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Getting It Write—The Allure of Fine Fountain Pens

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April 15, 2016
A beautiful nib: Invest in a luxurious fountain pen and watch your words flow in ink rather than pixels

Tired of typing? Consider investing in a high-end fountain pen and watch your words flow in a whole new way.

Just because we’re firmly in a digital age doesn’t mean handwriting instruments have gone the way of the buggy whip. Instead, the allure of fine pens only grows. They’re now attracting a whole new audience of folks who seek out fountain pens made with centuries-old techniques and aesthetics.

Pilot Corporation of America makes pens ranging from everyday gel pens to the collectible Namiki fountain pens. Ariann Langsam, director of consumer marketing at Pilot, said that its fine pen sales grew 2.6% in 2015, with sales totaling $33.9 million.

El Paso–based Airline International also sells fine pens. Owner Eddie Kallman says he’s seeing a greater interest in pens from people in their 20s and 30s, whether they come into the shop or go to collectors’ shows.

“Ten or 15 years ago people were saying this art was dying, but on the contrary, pens are coming back in a very strong way,” he said. “[Customers are] asking about gold nibs and stainless steel nibs and really detailed questions. It’s shocking to see.”

There is something special about using a fountain pen, Kallman said.

“It brings a special love and a special feeling to see the ink flow from the tip of the fountain pens. It’s like it’s flowing from your body onto the paper,” he said.

For the Writer

For people who like fountain pens for everyday use rather than for display only, Langsam from Pilot offered some suggestions for writers. Find a pen that’s comfortable in your hand; the barrel width, length, weight, and material are all important. Eighteen-karat-gold nibs conform to an individual user’s writing style over time, while stainless steel nibs are a little stiffer. Nib width is another factor, too. Finally, be sure to have a good supply of ink on hand, Langsam said.

Fine- or medium-tip nib is a good starting place for people who want to try a fountain pen, Kallman said.

For the Investor

As for collectors, they can get started with pens for less than $100, although pens that start around $500 are more likely to appreciate in value. For instance, Kallman said that when Mont Blanc introduced in 1992 a limited edition fountain pen celebrating Ernest Hemingway, it originally sold for $600. That same pen (unopened in its box with factory seals intact) can now sell for more than $5,000. Even a used version of the Hemingway pen can fetch $2,000 or more.

There are several different categories of collectible pens. One popular style is the Japanese art form Maki-e, which uses materials like lacquer, precious metals, and mother-of-pearl for inlaid designs. Pilot’s Namiki and other pen makers like Sailor Pen and AP Limited Editions are among those using the Maki-e Japanese art form.

In fact, one of the most prized pens out there was crafted in the Maki-e style. The Dunhill-Namiki Sakura Rose Limited Edition Fountain Pen, a collaboration between luxury goods maker Dunhill and Pilot’s Namiki, was limited to just 25 pens, Kallman said. EBay has one for sale for $225,000, and Kallman has one for auction for $205,000.

Now that’s something to write home about.

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