Fountain Pen Books – Jonathan Steinberg: Fountain Pens

When it was published in 2002, this book sold for £8.95, a moderate price for a fountain pen book. Though it’s in the large format, it’s a thin book of 80 pages including an index. Unlike many other fountain pen books, this one hasn’t become more valuable as the years have gone by, not even by the rather optimistic prices that Amazon sellers hope to get. If you should want a copy, it’s yours from Amazon for £1.43 plus postage. It also regularly passes through eBay without attracting a bid.

It is subtitled The Collector’s Guide To Selecting, Identifying, Buying And Enjoying Fountain Pens.  This is a somewhat didactic book, and it’s likely you will either agree with the message Mr. Steinberg wishes to get over or, like me, you’ll profoundly disagree. In essence, if I may attempt to encapsulate what this book proposes, the best pens are those with most bling, and pen manufacturers come in handy tiers like a wedding cake.

There can be no doubt that early twentieth century gold or silver overlay pens in the Art Nouveau or (a little later) Art Deco styles are precious objects of great beauty and interest. Whether they were, and are, appreciated as writing instruments is debatable. They are, and always were, primarily pocket jewellery, I would suggest. It is these pens that are most discussed and illustrated in the early part of this book, to the exclusion of the simpler – but probably more interesting to most of us – bare BCHR examples that we are likely to see and purchase.

Then there’s the tiers thing. Mr. Steinberg confidently assigns pens to quality level by brand, an overly simplistic notion that is rather less subscribed to these days. There are numerous errors in this part of the book, too.

Though the book purports to cover pens of the world, it is decidedly US-centric, devoting many more images and pages of text to American pens than to the rest of the world put together. I suppose this is because Mr Steinberg felt that his largest market would be in America, so he concentrated on pens that would be familiar to to his readership. It gives a very unbalanced view, however, when entire industries like that of Japan, for instance, barely merit a mention.

Mr. Steinberg’s view of pen collecting is not one that has held true in the real world. Yes, there are some collectors who who buy at the top of the market, but they form only a tiny proportion of all collectors. In truth, there are as many types of collections as there are collectors. The most powerful contradiction of the Steinberg view of collecting is the immense popularity of the Esterbrook, an unashamedly practical, low-cost pen with plated nibs and no precious metal at all. It is worth asking, too, whether most buyers of old fountain pens actually see themselves as collectors at all.

In conclusion then, you can have this book for the princely sum of £1.43, but you might want to hang onto that money and put it towards a bottle of your favourite ink instead.


2 thoughts on “Fountain Pen Books – Jonathan Steinberg: Fountain Pens

  1. Having had the misfortune of knowing Jonathan for over four decades I simply have to take off my hat to you Deb for telling it as it really is. Well done! We need more of this. Your site makes people want to enter into the hobby rather than scare away potential collectors. It shows a lot of possibilities for anyone to wade in and experience joy without having their nose turned up in a haughty way, eh? Bling is bling and pens are pens. Well put…and an excellent primer on the value of being modest….
    stephen overbury, author, Namiki

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