A Bad Reputation and Too Many Pens

I spent part of the day at the 15th Annual World Fountain Pen Festival. Despite the temptation, I didn’t feed my addiction. I was more like an alcoholic walking around a bar picking up glasses and sniffing them.

For this addiction, I can definitely blame my father as he’s the first to slip me the drug. Someone had given him, I think as part of a set, a Cross Century fountain pen. He didn’t want it and I’d never tried a fountain pen before so I accepted it.

The first hit was free.

The first hit was free. (This is the replacement, though. It wasn’t free.)

It was love at first, er, write. (Something like that.) To use it, I was forced to do the thing that none of my teachers had been able to make me do: hold my pen correctly. I used to have a claw grip. Hold your pencil normally, then pull the tip toward  your palm and write with the pencil vertical and the tip directly under your index finger knuckle. Feel free to grip the pencil as tightly as possible. Writing that way gave me impressive calluses on my middle finger and my little finger but didn’t do much for my handwriting.

Using the Cross was more comfortable and, for a while, although it would eventually become barely legible, my handwriting improved. I kept that pen longer than any other pen I’d ever owned but eventually lost it. I quickly replaced it and still have the replacement. Then, while I was in the Peace Corps, I bought a couple cheap Chinese Hero pens, that are direct copies of the Parker 51. I wrote a lot with them, but found the nibs too thin. I still have them and they still work. (Not bad for 15 cents apiece.)

This one's been used. The one in the box has never been taken out of the plastic.

This one’s been used. There’s one in the box that has never even been taken out of the plastic.

Then, while I was at Ole Miss, I bought an early Retro 51 fountain pen (200 series?). It had a thicker barrel and a bit more weight. I used it a while–and still have it, by the way–but then a friend introduced me to fountain pen crack: the Pilot/Namiki Vanishing Point. A fountain pen that acts like a clicky ball-point pen. There’s no cap. You just click it and use it. Let me say that again: you click it like a ball-point pen, but it’s a fountain pen. Genius. I used them so much that the barrels began to break. I still have them, but don’t use them. Instead I use a more contemporary version.

An okay pen that has always felt creaky when I used it. Nice weight, though.

An okay pen that has always felt creaky when I used it. Nice weight, though.

They look like pens, but they are actually coated with a drug that makes you want more. And more.

They look like pens, but they are actually coated with a drug that makes you want more. And more. And more.

Unfortunately, about the time I got the Cross, I developed a sudden aversion to lending my pens to other people. Nothing wins friends and influences people more than having a pen in your hand and saying “No” when asked “Do you have a pen I can borrow?” The few times I did lend my fountain pens, the borrowers gripped them by the nibs and got ink all over their fingers. Oddly, they blamed this on me which neither won friends nor influenced people. (Although saying “Don’t ruin the nib you moron” might have contributed to that, too.)

I quickly learned to carry spare pens to loan to the unwashed masses lest they become inky and, well, forced to wash. This led to the spectacle of me holding a pen but saying, “just a minute, I need to find a lesser pen for you to use” (something like that) when asked “May I borrow your pen?”.

I then moved to Japan, which is the Mecca of stationery and pointy writey things. And, of course, I must try them so I can experience Japanese stationery culture, or something. This means I have roller balls and gel ink pens. Pens with glass tips. Pens with brush tips. Actual brushes, and an old brush and ink kit that looks kind of like a pipe.

Also, just about 40 years since my father gave me that first hit of Cross, I have several fountain pens, some of which actually work, with a couple more on order (damn you Kickstarter!) I also have several bottles of ink occupying space on my desk.

As for the pen show, it wasn’t as much fun as the Pointy Stabby Things show because everything was being sold by store clerks and not by the actual makers. (The one maker who was there was constantly busy and I never got a chance to talk to him.) They also didn’t seem keen on photography. Sailor Pens’ relatively famous custom ink blender was there, but there was no other ink for sale. I did get to try a bunch of pens but didn’t buy anything. I am, however, casually checking out the prices on the internet. Just for curiosity’s sake.

I can quit any time I want.


Note: Updated 8 March 2015 with pictures.

12 thoughts on “A Bad Reputation and Too Many Pens

  1. junius

    I like the cut of your nib Kevin you funny man. Pesky people wanting to borrow my prized pen. The temerity. Sorry Mother Theresa, find your own damned pen.

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