I hate August. I was never crazy about it in the Bay Area, but my loathing has reached new depths since moving to Louisiana. Part of that is because it’s the start of hurricane season, something my family has not had good luck with in recent years: my grandparents lost their house in Rita, a couple weeks after Katrina; my parents were able to fix theirs, only to have it wrecked in Ike a few years later.
But mostly it’s just the weather. Summer (which lasts roughly half the year in south Louisiana) is never pleasant, and no two ways around it, but there’s something particularly nasty about August. It goes over 90 for most of the month, and it’s so humid that my sunglasses steam up whenever I leave an air-conditioned interior. Or maybe it’s been like that for weeks, and August is just when my tolerance starts to wear thin.
I was able to keep photographing outside until the middle of July–the last shoot I did was the Holy Rosary Institute in Lafayette the weekend before I went to California. But the lovely weather in Laguna Beach must have eroded whatever resistance I had built up, because I pretty much went into hibernation when I got home. Although next weekend is the Lomographers of Acadiana meetup; we’re doing the capitol building in Baton Rouge. (I really wanted to do the Pharmacy Museum in New Orleans, but the last Saturday of August overlaps with Labor Day weekend, which is when Southern Decadence happens. It’s like Gay Mardi Gras. I’m not opposed to that or anything, I just don’t want to deal with the crowds. I avoid the French Quarter during actual Mardi Gras, too.)
So since I haven’t been able to obsess over photography, I’ve briefly transferred my attentions. For a few weekends I was scouring all the antique stores in Lafayette and Breaux Bridge, looking for vintage fountain pens. Most of what I came across were Wearevers, a cheap but respectable brand that churned out millions of pens in the decades surrounding WWII. It was the Kodak Brownie of fountain pens.
But I came across a real treasure at Lagniappe, my favorite store in Breaux Bridge, an Eversharp Doric in pristine cosmetic condition–it’s pre-WWII and made of celluloid, which eventually crystallizes and starts cracking, but none of that is evident in my pen.
I don’t think the seller knew what they had, because they were charging about 1/3 of what they could have asked. That happens a surprising amount of time with antiques dealers, which just seems lazy to me. I mean I know they can’t know everything about everything (to use the American Pickers’ phrase), but wouldn’t you spend 5 minutes Googling the thing? Sometimes this leads them to charge way too much–I once saw a Tom’s Peanuts jar in the same store that had an $800 price tag, WTF–but more often it works to my advantage.
Anyway, I bought it and cleaned all the dried ink out of it. The vacuum fill won’t draw ink, but I was expecting that; rubber seals eventually dry up but it’s not a big deal to replace them. I have no experience working with vacuum fill pens and I’m sure not going to practice on this one, so I cruised some shops on Etsy that refurbish fountain pens, contacted a couple of the owners with good feedback, and asked if they took commissions. One guy in South Dakota who specializes in Eversharps quoted me $40, which is about what I expected to pay. Added to what I paid for the pen, it still comes to well under half of what I’ve seen pens in worse condition than mine go for online. I’ve seen pens in my condition sell for $300.
And of course I wound up buying a pen from him as well, an Eversharp Skyline (which I believe is the model that immediately followed the Doric).
Last weekend I decided to check out the secondhand bookstores in Lafayette, which I have shockingly neglected to do before this. Most of them were crappy and like 80% of their inventory was trashy romance novels, but there’s one on West Congress that was really cool. They have a history and a science section, and they sell art books and cookbooks, and had a bunch of funky old books on needlepoint and embroidery from the 1970s.
I got one of those “Images of America” books about New Orleans cemeteries, and an old edition of Clarence John Laughlin’s Ghosts Along the Mississippi. That’s kind of essential reading for any photographer working in south Louisiana, and new copies go for about $70, so I was happy to find it used. All the revised editions have the same 100 B&W plates; what do I care who wrote the introduction? I need a copy of Richard Sexton’s Vestiges of Grandeur, but that’s probably too new (and too pretty) to wind up in a secondhand bookstore. Amazon has it for $30, and I wouldn’t have to pay shipping with my Prime membership. That’s not a bad price for a large coffee table book that contains dozens of color photographs.
Basically I’m doing research with these books, for when it finally cools down enough to go back out with a camera. I’ve already found a couple of places in the Laughlin book and I’m not even finished looking at it. Although I always Google first, because a lot of those houses have been restored since he photographed them (boring!), and a few of them have been demolished or burned down or taken by the river.