The Beauty of Penmanship

Writing anything by hand is becoming a lost medium of communication. In the age of email, and even more, texting and twitter, penmanship has become an inconsequential frivolity. However, the beauty that can be expressed by penning something in your own handwriting can never be replicated by the cold emotionlessness of print – and the beauty (in my opinion) begins with the right tool.

In schools in Pakistan (represent), for a very, very long time, perhaps due to some colonial tradition, it was believed that fountain pens were the right utensil to ensure quality penmanship. Despite the inconvenience of the inevitable leaks, and the countless detentions from using them to squirt friend and foe alike, teachers tended to insist on the use of fountain pens.

My first pen, like so many of my peers, was a Dollar company fountain pen that ran about fifty Pakistani rupees at every stationary store and I hated that pen; enough that I regularly misplaced it at the back of my school desk. Perhaps this is why by the time I reached high school, in some karmic twist I lost ball points all the time —  I was undoubtedly cursed by the teachers and the fountain pen collective who insisted that these lesser pens were ruining my expert doodling abilities.

Feeling nostalgic, and perhaps clinging to the memories of what I was leaving behind, the day before I departed for my undergrad in the US, I went to Saeed Book Bank in Islamabad and walked out with a green Parker Vector fountain pen and a pot of green Quink. At the time, this pen cost me 500 Pakistani rupees which at todays exchange rates is about USD 5.00. It lasted well into graduate school and unlike the millionth bic I had lost, the loss of my beloved Parker last year during my move still hurts me.

Saeed Book Bank — How I miss you

Unlike the slew of nameless ballpoints, you form a bond with your fountain pen.  Since I finished my first round of school, I have consistently always found myself drawn to writing with one. This is not to say that I cannot appreciate a good ball point, but something about a fountain pen just makes writing more deliberate, and unarguably more expressive.

My first somewhat collectable fountain pen came as a courtesy of my sister at the end of my undergrad- a gorgeous, french made Waterman Charleston. I have always been a big fan of French Art Deco and this pen epitomizes the features of said school of design. While the design might be French, Waterman pens can trace their origins back to industriousness of American inventors at the advent of the 19th century. Waterman was founded in New York City circa 1884, under founder Lewis E. Waterman, an American businessman and innovator. Waterman pens have always stood out for their inventiveness and that is eminent in the execution of the Charleston. The body is crafted from precious resin (read: very nice plastic), and all the metal is palladium coated to perfection. Most importantly, the solid 18K gold nib, is hand finished and molds to your writing style and effortlessly glides on any paper. Finally to reduce wear and tear (and a hallmark of good design) the cap and barrel screw together for a secure fit rather than snapping on. Once I started writing with this pen, I had to have more.

Waterman Charleston — (USD 200.00)

My second pen, like with so many enthusiasts is a german made Montblanc Meisterstuck (German for masterpiece) Classique. While the finish is a similar white gold as my Waterman these two pens could not be more different. Unlike the technological advancements present inside the quaint exterior of a Waterman, Montblanc comes from a different school of thought altogether.

After over a century of continuous tinkering, the crafting of this pen is a tribute to the art of hand crafted production — a tribute that can perhaps rock better than the original. Mont Blanc has perfected what it means to be old school. The pen is crafted from the company’s proprietary precious resin (seriously every pen maker seems to have some moniker for some really nice plastic) and is perfectly trimmed in platinum. The real standout feature of the Montblanc though is not perfectly executed cap and barrel, but rather its nib, a feature that has consistently stood out since the company’s founding in Hamburg in 1906.

Montblanc Classique Platinum Coated — (USD 605.00)

Meticulously handcrafted (in thirty steps)  in 18K gold, this nib is an instrument for fanatical enthusiasts – the result when perfection is not quite good enough. The nib, just like the pen tip of the pen cap is finished with the five pointed star meant to represent the snow covered Mont Blanc mountain peak. The finishing touch on the nib is the inscription of the number 4810 – the height in meters of the most famous peak in the Alps. Unlike the Waterman, due to its handmade nature, the nib of a Montblanc requires some getting used to, but once it molds to your writing style, there is nothing better. To make life easier, the company offers a nib exchange program whereby you can take your pen to the local boutique to get the nib swapped out after purchase should you decide that it is not quite right for you. I initially purchased the pen with a fine nib, but eventually found that since my Waterman was fine nibbed already, I wanted some variety. So after some trial and error, I ended up with a medium nib instead, which is a distinctly different writing experience. This is an instrument suited for expression of the boldest of emotions.

The intricate engraving on the nib, the vines, and the shaping is all done by hand

It goes without saying that these companies have stood the test of time in part because they make writing anything a small occasion. The ritual involved in filling up your pen from an ink pot and putting the nib to paper adds a new layer of emotion to anything you want to say. If a fountain pen does seem to daunting a commitment, then perhaps opt for a better ballpoint. I also own a Montblanc Star Walker ball point finished in a gorgeous red gold. When I travel, this is the pen that goes with me, purely because of its convenience. However, unlike a regular ball point, this is refillable and the company offers an array of colors to choose from. Hence you can have a writing utensil that you can entirely make your own, without the (minor) inconveniences of owning a fountain pen.

Montblanc Starwalker Red Gold Ball Point — (USD 445.00)

Ultimately, and the point of this long winded tale of my love of pens, is that whether it be a birthday card, or a letter to someone far away with whom you share something special, put pen to paper and write. Nothing, especially nothing typed or printed will convey the warmth of what you feel in quite the same way.



4 thoughts on “The Beauty of Penmanship

  1. I started using fountain pens in class III in primary school in early 60s . I was lucky to have been born in a highly educated pen and book loving family. My first pen was a Parker 45 bought for me by my uncle. My father used to use sheaffer pens but he would not let me touch his pens. My uncle, on the other hand, would not only let me use his pens but would teach me how to and he was a Parker guy. In middle school I started collecting pens mostly Parkers and Sheaffers.

    My uncle would not let me use any of the Chines pens that I would see a lot of my class fellows use. He would say ‘stay away from these cheapies’. Ours was an affluent family with business set up by my granddaddy. Grandpa would shuttle beteeen Lahore and Bombay in the 30s and 40s bringing most of the time goods from Bombay to sell in Lahore. He had three stores. So Parkers and Sheaffers were common place in our home.
    My dad was a Aligarh graduate. He loved pens and books. This was the family background that instilled in me the love for fountain pens and books. I dont remember any period of my life when I was disconnected with either pens or books. I dont remember ever losing a pen after I acquired it.

    Today I have more than 1500 pens including hundreds of P51s and other high end Parkers such as VPs, VSs, P61s, P75s, P45s and many others, Watermans, Sheaffers, Conway Stewart, Conklin and Montblancs are some other brands that I collect.
    I have built a fairly large personally library over the years.

    I am now a retired person having nothing to do except reading, writing and playing with pens. By profession, I am a writer, an author and a technical editor.
    I am an active member of and a regular contributer to The Fountainpen Network under the user name ‘mitto’.

    What did I do today? Restored two of my P51s that I picked up last week in the wild – in antique market in Karachi. I currently live in Islamabad.

    Liked by 1 person

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