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The Garant Alkor

At First Glance

Here's a good-looking fountain pen. The name is Garant Alkor.

Garant was a pen manufacturer in the former East Germany (DDR) in the 1950s. Some of their pens were identified as late as the 1960s. Beyond that, sadly, very few pen factories survived globally, and among those who did, there are even fewer who still manufacture fountain pens.

This "Alkor" is considered the top-of-the-line model. There are the Nilor and Silor models (and maybe others that I'm not aware of) which are smaller. 

It's quite a big vintage pen, clocking at 5-3/8 inches (or 136 mm) capped. The "girth" (barrel diameter) is about 13 mm, and the cap diameter is 14.6 mm at the widest part. Far from being small and skinny.

Here it is with fellow German piston fillers from around the same era, the Montblanc 254 and the Pelikan 400:

As you can see, it is quite big compared to the Pelikan, and the Montblanc.

The material is plastic, but I can't say that it feels like celluloid, it has more of a matte feel. Regardless the material, the pen has enough weight to make it substantial but not heavy, and the balance in my hand is just superb.

How about the nib? Glad you asked. The nib is original, marked Garant Iridium:

It writes somewhere between Fine and Medium depending on how absorbent your paper is. The fit between the nib and the feed is excellent as typical of these old German pens, and it translates into consistent ink flow and a fun writing experience.

Like any other German pens made in that era, this is a piston filler. I, as some of you know, not only love German piston-fillers as writers (or sketchers), but I'm fascinated by these from the restoration aspect. So far, I have seen quite a few variations of piston-filling mechanism designs. Most of them are good designs and obviously built well enough to survive the decades.

This pen is no exception. It too, has an interesting piston mechanism design. Let's check it out.

Getting into the Pen

First of all, I need to get into the piston seal to see why it wasn't working. Ink just won't get into the chamber. If we're lucky, the seal just needs some silicon grease, if not then we need to replace the seal. Either way, I need to disassemble the piston mechanism.

When you open the blind cap of a German piston filler, the variety of designs may already present itself. That is, if the pen happens to have removable one, some, like for example modern Montblanc or Pelikan, don't.

On this pen, upon opening the blind cap, you see that it is threaded into the barrel. Other more commonly found designs have a part that extrude from the back of the barrel, where the blind cap screw unto and thus covering it.

This is when I point my flashlight into the opening:

What are we looking at? It looks like a metal ring that is threaded to secure the piston dial. At the 5 o'clock position, shine by the light is actually a dimple, a notch. There is another one 180 degrees from it on the other side of the plastic dial.

When I saw this, I intuitively knew that if I can find or fashion a tool that fits into the two notches and hold its position, I can then rotate the tool along with the metal ring, and the whole piston assembly will come out of the barrel, so I can do what I need to do to service the seal.

And, I wasn't mistaken. Using my trusty tweezer, which has been used in this fashion many times before, I was able to rotate the metal ring after a few tries. 

Here you can see that part of the metal ring started to show coming out of the barrel:

Unscrewing the metal ring out of the barrel, the dial is then attached to an orange cylinder that acts as a stopper. The plastic helical (actually more like "sawtooth" than a true helix) part that moves the seal up and down the barrel fits into the orange stopper one-way only.

When it comes to remembering how parts work together, I rely on a diagram which I usually do for certain restorations, which you can see at the bottom of this write up.

Below, I took a photo of the pen when the piston filler parts were disassembled. Don't mind the flyby by the mini USS Enterprise.

The genius of this particular design is that when the metal ring is in place, it acts as both a cover and it also guards the piston dial from being able to unscrew too far, thus detaching itself from the helical part.

In this era, cork has been replaced with silicone, which is what you see here performing the duty of the seal. 

So, What d'ya Fix, Doc?

As it turns out, we are lucky this time! There is nothing wrong with the seal. Unlike cork or rubber discs (found in other filling mechanisms), this silicone seal does not harden. All it needed was a bit of silicone grease to create the vacuum necessary to suck ink into the barrel and keep it there.

It is not that apparent from this photo, but the pen has a nice striped ink window, quite generous in size as well, it is a breeze to see the ink level.

Now It Writes

At this time, it has been 2 days since I reassemble the pen and fill it up with Anderillium Kingfisher Green. That first photo up there, with the sketch, is the result. I started to get familiar with the nib, see, vintage nibs have a certain character that makes them fun to use. It helps that the ink flow on this pen is just superb. I never experience hesitation and the ink produces lines that are not dry nor wet. Just perfect.

And The Diagram

And finally, here is a diagram that I typically do whenever I encounter an interesting pen mechanism. The purpose of this diagram is to remind me of what I did, in case I encounter another pen with similar design OR if I need a clue on how to service a pen that I've never worked on before. 

Thanks to user @lesserweevils from the r/fountainpens subreddit who mentioned the "sawtooth" rod, which made me revisit the photo of the parts above. I won't re-photograph this diagram, but I will make a note on the physical copy that the rod is not a true "helix" such as the one found on Soennecken  5xx piston fillers. Although functionally they are identical.

And of course, because it's now publicly accessible, I hope it can help anyone who encounter this marvelous pen and would like to get it running.

That's all on this Garant Alkor. To recap, it is certainly a substantial pen with an understated design that does not attract attention to itself. To balance that, is the superb handling and exceptional writing (sketching in my case) experience. 

I can see this pen in my rotation often. Yes, I like it that much.


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