Yes, the pen is mightier than the sword. And it can be pretty tough on the wallet, too.
For most of us, a pen is a simple tool that we use only during those brief moments when our fingers aren't clattering across a keyboard.
You find them, lose them, "borrow" them from coworkers or liberate them from the office supply closet. The pen rarely gets much attention, so long as it works; when it doesn't, you just toss it away and reach for another one.
But there are those among us who believe the pen is more than just a tooth-marred plastic tube. These people want their pens to make a statement before they've even written a word.
They chosse their pens the way others chosse fine jewelry, and they're willing to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for the likes of a Waterman, Omas, Aurora or other such high-end writing instrument.
The question is, why?
"A nice pen definitely makes a positive statement," says Paul Erano, author of
Fountain Pens: Past & Present
Erano's Quarterly Pen Review
. "I love ... my computer, but there's something special about taking the time to write a letter by hand that can't be duplicated by writing it on a laptop."
There was a time in this country when a fine pen was a popular graduation present. In some families, pens were handed down from generation to generation.
And then, around the 1950s, those cheap ballpoints started showing up.
"At some point, we became a disposable society, and I think pens were the first thing to go," Erano says. "The nice
thing about the fountain pen is that you get to keep it and get a new refill. That's appealing."
Fountain Pen Hospital in New York City has been catering to discriminating pen enthusiasts for the last 60 years. Steve Wiederlight, who co-owns the business with his brother, Terry, says it all comes down to quality.
"It's like buying a shirt for $5 or buying one for $75," Wiederlight explains. "It feels great in your hand; it's much more balanced. Today, with the computers, you don't often have a chance to write with a nice pen."
Jim Rouse, co-owner of
Bertram's Inkwell in Maryland, said an expensive pen is one of the few things a businessman can have to stand out from the crowd.
"You need something in a jewelry sense, so where do you go?" Rouse asks. "You go with a nice pen. That's the self-expression piece that separates you from the masses."
Writing a letter is another way of making an impression, Rouse explains, as opposed to just sending emails.
"Email is garbage. You're sending the most important letter of your life and at the same time the guy is getting ads for Viagra," Rouse points out. "In the same situation, you write ... a handwritten note on a nice piece of paper and it becomes a treasure."
As far as pricing, Rouse claims that once you go above the $400 to $500 price tag, you are really not paying for a better-performing pen -- you're paying for a larger piece of jewelry.
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"The cool thing about collecting pens is that you're collecting something you can actually use," Rouse says.
"If you collect little porcelain Hummels, all you can do is put them on a shelf and look at them. With pens, it's the same mentality as a knife collector. They're tools you may never dare use, but you could if you wanted to."
Abel Bullock, president and chief executive officer of
Michel Perchin, says most of his company' pens are in the $3,000 to $4,000 range and customers include surgeons, CEOs and the type of people who want to use something special when they sit down to sign a billion-dollar contract.
"It's about making an impression," Bullock explains. "It's about where you fit in society."
Take Michel Perchin's Fleur-de-lis, for example, which is crafted out of .925 sterling silver. The clip, crown, ring and high relief fleur-de-lis pattern are layered in 22-karat yellow gold or rhodium. The pen is fitted with an 18-karat gold nib and ebonite feeder. The fountain pen retails for $3,700, while the roller ball sells for $3,500.
"All our products are hand-crafted in Europe," Bullock adds. "It's really a dying art."
Some people may have unpleasant grammar school memories of writing with a fountain pen, where blobs of ink on the page were quickly followed by the teacher's harsh rebuke. But Bullock counters that's old-school thinking.
"A modern-day fountain pen, with 18-karat gold nibs, writes smoothly," Bullock says. "The ink just glides over the paper. A well-balanced pen really does the work for you."
Still not sure about the right pen for you? Last year, Pilot Pen released the Peacock through its
Using the techniques of Maki-e, a kind of raised lacquer work that dates back to 7th century Japan, artists take four months to complete each handmade Peacock Pen, resulting in a piece of artwork at $12,000 each.
And if money is no object? Richemont, the Swiss luxury goods company, owns a number of fine pen makers, including
Montblanc, which is commemorating its 100th anniversary this year by introducing the Montblanc Solitaire Mountain Massif Skeleton.
The Massif Skeleton is made of 18 karat white gold, covered in 1,277 white and 123 rare blue diamonds, and comes with a $172,000 price tag.
As there are only three of them in the world and about 60 interested buyers, the company will have to come up with a system to thin the herd of prospective owners.
Montegrappa, another Richemont company, takes things up a notch with the Peace Pen, which has the distinction of being the most expensive pen in the world.
Designed by David Montalto di Frangito, the Peace Pen is made of solid platinum, decorated with stipple-engraved, Baccarat glass panels, and 1,259 diamonds, for a total of 48 carats.
It's all yours for a mere $1 million.
"It's a ... unique piece," said Lorenzo Nuti, Montegrappa's North American director.
The Peace Pen has yet to be sold, but Nuti said there are several interested parties in the Middle East, Russia, Asia and Hollywood.
The Write Stuff
The Fountain Pen Hospital recently held a trade show at its Warren Street location and some of the top names in the pen business came in to display their wares.
Alice Wong, an area businesswoman, stopped by and picked up an Omas.
"I go for what I like," she says. "If it's visually appealing, then it's something I'll buy. Then there's the price. If the price is too high, then I have to step back."
Luis Goris, a conductor on the Long Island Railroad, came away from the trade show with a $2,000 Michel Perchin pen.
"I'm sick," he says with a smile. "I couldn't get my eyes off it."
Goris compared writing with a plastic pen and writing with a quality one as "like driving a piece of crap car or driving a Ferrari." He has a few high-end pens, but this latest one is the most expensive.
So what do Goris' friends think when they find out how much he spent on a pen?
"I don't tell them," he says.
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