Nov 25, 2008, 04:37AM

The Splice Today 2009 Fountain Pen Preview

For those of you who are into this kind of thing, here's what to expect from the world's silliest industry in 2009.

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Photo by Fimb.

The 2009 Fountain Pen Hospital catalogue is here, an event which never fails to remind me of the parade of obscenities that the narrator of Lovecraft’s “The Festival” witnesses.

Visconti – The catalogue starts with Visconti’s horrible Bible pens, one for the old testament and one for the new. Featuring Visconti’s incredibly complicated “power fill” system and decorated with Franklin Mint quality engravings of Bible stories (old testament gets David and Goliath; New Testament gets the Last Supper), these pens are a great way to communicate succinctly the twin ideas that you like the Bible and that you have horribly bad taste. Christian version is $4250, Jewish version, for you, only $3400.

They also offer their Ragtime 20th anniversary limited edition, a celluloid pen that reproduces the look of the accommodation clips seen on early hard rubber pens and the twin gold bands most famously featured on the caps of Parker’s Vacumatic. Confused, but not unduly ugly. The line’s dependably attractive Wall Street and Van Gogh pens are back without any unnecessary tampering. Visconti’s monstrously stupid traveling ink pot has gone up in price to $105 retail, which is surprising given that most people buy ink in a glass container, not just poured into their cupped hands.

Montblanc – This formerly respected pen maker continues its transformation into a vendor of schlock jewelry. Once you get past the key rings and belt buckles the pens seem like an afterthought. At $750 their typically boring 149 looks positively thrifty next to some of the more bizarre limited editions, and their Starwalker collection continues to innovate in looking cheap for a sky-high price. The Starwalker has a transparent plastic (or in Montblanc terminology, “precious resin”) end cap with the Montblanc snowflake floating in it. I don’t think anyone anywhere has figured out how to make clear plastic look luxurious. They’ve also fielded a passel of ugly metal Meisterstucks about which the less said the better.

Montegrappa – This year, as previously, Montegrappa is all about pleasant but surreally overpriced classic Italian celluloids. Celluloid is of course another word for “plastic.”

Cartier – Expensive and almost too boring for words. The Trinity is kind of nice, though a trifle tacky; it features gold, silver and rose rings on the cap. According to the advertising copy this is supposed to evoke the ancient heraldry of the House of Cartier. I guess we are supposed to imagine that people will see us writing with the Trinity and think, “Hmm, those tricolored rings evoke the ancient heraldry of the House of Cartier! I guess that the guy writing out expense reports with that pen must be some kind of European noble who works at a paper factory for fun!”

Omas – Here’s a quite lovely brown sunburst celluloid in their Paragon and Milord bodies for well over $1,000. For $1,000 even I would opt for a much less expensive pen and a selection of brown color swatches from the paint store. Omas is still pushing the silly Emotica line of rubber-coated, high-tech looking pens. These feature a clip that splits in two in order to form a kind of easel for the pen, answering a design problem which most certainly does not exist. They also include Omas’ famous titanium nib. Unfortunately it’s famous for writing poorly and feeling very strange on the paper. Their $2,500 phoenix pen rounds out the collection and looks like you could exchange tickets for it a Chuck E. Cheese’s. Pen makers, not just Omas, are always looking for events or concepts to commemorate, and they generally want to pick things that are both well known and inoffensive, like the phoenix. The resulting designs are unsurprisingly bland and often ugly, but rarely quite as ugly as this Technicolor monstrosity.
Waterman – They’re trotting out new colors of the square-bodied Exception, a pen which I have always found slightly ungainly. The futuristic looking but actually quite old Edson plods on. It featured an inlaid nib—the nib extends directly from the pen’s body instead of sticking out of the section. Waterman started out as a US-based company and opened a subsidiary in France. The US branch folded many years ago, and now the French part of the company is the sole owner of the name. So let’s all give them permission to start calling the Edson, which was named after American Edson Waterman, something else. Edson is a helluva dorky name.

Parker – Their line is stripped down to the Duofold and Sonnet. Gone is the 100, their giant metal “51” replica. The Duofold and Sonnet are both great pens, but it’s sad to see this once innovative company shrunk so small. Note that you can probably get an 80-year-old Duofold for about the same price as some of the fancier modern homages that Parker offers currently.

Krone – Amusing as always, featuring some of the tackiest pens I have seen in a very long while. Lots of them are marked with the Krone name or crest, screaming out a brand that no one has ever heard of outside of nerdy pen circles, and those who have heard of it in these circles hold it in starkest contempt. Perhaps the ugliest collection of pens in history. The Krone I had (a sober jet-black piston filler called, delightfully, the Stretch Panther) wrote very well – go figure.

Pelikan – I happen to like Pelikan, but there is nothing here that we haven’t been seeing since the 1950s. Very conservative, for people who do not want to have a long conversation about their pens, which I think is nice. This collection unfortunately maintains the trend that their $70 pen looks pretty much like their $700 pen. They’ve also introduced the Pura, an uninteresting student-pen looking aluminum number.

Namiki-Pilot – The same variety of tacky, iridescent Japanese lacquer pens, plus the overpriced, gimmicky Vanishing Point, an unnecessary, gigantic retractable fountain pen. In an abalone-shell finish it’s $365.

Monteverde – Good lord these pens are ugly. Monteverde makes a very good pen, but these are just unspeakably tacky. The Artista Stripe collection uses some unbelievably complicated and labor intensive process to end up with a pen that looks like it was made out of recycled kitchen appliances from Phoenix, Arizona circa 1955.

In Lovecraft’s words:

“Out of the unimaginable blackness beyond the gangrenous glare of that cold flame, out of the tartarean leagues through which that oily river rolled uncanny, unheard, and unsuspected, there flopped rhythmically a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things that no sound eye could ever wholly grasp, or sound brain ever wholly remember. They were not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor vampire bats, nor decomposed human beings; but something I cannot and must not recall. They flopped limply along, half with their webbed feet and half with their membranous wings; and as they reached the throng of celebrants the cowled figures seized and mounted them, and rode off one by one along the reaches of that unlighted river, into pits and galleries of panic where poison springs feed frightful and undiscoverable cataracts.”

  • Fountain pens... I like them... But these are as vane as discussing the body, wavelength, tones of anarchy, etc of wines.

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  • There's something about fountain pens that has always disturbed me. Give me a Rolling Writer any day. But there is one thing more disturbing than a fountain pen and that is a company that is making pie flavored soda pop. Life can be very, very scary at times.

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  • I hear you, Marty. Give me a pen for a buck anytime. Besides, who, but the most pretentious, actually writes in longhand these days? I'm not trying to be negative here, and my own handwriting has deteriorated terribly, but fountain pens are in the same class as bow-ties for me.

  • 11:32am - Kaufmann awakes, his hangover from the previous night's Yuenglings and G&Ts, some bought at the Golden West Cafe, some drank alone listening to Neil Young's "On the Beach," is less than expected. He can't manage the energy to masturbate, so instead makes a mental list of the days errands -- grocery store, CVS, oil change, laundry, pay back Brad for yesterday's dinner, etc. etc. -- only 1 or 2 of which will get done. // 11:57am -- Now out of the shower, Kaufmann sits at the kitchen table, eating a bagel, waiting for his morning pot of coffee to finish brewing. He dabs at a dark stain on his jeans (now worn for 12th day consecutively) and thinks about how many times he can Febreze his black hoodie before he finally has to break down and wash it. Laundry is the first errand he has decided will not get done today. // 12:08pm -- Kaufmann, finishing up his 2nd cup of coffee, smokes a Winston cigarette on the porch. He watches a fat maintenance worker pull up on his lawn cart to the JHU auto garage across the street. The man coughs heavily. Some talk of Sunday's Ravens game and Ed Reed's 108-yard interception and touchdown return is overheard. // 12:13pm -- At his computer now, Kaufmann checks his email and Facebook, briefly scans the news on the NPR homepage, then looks over the recently posted articles on Splice Today. For unaccountable reasons, a story called "The Splice Today 2009 Fountain Pen Preview," written by regular contributor Ari Samsky, piques his interest. He clicks. // 12:14pm -- Kaufmann, having read only the first 3 and a 1/2 paragraphs, is overcome by a feeling of utter horror and confusion unlike anything he's ever felt before. Unable to fathom the enormous absurdity of someone not only reading the 2009 Fountain Pen catalog, but then finding the need to write and publish a lengthy and detailed summary of it, Kaufmann, in terrible and unrestrained madness, grabs from his desk the 2007 Bic Atlantis Retractable Medium Point Nonrefillable Black Ink Ball Pen (bought in a box of 12 from Staples the previous summer) and proceeds to jab the object repeatedly into his right eyeball. The resulting screams are horrible. The hemorrhaging eye socket throws blood onto the walls, the floor, and Kaufmann in flailing panic crashes backwards out the 2nd story window of his back bedroom, smashing his left shoulder and head on the heating oil tank below before rolling off into the grassy overgrown yard. // 12:27pm -- Police and emergency rescue vehicles, alerted by no less than five calls from Kaufmann's concerned neighbors, arrive at the scene but find Kaufmann unresponsive and doctors at nearby Union Memorial pronounce him DOA at 12:48pm.

  • True, true. I don't bother with pens. Silly and pretentious when an extinguished match against a cold rough stone is just as good. Still, I enjoyed this article very much. I only wish Mr. Samsky had gone a little further in describing what these pens mean.

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  • Perhaps I should just write a letter to the manufacturers and ask them myself: "What do your pens mean?" And also perhaps ask them at the bagel store tomorrow about the meaning of bagels. I suppose I am getting off topic. Forgive me...

  • @zkauf1: Ha ha ha! That's fucking hilarious! And you are so right in picking Neil Young's "On The Beach" to drink alone to. That was one of the funniest comments I've ever read, thanks for the larf!

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  • "Kaufmann, in terrible and unrestrained madness, grabs from his desk the 2007 Bic Atlantis Retractable Medium Point Nonrefillable Black Ink Ball Pen (bought in a box of 12 from Staples the previous summer) and proceeds to jab the object repeatedly into his right eyeball." This is exactly the reaction I was looking for.

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  • Iris, good question, and one with a surprisingly easy answer. Most of the time the pens mean "I am a bearded engineer who lacks a family and therefore has a large disposable income and no one to tell me not to spend several thousand dollars on a double-sided fountain pen decorated with alchemical symbols."

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  • I'll stick to my stack of Bics and Sharpies, thanks. Zach Kauffman hit the nail on the head (fountainhead...?)

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  • The self centered negativeness of this page is astounding- if you don't want a fountain pen, or a BMW, or a fine wine, who cares?

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  • This is a most useless article. One-sided, prejudiced and ridiculing people with a certain taste and this is what this writer gets paid for! If you cannot understand something, better not give lectures on that. Who is this article intended for? I think for people whose brains function like that of the writer. People not into 'this kind of thing' have better things to do than painstakingly go through this embarrassment of an article. People into 'this kind of thing' know better, they need not be educated like this. I don't understand if there is any editorial board here or not. A real shame !

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  • P.S. I think I'll unsubscribe if this reflects the average quality of articles here.

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  • Hmm. Feel free to "unsubscribe." That'd be a nifty trick, though, since the content on Splice Today is free.

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  • In Ari's defense he didn't get paid anywhere near enough to buy any of these fountain pens.

  • I thank my friend and colleague Zach Kaufmann for clearing this up. A fee of $500 isn't nearly enough to buy Ari, one of Splice's most eclectic writers, the accessories he covets.

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  • The Fountain Pen Network strikes back! http://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/index.php?/topic/138404-the-worlds-silliest-industry/

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  • No, no, you have it all wrong! The pretentious people are the ones wearing their name-brand polo shirts, checking Facebook from their iPhones, seeing who will be meeting them at Starbucks to discuss the latest reality shows. That's pretentious. These are just pens priced the same way any niche product is priced to those rare few with more dollars than sense. As for writing longhand, it is a skill that will work wonders in an environment where email and texting won't do. Of course in your world these areas may not exist, but rest assured they do in the real world.

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