Sary Switajewski, MSUM English and Mass Communications
FARGO, N.D. —- Fountain pens, along with other fine writing instruments (ballpoint and rollerball pens), have made a steady comeback, and downtown Fargo shows it. It is hard to understand why these prime writing utensils are continuing to hold their popularity when other common ballpoint pens, like Bic, are much less expensive and write consistently. Perhaps it is due to the pressing need to own vintage items, or because users are wanting more quality for their writing needs. Two downtown Fargo shops, Uptown Pen, located in Art Materials, and Zandbroz Variety, both sell fine writing instruments, such as fountain pens, and many of the employees love to sell them.
What to know about the fountain pen
Fountain pens are special writing instruments that have a metal nib for writing and contain an internal reservoir filled with water-based ink. They first were documented in the 17th century in Europe. In the 1880s, the first were mass-produced by Waterman in New York City. They remained the leader in fountain pen sales until the 1920s. Waterman is still popular today, along with other companies such as Lamy and Pilot.
Pens such as these require extra care, and a basic knowledge of the inks and nibs, but there is no need to be intimidated by them.
Zandbroz Variety manager elaborates on fountain pens
Josie Danz, manager of Zandbroz Variety for six years, spoke on everything to know about the pen counter in the store.
“We have sold pens since the day we opened 22 years ago,” Danz said, “and we find that pens definitely have a market in Fargo-Moorhead. We sell a lot of pens for things like graduation gifts, or people who are going on to some sort of profession where they need a nice pen.”
She also noted that there has been an increase in interest and sales in the past couple years.
“We get a lot of people in here that have never written with a fountain pen before, so it’s really fun for people to come in,” Danz added. “We do sell a lot of rollerballs and nice ballpoints, aside from fountain pens.”
Danz enjoys fountain pens, and since she is left-handed she has a much smaller range of pens to choose from. Fountain pens have certain ways they must be held. There are special grooves on some that keep fingers in the place they’re meant to be.
She also expressed concern that nobody writes in script anymore, and since she loves to, she endorses fountain pens.
“That’s one thing about fountain pens: it’s hard to write without writing in script. I don’t even think kids are learning script anymore … to me, it’s a lot easier. I really enjoy it. It’s way prettier too,” Danz said, laughing. “If you take pride in signing your name on something, it makes such a difference.”
This is where the argument and persuasion toward fountain pens lies. The quality is impeccable, in ink and ink flow, and even the way the user holds the pen can manipulate the handwriting positively, since a sturdy, structured way of holding the pen is necessary.
“We are totally willing to show you whatever you want when you come in,” Danz said about the writing instruments.
Zandbroz has a very relaxed environment with educated workers who help find exactly what people are looking for there. Their pens range from $30 to over $300, which seems like a hefty amount of money, but fountain pens (even the $30 ones) can last for over 20 years, and most brands, such as Lamy, give a warranty for the life of the pen, however long that may be. Danz believes that fountain pens are worth every penny.
Uptown Pen manager shares knowledge of pens and ink
Eric Brown is the manager of Art Materials in downtown Fargo. Located within Art Materials is Uptown Pen, which opened in July 2010. “We have a location in uptown Minneapolis,” Brown said. “We have a 57 year pedigree, so we couldn’t change the name to ‘Downtown Pen.’” Hence the name, “Uptown Pen.”
Brown is a pen guru – going into the store with a very basic knowledge of pens and ink will change if you talk to him for just a couple minutes. Within the first two minutes of speaking to him, he gave a quick demo on how to fill a Lamy Safari pen with ink (which he had customized by mixing a red and a black together).
“Why [customize]? Because I can,” Brown said.
He also said that is one of the many positives to owning and investing in a fountain pen.
“I see the trend right now for fountain pens in a variety of [ink] colors; nobody wants to write in just blue or black anymore. You can’t talk about fountain pens without talking about the ink,” Brown added.
Brown later pulled out a binder with several pages of sample lines of each ink that Art Materials carries for Uptown Pen, and there are over “100 colors on any given day.” They also carry about 20 different brands of fine writing instruments in-store and online that range from about $12 to thousands of dollars.
Brown has been heavily interested in fountain pens for about six years, but he has had his Lamy Safari pen for about 10 years. He recommends it for anyone beginning to learn about fountain pens, or for someone who is looking for a good quality pen for less than $40.
Top three fountain pens to use
Brown was given the task of narrowing down the plethora of pens he loves to just a list of top three pens, based on these criteria: easiest use, works the best, and most customizable.
- Pilot Namiki Falcon
It uses a soft gold nib, which wears away over time to have its own unique writing style. Flexes and gives dramatic lines. Pilot and Namiki joined.
- Lamy 2000 – Hooded Nib
Flagship pen. Composite material. Patinas over time, gains character. Has a gold nib, but dipped in platinum to maintain the monochromatic color scheme.
- Parker 51 (Vintage Pen)
“Most popular fountain pen ever made.” Mid-1960s version, original nib. Still works beautifully.
Brown also recommended that in general, starting out, a Lamy Safari is a good way to go, along with a Pelikan Pelikano, which was originally intended for school children learning to write script.
Learning from Danz and Brown, both said the same about fountain pens. They are worth every penny and their value is something that everyone can appreciate if they take time to try one out and invest.
Pilot Namiki Falcon (Brown’s number one choice) at work in this YouTube video:
Provided by username TheImmovableMovers
(Edited by Brittany Thompson, MSUM Print Journalism major)