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January 2011: New Year's Resolution: Enrich the Hobby!

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Watching TV is brutal this time of year: Subway cranks up the commercials goading people to lose weight through (ugh) eating more sandwiches. Nicorette ads interrupt themselves to play more Nicorette ads. Believe it or not, debt reduction is a top-three resolution among Americans, which is why credit-counseling ads wedge themselves between Subway and Nicorette.

Smartphones, email, and Facebook are separating people from their writing instruments more each day… So get off the sidelines and into the game. You have ideas or interests or talents to bring to the hobby — why not step it up and get involved? Extra Fine Points

Why not resolve to do something a little more fun — and a little more sustainable — this year? Our pen collecting hobby is getting hammered out there by a sociological/technology perfect storm. Smartphones, email, and Facebook are separating people from their writing instruments more each day. I’ve read more than one end-of-decade “things that went obsolete in the ’naughts” roundups that either listed cursive or handwriting itself.

You’re reading this because you have more than a passing interest in pens; you enjoy fountain pens, a particularly archaic form of a soon to be — if the pundits are to be believed — obsolete piece of tech.

So get off the sidelines and into the game. You have ideas or interests or talents to bring to the hobby — why not step it up and get involved?

Cigar box pen chestA few years ago, I created pen chests out of cigar boxes for myself (early example shown at left). I was tired of the Reed & Barton chests that weren’t worth half the money for which I could buy them discounted at the outlet store. After I wrote articles on this site showing everyone how to do their own, it turned out that people wanted me to make them for their pens. I haven’t stopped yet.

Pen rest in situEven before that, Richard and I created the short-lived Northern Woods Pen Rest. That one didn’t get a lot of traction in the hobby, but I still have my trusty Tiger Maple Triple (at right) here in my office. It makes all my pens look good, from the beat up Wearevers to the new Belmont Santa slipped under our Christmas tree.

The point is, while I didn’t make my first million with these ideas, it certainly enriched my collecting experience, and kept me interested. It keeps me writing these columns, and gives me something new to talk about at pen shows beyond “what you carrying?” and “how much have you spent?” Hundreds of collectors have bought my cigar boxes, and there’s little more pleasurable in this hobby than swapping stories with my buyers about their favorite pens and the quirky “necessities” they invent to put pen to paper and write.

Richard, of course, has moved on from routering birdseye and tiger maple with me to creating and selling his own pen designs like the Columbia (designed for Filcao of Italy) and the New Postal and Belmont (from his own Gate City Pen Company).

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
Fountain pen

Button, bulb, and syringe filler. While people might try to ascertain his motives in commissioning these pens, let me just say that profit ranks pretty low on the list, with that whacko-filler fetish of his.

(See above: The pen itself is going away; the fountain pen went away long ago; syringe fillers and bulb fillers are at best an obscure side street on the fountain pen map. If he wanted to make a million off pens, they’d be cartridge/converters with Harry Potter on them — as well as discrete numbers.)

We’re just specks of dirt on the windshield of the fountain pen hobby; others have contributed far more to keeping this thing going. The late Mike Fultz and Frank Dubiel first come to mind, organizing annual shows and fiercely advocating the pen-collecting experience. Fultz, too, created his own line of pens for collectors in particular to appreciate.

Like Dubiel, the later Father Terry Koch encouraged us to fix our own pens and even set up a little mail order business to keep us loaded with O-rings, sacs, wit and wisdom.

Paul Erano’s another. All this guy does is write and write and write about the pens he loves. Books, posters, a newsletter, and he’s now the incoming editor of the Pennant. Andreas Lambrou’s books, too, grace many collectors’ shelves.

I asked Richard to name names, and he came up with pretty much the list you’ve just read. But then he named two more of his heroes, Peter Amis and Bob Tefft. Way back in 1986, after the White Rubber Company had shut down its pen sac production, Peter and Bob bought White’s sac-making machinery, learned how to operate it, and founded the Pen Sac Company.

There are dozens more people I could list here and whose works in our hobby I could fawn over:

These are the people who are enriching our collective hobby experience. You should join this crew. It’s a lot of fun. Plus, the hobby will fizzle out before too long if newly enthused hobby champions don’t step up and get involved.

You can do it. Join a local club or the PCA in 2011. Write an article about your favorite pen. Get another person fired up about going to the next show. That’s a much easier resolution to honor than most, no?

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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