An Audience with The Pelikan Pen Guy: Part 1
While your name might be explanation enough, why don’t you begin by telling The Antiques Diva’s readers what you collect?
I collect a multitude of things. Primarily, I started off with just fountain pens. Specific lines of pens – makes – and I evolved into ink wells, dip pens and then became interested in tors.about.com/library/weekly/aa100197.htm” target=”_blank”>the history of writing instruments. I also have a collection of novelty pens with corporate logos, stuff like that.
How long have you been collecting and what was it that got you started in the first place?
It goes back to 1963. All German grade school students learn to write with a fountain pen. So I got my first Pelikano – a big brand of Pelikan pens made for school children – and the teacher then taught us how to write correctly with a fountain pen. (Side note – the Pen Guy’s daughter, The Little Swiss Miss also does this in the Swiss school system).
So you learned to use a fountain pen as a child and then developed an interest in them?
There is a certain amount of skill that goes into writing with one – how you hold it, etc. I have an American friend who wanted to buy a fountain pen. He went into a German department store, went up to the counter and the lady handed him a fountain pen. As he began to write, she slapped him! He wasn’t holding the pen correctly and could potentially damage the nib. She was assuming that in the USA, like in Germany, everybody correctly knew how to write with a fountain pen. If you don’t know how, it can be a little difficult.
Honestly, I’m horrible at writing with a fountain pen! I tried and I know I’m probably ruining nibs – it’s safe to assume you shouldn’t rip the paper when you are trying to write, right?! By the way, how many pens are in your collection?
If you added all the pens, including ones with company logos, it is probably upwards of 1,000. If you are counting just the pens that I really consider to be collectible fountain pens, I’m thinking it’s about 400. I’ve actually stopped counting. Years ago, when I was doing this, I would actually inventory everything – where I bought them, what I paid for them, what their names were – they all do have names, but I just don’t have the time for it anymore.
Now most of what I buy is at brocantes and I bring them home, put them on a shelf and they just sit there. It’s a huge problem because when you first start out, you put together a display case, etc. Well, over the years, that has grown tremendously. I’ve got two cherry wood multi-drawered boxes and each has 64 pens. I’ve added a couple smaller wooden boxes and my wife, who is an expert at cartonage, made me a box which holds 24 pens. At
some point I got lazy and purchased, over the internet, what looks like 3-ring binders but they are actually nylon cases with the rings and plastics inside, specifically made for pens. I’ve got two or three of them I guess.
Is there a pen website that you frequent to purchase these supplies?
For supplies and stuff, the best place to go is probably eBay. If you search for fountain pens and supplies it’s incredible how much you’ll find.
In your 400 pens that you consider collectible, what is your preference?
There are probably 400 different types of Pelikan pens and my goal was to have one of each type. It’s probably not an achievable goal because they come out with 5 to 10 different models each year and I just don’t collect that fast. I have the very 1st type of Pelikan pen ever made. From the late 1920’s. The reason I know it’s one of the 1st is because the 1st series of Pelikan pens were made with Bakelite. It’s very hard, but it also fractures quite easily so the pens would get leaks very easily – not a good thing for a pen – so they only produced them for one year. After that, they switched to true celluloid as is used today.
The other thing you find out is that – just like with stamp collectors – if there is a defect or material changes, they become another collectors item. Pelikan pens were made originally by a German company and they sold licenses to make Pelikans in different parts of the world. So, for example, you have Dutch Pelikan pens which were a limited series made right after the 2nd World War. And they didn’t follow the design exactly the same so you could have a Pelikan 120 pen and you could tell whether your pen was a Dutch Pelikan pen or a German Pelikan pen or from some other country. Shape of the cap, where the logo was – all the different variations. Of the 400 in my collection that I consider collectibles, probably 200 are Pelikans.
Clearly you have a preference for Pelikan. Are there other makers that you like?
Without a doubt. And, you know, a large part of collecting is what I was just mentioning – you collect a certain make like Pelikan – but at the same time, there are pens that you look at and just fall in love with. Because of the beauty. Pens are useable jewelry– that’s a definition. For example, there is a series of pens that Omas has put out. Omas is an Italian maker – there are quite a few Italian makers that I like – Omas would be one, Aurora would be another and Visconti would be a third one. They just make incredibly beautiful pens. Visconti, years ago, put out a pen called the Titanic – a limited edition pen.. It was a huge pen – was actually uncomfortable writing with it. But it’s a beautifully designed pen and it has a piece of porcelain actually from the titanic – it’s a true collectors item. There are other companies – smaller – that many people might not be aware of. Ancora is another Italian pen company and they have a series made out of sea shells, actually. They have an exclusive resin in order to reproduce the richness of pearls of the south seas.
Sometimes you get lucky – for example, a company will make a limited edition series – only make 400 pens – and getting one of those 400 in and of itself is pretty cool but what’s even cooler is if you get, for example, #41 and #42 in that series. And you’ll see that there are people who try to collect a series – try and get as many in a series as they can.
Tell me about the price range of pens.
On average, a good quality fountain pen is going to run you about $350. That’s a good everyday fountain pen. You can certainly find good pens that are considerably cheaper. Typically the ones I collect I don’t write with everyday. There is a company called Rotring and another called Lamy, which are both German companies. They both make outstanding fountain pens that are, on average, considerably cheaper – more in the $100 range. And yet the quality and penmanship is outstanding, particularly Rotring. It is one that I highly recommend to people because of it’s solid brass barrels, even though they are steel nibs, they are very well-made steel nibs, flexible. There is a premium for gold nibs, but the manufacturing has gotten s
o good for steel it actually creates a very nice writing pen with a steel nib.
What are a few things in your collection?
There’s a series of Pelikan pens. I love Pelikan. There’s some beautiful Omas pens, also the Aurora Optima, a blue one, that my wife bought me for Christmas. If you really want to write comfortably with a fountain pen, Namiki (a Japanese designer) makes a retractable nib. It’s push button – you push the button and the nib comes out – so you can wear it in your pocket. The nib is fully enclosed so it can not leak. The Japanese are known for the quality / manufacturing of their nibs. They’re also known for this particular way of making fountain pens. Most fountain pens in the West are made with celluloids, and different colors or swirls . In Japan, they have a process called Maki and they use it for boxes and other things and Namiki uses it for fountain pens. It involves lacquers. They put layer after layer after layer of lacquers and intricate designs – it’s a piece of art.
Whenever someone talk about pens, I always think Mont Blanc.
Mont Blanc probably leads the industry in terms of taking the fountain pen and making it a piece of jewelry. And they have a caché – certainly they command much higher prices as a result of that caché. In terms of the quality of the pen, however, I like to say that I write with Mont Blancs, but I collect better fountain pens.
With a provocative quote such as this one, perhaps its best to end here today. Readers come back in a few days for the conclusion of “An Audience with The Pelikan Pen Guy” as we discuss the differences between pens from different countries and receive advice on starting a pen collection.
Until next time,
The Antiques Diva™
Click here for Part 2 of this interview.
PS. Should you, or someone you love, have a Mantiques Collection worthy of discussing on The Antiques Diva™, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.