climb mt blanc Why are fountain pen sales rising
You might expect that email and the ballpoint pen had killed the fountain pen. But sales are rising, so is the fountain pen a curious example of an old fashioned object surviving the winds of change?
For many people, fountain pens bring back memories of school days full of inky fingers, smudged exercise books and piles of pink blotting paper.
But for others, a fat Montblanc or a silver plated Parker is a treasured item. Prominently displayed, they are associated with long, sinuous lines of cursive script.
Sales figures are on the up. Parker, which has manufactured fountain pens since 1888, claims a worldwide “resurgence” in the past five years, and rival Lamy says turnover increased by more than 5% in 2011.
Online retailer Amazon says sales so far this year have doubled compared with the same period in 2011. They are four times higher than 2010.
Stationery giant Ryman has seen a 10% increase in fountain pen sales over the last six weeks compared with the same period last year.
But the rush to fountain pens is not part of a wider handwriting boom. Sales of ballpoint pens are stable.
Instead the fountain pen is a classic story of how an object’s status is affected by waves of new technology.
Fountains pens once ruled, but by the 1960s the perfection of ballpoint pen technology established a remorseless rival. It would have taken an optimistic soul then to predict anything other than extinction for the fountain pen a trip to the technological graveyard alongside the quill pen or the mangle.
But they didn’t die. The way people think about them has changed and is still changing.
“The relationship we have with a fountain pen is changing from it being a working tool towards more of an accessory,” says Gordon Scott, vice president for office products at Parker pens in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
“It was the first time I’d used a fountain pen since I was about 13. I found myself enjoying writing more slowly and liked the way I had to think through sentences differently. I discovered I loved the fact that handwriting forces you to do a second draft, rather than just tidying up and deleting bits on a computer. I also discovered I enjoy the tactile buzz of the ritual involved in filling the pens with ink.
“Now when I write novels I have two fountain pens on the go, with two different colour inks. One is always my favourite, but I alternate between the two, so I can see what I have written each day. I also love the way people react when I sign books with fountain pens. I try to sign them in different colours such as brown, green or grey as it is really nice to show that it’s obviously been done by a human being.
“I don’t have any time for incredibly fancy pens and use a different ‘lead’ pen for each novel. Right now I am using a Twsbi, which is an incredibly robust but smooth writing pen from Taiwan. My current favourite is a Visconti because it has a magnet in the lid which goes clunk when I put the top on I am easily satisfied. I probably have between 40 and 60 fountain pens, which is a bit silly, but once people are aware that you like them, they like to give them as gifts.”
“People want the memory of a fountain pen in a contemporary pen.”
Somehow, the fountain pen became a luxury item and found a niche.
If a president signs a treaty, they don’t do it with a Bic Cristal. If you give a loved one a pen, your thoughts might be more fountain than ballpoint.
It is the stuff of graduation presents and good luck on your first day at work.
And those who buy them for themselves are making a very self conscious choice.
The fountain pen has had to deal with both the ballpoint menace and the general threat to handwriting from the rise of email and other electronic messaging types.
But for the aficionados, an iridium nib is a statement.
They are “simple and honest” in a world governed by ubiquitous modern computer technology, says Martin Roberts, of online pen specialist The Writing Desk.
“There is a McDonald’s on every High Street but it does not prevent people from enjoying good, simple, home cooked food.”