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July 2004: Pulp Nonfiction

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Only in fountain pen circles can a discussion about the mundane topic of paper attract so much enthusiasm. It makes sense: What fun is writing with an expensive, rare, exotic, or just well-broken-in pen when the paper makes your writing look like a kindergartener’s smeary felt-tip creation?

Plus, testing new papers keeps a pen collector’s mind off less important stuff. Like work.

“I enjoy sitting down and reading what I was doing and what I was thinking years ago. It’s funny what you let yourself forget.” — Dennis Lively Extra Fine Points

Last month’s online poll drew more responses than I thought we had subscribers! Because of that, I can’t mention everyone by name, even though I’d like to. But rest assured, all the responses were read — and all helped shape this piece. All the brands mentioned here were recommended by at least one fellow collector; many had multiple plugs.

Assorted journals
While the journal-toting author of this piece prefers rough-
and-cheap, many of our readers swing the other way.

Respondents divide their paper into three basic uses: General writing, journaling, and letters. They certainly appreciate papers from fine European stationers when they can afford them. Papers from the Memphis, Tennessee-based Strathmore, be they writing papers or others, found their way into quite a few responses and received generally high marks.

In contrast, Crane’s papers (North Adams, Massachusetts) seemed to be a lightning rod. People either love them (like me) or hate them (like Richard). None found them less tolerable than Dick Zimmerman.

“I agree with Richard that Crane (particularly the 100% cotton variety) is raggy junk,” he writes. “I bought some figuring it had to be better than alternatives with just a measly 25% cotton content. Now most of my fountain pens can write pretty smoothly, but I found that none of them performed as well on 100% cotton content paper. It’s like writing on a piece of cloth, or an old tee shirt.”

On the other hand, he continues, “Strathmore puts out a writing bond with 25% cotton, in a variety of tones ranging from stark white to a pretty dark ivory. I believe they also do a few colors as well, but I’m happy with their ivory shades.”

Here’s what else we learned:

On the Web: Hot Web sites from which fountain-pen friendly paper can be ordered include Sam Fiorella’s Pendemonium and Chelsea Paper. Exaclair indexes some of its retailers as well.

Padding the Stats: About ten respondents mourn one pad or another that ran out and either the manufacturer isn’t known or is no longer selling pads. To those people, I say try Rhodia pads, by which several other respondents swear. A million architects, designers, and artists can’t be wrong. Right?

Slumming It: It turns out that Richard isn’t alone in his love for Ampad yellow (that’s Gold Fibre to you) legal pads for the workaday fountain pen writing bed. Many other pen lovers hit their local office-supply chain to get their fix of good, cheap, paper that takes the nib well. Other bargain-hunters claim that 28-pound HP color laser paper is great, too, when you can swipe it from work while the office manager’s not looking, and ditto for the OfficeMax store brand legal pads — although one suspected petty thief confides that the Tops brand pads don’t work so well. (Another disagrees, saying that Tops rocks, which probably means that it varies depending on pen, nib, and ink.)

Another reader says that Hammermill JetPrint printer paper works well — at least the 20-pound, 106+ brightness variety, with its “almost instantaneous drying abilities no matter which nib I use.” This reader plugs Neenah 9-pound vintage onionskin paper, too.

Higher Up on the Food Chain: Exaclair Exacompta journal papers and Clairefontaine both prove popular among readers. “The Clairefontaine papers — as contained in their notebooks — are my ideal for a paper to be used with a fountain pen,” writes Kim Alfaro. “I only wish they offered stationery (paper and matching envelopes) like Crane’s.”

Station to Stationery: Speaking of which, a lot of pen collectors seem to be more interested in the writing experience than the actual status symbol of matching stationery.

One reader remarked, “I don’t buy matching envelopes. I buy less expensive envelopes, or envelopes on sale, or make my own. Envelopes are the interface between the precious letter and the environment. They get dirty and worn. Why use good paper?”

That respondent, a lefty like me who prefers finer points, endorses Fabriano Minerva paper, which costs $140 per 250 sheets. When the rent’s due, Amatruda of Amalfi supplies a handmade 100% rag paper, several Crane’s varieties, and even Strathmore Writing paper with the laid finish.

More Stuff to Google: Other brands mentioned include Edward Tufte, a heavier, “sensuous” paper; Pineider, which recently popped up in a snooty article at but was also mentioned in a thoughtful Atlantic Monthly piece from three years ago; Elco “Toile Suisse”; Kartos; Moleskine; and William Arthur.

Finally, while some people might look upon me as a maverick for loving the unbranded “J” journals that can only be acquired — here in Nashua, at least — from the remainder tables at Borders, several others are right there with me. My Wearever-collecting pal Dennis Lively sums it up well:

“I journal nearly every night and use both sides of the paper, and rarely do I get any bleed through,” Lively writes. Reminding us that in the end, the journal is a mere vessel and it’s what’s on the paper that counts, he adds, “I enjoy sitting down and reading what I was doing and what I was thinking years ago. It’s funny what you let yourself forget.”

cover Further Reading: Notes from Myself: A Guide to Creative Journal Writing, by Anne Hazard Aldrich

Has your journal writing become a little stale? Find yourself uninspired lately? Perk things up with this superb guide, a tome that contains three sections: one on why to keep a journal; another on how; and a final section showing a year from the journal of the author — a creative writing teacher — with annotations.

Also, several people asked about Crane’s outlet: Do they have access to the inventory online? I told many of you “no,” but it turns out there are occasional clearance sales on the Crane site.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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