Tuesday, December 29, 2009

“Oh…really? Okay.”

What is it about a fountain pen? From a practical standpoint, most people wouldn’t even consider replacing the convenient, lightweight, inexpensive and generally dependable ballpoint stuck in their pocket or bag, with something you have to fill from a bottle. In offering a fountain pen to jot down a number or make a note of something, many times I get the impression the other person hardly knows which end to point toward the paper, as if they might ask, “What is this thing?”

Well, of course almost everybody is going to know what a fountain pen is, but it gets sticky when you come to the how and why, and even after lovingly explaining the answer to both, you still get a look that says, “Oh…really? Okay.” Then it becomes clear that a lot of people just don’t care so much about all that. All those things that some of us dislike about a cheap ballpoint and love about a well-crafted fountain pen don’t register with most.

So what is it about a fountain pen that drives some of us to buy them, collect them, rhapsodize about them, and rarely write with anything else? I can only answer that question as it applies to myself, since another enthusiast might have a different set of reasons to explain their interest. First off, speed and convenience don’t come into the picture for me. All those ‘attractive’ points listed above are not the deciding factors for some of us. Naturally, I don’t want to pay an exorbitant price and I want a dependable pen, but more than anything else I want a fine crafted pen that leaves a noticeable impression on paper, and feels good in my hand.

To my mind, how the words flow onto the paper is of paramount importance when using a fountain pen. Words spinning out with the smoothness of oiled glass bring to me a joy in writing, and I feel almost as though the pen is singing to the paper and to me as well. Never had that feeling or sensation when using a ballpoint pen. How the finished words look on the page is also a concern, and even with small imperfections that sometimes come with using ‘live’ ink, the result is inevitably better than anything scratched out by a throwaway ballpoint. Look and feel are at the heart of the matter.

Complaints abound that using a fountain pen is messy with both hands and paper. That’s very true if you don’t take precautions. When I first began using a fountain pen regularly I had ink stained fingers and hands five days out of the week. I also found myself rewriting pages because I either smeared or spilled the ink. Easy to understand that for many that’s an old fashioned problem and not something to be endured today. But if you’re in a hurry and don’t exercise a little patience that’s going to happen sometimes. Experience will show that those smears, spills and ink stained fingers will gradually become rare accidents. A fountain pen that leaves ink smudges on your fingers can be adjusted; it wasn’t crafted without consideration of that problem.

In the end, using and collecting fountain pens has for me a connection with the past. I like, enjoy and relish the antiquarian feel and look of fountain pens. I have few examples of what I call pens in a modern design, and that is specifically because I prefer those with a traditional or vintage look. One old Pelikan pen I sometimes use leads me to imagine what its history might be, what places or documents it might have seen, the pockets or desks it might have slept in. Like I say, for me fountain pens are a connection to the past. A bit romantic perhaps, but what harm is a little fanciful embellishment?

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About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America