In my part of the world, we’re not blessed with any “proper” stationers. It’s just the usual Paperchase and Smiths, selling the odd Lamy, Parker and a Kaweco or two if you’re lucky. In the more up-market stores like John Lewis, you’ll find some Cross pens and Watermans for graduation gifts. None of the staff will know anything about pens. You wouldn’t dream of asking them for a recommendation.
So when I get the chance to visit a proper pen shop, I take it. Today I was passing near Kendal, in the English Lakes, home to one such shop: Iridium.
While my partner took our daughter off to look round a toy shop or two, I ducked down an alleyway into a little parade of shops and into Iridium.
It’s a small store, and quiet (while I was there one other gentleman came in for a browse; one or two more people and it would have felt full). Despite the limited space, it manages to cram a lot of stock in, without being overwhelming. The usual brands are there, present and correct: Leuchtturm and Clairefontaine and Rhodia for paper, Kaweco and Lamy for pens. Blackwing pencils and ink from Diamine, Herbin and others. Plenty to take a look at already, and then my eye was caught by some less common stock: there was handmade marbled paper, a lot of leather and wooden desk accessories, Sheaffers with inlaid nibs, Parker Duofolds, the airship-like Diplomats, some beautiful Pelikans. By the counter were four very special pens under glass: limited edition Mont Blanc, vintage Dunhill, a boxed Onoto and a sole Omas. I even saw some Yard-o-Leds lying around.
I got chatting to Malcolm, the owner. We talked about Pelikan’s limited editions, Lamy’s retailing policies, internet pricing and much besides. While discussing Moleskine’s crappy paper (they refused to deal with Iridium as a supplier because they already have stockists in town — their loss), Malcolm recommended I check out the Japanese LIFE notebooks he had in the next room. And while discussing Pelikan inks and the limited editions, he swabbed some of his last bottle of Smoky Quartz for me, as well as pointing out some comparisons to other swabs pinned up on the wall, so I could see whether this would be the brown to finally win me over.
I love having the convenience of online shops and I’ve had plenty of responsive, quality service from specialist web stationers like Cult Pens, Bureau Direct and the Writing Desk. But even though I’m an antisocial old grump it’s wonderful to be able to step into a shop and actually pick up the new Lamy Pacific Al Star, see how big a Pelikan M400 really is, or see how an ink looks on your favourite paper before buying a bottle. And of course it’s great to be able to chat about the hobby with someone who really knows what they’re talking about.
I’m still a long way from walking into Iridium and dropping £500+ on a new Pelikan (or an old Onoto, for that matter). But Malcolm was happy to spend time with me just the same. And that’s what a good pen shop should be like. But places like Iridium (or Bartrums in Hay on Wye, another lovely shop I visited recently) will only be there for us if we’re there for them. So, even though I need more paper and ink like a hole in the head, I bought the LIFE notebook and the bottle of Smoky Quartz. And I walked out with a big smile on my face.