Stephen Hull: The English Fountain Pen Industry 1875 – 1975

I’ll be guessing and speculating a little less in future. I won’t stop it entirely because that’s not in my nature, but I’ll have more of the answers.

Last year it was announced that Stephen Hull was to bring out his long-awaited book on the English fountain pen industry. It was to be on sale for the first time at one of the pen shows – I forget which one. It duly was, and it must have been a sell-out because none was available thereafter. I know, I searched the internet for it weekly. Last Tuesday my diligence was rewarded: Andy’s Pens had the book in stock. Within two minutes it was bought and paid for. Since then I’ve read it from cover to cover twice – the first time for the general impression and the second time with attention to detail.

I’ve written about the economics of publishing in the “old fountain pen” world before but it’s worth reiterating. If your hobby is a popular one like, f’rinstance, gardening, you can buy quite cheap books and magazines on the subject, because the publishers know that they will sell in the millions and they can keep the cost low. But you chose to be a pen aficionado, and it’s going to cost you. This book is priced at £55.00 plus postage, and it doesn’t come with Moroccan leather bindings and gold leaf titling. No, it’s spiral bound with cardboard covers protected by clear plastic. Even so, I don’t suppose Mr Hull will do much more than cover his costs.

I don’t care about the bindings. I didn’t buy it to admire it on the bookshelf. I bought it to read it, and good reading it is. The book covers everything from the industry greats like Mabie Todd and De La Rue down to pens I’ve heard of but never seen and even pens I’ve never heard of, that existed for a few years before disappearing. It fleshes out the dry bones of the fountain pen industry with the characters that made it what it became. The landscape of the industry becomes criss-crossed with links between one manufacturer and another. Shady deals and scandals are revealed and mysteries of the English pen world are laid out before us to puzzle over.

It also has that most precious thing, a really comprehensive index. That makes it a not just a reference work, but a truly useful one. In time to come, there won’t be many days when I don’t consult this book.

If you have an interest in English pens or even just a curiosity about how the pen world worked, back when it was a booming industry, this is for you. It’s my pen book of the decade.

4 thoughts on “Stephen Hull: The English Fountain Pen Industry 1875 – 1975

  1. Sounds like you bought the only copy advertised on Andy’s Pens’s website. It’s a shame that there’re only 100 copies so far (according to the same website). I hope there will be reprints soon because I’d be interested in a copy too.

    I wonder if it’s possible to use services like Blurb and LuLu to make more pen books accessible to pen lovers all over the world while keeping costs down and returns to the writers reasonable? I’m sure Mr Hull put a lot of work into the book, and so releasing just 100 copies at GBP 55 pounds each seems a little odd.

    1. Hi Leon,
      Perhaps I’m reading it wrong but it looks to me like it’s still available at Andy’s Pens.

      Using Blurb or Lulu are certainly interesting possibilities but that’s one for the author. I’ve had a look at Blurb in the past with a view to getting some things of my own out, and I suspect that the costs would be little if any less. Certainly, using traditional methods of publishing, it almost requires a miracle to get anything done at all if it only covers the British market. There just aren’t enough people who want to buy such a book. In publishing terms we are a vanishingly small specialist interest.

      I hope that more will be published. There’s clearly unsatisfied interest in the book.


  2. I ordered my copy from Steve directly and he posted it this morning so here’s hoping it arrives on Monday. He had another 10 printed so there are some in stock I think. Steve says he still has some copies of his Conway Stewart book as well – another excellent read and reference book. Steve is Stylophilist on Ebay if you want to contact him.

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