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Collecting Finely Crafted Fountain Pens

Decked Out in Diamonds or Steeped in History, a New Line of Fountain Pens Are Leaving a Distinct Mark
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Gina Gershon, Sep/Oct 98

The seduction begins with a reminder of Adam and Eve: a tantalizing snake. A pen with eyes of lustrous emeralds, and two gold reptiles entwined on its sleek, jet-black body. Highly coveted since the early 1900s, this repoussé treasure has had the same mystique as Humphrey Bogart's fabled Maltese Falcon. In fact, one of these Parker "Snake" fountain pens from the first decade of the century recently ignited a testosterone war among collectors at a London auction and snared a record $22,500.

That princely sum not only triggered a bullish market in such rare collectibles as a Montblanc "Lorenzo de Medici" and a 1904 Parker "Giraffe," which are appreciating 15 percent a year, but it also boosted interest in contemporary limited editions--handmade designs that actor-comedian and avid pen collector Bill Cosby calls "the best way to revolt against the

anonymity of cyberspace. Writing by hand is an art form. It's an excitement, a personalized expression which lets you see your mind's blood unfold on paper."

Such enthusiasts view fountain pens as luxurious, yet functional, accessories to complement their Rolexes, Savile Row suits and Bally wing tips. Not wanting to feel "weighted down like a plumber," Cosby prefers simplicity, a smooth-writing pen without "a Tiffany array of diamonds and rubies." Yet other aficionados want to make a statement, and that hankering for a limited edition that looks like a Fabergé egg or one of Elizabeth Taylor's wedding rings is fueling the dreams of many artisans. Now looking to write their own history, these craftsmen are feverishly striving to design a gold-, diamond- or jeweled-studded masterpiece that will rekindle the magic of the 1906 "Snake," one of the world's most-perfect writing instruments.

"His Majesty's Collection, pens honoring rulers like Cheops, Napoleon and Julius Caesar, will be my greatest statement yet, a singular $8 million project with gold, sapphire and diamond pieces valued at $500,000 each," promises one of these zealots, Gianluca Malaguti, the managing director of the family-run OMAS company.

"Unlike a lot of companies which randomly issue limited editions," adds Malaguti, "an OMAS fountain pen is always linked to a big concept like my 'Triratna' [a 120-gram gold homage to Buddhism] and the 'Almirante' [a $35,000 tribute to Christopher Columbus]. While we've been approached to do all sorts of commercial ventures, such as pens honoring [Princess] Diana and [Gianni] Versace, we won't get involved. An OMAS limited edition has to have lasting meaning, a real historical reference point. Otherwise it's not a challenge."

The Marco Polo of the pen world, relentlessly hopscotching around the globe to discover a grand theme or event to inspire his commemorative creations, the 33-year-old Malaguti has made his Bologna, Italy-based firm synonymous with Rolls-Royce workman-ship by producing only handcrafted, museum-quality pens.

Such brands as Namiki, Michel Perchin and Montblanc are also styling highly prized gems, so it's becoming increasingly difficult to choose between collectibles without expert guidance.

Yet whether it's a dragon-emblazoned "Return to the Motherland," symbolizing Hong Kong's reunification with China, or the "Jerusalem 3000" with repoussé scenes from the Holy City, Malaguti has distinguished OMAS by creating elegant classics that epitomize the clarity of communication.

"Durable, wonderfully rich in color and handmade the old-fashioned way, an OMAS fountain pen is in a league by itself," raves New York City pen dealer Geoffrey Berliner. "Committed to making smooth-writing instruments from only the best materials, this company has such integrity, it's a throwback to the Golden Age of pen manufacturing," which lasted from the turn of the century until the mid-1930s.

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