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.
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.