The origin story

I’m no superhero. But I’ve been invited to tell my fountain pen “origin story” as part of a new project. So here goes. Forgive me for going into quite a bit of detail — I’m relishing digging up some of the forensic-historical evidence of a growing addiction!

I’ve always liked stationery. I used to draw a lot, as all kids do, but I distinctly remember the pleasure of getting my bag and pencil case ready for a new year at school. As a teenager, enjoying finding just the right gel rollerball pen for comfort and speed in exams. Buying Parker pens from WH Smith. Going to the school stationery shop, even, for pencils and erasers. Such fabulous memories, even if most of the time I used my pens for doodling and flicking ink at my mates.

(I played with some of these memories in my review of the Taroko exercise book…)

At uni I was deeply into technology — ironically, given that I went to a thousand year old university. I reviewed gadgets, and I used PDAs with folding keyboards to make lecture notes. This was, I suppose, the nadir of my origin story. I’m sure I must have used pens, but not consciously.

Once I graduated and, funnily enough, became a professional writer, I still didn’t really get back into pens — although I guess this is when I started to dabble.

My email records tell me that I ordered a beautiful Conway Stewart Burnham back in 2004 (from the Writing Desk!), and my faithful retired Esterbrook and a racing green Vanishing Point in 2005. I used them on and off, alongside my mother’s old Parker 45, but even then I’d say I was barely dipping a toe in the hobby.


Old pens deserve respect. Esterbrook and Parker, both older than me.

As to inks, I mainly used cartridges, but I made do with a couple of bottles of Waterman inks, and a couple of bottles of Private Reserve, all ordered in 2005. To this day they are the emptiest bottles of ink in my growing horde!


Two-thirds empty Havana Brown. Bonus dust.

As I’ve written before, I think it was adopting EDC starting in around 2008 that encouraged me to take pens seriously, as more than a disposable way to make a mark on paper. I started by carrying a Fisher Space Pen in my wallet, and worked my way through a succession of machined tactical pens with clips — principally the Embassy Pen from 2011 and, by 2013, Maxmadco — always stuffed in my back pocket with a Field Notes. Some of those metal pens ended up being fountain pens (like the Kaweco Liliput, ordered in 2012, or TiScribe in April 2016), and before long I found myself writing more in fountain pens at work, too.

In 2013 I chose to back a “proper” fountain pen on Kickstarter, the notorious Visionnaire — I guess it was catching the Jinhao bug before it was cool. Luckily the pen actually wrote OK, leaks aside, and it didn’t put me off either Kickstarter or fountain pens.

I ordered a TWSBI Classic back in July 2014, which was my main workhorse in the office for a long time, even though it leaked at the ink window and nib unit, and I added a second “proper” pen, the titanium Namisu Nexus, at the end of 2014.

I splurged on a Lamy Studio in March 2016 and a Franklin-Christoph Pocket 66 Antique Glass in the same month, for what was at that time an inconceivable amount of money to spend on a pen. I remember being amazed at the speed of the shipping, and the first of many customs charges.

Aside from the two vintage pens, the Parker and Esterbrook, the Pocket 66 is the only fountain pen I’ve mentioned so far that I still own. Liliput, Burnham, Visionnaire, Classic, TiScribe, Vanishing Point, Studio — all sold or given away.


Two survivors from the early ordering days of 2016… one rather stained by Emerald of Chivor.

A Tactile Turn Gist in brass followed in May 2016, and that was when the floodgates opened. My first 3776 in October (my first new gold nib), a Lamy 2000 in November… and of course plenty more since.

I guess it was around this time, mid 2016, that I decided to pretty much stop writing with anything but a fountain pen, even for quick pocket-notebook scribbles. Note that that hasn’t stopped me *buying* new rollerballs, like my Black Friday acquisition of a concrete Studio 22 pen this year.

And then, just 18 months later, we end up here, with beautiful Visconti palladium nibs.


And here, with giant Pelikan 18k nibs.


In the words of Anchorman: well, that escalated quickly.

And so, as I look back, I can’t decide when exactly I “got into” fountain pens. Was it those first Parkers back at school? My random purchases in 2005? My “metal phase” of EDC pens? The “proper pens” I started buying in 2014, or the massive increase in frequency in 2016? Who knows. I’m not sure it matters.

Two things do matter.

One, I get real joy out of these pens every day. The act of writing — even a shopping list — is so much more pleasurable when you do it with an object that is beautiful, comfortable, and functional. But I also enjoy owning them, maintaining them, handling them, and yes, I enjoy what they say about my status, my taste, my class. I take pride in them as I do a mechanical watch or a well-tied necktie. I look at immaculately dressed executives in meetings scrawling with a freebie biro and I wonder how they can’t see the incongruity.

Two, I’m getting so much happiness out of introducing my young daughter to these pens, spending time with her as she plays with inks and learns cursive from me. I daydream that one day in the future someone asks her how she got into fountain pens, and she’ll think back to me, the time we spent together, and the joy it brought us.


4 thoughts on “The origin story

  1. That’s a great post and you’re right, I tend to believe that the most important part isn’t when (or how) you fell in love with fountain pens but how you’re passing this love along. Sorry for the bad frenchie English…

    Liked by 1 person

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