Fountain pen books tend to be expensive. That’s understandable. They’re very often in the large “coffee-table” format, they’re usually profusely illustrated and they have a short and costly publishing run. In publishing terms, we fountain pen fanciers are a tiny and insignificant minority. Far from being best-sellers, many fountain pen books will sell in the hundreds rather than the thousands. No-one’s going to get rich producing books on our niche interest.
As they cost so much, it’s worth being choosy about which books you buy. Unfortunately, you can’t decide how useful a book will be until you’ve had a chance to study it. Most fountain pen books aren’t on offer in the bookshops and you can’t really assess them online. I’ve enjoyed reading all the fountain pen books I have, but there are some I wouldn’t have bought had I known what they would be like in advance. Over the coming weeks, time permitting, I’ll discuss some of the books I have, which may help others to find the ones they would like.
My ideal pen book – and I have a couple of those – is useful as a reference work and contains information I don’t already have. The information is accurate and reliable. That isn’t invariably the case. Pen authors have a tendency to repeat the old, long-ago disproved fables, like the one about Waterman losing a contract because his pen failed, or Conway Stewart only producing 200 of their floral pens. Then again, some authors equate bling with quality and disparage excellent pens because they’re not shiny enough. Other books fail because of the lack of a logical sequence or an index, which means you can never find what you’re looking for. Useful information may be there, but it’s no good if you can’t find it.
Some books list valuations, which seems a futile effort, as the prices go out of date so rapidly, and there is no real established market price for most old pens. They’re worth what someone will pay for them on the day. Yes, if you find a Pompeian Brown Duofold you’re in the money, but what’s a basic BHR Waterman 52 worth? Only the market can tell you, and it’ll give you one price today and another tomorrow. But I digress…
A few of the pen books are truly outstanding, the result of years of painstaking research, checked and re-checked for accuracy, well laid out and/or indexed. I have one or two of them, my first go-to research tools. They’re the noticeably well-thumbed volumes on my shelves, the ones I will have to replace when I wear them out.