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230,000 Dollar Fountain Pens!?

Aug 17, 2007
Many individuals would probably raise an eyebrow when they hear someone willing to spend $40,000 to buy a fountain pen. Renaissance Pen Co founder Patrick Pinkston, however, says that the amount - apparently exorbitant for what is seemingly 'only' a writing instrument - is a reflection of the fact that these pens are also considered special works of art.

1. Insanely Expensive Pens Are Works Of Art

The high price fountain pens fetch are also due to the approach taken by Fisher, Michel Perchin and other industry leaders to make their product available on a limited edition basis. This trend first emerged in the early 1990s, creating a new market of pricey items that Fountain Pen Hospital President Terry Wiederlight said made the pens more like jewelry.

The price range for fountain pens is quite extreme. A Fisher pen capable of writing upside down is available for $15. On the other hand, the Modernista Diamonds pen from Caran D'Ache - which has over 5,000 small diamonds - will cost the interested buyer $230,000. The bottom line is that fountain pen enthusiasts are eager to flaunt, admire or simply collect the specially-designed fine writing instruments.

2. Where The Passion Started

Although pens with their own ink cache have already been available earlier, the first patented fountain pen is attributed to insurance salesman Lewis Waterman in 1884. In his case, the motivation came from failure to close a major contract after the pen he was using spilled ink onto the document. Waterman's efforts grew the business from a simple hand-made operation based in a cigar shop to one with annual sales of 350,000! Nephew Frank D. Waterman launched the company abroad after his uncle died in 1901.

3. How Fountain Pens Work

Earlier attempts to patent their creation before Waterman - including the self-filling pen of John Jacob Parker in 1831 and the quill-and-metal pen of John Scheffer in 1809 - either failed or posed other problems that prevented these products from taking off. Since a fountain pen's internal supply of ink is crucial, many inventors and pen makers going back to the early 19th century explored various ways to come up with the optimum reservoir design. One that emerged during the period was the self-filling design, which spawned several patents that included the Parker Pen Co's Button Filler in 1905, Walter Sheaffer's Lever Filler in 1908 and the Weidlich Company's Matchstick Filler in 1910.

Another key figure in the development of fountain pens is George Safford Parker, who worked as a distributor of John Holland fountain pens to supplement his salary as a school teacher. His frustration with the quality of the pens he sold to students compelled him to repair the faulty ones, eventually making him learn how fountain pens were made and convincing him that he could make pens of higher quality. The now 110-year-old Parker Pen Company was incorporated by Parker in a team-up with insurer W.E. Palmer in February 1892, helped by several Parker patents, including The Lucky Curve. This innovation made use of capillary attraction that fully drained ink from the pen's feed tube, preventing the liquid from expanding and reaching the tip to ensure that no ink will blot the user's hand when the cap is removed.

4. Fountain Pens Of Today

Entering the 20th century, fountain pens have become more than writing instruments. Ownership became a clear symbol of prestige, with holders of the pen seen as an educated class, who at that time were the only individuals recognized for their reading and writing skills.

Disposable ink cartridges for fountain pens emerged in the 1950s and became a market success, primarily due to the ease with which they could be inserted in pens and a design that practically prevented any spillage. Ballpoint pens were later developed and eventually surpassed fountain pens as preferred writing instruments. Despite the competition, fountain pens remain a collector's item.

The world's foremost fountain pen brands can all be found at the Fountain Pen Hospital in New York. Besides the fine-writing instrument, Fountain Pen Hospital also offers desk sets, leather pen cases, pen displays and other accessories. Among the top labels available at the dealer are Germany's Graf von Faber-Castell; Cartier; Italian maker Aurora; high-tech proponent Rotring; Sheaffer; Michel Perchin; Waterman and Parker.
About the Author
For more great fountain pen related articles and resources check out http://www.pen-stop.com
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