Friday, 6 June 2014

Paean to the fountain ink pen

On Friday morning, an octogenarian walked into one of the oldest pen shops in the city with his little granddaughter to purchase a pen that would most suit her. It is a tradition that the old man’s family had been following for three generations whenever a family member graduated from lead pencil to using a pen.

The shopkeeper M Pratap Kumar of Gem & Co patiently inquired details about the little girl’s writing habits, her age and suggested the perfect fountain pen for her that was easy on the old man’s wallet too. And then, he clicked a picture of his customers to keep as a memento.
A hand crafted pen made in silver at Gem & Co

“It is a custom that has faded into oblivion over the past few years. Only a select few, who have purchased a fountain ink pen from a professional pen dealer can appreciate the difference a good fountain pen can do to an individual,” says Pratap. His family has been selling and servicing fountain pens in the city for the past 85 years and has loyalists who do not look elsewhere for their writing needs even now.

Ever since ballpoint pens and their more modern cousin, gel pens, were introduced for prices ranging from Rs. 5/- and above a little more than a decade ago, the majestic fountain ink pens that once used to be the most indispensable component of any school student’s kit, has been vanishing from the students' school bags. Parents who run from one shop to another scouting for the best school bags, pencil boxes and geometry kits hardly visit an exclusive pen outlet anymore to purchase a good writing instrument for their children.

M Pratap Kumar at Gem & Co on NSC Bose Road
“It is a sad reality,” says Pratap. “People are no longer concerned about handwriting.” 

According to him, despite the giant strides made by the writing equipment industry, there is still no competitor for the fountain pen. “A person who uses the right pen to write will never experience any pain in the fingers even after long hours of writing. The inflow has to be adjusted to the pressure applied by the fingers and it varies from person to person. Only a professional pen consultant can determine that,” he says.

Besides, handwriting improves on its own as the nib has to be held straight at the time of writing. “Holding the nib straight will ensure that you don’t write fast and hence the handwriting improves naturally,” he says. “It is also eco friendly and economical, what more does one need?”

Despite having their own brand of fountain pens, Pratap’s pen shop hosts virtually every available brand of mid range pens including ball point and gel pens. On an average, he sells about 100 to 200 pens a day including a few fountain ink pens.

“These are bad times for fountain ink pens, but I do believe that they will make a comeback. It’s the reason I am still sitting in this shop pursuing my passion of selling and servicing fountain pens,” he says.

High end fountain pens remain a hit among pen lovers in city,

While fountain pens are certainly making an exit from school and college campuses, high end pen retailers claim that it is definitely making a comeback among high end businessmen, software professionals and even bureaucrats who are trading their ball point and roller ball pens for the good old fountain inks.

H Jakir Hussain, floor manager at the William Penn & Co retail outlet located at a posh mall in the city refuses to be called a salesman. “I am a pen consultant and a collector,” he says showing off his Sailor fountain pen. “On an average, I sell around 50 to 60 pens most of which are fountain ink pens,” he says.

Jakir’s inventory includes fountain pens that range from anything upwards of Rs. 10,000./-  to a whopping seven lakh rupees. “Yes, we do have a market for such pens in the city too. I get steady orders for fountain pens that cost around five lakh rupees,” he says.
This pen costs over Rs. 7 lakhs and is available at a high end retail outlet in city

The pen lover points out that the intricate design and the exquisite materials that are used in the production of high end fountain pens are worth their price. “The shape of the tines of the nib, the positioning of the breather hole and the reserve feeder that ensures smooth discharge of ink in the nib section and the converter pipe that feeds the nib with a steady flow of ink are all a work of art that any pen lover appreciates,” he says. “Once you start appreciating their beauty, you cannot use a ball point or a roller ball model.”

His outlet boasts of some of the top fountain pens in the world including Mont Blanc, Salior, Lapis Bard, Lamy etc. “Each manufacturer has a niche audience and folks who would swear by their products. Every time, an international pen manufacturer releases a collector’s edition, there is a rush among my customers,” he says.

In a market where decent pens are available even at ten bucks a piece, the most expensive pen that Jakir and his team has sold so far stands at around Rs. 10.50 lakhs and the buyer is a city businessman.

Top cop who treasures his pens, still holds on to his father's Parker 51

Former DGP A. Alexander loves his pens. He loves them so much that he has lost count of how many he has collected so far.

For this top cop it all started at the age of four when he stole his fathers Parker 51 and mangled it. “Needless to say, I got the punishment I deserved for the act. But, I have been in love with fountain pens since then and am proud to say that I used the same Parker 51 to write my PUC, SSLC, all my college examinations and even while appearing for the civil services exams,” he says.

DGP A Alexander
After joining service, this police officer who is known for his neat writing skills in police circles has collected pens from across the world. “Whenever I travel abroad or a friend visits a foreign country, I only get pens to add to my collection. I clean all my pens and use a different one every week even now to ensure that all my favourite writing instruments remain in top shape,” he says.

And when has trouble with his pens, he takes them to Gem & Co and gets them serviced. “It has been a life long passion for me. I am so keen on good handwriting that whenever I spotted an officer with a bad handwriting during my service days, I would threaten them with a suspension,” the retired DGP says.

DGP Alexander still holds on to his Parker 51. “While there are several high end pens in the market some of which even I possess, my father’s Parker 51 is the best pen in the world for me,” he says.


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