Fountain Pen Books

Coincidentally there has been an interesting discussion in Fountain Pen Geeks on the subject of fountain pen books. Many are now out of print and are prohibitively expensive second-hand. An example is Lambrou’s book on Japanese pens. I see it advertised for $135 today, but usually it is offered at £300 or upwards. That is beyond the reach of many including me.

A suggestion was made that the out-of-print books be made available in Kindle format. I have no idea of the legal and practical problems to be overcome to achieve that but in any case it seems unsatisfactory. Most fountain pen books depend upon illustrations, clearly visible in the large format of the books themselves but less so on a tiny screen.

The answer, one would think, is to buy the books you need when they are published. The books recently published by Andy Russell and Steve Hull are a case in point. They are still available. Some people may feel that they are rather expensive and they can manage without them. Undoubtedly, they are expensive compared with the average popular novel. Stephen King’s latest will probably cost less than £20 in hardback but considering it will sell a million copies in English alone, the cost of production is negligible.

Fountain pen books are in an entirely different market. Of necessity, they are heavily illustrated and that doesn’t come cheap. They are more likely to sell in hundreds rather than thousands because ours is the smallest of niche markets so there are no benefits of mass production to be gained.

Anyway, how expensive is expensive? My Vanishing Point cost more than Steve Hull’s latest book. It’s a great pen but the benefit I gain from it cannot be compared with the benefit I gain from The Swan Book. Mabie Todd pens have been at the heart of what I do for the last dozen years. In all that time, there have been many unanswered questions about the pens and at last all is made clear. I’ll never be scratching around to date a pen again, or to determine what model a pen is based on its colour and trim. I have all that before me now whenever I need it and the same goes for the earlier volumes on other brands.

I’ve done some limited research on pens in my own way, enough to appreciate the work that these authors have done and the hurdles they have had to cross to obtain the detail presented in these books. That goes double for The Swan Book considering that the company’s premises were destroyed by bombs during World War II taking all the paperwork along with the buildings.

We are very fortunate here in Britain that our hobby – our fascination – our obsession – has been covered so well. If you are hesitating I would advise you to buy such books as are available now. Later they may be very expensive or completely unavailable.


9 thoughts on “Fountain Pen Books

  1. I was speaking to Graham Jasper earlier this week and he said he has lots of books – they come when he buys collections – but they are very heavy to post or to take to pen shows on spec but there must be a way to order one so that he can bring it with the next pen show.

  2. Once ‘Fountain Pens for the Million’ (FPFTM) went out of print, we did consider what to do, as there were some indications that there was still an interest in vintage Conway Stewart (especially from China, surprisingly), and there were a few enquiries about reprints.

    The kindle/ibook/ebook option is something we have considered. I actually have the pdf of FPFTM installed in the ibooks reader on my iphone and ipad and it is surprisingly legible, so I would expect an ebook option could be acceptable, though it would have to be read on something with a higher resolution and a colour display compared to a basic kindle. You obviously lose the advantage of life-size pen pictures and true colours on the printed page, but that may be a price worth paying.

    Alternatively, we have been considering a high quality paperback edition. We are reluctant to go to digital printing as this reduces the picture quality. Even though modern digital printing is very good, it is not quite up to the standards of offset litho printing which is more expensive and more appropriate to larger quantities than we would want to commit to. So yet again there are compromises to consider.

    Either of these options requires financing and effort. English Pen Books are not backed by any big publishing house, everything that we do is done by myself or Steve, who fortunately has good friends experienced in book publishing. We will probably look again at both these options in the new year, but it is not clear there would be enough prospective purchasers of either of these formats to make it worthwhile investing time and money on the project.

    1. My Kindle is fairly old and monochrome. Someone suggested to me that he could read a Kindle format book on his phone which initially seemed a risible idea but he explained that he could expand photos there to examine detail. Perhaps an easier method would be to use a tablet which again has the capability of zooming in on photos but they seem to be a technology that has had its day. For all I know, the latest Kindles may work in that way. Of course Kindle format books can be read on a PC or Mac but I have never been able to read that way.

      Frankly, I am filled with admiration for what you and Steve have achieved – not just the content but the high quality of the presentation. These are tremendous works which will become legendary down the years.

  3. I fully agree that we should buy them while they are available. The problem is knowing they’re available. A simple Google search often comes up more often than not with a lot of fiction books where a fountain pen is in the plot or on the cover. One day I will have a good selection of fountain pen books but it’ll most likely have to be from the aftermarket.

    As for putting them on Kindle and the legalities and such the publisher(or the author if the author publishes the book on their own through, say, a quality vanity press company) can set up a seller account on Amazon and put the entire book for sale on there. I actually have quite a few fountain pen related books from Kindle (mostly Richard Binder’s restoration and fountain pen history books) and I will tell you, if the upload quality of the images is good then your viewing experience will, at least visually, be just as clear as they would be in a hardcopy book in your hands. Yes, phones are small, but you can zoom in as much as you need to see excellent detail. If you have a tablet or laptop/pc you can get the Kindle app for free and in that case the images will be pretty much identical in size to those in the book and just as clear.

    I feel quality vanity presses and uploading downloadable versions of the books for sale via Kindle and other similar apps is an excellent idea and brings in more revenue you wouldn’t otherwise have. Those who want the hardcopy will still buy it. The publisher/author will not get a cent from those who can’t afford the hardcopy or could but it is out of print by the time they know about it. However, they can at least get a few bucks from the e-book sale.

    1. I have ordered sample copies of books I through together of my fine art photography from various vanity presses just to see the quality and there are quite a few that are just as good in quality as the big name regular publishers. The difference is the vanity presses print to order.

      1. I saw it. But I also mentioned that had you not told me about it I would have never known it existed just like many other fountain pen users/collectors.

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