mont blanc in the alps With Pen in Hand

mont blanc pens cost With Pen in Hand

The practice of putting pen to paper may be severely stunted, but it’s far from dead. People still use pens to take notes, write letters and append signatures to documents of all sorts. Of course the kind of pen used depends on the kind of person and the task at hand. Can you imagine President Bush signing an important treaty with a 79 cent ballpoint? Or the flashy Trump inking an artful deal with less than an 18 karat gold nib? Do corporate titans jot notes with pens less distinctive than they imagine themselves to be?

Of course not. You can tell there’s a huge market for upscale and vintage pens by scanning glossy pen publications, or the high powered pen activity on the Web or by eavesdropping on the approximately 2,000 pen aficionados who packed the Manhattan Beach Marriott ballroom at the recent 14th annual Los Angeles International Pen Show.

These are not the sort of men and women who’d ever buy shrink wrapped models at the market. They are collectors, folks who started with one fine pen and suddenly found themselves stockpiling as many as they could handle. If you’re imagining a group of fusty ink stained codgers, you’re way off base. The place was jumping with technophiles so invested in the future that they seemed to have a heightened appreciation for the fleeting present and the hallowed past. Many say they have thought long and hard about civilization, about the fact that knowledge has survived largely because it has been passed directly by hand, via writing on stone, then parchment and then paper. They are not about to let the tradition die.

Some of the 158 booths were showcases for top of the line pen firms, but the real draw, the reason collectors traveled from 15 countries to be there, was to meet and greet pen lovers as passionate as themselves, with whom they could trade, sell and swap or just brag a bit.

Chris Odgers, a show co sponsor, is the director of technology at Warner Bros. He collects early Parker fountain pens, made in the 1890s to 1920s. His wife and little boy were with him at the table where he displayed elegant examples, some of which he was willing to sell or trade. Mostly, he was there to buy, he said. He kept his real treasures hidden beneath the display table in a plastic tackle box, each individually wrapped in cloth. Among them, a Parker “bullet pen” from 1917, used by soldiers to write letters home during World War I. It looks like a real bullet, but opens to reveal a nib.

Soldiers filled these with ink from eyedroppers before going into battle, Odgers said, then attached the pens to their watch chains for use in the trenches at quiet times. Just looking at the well worn metal casing makes you hear guns of war in your head, makes you wonder whose hands held this pen,
mont blanc in the alps With Pen in Hand
who its owner wrote to, and whether he survived. This one was not for sale. For his daily writing enjoyment, Odgers has a selection of more modern writing instruments, he said. He pulled from his pocket the Agatha Christie, made by Mont Blanc in about 1993. It’s a reproduction of a 1920s model a full bodied shape in gleaming black, with emerald eyes staring from the head of a sterling silver serpent that coils down the cap to form the clip.

There are two kinds of pen people, it turns out: those who collect to save, and those who collect to use. Many at the show were both kinds rolled into one. They own valuable vintage pens that they display but never use, and a different set they rotate for use on a daily basis.

“We’re all little kids in this room,” said Bert Hurlbut, a construction manager for the new UCLA medical center building in Westwood. He was carrying some vintage pens from his collection so he could play a favorite game. “I go up to a guy and flop one of my pens on the table. He flops down a better one of his. I flop down an even better one of mine. We go on like this until he says, ‘You’ve got me.’ At that point, I’ve won.”

Hurlbut opens his jacket to reveal a shirt pocket packed with pens and two huge patch pockets sewn into the jacket on either side, each of which is packed with pens. They are individually wrapped in chamois and in little plastic bags. “I’ve got at least 30 in here, he says, patting a huge pocket. I’ve got one that’s astronomical a Parker ribbon pen from 1905. And a Waterman filigree, 1911.” Pen people never need to utter the word “pen” when referring to their stash. It’s always a specific make and style, as in: Parker “Big Red,” a Parker 51, a Pelikan Green, a Sheaffer Legacy. Hurlbut says he’s partial to Parkers.

Stephen Overbury, originally of Toronto, is a self described “expert dealer” in Japanese lacquer fountain pens. “These pens cannot be forged,” he said. “The art of lacquer is 9,000 years old. It takes up to six months to make one pen. For an artist to learn lacquer, it can take up to 30 years.” He has written a self published pen book, “Namiki: The Art of Japanese Lacquer,” and has even established residence in Japan to be closer to the source.
mont blanc in the alps With Pen in Hand