Continuity

Are there pens around today that have real continuity with their predecessors of eighty or one hundred years ago? Though their ownership has changed, Pelikan, Montblanc and Kaweco might be said to have such a relationship with earlier models. Parker, perhaps, too. Cross certainly. Sheaffer was producing models that showed a line of descent from those of the thirties until a few years ago but not so much now. Waterman is still producing some decent pens but the present owners of the company seem to have lost touch with their heritage.

Obviously any company that ceased trading and was revived many years later does not have that continuity, though several have claimed it. Wahl Eversharp, Conway Stewart, Onoto and Conklin come to mind – there are several others.

Does it matter? I think it does. The fountain pen is a traditional writing instrument and many of us must be traditionalists to wish to continue using it rather than a more modern pen, several types of which are quite acceptable writers. It would be nice to feel that the pens we use bear some relationship to those we admire from earlier years. That doesn’t apply to all fountain pen users, of course. Many are content with modern pens and have no interest in the age of the company that made them. I think, however, that most people reading my blog will have an interest in fountain pen history and how we have arrived where we are today.

A couple of years ago I bought a modern Conklin Durograph. When unboxed it looked okay, though it was evident that it was made from very different materials from its namesake and bore little physical resemblance to it. Despite my initial disappointment I kept it for a while and wrote with it often. It was heavy and not well balanced. The gold plated medium oblique steel nib delivered ink adequately well but was slippery and had a tiny sweet spot. I concluded that this was just a characterless Chinese pen, the equivalent of others I have bought for a small fraction of the price. I have a vintage Endura, which is a splendid pen. I felt that the company producing these pens was insulting the name of Conklin.

It’s just an example of how a lack of continuity when the name of a highly regarded old company is used leads to disappointment. There are many ways to view this subject. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.

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8 thoughts on “Continuity

  1. Deb.
    It may sound simplistic, but it’s hard to deny that if one looks down at the progression of the use of writing equipment from say the 1880s to let’s say the 1960s , one can’t help but notice that initially the production of the fountain pen (in its various guises) was to satisfy a comprehensive need. One who’s only competition was the pencil, to some extent the Stylographic pen and what remained from the dip pen .
    Therefore, companies set up to make the best product they could using the skills and materials available at that time.
    Much, if not all of the production was done by craftspeople , and from the copy of those times we can see that great pride was exercised in the fabrication of beautiful instruments that were designed to last the lifetime of their owners .

    Plenty has been written about the demise of the fountain pen as a daily writer; WW2 certainly didn’t help at all, and the ballpoint pen was definitely responsible for a paradigm shift in the continuing story of writing and writing instruments.

    But the guts of the problem you may be alluding to , seems to be, that after the dust had settled, every man, woman and child had a red, blue and black ballpoint pen. (Ok, I exaggerate a bit !) The companies producing fountain pens were changing hands, collapsing or scaling back production dramatically and the fountain pen itself started to become an affectation rather than a need, and, having to compete in the new market, started to be downgraded with respect to quality of materials and craftsmanship.

    There has been something of a resurgence of interest in fountain pens, albeit at a niche level ? and as you say some company names have been recycled in an attempt to appear connected with the ethic from their halcyon days , but what exists now is contained within the inexorable grip of predatory capitalism, which, whilst I don’t mean to anthropomorphise, sees us not as proud end users of a ‘lifetime pen’, but as collectors and ultimately….merely consumer units.

    To commiserate and reinforce the sentiment you express about your Conklin Duragraph, I also bought one of the limited edition jobs with the much heralded Omniflex nib, and was so unimpressed with it that I modified it in two ways.
    I replaced the horrible omniflex nib with a Zebra G , and , (sensitive folk look away now…!) took an 8mm drill bit in my cordless and drilled out the enormous and ridiculously heavy lump of metal in the top of the cap which made the posted pen feel as if it was falling backward all the time.
    But it simply cannot compare to most of my BCHR and celluloid beauties from the 20s and 30s and before with their gorgeous gold nibs, !

    Forgive my ramblings too…it’s hard not to bang on when one is passionate about a subject.

  2. The obvious answer with regards to continuity is the Japanese big three. Sailor, Pilot and Platinum all celebrated their centenaries (in that order) this decade, and to my knowledge none of them have undergone any sort of major ownership change. Platinum’s president succeeded his father in the role, who succeeded his father before him.

    As for the pens themselves, Platinum’s 3776 has been in production since 1979, and Pilot has been making round-ended black and gold pens since before WWII, easily before the introduction of the Montblanc 14x series that they’re often accused of copying. One could go on about Pilot in particular – the Capless has been around in one form or another since the 1960s, the current E95s is almost indistinguishable from the Elites of the 1970s, and so forth. I’m not as familiar with Sailor’s line, unfortunately.

  3. Having recently moved to Germany I have noticed that there is a huge variety of cheap fountain pens aimed at children’s use. Having spoken to my wife about it it has come to my noticed that even today every child is expected to use a fountain pen from the 3rd year of schooling in Germany.

    When I look at this range of fountain pens sold almost everywhere from stationery shops to even supermarkets it was my pleasure to see the Pelikan brand (one of my favourites) still being offered as it was when my wife went to school in the 60’s.

    Myself, even today in my little collection of fountain pens I still have a very cheap and I think nameless fountain pen using the standard ink cartridges available today.

    Now if I could just get a modern Swan or a Blackbird…

    1. Good to hear from you, Rui. I hope you’re settling in well.
      That really is continuity and a sensible education policy too. As an aside, my absolutely favourite pen which is never off my desk is a school Geha.
      A modern Swan or Blackbird, made to the old standards, would be the perfect pen.

      I have a liking for 60s Pilots and Sailors and they still use the same cartridges.

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