mont blanc generation A New Chapter in Story of the Fountain Pen
The shipment of fountain pens from Mont Blanc of West Germany arriving at the Fountain Pen Shop included one that Fred Krinke had been eagerly awaiting.
Krinke, 58, owner of the writing implement store on the eighth floor of the Metropolitan Building on West 5th Street, retrieved a gold pen from the package. He held it up to admire and explained:
“Fountain pens are perceived as archaic. But you would be surprised at the growing number of businessmen, doctors and attorneys using expensive fountain pens instead of ballpoint pens,” said Krinke.
Indeed, statistics compiled by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Assn. (WIMA), a trade group based in Washington, show that while fountain pen sales continue to fall far short of the volume done by ball point pens, they are still making a steady comeback.
Last year, 11.2 million fountain pens were manufactured in the United States, with manufacturer sales registering $40 million. That performance showed a respectable improvement from four years earlier: In 1981, 8.6 million fountain pens were made here, ringing up sales of $31.5 million.
During 1985, by contrast, 2.2 billion ballpoint pens were produced in the United States with $383 million in sales, up from 1981, when 1.99 billion were manufactured, registering sales of $351 million.
Industry observers attribute the rise in fountain pen sales to those geared to the more affluent carrying price tags of $50 and higher.
Krinke attributed the increase to “nostalgia for things out of the past and a search for more individuality in writing style that is more easily obtained with a fountain pen.”
The Fountain Pen Shop, founded in 1922 by Krinke’s grandfather, is one of a handful of stores left in the nation specializing in fountain pens and offering on the premises repair service. Fountain pens are also sold in stationery stores, gift shops and department stores.
In the Fountain Pen Shop, Dr. John Tarr, 57, a physician, was getting a minor adjustment to his $250 fountain pen. He reflected: “I detect a bit of a trend among my colleagues to use fountain pens. For me,
I enjoy writing with a fountain pen. I feel a little more fulfilled in a fastidious way.”
Attorney Paul F. Hyer, 51, was also in the shop. Hyer, who uses an expensive fountain pen in his daily work writing legal documents, said: “It’s easier to write with a fountain pen. It requires less effort than writing with a ballpoint pen. It glides along. And you can express yourself in a writing style that is much more personalized.”
The Fountain Pen Shop is a throwback to an earlier time. It is filled with old fashioned showcases containing ink bottles, Krinke’s collection of antique pens and a variety of new fountain pens for sale.
Two turn of the century safes stand in the corner next to tiny, 75 year old cabinets containing breather tubes, plungers, bladders, filler units, nibs (pen points) and other fountain pen paraphernalia.
“My father and grandfather before me never threw away anything. We have parts for and can repair fountain pens made before World War I. We are frequently called upon to do so,” Krinke explained.
Lewis E. Waterman invented the fountain pen in 1884. The steel nib was first made in France in 1745, and until the fountain pen came along, it was necessary to dip the nib of the pen into an inkwell as one wrote.
The ballpoint pen was invented in 1935 by Ladislas Biro, a Hungarian living in Brazil. Ballpoint pens were introduced into the United States in 1945, initially selling for $15 to $20. By the mid 1950s, they began replacing the fountain pen as a popular writing instrument.
Sheaffer Eaton is the largest manufacturer of fountain pens in the United States, producing more than half of the fountain pens made in the United States, which retail from $8.50 to $3,500. Founded in 1913 by Walter A. Sheaffer, the firm employs 900 at its Iowa writing implement factory.
“We’re very optimistic about the fountain pen market,” said Stephen Roberts, the company’s director of marketing. “Our fountain pen sales have increased threefold since 1980.” Roberts attributed the increase to two factors. “It’s a gift item,” he said, pointing to an $11.95 Scheaffer Eaton calligraphy set, which he believes introduced many Americans for the first time to the fountain pen.