On 5th September 2014 I had been contacted by the UK-based journalist Lennox Morrison because she was writing an article on collecting fountain pens for BBC Capital. She asked me if I was free for a telephone/skype interview of about 20 minutes on Monday 8th September in the first afternoon.
She’d like to ask me about when and why I became interested in fountain pens and writing instruments, whether I do so purely for pleasure or also for profit, which pens are particularly special for me. Also, if I have advice for other collectors on where to start, where to buy, how to look after my collection etc.
So after some message we agreed for the interview, that, let me sincerly tell, it was very pleasant and it last around 40 minutes.
The article has been published today, thursday 4th December 2014, in the Capital section of BBC main site. In this page you can read the full interview, while there for International readers, and there for UK only, you can read the full article with other extracts to other collectors like me.
Question: When and why did you start collecting fountain pens – what is it that fascinates you about them – why are they special?
Answer: As I can remember I always liked fountain pens, since I was a young boy. But the period when I start collecting them is some years after the introduction of Euro and the born of online auction sites. With these two weapons, there were a lot of deals outside the real range of anyone. With auctions I could win also expensive pens for few euros from all over the Europe.
First of all it is a collection that you can use, as collecting special cars, but at more affordable prices. In the past, I collect other things, like millions of boys and girls, as stamps, postcards, minerals and rocks, etc, but they were all passive collections while collecting something you can use, is a active collection that let you live it also if it is not possible to let it grow for any reason.
On the other side, fountain pens are weapons against the digital era, where everything is ready at anytime, and you don’t have to do anything than typing today, and maybe just talking or thinking in the future. Using fountain pens, means changing them sometimes, changing inks when you find a new one you love, or just when you finish yours. Using fountain pens, means following a serie of actions that can be considered as an anacronistyc ritual today, but give you something to do before putting the pen on paper: think. Thinking not only to what to write, but also with which ink, whick pen, which color, which style. Depending on our feelings. Fountain pens are the best way to preserve and improve your penmanship.
Today with digital equipments we are loosing the ability to think before writing, because we can delete it. Moreover, we are so interconnected that we pass most time on internet than on real life. There will be a day when we will not have anything to tell more, because nothing changed between two connections.
Q: Do you also collect other writing instruments?
A: Fountain pens are special comparing them to other writing instruments, that I use but I don’t collect. On my desk you can find cheap ballpoints, some jotter ballpoint (perfect for carry with you), cheap automatic pencils, and beautiful stunning fountain pens.
Using a fountain pen is not as simple as writing with a ballpoint pen or recharging an automatic pencil. These are just simple writing instruments and differ from each other only for shapes and materials. On the contrary, fountain pens differ for a lot of aspects, not only aesthetics: the nibs that can be in metal, gold, titanium, bimetal, with point from extra small to extra bold or stub, italic and also extra flexible for writing english copperplate style; different grips means different position of the fingers and so different position of nibs on the paper; barrels cover filling systems, that include piston filling system (my favourite), cartridge/converters, vacuum Torricelli system, coin filler, etc.; bottoms usually have threads for screwing caps or a place where to put caps on or sometimes mechanism for filling systems as buttons to push or to rotate. More over, sometimes the whole bodies are particular mechanism to hidden nibs inside the pens without a cap. Boxes also are elements of collection.
Of course, different filling systems mean also different ways for the ink to go inside the pens and after that there is a last action to clean the nib with blotting paper.
So as I said, it is not just using a fountain pen, but there is a whole world behind, and every charging time is a ritual procedure that if not done in the right way can produce a disaster with ink flowing everywhere.
Q: Do you collect purely out of interest or also to make a profit?
A: By now I only collect them, using them too of course, but a dream of mine is to open a specialized shop in the future. The only problem is that I would buy my own products, as like as a chubby candyman.
Q: If you collect for profit, can you give me an example of a pen you bought for one price and then sold for a higher price?
A: By now I have never sold a pen of mine, neither broken fakes or faulty.
Q: How big is your collection and how do you display or store it?
A: My collection, during more than ten years, reached a hundred of pieces, some very rare in celluloid or ebonite or in solid sterling silver or limited edition made for little groups of collectionist, which I’m member of. Until now they are stored in 4 little display with trays, but I’m going to buy a wall display where to put all of them in front of my desk and then back to my customers. In this way I have a whole view of them when I want to change a pen.
Q: Tell me about one of your favourite fountain pens in your collection – manufacturer, age, description.
A: It’s a difficult answer, because there are lot of pens that are my favourite. I prefer piston filling system, because of the ritual to fill the pen and the amount of ink that can be stored in them. And I also prefer stub or italic nib, because it is so different than to a ballpoint and so personal than to a pc typing, and also my bad handwriting improves a lot with those nibs. I also love italian pens, because italian style is unique. So I can consider my favourite pens Stipula Delta or Visconti with stub or italic nibs and piston filling systems, from last 15 years production’ series.
Q: Do you use the pens to write with or is it purely about owning beautiful objects?
A: This is a question I have already answered to.
Q: Is there a special reason for an Italian to collect fountain pens – for instance, your rich artistic heritage?
A: Not for me, becauseI’m from a family of university professors, lawyers and judges, also if I discovered that my parents and my grandfather have some stunning vintage fountain pens, but they just used them maybe as status symbols, and I had to repair them removing old dried inks and changed rubber inside some parker 51 converters.
Q: Advice for other collectors: where to buy – dealers or on-line or auctions or pen shows – which are good and reliable sources?
A: My best deals are of course from auctions on internet but today I have no more time to follow them up to the end also if there are sites that help you with deals, finding mispelled descriptions or placing a bid at the last second of an auction. But buying in this way is always a risk. Out of my collection there ten fake pens, all from auction sites. Moreover, in this way you cannot feel the pen. Infact if you consider that collecting pens means also using or at least testing them to see if they ink flows in the right way, it is very important to test how the pen stays in your hand, because there are small hands like mine, where any kind of pen works good, and big hands that cannot write with small or slim pens. By Now I prefer to buy from know online dealers, and sometimes at the city shops (usually if I’m out of time for a gift or if the price is competitive). My favourite auction site is ebay and my favourite ebay fountain pen dealer is lewertowski (Pen Seller from France).
My favourite online official dealers are the most known Giardino Italiano (Pens.it) that is my best one, Casa della Stilografica (Stilografica.it) and The Writing Desk (TheWritingDesk.co.uk) where you can find a very nice inks’ colors comparison page.
Sorry I have never been at a pen show, but I’m planning to go to the next one in Turin or in Bologna. Another dream of mine is to organize a Pen Show in Sardinia, where I live, because for sardinian collectors is very difficult to reach pen shows outside the island.
Q: Do you have any warnings for other collectors: for instance, are there fakes on the market or is it risky to buy on-line?
A: When buying something online, from a non official dealer, there are always risks, first of all of fakes faulty or stolen pens. The biggest risk on buying from an online official store is instead the bad feeling of a pen. For this reason I suggest to test them first, if you can, going at a city dealer. And if the cost doesn’t differ too much from the online one (not more than 15-20%) could be a good idea to buy the pen there. It could be useful to have dedicated pens dealers, in order to have someone to refer for warranty and assistance.
Q: Any other useful advice – for instance, are there on-line forums you would recommend?
A: Today there are a lot of places where to find good information about fountain pens. I manage one of the biggest groups on Linkedin (almost 500 members) and the biggest one on Facebook (over 3600 members), both based on the original forum The Fountain Pen Network (FPN, www.fountainpennetwork.com) where I’m one of the oldest members that now are almost 87000, and where both Limited Edition pens and inks have been created and sold for members. That forum is like other forums around the web, where people can use nicknames and respect forum rules. The groups on Linkedin and Facebook have rules too, but for obvious reasons members’ names are real. It depends on what do you prefer or what you are used to. There is also an italian forum FountainPen.it with almost 2000 members, where are born three limited edition italian pens dedicated to the members (Delta, Omas, Marlen), and one of them is dedicated and has the same name of the son of the founder (Aleph).