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February 2011: Ten Things I Learned From A Passion For Pens

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Tonight, as I compose this month’s essay — and this is a coincidence, truly — I’m listening to the fine album Appassionata from one of my all-time favorite piano players, Ramsey Lewis. While he made his mark creating popular soul jazz in the 1960s and morphing into Herbie Hancock-esque fusion in the 1970s, this one draws from classical and vintage jazz influences and features a minimal acoustic trio. Ahhhhh.

…it attempts to tell the story of the fountain pen’s evolution and set to words their qualities that drive our interest in (or, if you will, passion for) them. Let the other moneychangers do their work! Extra Fine Points
Book cover

Anyway, it’s coincidental because it’s time to revisit my occasional series that examines the best-ever pen books all collectors should have. This month’s book? A Passion For Pens, penned by Pierre Haury and Jean-Pierre Lacroux, translated to English from French by Fred Gorstein almost 20 years ago but still sometimes available at pen shows.

The book — and I love this part, the part that gives the authors license to call it “a passion for pens” — discusses how many other books put emphasis on pricing pens, while it attempts to tell the story of the fountain pen’s evolution and set to words their qualities that drive our interest in (or, if you will, passion for) them. Let the other moneychangers do their work!

It also aligns itself with my personal philosophy by stating in no uncertain terms that collecting is one thing, but being a collector is another. The former accumulates pens; the latter uses them. Agree with it or not, this book takes a stand.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book for rounding out your collector’s shelf. It’s not the definitive tome for anything, and cannot stand by itself. Really, though, no self-respecting collector can live without it, because it’s loaded with historical notes and collecting tips.

Without further ado, here are 10 things I learned from it:
  1. While it might look like a pen, I: Haury found a lovely silver pen-like object — complete with clip and faux band — that actually stashed a shot of booze. For those situations where one finds himself saying “I need a chill pill.”

  2. French manufacturer Unic’s “Duocolor” was a two-nibbed pen, one of the “most complicated fountain pens ever created.”

  3. L’Onoto made some L’Awesome solid gold pens, shown here with vivid photographs.

  4. In 1827, an Englishman named Doughty thought he’d struck upon the best tipping material for gold nibs — ruby.

  5. While it might look like a pen, II: Leave it to the Americans to manufacture something like this: A 1920s (or perhaps just before) “pen” could fire tear-gas cartridges. Just in case you’re caught in a riot, or perhaps a friendly poker game gone bad, and need to escape.

  6. While iridium nib tips were perfected by the U.S. fountain pen industry in the late 19th century, the first to do it was a Frenchman named Jean-Benoît Mallat. In 1843.

  7. While I kinda knew this before, the book — with its many pictures of advertisements — drives home the fact that fountain pens were the communication devices of choice for soldiers in World War I.

  8. The best illustration of capillary action for noncollectors? A sugar cube in a cup of coffee.

  9. While it might look like a pen, III: In 1928, Bayle and Griffin made a pen-like object with a gold cap band that contained a neon vial suitable for checking car spark plugs. Apparently, maintenance was done by more gentlemanly sorts than I pay to do the job today (no offense to the greasy, ballpoint-toting dudes with whom I trust my vehicles).

  10. While it might look like a pen, IV: An English “pistol pen” fired real bullets. Let’s just say this baby probably wouldn’t make it past TSA scanners at U.S. airports.

Seriously, this is a pen-collecting classic. Get yours today.

cover Further Reading: A Passion For Pens, by Pierre Haury and Jean-Pierre Lacroux, translated by Fred Gorstein
I can’t give you a link to a source for this book; you’ll just have to go to a pen show and find a copy on a dealer’s table. It’ll be worth it — for the book and the show.
Further Listening: Appassionata, by the Ramsey Lewis Trio
Download it from Amazon. You won’t be sorry.

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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