A couple of weeks ago I went to a pen show – a new hobby for me, collecting fountain pens. When I was younger I smoked a pipe. It was not even that I enjoyed the act of smoking that much. Truth be known it often gave me a stomach ache! It was the feel of the pipe. How smooth or rough it was, the way my fingers could wrap around the wood. The growing patina on the pipe as it was burned from the inside and burnished by skin oils from the outside. It was a most sensuous experience and searching out the pipes themselves I found quite exciting. Though I had to give up smoking, I will still sometimes pick up an old favorite pipe in my mouth and caress it for a while before putting it down again.
Fountain pens, while they don’t quite give the same satisfaction, they do have many tactile qualities. This is not a totally new pursuit for me. I remember buying a few fountain pens as a teenager and then again in my 40’s and 50’s. Eventually, I always tired as there was no internet and fewer and fewer places to go in New York for pens and ink. Of course, like a pipe, pens have their dirty aspects such as ink on the hand, the counter, the shirt! It was just too much trouble.
Then, here in Santa Fe, a friend of mine started talking to me about different fountain pens and telling me about the endless varieties. No two pens are the same and the varieties of possibilities increase exponentially from there. Do I buy a wide, medium, thin or calligraphic nib for my pen. Do I want steel or gold. Do I want to use an ink cartridge or a converter to get a certain ink color out of a bottle. Do I want a quick drying ink so that I can put a fresh note in my pocket right away. If that isn’t complicated enough I find that fountain pens write differently on different papers and not every pen works well with every paper!
I did find some of my old pens but unfortunately not the first ones I had bought. Can I still blame that on my mother and the things she threw out like the newspaper from the day after Lincoln was shot, which I had found in an abandoned house in Vermont when I was at camp? Still I was not totally sold until I went into the law office of our State Assemblyman and saw on his table a display case with a number of pens in it and started to speak with him to find out how he used his pens for different kinds of editing, briefs etc.
I learned as well that we have our very own pen shop in town. Neil Frank started Santa Fe Pens 18 years ago after having done his first pen show to see if anyone was interested. Three hundred people showed, so he rented a small space in a mini mall called Sanbusco Market and was able to start out in the black. From there he moved to a larger space in the same mall where he is still located today. A large Borders bookstore opened next door to Neil but it met its demise a few years ago while Santa Fe Pens is still going strong. Pens, like the printing press, are here for the long haul. Of course, the store is not only devoted to the fountain pen but you can also find roller balls and other types of writing implements.
Neil also has his own hobby. He is a member of the Sports Car Club of America (S.C.C.A.) and drives two different racing cars. This year he brought his 1990 Masda Miata F production with him into the pen show!
Of course, if you go to a pen show you want to buy something. This show is not large, but there were 6 representatives representing 23 different companies. I have purchased several pens from the Lamy pen company in Germany so I spoke to their representative. He also happened to represent 2 other companies that I was interested in. The same representative had brought a pen to town some months ago that I was sorry that I had not bought at the time, and I was ready to purchase it at the show. Naturally it had been sold meanwhile. I did, however, buy another pen from the same German company, Diplomat, but I have to wait for the delivery of one that is not a sample.
Looking for immediate gratification I went and looked at
another pen that I had actually seen the week before in the shop. Neal had said wait till the show when there
will be a 20% discount. This pen was still available when I
went back, so I was in luck.
Pen companies will come out from time to time with a “Limited Edition” pen, meaning that they only produce a finite number and the pen is different in some manner from what they usually do.
A Japanese company, Pilot, originally called Namiki after it’s founder, produces what is known as a vanishing point. Fountain pens usually involve taking off a cap either by unscrewing or simply pulling on it in order to write. This is a fountain pen that works like a ball-point that you just click to open and shut. I own one from the 1990’s, which I have always liked. For the 50th anniversary of the Vanishing Point the Limited Edition was produced in a wood version. There were only 900 pens made and only 300 of those came to the United States.
and I now own #811.
Does one keep such a pen in its original box never to use hoping it will
increase in value? As I tell my clients
don’t buy art as an investment. That is also not why I like fountain pens. I like to write with them and this one writes
beautifully. Here you can see the
beginning of my first draft.
Once you have gotten used to the word processor going back to hand writing is a challenge but it is also a pleasure to do for a change. Maybe, I will go to the pen show in Los Angeles in the fall which is, of course, much larger… an addict is born!