Fountain Pens are Coming Back in Vogue
From the Print Edition:
Winston Churchill, Autumn 93
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The Parker Pen Company began in 1888 in Wisconsin, where it is still headquartered. Last May, the company was purchased by the Gillette Company, which already owned Waterman as well as Papermate, making it one of the largest pen makers in the world. This very American Parker makes only one-quarter of its sales in the United States; the remainder of the company's sales are in Europe and the Far East. Parker has introduced one of the most evocative replicas of its early pens; the big orange model with black accents. It is called the Centennial, marking Parker's 100th anniversary.
Parkers, with their distinctive arrow clips, are often the pen of choice when it comes to signing important documents. Although every company can cite an historic occasion when its pens are used, a Parker has been in the hands of American presidents when some of the most important documents of the nation have been signed. Often, the pens lasted longer than the office-holders. In 1991 Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev joined President George Bush in signing the START treaty with a Parker 75. But it was Russian President Boris Yeltsin who sat down with President Bush to sign the arms reduction accord last year with the same pen. On the other hand, the resignation of Gorbachev was inked with a Montblanc.
General Douglas MacArthur didn't have to borrow a pen when he signed the document ending the Second World War in the Pacific. He used his own 20-year-old Parker Duofold.
Looking toward a new era, Parker presented President Bill Clinton with several marbled green Duofold roller-ball pens. The green was chosen to symbolize his concern for the environment. The roller-ball is a highly successful hybrid, a pen with a ball point that uses a supply of liquid ink in a cartridge, and writes more like a fountain pen. A roller-ball version is now made in most new styles and comes from most of the major firms including Montblanc, Waterman, Omas and Recife.
Recife, a French line, reaches back into the past and uses hard rubber for the body of its pens. The material is a mix of latex and sulfur, hardened and nonporous, last used around 1930. According to Recife president, Stephan Arnal, who brings a missionary-like zeal to selling his product, "We are the only one in the world to make hard rubber. You have to make it by hand." In addition, Recife has just introduced a transparent pen whose entire body becomes the ink container. This Plexiglas pen is handmade and must be filled with a dropper. It comes packaged in an aluminum cigar tube.
Waterman is researching its own history for new pens. Recently it reintroduced the Patrician, a fountain pen first made in 1929. The oversized pen reflects a current preference for large pens, this one with an oversized 18k gold nib. Like all Watermans, it features the distinctive Waterman clip. The flat top of Waterman pens gives them a modern look even when the design is more than 60 years old.
Shaeffer, which began making pens in 1912, has reintroduced a silver overlay pen called Nostalgia, based on its own design of the 1920s. The elegant wraparound gold nib is a distinctive feature of Shaeffer fountain pens, along with the rather less elegant white dot at the top of the clip.
Many of today's fountain pen buyers turn almost immediately into fountain pen collectors. Apart from the pleasure of owning and using one fine fountain pen, the impetus for pen collecting, as with other areas of men's accessories, probably came from Italy, where style is an innate part of contemporary life. But ultimately, the nostalgic search for a writing instrument can be satisfied quite easily with the real thing--old-fashioned fountain pens.
Fingerman, of the Visconti pen company, is an avid collector. He says the prize of his collection is a Parker Aztec pen embellished with Indian chief heads and other Indian symbols. He estimates that the pen, made circa 1905 to 1910, is worth more than $40,000. "You could find one in a dresser drawer today," he says. "A half Aztec with filigree was found at a Connecticut church sale for $55. It was turned around immediately for about $15,000 to $20,000."
He also made an offer to buy what may be the most desirable collectible pen in the world, a Waterman snake pen. Two snakes are coiled around the barrel while another graces the cap. The pen is owned by St. Petersburg, Florida, dealer Jeff Hess, known in many areas of vintage collectibles. Hess says, "I've had some wonderful pieces of silver, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. But how often do you get the best in a collecting field? I am in no hurry to sell it" he says. "I don't even know if I want to sell it."
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