloid?

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EricRN

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I'm curious what folks think about true celluloid (i.e., cellulose nitrate) as a material for pens. Is the hype real, or is it more marketing/myth than anything else? I've never handled a celluloid pen (the nicest pens I own are the ones I turn myself), and I'm curious if they are really as good as folks say. I'll admit that many celluloids that I've seen in pictures can be quite beautiful. But so are many cellulose acetates, alumilites, and other resins. (And I've seen celluloids that I find to be quite ugly, too.)

I can feel a difference between cellulose acetate blanks and things like polyresins and acrylic acetates, and I do prefer acetate to those other materials, so I'm open to the idea that celluloid can impart some more luxurious/pleasing feel than other materials. But I'm curious if celluloid is really THAT much better than acetate, or if it's more the fact that it's rare, difficult to make, and heavily marketed as superior.

I ask because I came across someone selling some celluloid rods and asking nearly $1,000 for an 8-inch rod! It's hard for me to see how that can be worth it, but curious what others think.
 
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jttheclockman

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Just cause someone sells things for ridiculous prices does not make it worth any more than other things. If there are fools who want to pay then they are ahead of the game. You see this on Ebay all the time. Look at the price gouging when the Virus hit. I will say this many of the older materials are way better than anything put out today. people making all these crazy looking blanks by dumping all kinds of colors in a pot does nothing for me and I think they look disgusting. but there are those that buy them so they continue to dump. I have used some of the Celoplast material which is the old Italian stuff by Shaeffer co. and it is beautiful stuff. Again better than any acrylics on the market. Just an opinion. You would never see me touch any blank for $1000. Not worth it. Unless made of gold then lets talk.
 

hokie

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people making all these crazy looking blanks by dumping all kinds of colors in a pot does nothing for me and I think they look disgusting.

Amen! I started a thread in a similar vein a while ago and you contributed to the conversation, so it's nice to see like-minds folks on the matter.

I am not 100% sure, because I haven't handled or turned any celluloid, but I thought the appeal of celluloid was the quality/depth of color/pattern and the fact that is was just one of the first plastics used in the manufacture of pens, so there's that "vintage" connection. Also, isn't true celluloid rare as hen's teeth due to the hazardous nature of the material? Supply and demand in action, I suppose.
 

magpens

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I'd have to see at least a picture of a celluloid pen before I could pass an opinion as to "visual" appeal .... preferably handle one.

But at the price you mentioned, I am, to say the least, "skeptical".
 

jttheclockman

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Amen! I started a thread in a similar vein a while ago and you contributed to the conversation, so it's nice to see like-minds folks on the matter.

I am not 100% sure, because I haven't handled or turned any celluloid, but I thought the appeal of celluloid was the quality/depth of color/pattern and the fact that is was just one of the first plastics used in the manufacture of pens, so there's that "vintage" connection. Also, isn't true celluloid rare as hen's teeth due to the hazardous nature of the material? Supply and demand in action, I suppose.

Well one thing I do know the methods and process used back then was much more health hazardous than what we do today. How things were made was well kept secrets because various big name manufacturers were competing with one another. Today the secrets of making acrylic blanks is so simple everyone is doing it. Boundaries are always being pushed and new concepts may emerge but nothing earth shattering.
 

stuckinohio

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I'll throw in my input here.

Celluloid, Cellulose acetate, Cellulose nitrate, cebloplast (don't know the differences) and some other vintage forms of blanks are VERY nice. They feel nice and they also look different. Most of them aren't as transparent when turned thin and they shine super easy.

There is also the factor of exclusivity. The major pen companies used/manufactured these materials and most have been discontinued. Many people want custom fountain pens made from these materials because you simply can't get them anymore unless you find a maker who has stashed the materials.

I personally think it's cool that I have material made in the earlier part of the 20th century that hasn't been made since and I can make a pen for someone from it. It's history!
 

jalbert

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Celluloid isn’t intrinsically “better.” Changing the common phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” to “value is in the eye of the beholder “ is appropriate for your question. Vintage celluloid has a history, and in some cases very strong brand recognition (omas being one) which is extremely popular with some types of pen collectors, who are willing to pay high prices for those factors. You have to also consider your market. Will pens with a $1000 markup for rare material be seen as “worth it” in the craft show circuit? Highly doubtful. Among groups of avid pen collectors however, it is not uncommon for well designed custom pens with rare materials to be snatched up at those prices.
 

magpens

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"Will pens with a $1000 markup for rare material be seen as “worth it” ..... ? "

So we are now talking $2000+, or, depending on the designer/maker, perhaps $3000, it would seem
 

jalbert

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"Will pens with a $1000 markup for rare material be seen as “worth it” ..... ? "

So we are now talking $2000+, or, depending on the designer/maker, perhaps $3000, it would seem
Well, I was using the original poster’s example of a $1000 rod of celluloid for that figure. Obviously material costs will vary widely, but yes, I have seen Custom pens in the $2000- 3000 range made from celluloid such as omas arco and Tibaldi Impero. Granted, these aren’t kit pens.
 

bmachin

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I bought several celluloid blanks from a small domestic manufacturer several years ago. They were fairly expensive, but well under $100 each. I believe the guys who made them gave it up as a less than worthwhile project although the blanks were fine. I don't remember the name of the operation, but maybe someone else (John Albert?) does.

I made a couple of pens and had no trouble turning them. Was quite pleased with the result and enjoyed the camphor smell. One does of course need to be very careful to not generate too much heat since you are dealing with what is essentially smokeless gunpowder. Touching a match to the shavings when you are done is pretty spectacular.

One quibble with the Montegrappa video. Nitrocellulose is not extracted from the cotton, rather the cotton is treated with nitric and sulfuric acids to add the nitrate groups to make it highly flammable. Probably more than you wanted to hear.

Bill
 

jalbert

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@bmachin you are referring to American Art Plastics. Their blanks ran about $40 a piece for a 10” blank. While it was actual cellulose nitrate, it was neither vintage or used by any major pen manufacturers, so it was lacking both the major criteria that most pen enthusiasts base the value of celluloid on. It was nice stuff though. They had some really nice ivory and tortoise celluloids.
 

EricRN

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I'll throw in my input here.

Celluloid, Cellulose acetate, Cellulose nitrate, cebloplast (don't know the differences) and some other vintage forms of blanks are VERY nice. They feel nice and they also look different. Most of them aren't as transparent when turned thin and they shine super easy.

There is also the factor of exclusivity. The major pen companies used/manufactured these materials and most have been discontinued. Many people want custom fountain pens made from these materials because you simply can't get them anymore unless you find a maker who has stashed the materials.

I personally think it's cool that I have material made in the earlier part of the 20th century that hasn't been made since and I can make a pen for someone from it. It's history!
I agree with you. I also like the older
@bmachin you are referring to American Art Plastics. Their blanks ran about $40 a piece for a 10” blank. While it was actual cellulose nitrate, it was neither vintage or used by any major pen manufacturers, so it was lacking both the major criteria that most pen enthusiasts base the value of celluloid on. It was nice stuff though. They had some really nice ivory and tortoise celluloids.
This guys shop is just down the street from my house. I traded emails with him awhile back. Nice guy. Said it just wasn’t worth his time to make the stuff and he’d rather spend his time restoring antique pens.
 

jalbert

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I agree with you. I also like the older

This guys shop is just down the street from my house. I traded emails with him awhile back. Nice guy. Said it just wasn’t worth his time to make the stuff and he’d rather spend his time restoring antique pens.
He also had a falling out with his business partner
 
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