Why fountain pens are flourishing as very collectable items

Words by
Simon De Burton

20th September 2018

Modern communication might be carried out on a keyboard, but fountain pens are flourishing — not only as writing tools, but also as extremely intricate collectables

The computer keyboard might have usurped the nib as our universally favoured writing tool — there’s no denying that most of us wonder how we ever managed before the days of emails and text messages — but, emotionally at least, the fountain pen remains the quiet king of communication instruments. Who, after all, doesn’t love to receive a letter that has been hand-written on heavy notepaper with care, imagination and a consideration for not smudging?

The traditionally penned word also offers an insight into our character according to the way we loop, cross and dot and, when chosen in favour of a speedily-typed missive delivered by cyberspace, it demonstrates a thoughtfulness invariably appreciated by the recipient.

It’s little wonder, then, that fountain pens are making a comeback, both in terms of use and as collectables in much the same paradoxical fashion that the mechanical wristwatch has emerged unscathed from the quartz era as an ultimate statement of style and sophistication. And, just as watches hold equal appeal to enthusiasts whether they are old or new, so vintage and modern pens attract collectors and investors.

Montblanc's popular Guggenheim model in gold
Montblanc's popular Guggenheim model in gold

Montblanc's popular Guggenheim model in gold

At the London Writing Equipment Show taking place this October, thousands of pens of all types, ages and materials will be on display and available for sale, including especially collectable vintage pieces from brands such as Visconti, Omas, Montegrappa, Conway Stewart, Waterman, ST Dupont, Cartier and Parker. The most ardent aficionados of old writing instruments will undoubtedly be on the lookout for what is arguably the most covetable of all, Dunhill’s rare “Namiki” models.

The Namiki pen company — which later became Pilot — was founded in Tokyo by Ryosuke Namiki in 1918 and rose to fame nine years later when it signed (very stylishly, no doubt) a contract to produce its celebrated Maki-e decorated pens for Dunhill. Maki-e artists created intricate pictures on the barrels and caps of Dunhill pens using sprinkled gold dust and lacquer. In 2000, a so-called “Giant” version created in 1930 and decorated with a dragon design by leading exponent Iijima Genjirou fetched £183,000 at Bonhams in London, a record for a Dunhill Maki-e model that remains unbroken.

Also highly coveted are the limited-edition “Writer’s Series” introduced by Montblanc in 1992, each new model of which is dedicated to a celebrated author. The success of the range also led to the launch of the Patrons of the Arts collector’s pieces, the first of which was inspired by Lorenzo de Medici — examples of which now change hands for up to £5,000 apiece.

Still with an eye on the highly collectable market, Montblanc has recently added to its lines with a unique bejewelled, elephant-themed pen costing €1.5m that is dedicated to the pre-Christian Punic commander Hannibal Barca, who is also honoured in three other editions of five,10 and 86 pieces each — respectively remembering Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps, his capture of 10,000 Roman soldiers and the 86,000 men who followed him on the legendary mountain journey.

Montblanc’s bejewelled, elephant-themed pen is dedicated to Hannibal
Montblanc’s bejewelled, elephant-themed pen is dedicated to Hannibal

Montblanc’s bejewelled, elephant-themed pen is dedicated to Hannibal

Other high-end specials from the German maker include pens that pay tribute to the flamboyant 19th-century “Swan King”, Ludwig II of Bavaria, and a range of five, 10 and 88 pieces in the high-artistry, spider-inspired “Metamorphosis”range.

“The pen collecting scene has changed dramatically during the past two years,” says Jeremy Collingridge of UK Pen Shows. “At the 2017 London show, we received 60% more visitors than the year before and noticed a huge influx of younger buyers. That surprised us, but we subsequently discovered that many young people have become fed-up with typing and have developed an interest
in writing in a way that they enjoy.

“They have discovered that a very nice writing instrument can be had for as little as £25 or as much as £1m — names such as Conklin, Twisby, Onoto and Conid are producing some really beautiful and innovative products. People are also being drawn in by the remarkable range of modern inks that are available to use in them — brands such as Noodlers and Diamine will supply ink in virtually any colour imaginable. Even ink that glitters.”

Perhaps surprisingly, however, one of the hottest writing instruments of recent months among writing enthusiasts is the gold propelling pencil. But that’s probably another story.

 

The London Writing Equipment Show takes place on Sunday, 7 October on Coram Street, London, WC1N 1HT. Open 10.30am - 4pm, admission £5. For more information, visit ukpenshows.co.uk