Postmodernism

Pool: Now let’s praise the famous pens | Frank swimming pool

Over the years, the appeal of retro has grown. I’m not just talking about the post-war and pre-postmodern literature and furniture I grew up with – this also extends to utilitarian and aesthetic objects. Like pens.

I started using fountain pens and came to love the writing experience with them, even though they require more attention and care than ballpoint pens and rollerballs.

You realize early on that they generally go through the ink much faster than ballpoint pens. Nib size also matters, with a wider nib putting a lot more ink on the paper. I have a beautiful red Namiki Falcon that I keep filled with red ink. When I correct a few sets of student assignments, it’s time to recharge.

Fountain pens can be refilled in two basic ways, cartridges and plungers. The plastic cartridges are easy to replace and do not get dirty. I keep boxes of them in offices at home and at work. Although there are standard cartridges, some pen manufacturers use proprietary cartridges.

The plunger system uses bottled ink and is more economical. You have to dip the nib in a bottle of ink and turn or pull to activate a piston. You also get more ink color choices; I have become fond of subdued green ink.

Many pens come with converters to allow them to use either system. A pen that twists on the back of the barrel, like my vintage Montblanc 221, is less likely to leave ink on your fingers. The Lamy ink bottles I use are wider than they are tall and don’t tip over. I imagine few things more disruptive than knocking over a bottle of ink.

Fountain pens can be luxury and status items, often wielded by executives signing documents. You can spend exorbitant sums for a good fountain pen, but I won’t. One of my favorites is a $30 Sailor pen in transparent olive green with a steel tip. I use green ink and can see the amount of ink in the pen.

Although a well-made steel nib can provide a good writing experience, gold nibs are smoother and more fun to write on. Entry-level gold fountain pens cost around $200 and can last a lifetime.

Writing with a fountain pen is a more expressive experience than writing with a ballpoint pen. I find myself writing in cursive, something I had given up when I was in sixth grade. I write slower than with other pens and much slower than I can type. Especially when I slow down, my calligraphy noticeably improves. Calligraphy is one of those retrograde fading arts.

Although many fine pens are produced in the United States and Europe, the Japanese love them. Their writing system was originally developed for writing with brushes, and the effect of a medium point pen can recreate much of the style and beauty of their handwriting.

Fountain pens can make great gifts. Recipients who use them regularly can remember the donor for many years. I sent a cute blue Sailor pen to my daughter for her birthday this year, and I have other recipients in mind.

Usually I write these columns on my computer, but the first draft of this one was done on lined paper using five pens and four different colors of ink.

I have a small collection of fountain pens that I’m trying to keep from getting bigger.

– Frank T. Pool is an award-winning columnist and poet who grew up on Maple Street in Longview and graduated from Longview High School. He is a semi-retired teacher living in Austin. [email protected]