The summer I turned fifteen, my grandmother handed me a Service Merchandise catalog and asked me to pick out something I really wanted for my birthday. The possibilities were endless, but what caught my eye was the photo of the matte black Sheaffer Targa fountain pen nestled between its glossy pages. I felt guilty asking for something that extravagant – $150 for a pen seemed beyond the pale back then, but it wasn’t just any pen. It was a fountain pen, one with a 14K gold inlaid nib. Surely that would add a certain panache to my writing (though why I cared about panache as a teenager is anyone’s guess). Of course, that’s what I received for my birthday and I carried it with me all through high school. It wasn’t hard to find cartridges for it back then, and I used it religiously until about 1999, when it disappeared. To say I was heartbroken would be an understatement, but it’s just a silly pen, right?
WRONG! It fueled an obsession with fine writing instruments that I still have today. From that one Sheaffer Targa came my current collection:
From left to right starting with the blue pen, I have a Sailor Candy that I won for writing a Valentine poem for the kind folks at Jet Pens, followed by a Noodler’s Creaper flex nib pen, a Lamy Safari with a fine nib, a Lamy Al-Star with a fine nib, a Waterman Harmonie, a Pilot Vanishing Point Extra Fine nib (note the clip is on the end with the nib – kind of wierd but cool at the same time), an Aurora Ipsilon with a broad nib, a TWISBI Diamond 580 with a 1.1 mm stub nib and a vintage Esterbrook SJ with a broad nib (dates to the mid-to-late 40’s). The dip pen in front is a set of size C calligraphic Speedball nibs I haven’t figured out how to use yet, and the inks are J Herbin Larme de Cassis, Lierre Sauvage, Orange Indien, Violette Pensees, Parker Quink black (which I actually found at Staples) and Diamine Red Dragon. The sample is a Noodler’s blue ink.
I was a sporadic fountain pen user for a while due to my inability to find cartridges for my pens and my lack of knowledge regarding alternate filling methods (converters, pistons, vacumatics, lever fillers and eyedroppers). In 2010, I was bitten by the bug again and after much online research, I started my collection with the Lamy Safari, which was a gift from my mother that Christmas. I’m in the process of purchasing a pen that will be worth as much as all my other pens combined, or perhaps a bit more, but it will be my last purchase for a very long while. Most people I know think it’s completely crazy to spend more than a couple of bucks on a pen, which is, after all, an outdated mode of communication. There’s no real reason to write anything down anymore with all the technology we have at our disposal, and if you have to write something down, a cheap ballpoint and a scrap of paper will do, right?
For some people this might be true but it certainly isn’t for me. It’s no different than spending money on a fancy pair of shoes or a set of golf clubs. It all depends on how much you want to spend to support your hobby. There are many pastimes out there – mine just happen to include collecting fine writing papers and pens. There’s something about writing with a fountain pen that keeps me connected with countless generations of writers who have come before me, and I keep handwritten copies of everything I write (including this blog post). Science has proven that even something as mundane as writing out a to-do list improves memory and overall brain function in a way that typing on the computer doesn’t. Plus, fountain pens just look awesome and garner attention. I wish I knew more people in my immediate circle of friends with whom I could converse about pens, but that’s what the FPGeeks are all about. For now, I’ll continue to collect and use my pens, satisfied that I’m doing my best to keep the lost arts of penmanship, personal correspondence and writing alive. Viva la pluma fuente!
I loved Service Merchandise! I’m so sorry you no longer have that pen. It’s hard to lose something with that much meaning. A few years ago my best friend gave me a hand-carved wooden pen in a wooden box. It is in my desk drawer – never been used. I wonder why I save special or expensive things rather than use them? That doesn’t make sense!
Fun piece, Jen, and informative. Although I never aspired to a $150 fountain pen, back in the day I collected calligraphy pens (actually pen tips that would fit into a pen holder), thinking I could write some pretty classy-looking stuff. Well, I could, but alas the stuff I was writing then remained pretty trashy. My pen set today lies idle in Cochabamba, Bolivia, if it hasn’t been tossed out by now.
Thanks Steve! I feel that this post means I”m a bit obsessive, but everyone’s got to have their geek-out hobbies, right? Thanks for stopping by.