top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>A few weeks ago, readers joined me in Paris for “un verre de vin blanc” at the posh Le Petit Zinc as The Pelikan Pen Guy and I discussed the details of collecting fountain pens. You’ll recall, The Pelikan Pen Guy left you dangling with a provocative comment, claiming he likes “to say that I write with Mont Blancs, but I collect better fountain pens.”
An Audience with The Pelikan Pen Guy: Part 2
Continuing this conversation, I want to examine what you said about a “pen being useable jewelry.” Do you actually use the pens in your collection, or perhaps only a few?
Well, the ones I truly consider to be collectible, I don’t use. They sit in a case – they are to be looked at – studied. Once in a while I will dip them, just to get a sense of feel. For example, the Pelikan pens made in the 50’s have just an incredible feel when you write with them. They use probably the best kind of Pelikan nibs and it’s like writing on silk. Nibs are malleable and a pen that you write with over a period of time will actually start to adapt to your style of handwriting. The metal will actually give where you have too much pressure and over time it will adapt to you. In fact, you can accelerate that process and some people who really enjoy writing will go to a service where they analyze your writing style and will actually cut the nib according to how you write.
Is there any problem with using an older fountain pen on a daily basis?
No problem whatsoever. In fact, you could argue that using the pen regularly actually allows the pen to write longer. For example, a lot of the pens from the 1940’s and 50’s are piston-drive pens. The piston, which today is almost exclusively made of plastic, would have been made of cork. And these old cork pens, if they are not used, the cork dries and they become unusable. You use them, the cork stays moist and the pen can live for generations. They don’t really have a life span – could be yesterday’s pen versus a pen from 50 years ago. Sometimes a nib will wear but you can replace them. Some of the older pens actually had bladder sacks so you would have to replace the bladders, which I can do on almost all of my pens.
No, I don’t think there is any limitation and, in fact, I know people who have written with a particular pen for all their adult life.
What would be the advantage of using a fountain pen over a “normal” pen. Why change?
Well, I don’t know that you should change – let’s start with that.
It’s a matter of preference more than anything else. However, someone who has learned to write with a fountain pen can write much more artistically. I think it’s just the joy one gets because the fountain pen tends to glide over the paper as opposed to people who write with Bic’s and tend to push down on the paper. It’s always interesting to see those people try to write with fountain pens and they will tear the paper because they are pushing hard like you have to do with a ball point pen as opposed to the gliding effect of writing with a fountain pen.
Do you have any specific stories about a pen? Some personal story, maybe linked to your business life, etc?
Years ago, when I was a banker, I had an opportunity where I was calling on an executive – a very senior executive – at an insurance company. And we just couldn’t make headway with this guy – he just wasn’t interested in doing business with us whatsoever. In the course of the discussion where he was answering questions for me and I could tell I just wasn’t connecting with him, he pulled out this big orange fountain pen which I recognized immediately as a Parker Duofold.
I said, ‘Is that your favorite pen? I love those old Parkers.”
And we spent the next 2 hours talking about fountain pens. He was a big collector of Parker pens and from that point forward, he and I hit it off from a relationship standpoint – it was THE ice breaker for us. I found that to be true more often than not. It’s always been a great conversation piece.
I can watch a movie and see if someone is using the right pen for the time period
The other thing it’s done for me is – I always love watching movies about the 2nd World War – seeing people write with a fountain pen that didn’t exist during the 2nd World War. You find the bloopers. Sherlock Holmes had the ability to smell various types of tobacco and know where they were from – I can watch a movie and see if someone is using the right pen for the time period.
So you’re the Sherlock Holmes of fountain pens! Now, you’ve said what your favorite pen is – clearly Pelikan – what is your least favorite?
It doesn’t get any more basic than that! I recognize that this next question is a bit loaded, given what we’ve discussed so far, but is there a particular region or country that you prefer?
Given your nationality, that surprises me.
The country that stands out in terms of it’s pen making quality and artistry today is Italy.
Are there stylistic differences between the countries? For example, if you’re buying an American one versus a European, are there noticeable stylistic differences?
I find that the Italians can make fountain pens come to life with their beauty. The Germans continue to make very good fountain pens while being much more focused on the usability of the pen. American pens – which is also a very large market that people tend to overlook – seem to have lost some of their luster from years ago. Parker, Sheaffer were huge names. But what’s amazing if you look at the history of fountain pens is how many huge names of fountain pens in the US no longer exist. The Esterbrooks of the world is an example. These were big name companies – Wahl is another that comes to mind – these are companies that sold pens throughout the world and in fact it’s amazing how many you find in brocantes here in Paris. Also because both Parker and the other one would have opened plants overseas. So there were Parker’s made in the UK, in China. We were at a brocante in Moscow, of all places, and I picked up a Parker 45 that was made in China.
You mentioned picking up pens at brocantes. Where are you getting them typically – fairs, brocantes, pen specialty stores?
There are 4 major places that I would put in order of importance.
1) The internet is probably now the biggest area – there are a number of websites that cater just to pen enthusiasts.
2) When I started off, it was pen fairs. So you would have events where all the pen manufacturers and enthusiasts would come together. The first time my wife and I went to one together was in Columbus, Ohio. Then one in Geneva, one in Munich… these pen fairs are held periodically and there is actually one coming up in Nuremberg, Germany in June that I’ll be attending.
3) The third one would be brocantes, flea markets and estate sales. It’s amazing especially at estate sales even though I don’t get to do them much anymore. But when I was living in the USA I would travel frequently to places like Iowa where they would have estate sales. You would go in and they would have just emptied all the pens in a drawer and put a price tag of $5 on them. And you would find these old Sheaffers, which were made in Iowa, dating back many, many decades and in good condition – someone had collected and left in their drawer for a number of years – just laying around. For the markets and brocantes – I avoid the people who know what they’ve got. Generally the pricing is pretty well established then. If they know what they’ve got, you’re going to pay market, so I typically avoid those. It’s a wonderful thing to walk in, see a cruddy-looking pen and someone is selling it for 5 euros because, well, it still works. And I realize that it’s the Senator 26 which was a limited edition and a very rare pen to find – you’ve just made my day. I have no idea what it’s worth but I know that I need it for my collection. It’s probably worth hundreds – doesn’t matter.
4) The fourth thing would be the pen stores. There are occasions where something will just hit me. My wife and I were visiting Rome and we went by this little pen shop and all of a sudden I saw this white Pelikan pen I’d never seen before. It was a Sovereign 400 series but it was in white. The only color I hadn’t seen before. We walked by and went to get some Gelato, but all I could think about was that pen. It was white gold. Next thing I know, I’m in the little shop buying this pen. No reason in the world to buy it except for the fact that I needed it for the collection.
That’s right – you would have obsessed over it during the rest of your time in Rome. Smart Buy. You’ve already mentioned eBay – but are there other web sites that you would recommend?
Truthfully, eBay has become the “can’t beat” site for fountain pens.
Are there any magazines that you would recommend?
There are a number of magazines out there. Pen World is the one that I recommend. The magazine itself is a work of art. I keep it for no other reason than to read the articles 2 or 3 times but it’s the beauty of the artwork, of the presentation of the pens. Gorgeous. And, of course, when I get older I do hope to re-catalog my collection and take those images and use for myself.
If someone is interested in starting a collection, how would you recommend they begin the journey?
That’s a question that every individual has to answer for themselves. I also collect stamps. You collect stamps from a particular country. You collect stamps with a particular motif. I know some people who only collect stamps with dinosaurs on them. Same with fountain pens. Do you collect those that are limited editions, do you collect sets, or do you do what I have increasingly fallen into where whatever happens to catch my eye. If it’s pretty and artistic, then I’ll want to purchase one.
That concludes my interview, but I do have one last question: you mentioned you’ll be going to a pen show this summer – when is it and where? We might just have to meet up again…
Certainly, I would love to see you again Ms. Antiques Diva!
You’ll find me on Saturday, June 7th (from 10am to 6pm) at Michael Gutberlet’s 1st Nuremberg Pen Collector’s Exchange. The Pen Fair is held in in the Ofenwerk – Center for Mobile Classic Cars. There will be 60 – 70 vendors and entrance is only 1Euro.
The Antiques Diva™ and The Pelikan Pen Guy
Click here for Part 1 of this interview.