Pen Books – Juan Manuel Clark: Collectible Fountain Pens

This book is unusual in a couple of ways: it’s one of the few I actually found in a bookshop, and it was very moderately-priced at the time that I bought it, perhaps seven or eight years ago. It was £9.95 then, making it a real bargain among pen books. It formed part of Flammarion’s “Collectible” series, and is perhaps aimed more at a general audience, rather than pen specialists. Outrageously, it’s now on offer in Amazon UK at a mere £132.25 new or £44.42 used! With the best will in the world, I can’t really recommend it as a good buy at that price!

This is a small format book, around 5 ½ inches square but quite thick, with 363 pages and a comprehensive index. It’s organised into an introduction and and five sections: Vintage, Modern, Precious, Thematic and Unusual. The introduction runs through a brief history of writing and the development of writing instruments; interesting and adequate, but the kind of thing you’ll find in numerous other books. The photography is excellent, with the pens represented life-size. It’s pretty much one pen per page, with a very brief textual explanation. Not quite as brief as a caption, but not a whole lot more. Though far from comprehensive, there are examples of the output of many of the main American and European companies, together with many pens you’re unlikely to see elsewhere.

To my mind, this is a very general and slightly eccentric introduction to the world of fountain pens. I’ve had my copy for many years and it looks like new. That’s an indication of how little day-to-day use it has been for me. Despite the good index, it’s nowhere near comprehensive enough to be used as a reference book. Yes, it has quite a few pens that aren’t covered elsewhere, but they’re all pens that I’ll never see in reality anyway. It lacks the depth to interest anyone enough for a second read, I think.

All in all, at the original price, this book was probably a good introduction to the pen world for the absolute novice. It genuinely celebrates the fountain pen, with its superb photography and interesting (if lightweight) text. It may well have kindled an interest that would only be satisfied by more scholarly works, and by the pens themselves.


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