ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Everybody knows you can buy a fairly good ballpoint pen for a quarter or a felt-tip pen for a buck. So why do some people spend $25, $100, or $250 to buy a fountain pen?
"A fine pen is made to help a person write better," says Marilyn Brown, manager of the International Pen Shop at Arthur Brown & Bro. in New York. "You can write all day and not tire. A well-balanced pen feels good in your hand. It lets you write with a gliding motion, with a freedom unlike any other writing tool."
What kinds of people are buying fountain pens these days?
"Almost everybody," says Brown, whose shop carries pens ranging in price from $18 to more than $8,000. "Our customers include everybody from firemen to doctors, from actors to lawyers, from diplomats to secretaries."
Dr. Bruce Kelly, who practices family medicine in Asheville, N.C., says that finding ways to make everyday tasks like note-taking more enjoyable helps him cope with a hectic schedule.
'Helps the Day Go Smoothly'
"When I'm taking or transcribing information from my patients," Kelly said, "writing with my fountain pen somehow helps the day go a little more smoothly."
Some buyers want a thicker pen; others choose a slimmer one. Some want a feather-light writing tool; others favor a heavy, solid pen.
"Writing with a fountain pen is almost like automatic writing," says Molly Pace, who works at Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville when not at college studying for a teaching certificate. "It's as though your thoughts are connected to your hand and flowing through your pen."
"I have a pen fetish," Pace admits. She uses her Waterman Executive--charged with black or (occasionally) purple ink--for writing letters and poetry. She says that the prospect of writing with a fountain pen makes it easier to face school assignments she would just as soon not write.
Some pen fanciers select a lustrous black pen with discreet gold trim; others look for a pen finished in colorful lacquer, wood grain, tortoise shell, or gold or silver plate.
A well-made pen with a fine finish is more than just a writing implement, says Lisa Morrow, product manager at Pelikan Inc. She describes Pelikan's hand-crafted, gold-and-silver Toledo model ($579) as "a piece of jewelry you can write with." And this isn't even the ultra-expensive end of the spectrum, with its solid-gold, custom-made pens.
But you don't have to spend that kind of money to get a pen made with gold. Brown says that the nibs (points) of well-made but inexpensive fountain pens ($50 and under) are often made of steel covered by a thin layer of gold plate.
Better fountain pens ($50 and up) usually have nibs made of solid gold. It's the softness and flexibility of the gold that make a fine fountain pen write with a smooth, flowing, gliding feeling. Don't worry that the soft gold will wear down as you write. The pellet of the gold-nib pen--the tip that touches the paper--is made of a super-tough metal such as an iridium alloy.