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Ink is still king at New York City's Fountain Pen Hospital

In this palace of penmanship, the nib, ballpoint and rollerball are still mightier than the sword – and the keyboard.

December 27, 2011|By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times

Over the years, celebrity pen-lovers such as Bill Cosby and O.J. Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden have graced Pen World's cover. The October issue featured Sylvester Stallone, grinning and balancing a thick, ornately crafted fountain pen between his thumb and index finger.

A skull, serpents and sword wrap around the colorful exterior of the limited edition pen, which Stallone — a pen collector — designed for the Italian manufacturer Montegrappa. The artwork is white-gold, as is the nib, giving this hefty pen — named Chaos — a $6,000 price tag. It's a bit less if you opt for the rollerball version.

That's nothing compared with the $30,000 solid gold Omas pen that Terry Wiederlight, the Fountain Pen Hospital's co-owner, was expecting to be delivered. It was for a Vermont-based pen collector who had recently spent about $115,000 at one of the Fountain Pen Hospital's occasional special expos — the pen world's version of a wine tasting.

"People just have this fetish," Wiederlight said, but he admits the industry has taken a hit as young people lose interest in pens. Years ago, pens selling for $1,000 or $2,000 "used to go out the door the way $50 pens do now," said Wiederlight, who has turned to — what else? — the Internet to rev up sales. "We're just constantly trying different things."

That includes a jampacked website, a Facebook page, an electronic billboard at Times Square over the holiday season and a selection of pens that Wiederlight says appeal in particular to men who want bling but don't want to wear jewelry. "A nice writing instrument for a man today is a status symbol," Wiederlight said.

Bill Christian, a regular customer from Bloomington, Ind., begs to differ. He doesn't know how to use a computer and relies upon a vast collection of pens for correspondence. "I don't care how fancy it looks. It has to write," Christian said. "If it doesn't write, it's like a unicorn. And I don't need a unicorn."

Every pen fan, it seems, has a favorite pen story. Wiederlight remembers the day Bill Cosby called about 15 years ago, looking for a vintage pen to give as a gift. Thus began a lasting relationship between the entertainer and the Pen Hospital.

Chandler likes to tell of two pen lovers, one in Florida and one in Wisconsin, who collected Esterbrook pens and for years bid against each other for Esterbrook pieces on eBay. Eventually, they discovered that each possessed a rare Esterbrook set. Rival bids gave way to romance, and last year, they were married at the place they had first met: the Chicago Pen Show. It's one of the country's biggest pen shows, along with the Los Angeles International Pen Show in Manhattan Beach in February.

For every happy pen story, though, is a tale of woe. Chandler still misses the Retro 51 Ya Ling that she used to finish a crossword puzzle on a plane more than a year ago. She tucked it into the seat back in front of her, and then forgot it when she left the plane.

Yarborough lost his Expert Matte Black Waterman ballpoint at work after leaving it on his desk when he left for the weekend. When he returned the following Monday, it was gone.

tina.susman@latimes.com

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