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February 2005: Jim Newman Hickman: My Man

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

A little over two years ago, in October 2002, Don wrote an Extra Fine Points article entitled Jim Newman Hickman, Pentrereneur. At that time, Jim was just coming onto the pen scene.

BY DON FLUCKINGER • I have this penguin. It’s a nodder, technically, in collector terms, as opposed to a bobbing-head penguin, because its head isn’t attached with a spring. It’s about two inches tall, and it’s got an “N” in a circle on its breast.

The penguin’s not even mine, actually. It belongs to my 17-month-old son Patrick.

But it’s one of the coolest things in the house. Jim Hickman, the late owner of Newman Pens, who passed away last December 22, sent it for Patrick soon after the kid was born.

One Newman pen might feature Asian pearl dust, another a solid gold clip, and yet another, a diamond in the clip ball. Hickman — whose middle name was Newman — never skimped on his pens’ accoutrements. Extra Fine Points

Newman Pens penguinHickman was always doing stuff like that. He was a newcomer to the pen scene, and his business was still just coming up to speed. He didn’t really share the collecting jones that many of us pen collectors have, but he did have this passion for creating spectacular resins for his pens.

Hickman didn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the back-catalog of gorgeous celluloids of the 1930s and 1940s, the marbled-plastic heyday for fountain pens. He just liked to play with resins and knew a good mixture when he saw it. It was this instinct that formed his common ground with the hobby, and the reason his pens had begun to gain traction among pen aficionados.

One Newman pen might feature Asian pearl dust, another a solid gold clip, and yet another a diamond in the clip ball. Hickman — whose middle name was Newman — never skimped on his pens’ accoutrements.

He liked to set up at pen shows with painstaking attention to lighting angles, just so that his pens would glow a certain way. That way, while you were inspecting them in the best possible light, he could tell you about every single detail that went into creating his pens.

The pens, however, are only half the story.

As much as he liked pens, he enjoyed friends and family twice as much. In fact, his pen-making started out as a way to make gifts for his family. He’d hand out opulent door prizes — such as a string of pearls, or a pen for which he might otherwise have gotten $700 — at shows to customers walking the aisles. Typical Hickman: He also often gave away prizes in a drawing just for his fellow dealers, “because they never get to have any of the fun — it’s always for customers,” he’d say with a wink.

His obituary in the Atlanta Journal Constitution makes it obvious that Hickman sank this kind of attention and vigor into whatever he did, even on the gridiron in high school, where he broke his nose so many times while toting the rock that his teammates nicknamed him “The Masked Marvel.” And as a history professor, his students sang his praises.

The guy would call me up and talk, ask me how things were going, blah blah, and just shoot the breeze. We’d eventually get around to “How are things going with you, Jim?”

“Pretty good,” he’d say. “I’m at the hospital right now getting a chemotherapy treatment, and it’s just a lot of sitting around so I thought I would catch up with a few people such as yourself.”

The first time he did that, it kind of freaked me out. The second and third, not so much, because if Jim Hickman wasn’t going to let a thing like getting diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer stop him, I certainly wouldn’t let it get in the way of our pen discussions, or him telling me that he’d ship a present for Patrick as soon as he got the chance.

But the lung cancer finally did stop him, at the age of 68. He never smoked, he told me. Just got hit with some bad luck. As pen collectors, we remember his smiling face, his show giveaways, and his drop-dead gorgeous pens.

I don’t have any of his pens. I need to save my pennies and pick one up before the supply dries up completely and they’re gone for good. For now, I’ve got the penguin nodder, the Newman Pens mascot, to remember him by.

A Newman pen

Pen photo courtesy of Newman Pens

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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