Now that 2016 has ended, it seems a fitting time to look back at where this hobby has taken me, over the past 12 months.
First, to get the figures out of the way, I bought a total of 40 fountain pens for myself. Many of these were inexpensive and bought in twos or threes or in different colours. If we can deduct all the pens costing £6.00 or less, of which there were fourteen, then the total comes down to a slightly less greedy 26. A very few of the purchases turned out to be regrettable and lessons were learned. On the other hand, some of the inexpensive pens turned out to be surprisingly good, which was marvellous.
However, the pen-buying was only part of a larger picture and I now see that there have been many highlights over the course of the year. Let me list a few here, in no particular order.
1. Trying brands that were new to me. I bought pens from several brands that I had not tried before, including Campo Marzio, Diplomat, Kaweco, Noodlers and Pelikan which all proved very worthy buys.
2. Visiting the beautiful city of Bruges, Belgium in March. Whilst there, I did a Google search for fountain pen shops which led me to Iris De Corte, a third generation pen shop, in a cobbled street just off the main square at Sint Amandsstraat. When I visited, the shop was closed with the shutters half down. I peered through the metal grille at the attractive window displays which included Kaweco, Cross, Visconti, Parker, Faber Castell and Hugo Boss. I then noticed some people working inside. A charming woman then came out. I asked her if the shop was open. “No, but I can be open.” It transpired that this was Iris and she was busy taking photographs of products for a web site. She kindly let me look around, having my own private shopping experience. I bought two leather pen cases for my Kaweco pens.
3. Buying my first Parker “51”. This was at the London pen show in October, a cedar blue Aerometric dating from 1949 which is now the elder statesman of my pen cup. I am grateful to Graham Jasper, the vintage pen collector who sold it to me. Now that I own one, I have enjoyed reading up on the Parker “51” with added interest. Using this pen feels very special and unlike any other that I own.
4. Making use of the internet. Throughout the year I have been both entertained and informed by the many You Tube reviews, WordPress blogs, Instagram posts and FPN threads by fountain pen enthusiasts all over the world. These eventually led me to start my own blog through which I have become acquainted with some inspiring like-minded people, whose work I much admire.
5. Getting more organised: Having allowed a growing number of fountain pens and their entourage of boxes, inks and accessories to spread unchecked throughout the house, it became necessary to find a better way of storing inks, tools, empty pen boxes, new notebooks and pen cases. I found a plastic storage tower, consisting of four nice deep drawers which has been an improvement on the previous state of affairs.
6. Being more adventurous with inks. Having gone for many years using a limited palette of mainly blue and black inks, I am now exploring some of the huge range of other coloured inks available and enjoying the pursuit of inks to match particular pens. This has now got to the stage where I might see a car in the street and remark that I know just the ink that would go with that.
7. Experiencing a fountain pen auction. Whilst visiting an antiques emporium in Hampstead and enquiring whether they had any fountain pens, I was told of a forthcoming silver, jewellery and general antiques auction which would include pens. I took a catalogue. Flicking through, I found several lots consisting of a selection of fountain and ball pens. One item that caught my eye was listed as a “Parker, a burgundy marbled resin fountain pen, with medium 18 carat gold nib, cartridge converter mechanism, no box or paperwork” with an estimate of £20 to £30. I went to the viewing and handled the pen, which was a very pretty Duofold Centennial. I registered to bid by telephone in the auction which was a few days away. In the ensuing days, I thought about how high I might go, allowing for the commission and vat payable on top of the hammer price. In my head the pen was mine.
When the day of the auction came, (which was by telephone and internet or previously lodged bids only) I was able to log on to a saleroom web site and hear the auction progressing through the various lots. It was not until about four hours in, that the burgundy Duofold came up. The much anticipated telephone call from the auction room came, a couple of lots before hand. I was told that there had been a lot of interest on the internet, on this item. And then the bidding started and within seconds had gone over £100, to £120 and I chickened out. It sold at £140.00 plus commission. This was an interesting new experience but lessons were learned as to (a) not assuming that a pen is yours until you have bought it and (b) not expecting an item to be sold to you for the estimated price.
8. Trying new pens. Getting a new pen home, it is exciting to examine it and try it out, with various inks and on various paper surfaces and determine its role. Finding the right ink can sometimes happen first time but can be an ongoing process of experimentation, trial and error.
9. Washing out pens. Having bought rather too many pens in the past year and wanting to make use of them all, I am suffering from having too many inked at a time (currently over 20). A few of these will suffer from hard starts if not used regularly and so there is a continuous process of lifting a few out of the pen cup to be flushed and rested for a while. A few of them seem immune to hard starts, such as the Pelikans and the Platinum 3776 Century with its slip and seal inner cap. Whilst not really a highlight, I do find enjoyment and relaxation from washing the pens from time to time and rotating the selection although I struggle to keep the numbers down and do not like to flush them if it means wasting a lot of ink.
10. Writing with the pens. Not to forget the obvious, it is putting the pens to good use that should be the goal. I have varied my office pen from time to time but currently use a TWSBI Vac 700 clear demonstrator with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, for signing letters and documents. My Every Day Carry pen is currently a Sheaffer Sagaris, which I also used for most of the year as my 2016 daily diary pen. In 2015 it was the Italix Parson’s Essential, that I used almost every day for the year with Waterman Serenity Blue ink.
Aside from work use, I have enjoyed setting aside an hour or more a week, to write up such things as memories of parents or school days, for my own satisfaction before memories fade.
In the final hours of 2016 I took another pen to flush, picking up the Campo Marzio Ambassador in brown marbled resin. I have been using it with one of my favourite inks, Conway Stewart Tavy, by Diamine which is a classic looking blue-black. Having washed the converter and rinsed the nib and feed with running water and then with water squirted through a bulb blower, I then left the section to sit in a basin of water. As the water became still, I watched a ribbon of deep blue ink, slowly issuing out of the feed and fading into the water. It seemed rather symbolic of the final hours of the year, ebbing away.
I have been very fortunate to have a hobby that gives so much pleasure. It is useful to look back over the year to see what lessons can be learned. My main one is that, without a strategy, my occasional and often spontaneous pen purchases resulted in rather a shocking number and I expect to buy a lot less in 2017 and to make more use of the many delightful pens that I now own.
A Happy New Year to all.