While others strive to push modernity ever further forward, we restorers are determined not to let the past slip away altogether. My husband worked with clocks, pocket watches, cigarette lighters and pen knives before settling upon fountain pens. All have a mixture of decoration and utility. All have become small objects of desire as the real need for them has withered away.
Mechanical clocks and watches have been superseded in so many ways: digital timepieces adorn walls everywhere. Who needs a pocket or wristwatch of any kind now that everyone carries a phone. Less and less people smoke; the traditional pocket or pen knife has come within the purview of the law; more than three inches of sharp metal can get you into a lot of trouble if you forget to take it out of your pocket before you leave the house. All of these things remain useful but not essential. Fewer and fewer of them are still made in the 21st century.
Vintage fountain pens are in this useful but unessential category. Most people, on the odd occasion when they write use a purely functional ballpoint, felt tip, rollerball or gel pen which costs little and has no pretension to beauty. Those rare people who recognise that a fountain pen has unrivalled benefits as a writing instrument can buy an excellent new German or Japanese one.
Whence, then, apart from eccentricity, does the wish for restored old pens come from? Are they in some way genuinely better than modern fountain pens? Every collector or writer with old pens will have their own answer. There can be little doubt that many old pens have better nibs than the modern ones, whether they be flexible or firm. There is the fascination of the history of the firms who created those pens for decades, and in the development of the models they produced.
Then there’s the other history, the periods of war and peace through which they were used. Who owned your old pen? Was it a parent, spouse or lover writing to a First World War soldier whose life hung in the balance from day to day for years? Did an ageing mother use your pen to write to an emigrant child she would never see again?
Even the most inexpensive of fountain pens was made with craft and careful design. At the other end of the scale, the fountain pens that are as much jewellery as writing instruments are works of art, comparable with Art Deco statuettes or Art Nouveau design. The materials from which those old pens were crafted: ebonite, celluloid, gold and silver to name but a few are held in higher esteem than today’s materials.
We restorers bring old neglected pens back to usable and appreciable condition. I do it simply because every one I repair, whether a century or half a century old, carries all those things with it, the history, the design, the beauty and the continuing practicality.