Review: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book presents evidence that success in education (and in one’s life) is determined in large part by non-cognitive skills — grit, determination, persistence etc — rather than raw academic ability or IQ. It also describes the experiences of educators working against great odds to inculcate in disadvantaged kids habits and skills to improve their educational outcomes, so that they can rise above their circumstances. Inspiring stuff.

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Swan Safety Pen eyedropper, 1948-1952

Swan Safety Pen

The cap on this one caught my eye with its guilloche-like chasing.


Fortunately it polished up very nicely, and straightening the clip was easy. The pen was an eyedropper and a cinch to clean. Sharp imprint, barrel mostly clean. Its Swan #1 14C nib is a fairly stiff medium stub.


This pen was made 1948-1952 according to “The Chronicle of the Fountain Pen” by Martins, Leite and Gagean. (Lambrou’s “Fountain Pens of the World” mentions that 1948 saw Mabie Todd offer pens with #1 nibs for sale, though it’s unclear whether the nibs first appeared in 1948.) By this period Mabie Todd’s fortunes were well in decline and one is tempted to link that with the pen. Overall it feels a bit too light and the cap, though brilliant, is thin-walled. The tines are balanced but the nib slit is just slightly off the centre of the breather hole. The feed is straight but the sides leading up to the tip are not evenly ground. The knurling at the end of the barrel is cosmetic and probably meant to make the pen look like a Leverless model. There was no number or model name given to this pen, though it was probably made for export and shared many components with other pens — possibly including the 3160.

Capped length – 5 inches / 12.7 cm
Uncapped length – 4.5 inches / 11.4 cm

Thanks to Deb Gibson ( and “Hugh” on FPB for the info. Brian Anderson has the same model and he shared pics of it on Pentrace –

Majestic fountain pen, 1930s?

Majestic pen

A short pen – about 4.2 inches / 10.7cm long capped – but the celluloid is unique and attractive: pearlescent browns, greys and translucent parts ambered with the years. For fun, here’s a shot of the barrel and cap lit up from inside:


Much of the gold wash on the furniture had worn off over the decades, typical of third-tier pens.

This pen took some time to clean up. The nib had glossy black marks around the edges and the slit, and there was some kind of hard shiny crud at the tip of the feed and in the fins. Maybe someone had tried using India ink in this pen?

The marks on the nib wouldn’t come off with water, and because they looked like shellac I tried rubbing alcohol on Q-tips. It worked but the gold wash came off too. I trimmed and scraped most of the crud and rough bit off the feed. Cleared the channels with a safety razor and a craft knife.

I salvaged a J-bar from an equally small Ambassador with a split barrel end, then resacced the Majestic with a silicone sac to prevent the celluloid ambering further. The pen had come to me with a plastic sac (from a Hero?) installed using rubber cement, and a plastic strip in lieu of a J-bar. To finish off I polished the barrel and cap a little.

The steel nib – a Fine – writes nicely with a little tooth. Good amount of gold wash and tipping left and not flimsy at all.

Based on what I found online, “Majestic” was a brand of pens from the Majestic Pen Company (originally J. Harris & Co), which also made “Harris” and “Ambassador” pens. Regardless of brand, models resembled each other very closely and were of the same third-tier quality.

More links:
– J Harris pens –

Parker Vest Duofold, Pearl and Black, 1932

Parker Vest Duofold

Parker introduced these little Duofolds in 1930. The pen was meant to hang from a chain – note the little ring on top of the cap – and stored in a vest pocket – hence the tiny size.

The cap looks much less discolored than the barrel. It’s common to find discoloration in this “pearl and black” celluloid, used by Parker in other Duofold models as well. The discoloration was likely caused by exposure to gases released from the rubber sac inside as it aged.

Vest Duofold disassembled

Didn’t realise how cute this little pen was until I disassembled it for a resac. Took the opportunity to clean the inside of the barrel as well, picking off remnants of some long-gone sac and swabbing out old ink with Q-tips. I installed a silicone sac. Decades too late, but at least the sac won’t worsen the discoloration.


This pen dates from late 1932, when the three-ring cap band was introduced in vest Duofolds. It was made in Canada and sports an unusual nib — an springy 18K broad stub! This pen couldn’t have held much ink but it’s fun to write with. Hope the new owner’s enjoying it!

Remington lever filler, modified

Sometimes you see third-tier pens with intriguing plastics, like this Remington. Diamonds of metallic foil under a layer of clear plastic, slightly iridescent against a black background. Someone commented to me that it looked like urushi.

When I received the pen I discovered that nib, feed and section all had problems. The feed had a large crack, the tips of the nib tines were awry, and the section had distended.

I’d like to say that I fixed all of these, but I thought it would be more interesting and worthwhile to modify an Esterbrook section to fit the barrel 🙂

So there you are – an attractive Remington that can take any Esterbrook Renew-Point nib.

Length (capped): 13 cm
Length (uncapped): 11.6 cm (with a 9314-M nib)
Girth: 1.25 cm

Waterman 56, Ripple red hard rubber

Waterman 56 in Ripple red hard rubber. The 56 was the second-largest of Waterman’s lever-fillers produced in the late-1920s (the largest was the 58), and the Ripple ebonite was unique to the company.

This pen is really nice for regular writing: taller and fatter than the 52/54, with a large #6 nib that’s also the softest, flexiest I’ve ever had the good fortune to own – though I hesitate to call it a “full” flex nib.

Length (capped): 14 cm
Length (uncapped): 13.7 cm
Barrel girth: 1.3 cm

Parker Vacumatic Maxima, 1939, Canada-made

Recently got this Parker Vacumatic Maxima back from Ron Zorn, who did an awesome barrel repair! Here’s the pen now.

The pen before:

The repair involved Ron boring the barrel parts a bit to accept a celluloid sleeve, then solvent welding the parts to help to line up the halves better. He also filled the gap with liquid celluloid and let it cure for a number of weeks so that the repair would be as hard as the rest of the pen. Altogether the repair took at least a month.

Now this 1939 Canadian Vac writes again 🙂 Nice nib with some flex. For some reason the nibs on Canada-made Vacs have some flex, in contrast to US versions and their generally rigid nibs.

Length (capped): 13.5 cm
Length (uncapped): 12.3 cm
Girth: 1.4 cm at its widest

Sheaffer PFM III, black, 1959-1968

Sheaffer’s PFM (“Pen for Men”) remains instantly recognisable decades after its launch in 1959, and there’s nothing much I can add to the comprehensive writeups by Jim Mamoulides ( and Richard Binder. It’s a pity that Sheaffer hasn’t been able to come up with anything as aesthetically pleasing and bold since.

I find the PFM comfortable to hold, as it’s a fat and deceptively light pen. The PFM’s inlaid nib is stiff, but more responsive and pleasant than that bland nail on the Legacy, the current incarnation of the PFM. The Broad nib on the PFM (featured left) is especially nice, and goes well with Sailor Ultramarine ink.

Montblanc 146, green-striated, 1949-60


Got my grail pen recently — a Montblanc 146 green-striated! (produced 1949-1960).  

Cosmetically the pen isn’t excellent. The green has faded a bit and the celluloid has ambered much.

But it was priced appropriately and, having passed through Tom Westerich’s hands before reaching me, works and writes properly. All the parts are accurate for the pen, and it’s a pleasure to write with 🙂


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