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December 2012: One Final Love Letter to You

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Well, folks, this is it. After years of writing this column and creating cigar box pen chests for, I’ve filed my retirement papers with the big boss. She accepted them.

This doesn’t mean I’m retiring from the pen hobby, or retiring from appreciating vintage and modern fountain pens. Just getting back 6-7 evenings a month to spend with family.

Yet one grand old piece of writing tech has remained in my briefcase: the fountain pen. It keeps us all grounded amid all this dizzying technological advancement, offering a frame of reference and context for what we’re really doing… We’re still just writing. Extra Fine Points

As Eric at the cigar store I frequent remarked after I told him the latest batch of boxes I exhumed from his roomful of empties would be my last, “Those things don’t put themselves together, eh?”

And this column doesn’t write itself.

Looking back over the span of this column’s existence, I now marvel at some things now I would not have imagined possible back when I started in the early 2000s.

On the technology side, the process of writing, at least for me, has evolved exponentially.

Writing setup on planeToday, I’m writing while traveling from Nashua, NH, to Chicago and on to Wheaton, IL, to visit my brother Jim for the afternoon. On an iPod Touch, with the aid of a Bluetooth keyboard. Input into the free Notes app.

I started writing this month’s column on a plane while waiting for the Sunday-after-Thanksgiving-busiest-travel-day-of-the-year crowd to pack the plane to the gills; took a photo with my phone. I may very well finish writing on the upper level of a Metra Union Pacific West Line train.

Back when this column started, I had a laptop to do this. Period. No way would the battery last long enough to complete it, what with startup time, booting apps, and constant saving. The iPod’s instant-on feature, with a battery lasting 10 or so hours, is much lighter. The keyboard’s wireless. And it can spell check … who needs a “word processor”?

The other high-tech options I could have employed would have blown 2002 Don’s mind even more: Using a Livescribe Smartpen to write a column in my head and dictate it with cursory notes to tweak later. Or speech recognition via the iPhone. Nuance has a free Dragon app, and Siri integrates the same functions, too — they’re all piped to the same data center in North Carolina where the actual speech-recognition is processed and returned back to the phone. For me. For free.

Palm PilotI longed for this kind of setup back then; for a short time I tried making a go of writing articles on the Palm’s notepad app, but it just wasn’t quite there. Plus, the iPod and iPad’s touchscreen make the written part keep up with my brain.

Speech recognition was there way back when, too, but this technological convergence the analyst wonks have been hyping for a decade is here: It’s small, lightweight, fast, and cheap.

I probably have less money invested in my computer and various peripheral toys than I did in my first 286 laptop and companion 386 desktop 20 years ago. And I think my iPod has more processing power (or so it seems) and 64GB of flash memory to serve its main purpose, a razor-thin jukebox.

Old desktop computerMost gizmos and gadgets come and go quickly. Livescribe, for instance, came out with Sky, a wi-fi version of its smartpen, which uploads notes directly to the web so I may soon once and for all be untethered from my laptop when writing articles on the road from meetings and conferences. Of course, I’ll have to toss out the USB Pulse pen I’ve gotten to know so well over the last five or so years.

As for that Palm? Loved it. Might still use it, in fact, if there was a way to plug it into any present-day computer and there was a company that still wrote conduits via which one could sync. And of yeah, if the smartphone, tablet and iPod apps hadn’t completely made the Palm look like Tinkertoys in comparison.

Left-handed overwriter (high elevation)Yet one grand old piece of writing tech has remained in my briefcase: the fountain pen. It keeps us all grounded amid all this dizzying technological advancement, offering a frame of reference and context for what we’re really doing with all this typing, finger-swiping, mousing and now talking at Nuance’s Dragon data center: We’re still just writing.

There’s also a secondary inspiration that keeps me coming back to fountain pens after I finally put down one or the other Star Trek-esque Apple iOS tricorders (iCorders?): You people who share my interests. We see each other in person, we email each other, post on Facebook, or whatever new means of communication come into vogue.

The best communications — and I confess, they kept the cigar box pen chests coming month after month even thought at times I was sick, busy with, er, kids being born, overwhelmed with work, or otherwise occupied with exciting weather events like ice storms, Nor’easters dumping two feet of snow on us, and nasty tropical storms that have hit us the last few years — were the written ones. Letters.

You people wrote me sometimes. You told me how cool you thought my pen chests were. You wrote in careful, straight, extremely legible cursive, script, or printing.

You told me what pens you wrote your notes with. You told me what brand and hue of ink you used to write your notes.

Letter from a box purchaser

You told me stories of your childhood learning to write, and sentimental tales of the pens that would be stored in the chests I made — many of them handed down from loved ones of previous generations.

Mainly, while you didn’t ever spell it out, between the lines your message was: You share the same deep affinity for fountain pens that Richard and I do.

Those notes kept me going when life circumstances threatened to swamp the whole cigar-box pen chest enterprise, and this column as well. That and the fact no one ever hedged in on my favorite pen territory, the gold-nibbed Wearever Pacemaker and its steel-nibbed cousin the Deluxe 100 – and never drove pen-show and eBay prices beyond my reach.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen

Of course, the most marvelous thing to watch over the last 10 or so years — and I’ve said this before, but it can’t be repeated enough — is Richard himself, transforming himself, his house, his business and his career. Yeah, as a family we knew he had a knack for taking things apart and putting them back together before we broke down our first Duofolds and nondescript 1950s Sheaffer’s. That’s why I took my junk-shop finds to him in the first place; I had no idea people repaired pens full-time. He didn’t, either, at the time.

Now look at the mess he’s created, down to designing and marketing his own boutique fountain pen models, created by a pen collector and featuring anachronistic filling systems that only fellow fountain collectors could possibly enjoy. Just how he intended it.

I might be taking leave of this site, but don’t you dare. Can’t wait to see what’s next, myself.

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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