Cigar Aficionado

Collecting Finely Crafted Fountain Pens

Decked Out in Diamonds or Steeped in History, a New Line of Fountain Pens Are Leaving a Distinct Mark

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.

While such sentiments have made OMAS the subject of magazine articles and several books and led to the enshrinement of its hand-wrought treasures in a Paris pen museum named after Malaguti's grandfather, Armando Simoni (who founded OMAS in 1925), these plaudits weigh heavily on this engaging young world-beater.

"Winning the Israeli government's authorization to do the "Jubilee 50" [a deep-blue pen sheathed in gold or sterling depicting the seven flames of the menorah], while gratifying, was also a taxing two-year effort," says Malaguti, who along with his mother, Raffaella, regularly met with Israeli leaders to allay their concerns about the collection's design (the cap is crowned with a blue enamel Star of David, and of the 1,948 pieces, 400 are 18-karat gold fountain pens). "Besides the difficulties of identifying the feelings of a nation and sensitively transmitting them on a pen, we had to make sure none of the pen's details could've been misinterpreted. For that would only cause diplomatic trouble.

"Yet now an even greater artistic challenge confronts OMAS," says Malaguti, "as we've been selected by a Rome committee to style writing instruments in celebration of the millennium. While I'm honored, this is going to force us to do extensive research about what happened in the two other millenniums, for this very special pen, demanding three months of production, will have to capture both the past and our future."

Maniacally obsessed with every stylistic detail, from the grinding of specially cut nibs to preparing OMAS's proprietary brand of celluloid (a resin material that offers an array of color possibilities), Malaguti was under tremendous pressure last summer readying his millennium piece for this November's debut. Trying to relax with one of his beloved Montecristos in a New York restaurant, he confesses that "the whole world will be watching. OMAS has to design a pen that leaves a message for generations, a writing instrument that surpasses all our other work."

That will be difficult. Limiting yearly production to about a half million pens, Malaguti consistently tackles daring projects that are meant to evoke "a more civilized era when the culture of the hand was paramount." He recently spent two years designing a specially curved pen clip that doesn't damage shirt or jacket pockets (featured on the "360," an ergonomically correct triangular pen), and is now touting the "A.M. 87," the first-ever briarwood pen to utilize a piston filling system.

While the "Precious Facets" pen, a silver or gold 12-sided design that forced Malaguti to devise a unique tooling machine, is another technological marvel, his Midas touch is best dramatized by the "Merveille du Monde." Taking months to produce, this 18-karat gold-and-jade resin treasure is embellished with representations of the Great Wall, a ship and Venetian buildings to honor Marco Polo's world travels. Only 30 such pens were made. Originally priced at $40,000, they are now eagerly sought by collectors willing to spend $70,000 to $80,000.

But even though it seems as if OMAS is dedicated to making celebratory trophies that aren't intended for everyday use, the same high level of craftsmanship goes into their less-pricey "Paragon" fountain pen. Pioneered by Malaguti's grandfather in 1932, this 12-sided celluloid pen with an 18-karat gold nib and band is the company's signature piece. Equipped with either a piston-fill or cartridge system, it writes as smoothly as the limited editions, and according to OMAS's North American marketer and distributor, David Marks of Marcovici Designs, it "is perfect for the beginner who wants to start using a fountain pen."

Pens from the OMAS celluloid collection, featuring a Greek key pattern band, a flexible calligraphic nib and a dazzling array of marbleized colors, is also an ideal entry-level acquisition. But whatever pen is selected--and new items like the blue and sterling silver "Herman Hesse" and "Frank Lloyd Wright" collection are always vying for our attention--every OMAS pen has one thing in common.

"The Malagutis have this passionate, even obsessive belief that their pens must write and function beautifully, so that's why they offer an unlimited-time, no-questions-asked guarantee on all their products," says Marks, who along with marketing OMAS, has helped Malaguti refine various designs. "That lifetime guarantee is our way of telling consumers, who should try to get the same assurances whenever buying a pen, that the Malagutis take the slightest ques-tions about their work very personally."

Mainly responsible for developing OMAS in the American market, including placement of the pens in such fine specialty shops as Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, Marks also cautions enthusiasts "to buy a pen only after testing how it works, if it feels comfortable in the hand, and if the ink flows smoothly. Even if limited editions are now the investment thing, buyers must above all remember they're writing instruments. They shouldn't be weighted down with diamonds and other frivolous decorations as if they were only pieces of art to be hung on a wall."

But putting an OMAS out of harm's reach (preferably in sealed cases or other stable environments) is certainly a good idea if one of this company's greatest admirers is up to his usual tricks. "Youwouldn't believe how many pens I acquire when people ask me to sign autographs," Bill Cosby says with a laugh. "They're thrusting all kinds of pens at me. And when I forget to return them they'll run after me for blocks. They'll kill to get back their pens, even their 20-cent Bics."

But man doesn't write by OMAS alone. Some two dozen companies offer equally stylish classics, which makes choosing a pen today as difficult as selecting a mutual fund. All these marbleized, 18-karat-gold jeweled gems look terrific in their fancy leather-and-velvet packaging. But how do they feel and perform when putting pen to paper? If writing a $5,000 to $50,000 check for one of these beauties is chiefly an investment, what pens have the best potential to produce only black ink?

"Now that so many companies are coming into this market with all sorts of status symbol pens, it's very tough to pick and choose," says Terry Wiederlight, co-owner of New York's Fountain Pen Hospital. "Yet after getting past all the hype of what's a 'hot' fashion statement, the key to selecting a truly great piece is the name of the manufacturer. Going with the established brands, those that have a proven track record for quality and service, is a must."

Among this vaunted elite, there's Montblanc, Pelikan, Namiki and the relatively new Renaissance Pen Co., which produces a line of Fabergé and Michel Perchin writing instruments. Each company is producing highly crafted limited editions, which are steadily rising in value. A Montblanc "Imperial Dragon 888," for example, which debuted in 1994 at $1,650, is selling for $4,800.

Amid this giddy enthusiasm, which has spawned magazines and numerous books on collectible fountain pens and hundreds of buying sites on the Internet, a certain skepticism among longtime aficionados has also arisen. Calling the recent boom "outright craziness," one collector fears that many new, unsophisticated or speculative buyers will drown in red ink.

"There are a lot of unschooled newcomers coming into the market who only want a possession and don't know real values," says Fred Gorstein, a Philadelphia pathologist and author of books on pen collecting. "While this new buying frenzy is raising the worth of collections, there's also a lot of junk out there. So new collectors have to be very wary, for along with those Parker 'Snakes,' collecting has its other snakes, guys who misrepresent the values of pens."

How do prospective buyers avoid the flimflam, have fun and potentially make a profit? They take Geoffrey Berliner's advice: Focus on the offerings of the following companies, the "blue-chippers."

Among these stalwarts, buyers should keep their eyes on Montblanc and its newly acclaimed limited-edition "Edgar Allan Poe" creation, which is engraved with a raven on the nib. The pen is part of the company's new "writer's series" edition, and if such past successes as its "Hemingway," "Agatha Christie" or "Alexandre Dumas" are any barometer of its future appeal, the company's gold-, blue- and black-marbleized resin tribute to Poe will be another high-flying hit.

Consistently striking gold with its "Meisterstück" creations, this German powerhouse (owned by the Vendôme Group, which includes Cartier and Dunhill) is the industry's trendsetter, the company generally credited with giving fountain pens their new cachet as a luxury possession. Competitors might enviously attribute this renown to the corporation's Godzilla-sized advertising budget. But there's no disputing Montblanc's uncanny knack for fashioning artistically inspired pieces that have been the pen world's equivalent of investing in Viagra.

Initially showcasing the richly ornamented sterling silver "Lorenzo dé Medici" in 1992 (introduced at $1,600, its value has soared to $5,000), Montblanc has scored other triumphs with the coral-colored "Hemingway"; the "Octavian," overlaid with a filigree of .925 sterling silver; the lustrous black-resin "Voltaire"; and the vermeil, flower-patterned "Louis XIV." All of these limited editions disappeared long ago from Montblanc's 100 boutiques around the world, and are only found in vintage pen shops at prices worthy of the company's upper stratospheric name.

"We have a specific ongoing concept: limited editions dedicated to writers or to patrons of the arts, and that adds to the value of the pen," says Montblanc chief executive officer and president Fred Reffsin. "While most companies create a lot of one-time commemoratives, we have a predictability and discipline. Besides allowing us to build brand equity, that commitment has added to our seductive mystique and magic."

The "Solitaire Royal" is a captivating addition to Montblanc's juggernaut of writing instruments. Solid gold with a blanket of 4,810 diamonds (corresponding to namesake Mont Blanc's 4,810 meters in elevation), this $125,000 phenomenon--cited by Guiness as "the world's most expensive pen"-- is made only on request.

For those whose writing tastes aren't quite as extravagant, Montblanc offers its lapis lazuli or malachite homage to Mozart, the surprisingly light and sensuous Solitaire Collection with mountings in 18-karat vermeil and other pinnacles of good taste. These gleaming pens are a fitting complement to the company's expanding Royal High Jewellery array of watches. Women can wear clipless "Mozarts" around their necks on ornamental chains.

Insisting "we've created a whole new way of thinking about writing instruments," Reffsin is particularly excited by those recently introduced platinum pieces. "Buying one of these pens is a very strong statement about status and self-confidence. Platinum is unique, for it has a tactile feel that's extraordinary." In terms of sheer beauty, a platinum pen may well be Montblanc's crowning achievement.

While Montblanc is paying tribute to writers and art patrons, Namiki is offering lacquered and powdered gold interpretations of such traditional Japanese themes as autumn flowers, religious shrines and goldfish--pieces worthy of any museum.

The exquisite pens created by this Japanese company are inspired by maki-e, a hand-lacquering technique that dates back to the seventh century. Synthesizing the luster of gold with the shadowiness of black lacquer, this art form is most beautifully executed in Namiki's Emperor Collection, where such patterned pieces as "Birds in Flight" and the inlaid-abalone shell "Nightline" are burnished with charcoal for added sheen. Designed with an 18-karat gold nib and presented in a ceremonial wooden gift box, these vibrantly colored gems, as Geoffrey Berliner extols, "are a must for every collector."

But the Emperors and their equally stunning sisters from the Yukari Collection (brass- and enamel-barreled pens such as the "Goldfish" or "Lovebirds") aren't only fantasies to be revered from afar. Namiki places so much value on the flawless craftsmanship of these pieces that all of them are covered by a lifetime guarantee.

"The Japanese are absolutely suicidal about quality, so we test and retest our pens," says Namiki general manager Sal Esposito. "It's this kind of obsessiveness that helped us become the first company to put urushi lacquer on a barrel [to preserve coloring], and this same innovative spirit continues today as we're coming out with our finest pen yet, the "Autumn Flower," or Hagi, with leaves, ferns and an inlaid abalone butterfly on the barrel. This masterpiece takes four months to produce and will be perfect for the large-handed man who wears a $50,000 watch and has a $100,000 car."

If these 250 or so gilded extravaganzas quickly disappear from shops, there's always a "Nightline," a sterling silver "Shogun" or a gold-dusted delight like the "Lovebirds," a string of pearls that epitomizes Namiki's heavenly brand of perfection.

Japan isn't the only country graced with a proud tradition of fine craftsmanship. In Russia, the legacy of fabeled artisans Peter Carl Fabergé and his workshop lieutenant, Michel Perchin, has been resurrected by the Renaissance Pen Co. The darlings of the Russian royalty in the 1880s and '90s, Fabergé and Perchin dazzled the world with their bejeweled flowers, figurines and 56 Imperial Easter Eggs. They were masters of translucent colored enamel, guilloche, gold and three-dimensional patterns. But while those $5 million eggs remain only a museum piece for most mortals, Renaissance has brought Fabergé and Perchin back to life, captivating serious collectors with a diamond- and ruby-encrusted writing instrument seemingly inspired by the czars.

Evocative of the same bright yellow shade used by Fabergé to create commemorative items for the crowning of Czar Nicholas II, there's Renaissance's signature piece, the "Coronation Yellow," which is a symphony of guilloched sterling silver or gold plate, 14 layers of translucent enamel, an 18-karat nib plated with iridium and an ornate cap patterned after one of those illustrious eggs.

The "Blue and Gold Ribbed," a 22-karat gold-plated pen overlaid with a guilloched translucent enamel, is another heart-stopping piece from the Fabergé line (production was limited to 4,321, Fabergé's jewelry license number in Russia). Yet for sheer majesty, the indisputable king of the company's Michel Perchin line is the "Gothic." Hand-carved and engraved in solid 18-karat gold, this royal instrument weighs 100 grams (3.21 ounces). Its cap holds 158 pavé-set diamonds, while the barrel is adorned with brilliant red hard enamel and decorated with 144 diamonds and 36 cabochon rubies.

Only 10 of these "medieval" designs will be offered, and as Renaissance national sales manager David Oscarson says, "Whether it's a 'Gothic,' a gold-over-silver 'Faberge Noir' or our upcoming $200,000 to $500,000 pink diamond tribute to the Duchess of Marlborough, our pens aren't for everybody. We're focusing on the high-end jewelry market, the serious buyer who wants an enduring piece in solid sterling silver, solid gold or a platinum version of our violet-blue-ribbed 'Monogram' pen. We're unique. We don't do celluloid or resin pens--only gentlemen's gifts in the same spirit of Patek-Phillippe and Constantine Vacheron."

Another new penmaker, Florentine's Stipula, is beginning to write its own awe-inspiring mythology with a glorious piece called the "Il Dono," which evokes the fabled confrontation between Poseidon and Athena. The god of the sea flashed his trident and produced a mighty horse while Athena, equally determined to be named the ruling entity of Attica, brought the people a leafy olive tree. She, of course, triumphed. Inspired by the legend, Stipula created the "Il Dono" to signify the emotional act of gift giving.

The hand-chiseled pen, a veritable frieze of gold or silver, artfully showcased the company's willingness to tackle difficult-to-picture abstractions; that among all the gimmicks and trinkets in the market, its creations had a signature flair.

Now Stipula, ever bent on championing additional stylistic wonders, is introducing the "Promethia," a pen that pays tribute to reason and intellect. Again no easy task, this bas-relief, gold or silver limited edition depicts Prometheus reaching downwards towards mankind and returning fire to humanity as Zeus and other gods sit in judgment. Underscoring the fact that each "Promethia" demands six to seven months of goldsmithing, wax coloring, molding and casting, George Kartsotis, the exclusive U.S. distributor for Stipula, says, "We're still a growing niche company. Unlike some of the giants, we put our heart and soul in every piece. We'd rather style graceful pens with unequaled luminosity than be a market powerhouse."

Sensations of a different sort are touted by Krone, a penmaker delving into DNA and "genetic essences." Declaring its offering the "ultimate in personal connection," Krone company introduced the "Abraham Lincoln" last December. No ordinary writing instrument with just a sterling silver band and two-toned 18-karat nib, this ergonomically designed wonder features an amethyst stone cap, which the company says holds a crystallized form of Lincoln's DNA. "We wanted to do something emotional for Americans," says Krone's president, Robert Kronenberger, "so we authenticated Lincoln's hair strands with letters of provenance and then duplicated his DNA. Now people are really getting a piece of Lincoln."

Those fountain pens, handcrafted from a richly variegated brown ebonite, have sold so "spectacularly" that Krone is reaching for its next larger-than-life adventure. Again paying tribute to men facing immense challenges, Kronenberger is debuting the "Sir Edmund Hillary Mount Everest," a limited-edition pen with a three-dimensional relief of the mountain. According to the company, the sterling silver overlay contains an authentic piece of rock from the summit area.

The barrel is made from a new sort of resin (metacrilate) that gives the "Hillary" the look of icy, rocky terrain, and each pen comes with a uniquely commissioned, highly detailed Mount Everest sculpture. It was Krone's intention to "bring this majestic mountain to life"--and if that leaves some people gasping for air, so be it. As he promises, "If you've got this pen, you've reached the top of the world."

Instead of scaling mountains, an Italian company called Aurora reaches writing heights by paying tribute to a musical genius. Verdi's La Traviata and Il Rigoletto have charmed opera lovers for decades, and now the composer joins the "Benvenuto Cellini" and "Dante Alighieri" in the manufacturer's gallery. A limited-edition platinum or solid 18-karat gold "Giuseppe Verdi," priced at $30,000, is a virtuoso performance of guilloche engraving, delicate fine lines and other Old World refinements that have long made Aurora one of the world's premier penmakers. The $30,000 pen is destined to become a prized collector's item, just like the company's golden-toned "Sole" that features an engraved jewel clip.

Based in Turin since 1919, Aurora also offers new pen enthusiasts a striking line of moderately priced pieces that feature its patented hidden reservoir ink system. Essentially a spare tank of ink built into the barrel, the chamber allows users to keep on writing even after the main feeding mechanism runs dry. "The ink goes down on paper smoothly and gracefully, and their broad or 'stub' nib is particularly a lot of fun," says Pasquale Pagliuca, the owner of Pasquale's Pens International in Phoenix. "For even if you're not all that talented, that nib instantly makes you an elegant calligrapher."

Then there's the historical touch, pens from the Golden Age. In 1929, Pelikan introduced a revolutionary filling system, and soon triumphed again with its uniquely colored celluloid treasure, the marble jade "1935." Now the old magic is back, as Pelikan is again flaunting such technologically superb pieces as the updated "1935" and its handcrafted deep blue "Concerto," a connoisseur's delight with platinum decorations on the nib.

Though Berliner calls these works "a lovely and luxurious throwback to Pelikan's glory days," the company's U.S. distributor, Steve White, is not interested in linking his pens to the current wave of jewelry or "fashion-minded statements."

"We're technologically oriented, offering a range of different-sized pens which can be suitable for all sorts of hands," he says. "While other companies go for all these splashy lacquer finishes, Pelikan is making a new statement by providing the best functioning pen systems in the world." That no-nonsense strategy once worked, and judging by the "1935," it just might write the sequel to Pelikan's bestsellers.

Equally striking, S. T. Dupont's entry in the pen sweepstakes deserves to be nicknamed "The Boss." Dressed in Chinese lacquer and 24-karat gold plate, the "Chairman" has long been a magnificent addition to this company's line of cigar lighters and other smoking accessories. Now this beautifully balanced French-made pen has been succeeded by the "Olympio Chairman," and S. T. Dupont's U.S. subsidiary president, Alain de Charette, is confident this pen will prompt more "ooh-la-lahs" in North America. "The 'Olympio Chairman' has a no-skipping, no-scratching ink flow that's remarkable," boasts de Charette. "The perfect luxury item with an 18-karat solid-gold nib, it simply glides over note paper." In other words, like the Boss of rock music fame, the "Olympio Chairman" sings.

Fast approaching, the millennium is also going to make some noise. To further celebrate the big party, the Naples-based Delta company is introducing the solid 18-karat gold "Jubilaeum 2000." A limited edition of only 150 pieces, this $6,500 memento is enhanced with an engraved motif of the Vatican's Piazza and is purchased by special order. Delta sold out its previous ode to history, the platinum "Israel 50," and U.S. distributor Yair Greenberg expects more fanfare. "This is a young company making its mark," he boasts. "And it's a mark that's permanent."

History of a different sort is being made by Bexley, another up-and-coming company. Resurrecting the stylishness of 1920s-era showpieces, the five-year-old penmaker is taking nostalgia to a new level this fall with its hard-rubber Ebonite Collection.

The makers of Cigar Aficionado-logoed writing instruments, Bexley has already won raves for its colorful "Cable Twist" series, filigreed gold or sterling silver "Decoband," and the "Original," a pearlescent cast acrylic collectible. All these masterworks are manufactured in the United States.

Like cigars, fountain pens are fragile and must be treated kindly. Yet now, breakage is less of a worry, as Alfred Dunhill is introducing its carbon fiber pen, an item made from a "space age" material used in Formula One race cars. Not only indestructible, this black, brushed-steel piece with a white gold nib is also handsome and in the tradition of Dunhill's other vaunted products.

Two pen powerhouses from the Golden Age--Parker and Waterman--are making a comeback. Now both owned by Gillette, each is dedicated to recapturing past glories.

After reissuing its famous emerald-eyed "Snake" in 1997 ($12,000 in solid gold and only available in vintage shops), Parker offers the 18-karat "Duofold Presidential," while Waterman celebrates 115 years of pen-making expertise by paying tribute to founder Louis Edson with the cigar-shaped, rich sapphire-blue "Edson." All of these illustrious works carry a lifetime guarantee and restore the glitter to the patron saints of the pen world.

Finally, it's time to light a cigar and to dream of possessing a "Pasha." Adorned with diamonds and sapphires, the estimated $65,000 solid gold piece was the ultimate jewel of the Cartier pen line. Only one of these fabled pens was made, however, and it soon crowned the collection of an undisclosed connoisseur.

Long distinguishing itself for luxuriously appointed jewelry and accessories, Cartier, the French sister company to Montblanc, is introducing several designs this fall that are as sleek and elegant as that wondrous "Pasha." Mirroring the trend towards white metals, there's the ribbed-resin "Composite Platinum," the green ebonite "Louis Cartier Dandy" with an 18-karat gold ring and clip, and the seductive "Diabolo de Cartier," which features platinum accents and a gold nib overlaid with platinum.

All of these pens echo Cartier cachet. Yet if the enthusiast wants to put his own punctuation mark on one of these designs with diamonds and other precious jewels, simply consult with Cartier's artists in Paris--and enjoy!

Florida-based writer Edward Kiersh is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.

Pen Pointers
Besides being lovely objets d'art, fountain pens are meant for aficionados who want to slow down, reflect and take joy from their writing. Whatever the brand, these luxurious pieces should mirror your own expressiveness, as if you were painting with an artist's brush.

When choosing a fountain pen, Geoffrey Berliner of New York's Berliner Pen suggests, "first make sure the item appeals to your aesthetic sensibilities and that it feels comfortable in the hand. It must feel balanced when the cap is posted on the back of the pen. Try out different pens and see that the ink flows smoothly. The nib should glide smoothly over the paper, not scratch against it--and in this regard, it's advisable to bring your favorite brand of paper to the pen shop when testing different instruments.

"For beginners, it's best to use a broad- or medium-sized nib (whatever nib size that best suits your handwriting style), as these will have a smoother feel. I prefer a piston-filled pen, not a cartridge, since the piston system produces a more consistent ink flow and a greater ink supply.

"Breaking in a pen is also important. As it's written with, a fountain pen will conform to an individual's particular style of writing, which includes the angle at which it's held and the pressure applied. A well-tuned pen should lay ink onto the paper with little effort. Never try to force the ink out or push too hard. Fountain pens are not ball-points.

"As for preserving fountain pens," Berliner adds, "never leave ink in a pen if it's going to lie idle for a long period. The unused ink will dry and clog the pen. If a pen is used continuously, it should be flushed with tepid water every four to six weeks. Finally, pens must be stored in a cool, dry and stable environment, preferably in an acid-free box. If the pen still holds ink, it should be stored upright, with the nib up in the air, poised to write the world's next memorable novel." --EK

Pen Pals

Berliner Pen 928 Broadway, Suite 604, New York, New York 10010. Phone: (800) 440-7367; fax (212) 614-3025; Web site: www.Berlinerpen.com

Fountain Pen Hospital 10 Warren Street, New York, New York 10007. Phone: (800) 253-PENS; fax (212) 227-5916; Web site: www.FOUNTAINPENHOSPITAL.com

Madison Signatures 743 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10021. Phone (800) PEN-SHOP or (212) 717-1386; fax (877) PEN-SHOP; Web site: www.pensandthings.com

Pasquale Pens International 2398 East Camelback Road, Phoenix, Arizona 85016. Phone: (602) 224-6600; fax (602) 224-6620

Pen Shop Inc. 743 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10021. Phone: (800) PENSHOP or 212/717-1386

For the name of your nearest quality pen dealer, contact these manufacturers:
Aurora (800) 741-0005
Bexley (516) 484-6006
Bossert & Erhard (212) 355-8304
Caran d'Ache (212) 689-3590
Cartier (212) 753-0111
Colibri (800) 556-7354
A. T. Cross (800) 989-3959
Alfred Dunhill (800) 860-8362
S. T. Dupont (800) 341-7003
Eversharp (800) 333-0580
L. Michael Fultz (312) 440-1303
LeBoeuf (800) 454-7367
Montegrappa (201) 612-0151
Montblanc (800) 388-4810
Namiki (203) 381-4808
Omas (617) 426-3607
Parker (800) 237-8736
Pelikan (888) 735-4526
Michel Perchin (314) 207-0550
Sheaffer (800) 346-3736
Stipula (800) 466-1951
Waterman (800) 523-2486