By Ma. Hazel R. Gazmen, MD, FPARM, DPBRM
The past ten years has seen a resurgence in the sale and use of fountain pens in writing. The older generation may have fond memories of using these instruments in school or during their board exams. Law schools today, as far as I know, require their students to use FPs as early as the second semester of the first year. Surprisingly, millennials have taken to learning calligraphy and the concomitant use of fountain pens, ink and paper. There are many online fora and selling sites dedicated to FPs and related items. In the US and Europe, annual pen shows are held in major cities that draw in sellers and collectors in the thousands. A major FP brand, Pelikan, is on its fourth year of sponsoring simultaneous pen meets in 178 cities spanning 44 countries with 4700 participants. Locally, the Fountain Pen Network-Philippines founded a decade ago by novelist and Palanca Award-winner, UP Prof. Jose Dalisay, Jr, now boasts of more than 6000 members.
Personally, I do not remember when, why and how I started using FPs (although some classmates do recall I used them in high school) but here are some reasons I still do:
- FPs are ergonomic instruments: A well-tuned FP nib allows the ink to flow well such that it can write on its own weight, not needing any additional pressure from the writer. This means less risk for repetitive trauma disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis of the small joints of the hand and ‘writer’s cramp’. Longtime ballpoint users need not fear FPs since there are firm nibs suitable to their grip.
- FPs are environment-friendly: FPs (even the cheapest plastic ones) are not meant to be single-use, disposable items. They can be refilled with ink.
- FPs make writing fun: FP nibs come in various widths. The usual EF, F, and M (extra fine, fine and medium) points can be used for everyday note-taking and writing. A B (broad or bold) point can produce impressive signatures for important documents. There are special nibs too, for calligraphy and for producing line variation (thin and thick lines) such as the stub, italic, music, architect and flexible nibs. Another fun aspect is that FP inks come in all possible colors, not just black and blue (you may check any of the charts I’ve written on to see my favorite ink colors). There are archival or permanent inks for documents and there are inks for play that have shimmer or sheen.
- FPs are collectible, increase in value and are not just utilitarian: Those who buy FPs are usually both users and collectors. Thus there are FPs for every age group and budget. Collectible pens may be vintage or modern. Vintage pens, like cars, can be restored and there are penfolk who have made it their livelihood to do this. While collection parameters may include the brand, type of material, color, filling system and the kind of nib, modern pen manufacturers like Montblanc, Visconti, Sailor and Pelikan have released special or limited edition pens that are expected to increase in value over time. For example a Pelikan m600 in Pink cost Php 22,000 when it came out in 2015 but is now going as high as Php 45,000 because of the limited production. Similarly, an original 1906 Parker Snake pen is valued today at $7000-$10000 while its 1997 reissue costs a fraction at $1500.
- Using FPs is a pleasurable experience and gives me a sense of individuality: Writing with an FP is much like looking at your favorite painting- it is a feast for the senses. The combination of the tactile sensation of a springy soft and smooth nib gliding across paper, seeing the letters form, watching the ink change color as it dries is very satisfying to me. There is a sense of ownership and individuality over what I have written because I chose which pen, which nib and which ink to use to convey my thoughts or draw a line.
Up to this day into the digital age, I continue to write my drafts, essays, test questions and to-do lists with fountain pens and paper. It makes my day when a nurse asks me to show how fountain pens are refilled, when a retired accountant gives me the pens she used in college, and when a patient returns for follow-up with his small collection of fountain pens for show-and-tell. It will certainly make my day too, if you would come up to me and ask to try to write with a fountain pen.