Saturday, November 28, 2009


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The lowly pen is still America's favorite witing instrument, if not exactly state of the art. In fact, Americans now spend more on pens than ever--about $1.5 billion last year alone. And as for "power pens,' the beauties that announce status or self-regard in much the same way that Purdey shotguns and Jaguars do, only in smaller space, the choice has never been wider.

The Rolls-Royce of pens is the German-made Montblanc, according to Harry Gates, vice president of Fahrney's Pens, Inc. in Washington, D.C., one of the country's oldest pen retailers. Large and elegant, Montblancs fetch anywhere from $18.50 to $495 at Fahrney's. Nannerl Keohane, president of Wellesley College, tested several fountain pens before she settled on her black-and-gold Montblanc with its "never scratchy,' mediumfine nib. Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstein has carried his Montblanc fountain pen around for the past 20 years. The big black Diplomat ($250) with its 14-karat gold nib is probably Montblanc's most recognizable pen, but nowhere near its most expensive. A real connoisseur can go with a similar design in 18-karat gold for $6,500.

Daniel Parker, honorary chairman of The Parker Pen Co., who can have any pen in the world he wants as long as it is a Parker, uses a deep-brown, hand-finished Chinese Laque pen ($200), one of 20 fountain pens, ballpoints, roller balls and pencils in Parker's new executive line ($95 to $2,500). William F. Buckley Jr. likes Parkers too, and uses the more modest red ballpoint Jotter ($2.98).

The French-made Watermans and Duponts are also top sellers, says Gates. In his opinion, the Waterman Le Man 100 with its 18-karat gold nib ($225) is the smoothest-writing instrument strument selling today. S.T. Dupont offers lacquer pens, each of which takes up to three months to make, for $160 to $400.

Philadelphia fashion designer Albert Nipon treasures a silver signature pen from Tiffany's given to him by his secretary. "Some of the best deals I ever signed I singed with this pen,' he says, "and I'm a little superstitious about it.' The signature "T'-clip pen, which ranges in price from $25 to $100, has become Tiffany's biggest-selling line (about 50,000 units sold each year). Tiffany's novel silver desk pen opens telescopically into a 41-centimeter ruler and costs $450.

Cartier had so much luck with the oval cigarette lighter it introudced in 1968 that a line of related accessories-- --pens and watches and jewelry and luggage and scarves--has followed. Pens in the Les Must de Cartier collection repeat the oval design theme of the lighter; the point doesn't show until the pen is opened, and the clip retracts to preserve its silhouette.

Marshall Katz, CEO of Papercraft Corp. in Pittsburgh, got his Cartier pen for his 42nd birthday and hasn't misplaced it once in the two years since. "I'm very possessive about it,' he says. "It's the most gorgeous pen I've ever seen.' The pen, which comes in a variety of finishes, starts at around $140.

Noted jewelry designer Bulgari also has a line of unusual pens. The barrels of its Eccentric models are triangular--so they won't roll off your desk ($125 and up).

But pens don't have to be pricey to inspire passion. Paul Willax of Empire of America, a savings and loan, swears by his silver Cross pen with its extra-fine point. "I always jot down my brilliant ideas,' he says, "and if I don't write with a fine point I can't read them the next day. Since I sometimes use pens people give me, the world has lost some of its greatest thoughts.' Cross' classic design pens come in everything from chrome ($10) to 14-karat gold ($500).

Sheaffer, another long-respected maker of pens, also has a line that begins with a $1.98 ballpoint and rises to an 18-karat gold Masterpiece fountain pen that sells for $3,500. Its bestseller in the medium price ranges ($12.50 to $47) is its classic Targa, in matte black and stainless steel.

But there are those who refuse to play status games with pens. Barbara Walters of ABC News and Katharine Graham, chairman and CEO of the Washington Post Co., use the pens their office supply rooms provide. Richard Kress (president of the Consumer Products Divisions of North American Philips Corp.), Edward Meyer (chairman and president of Grey Advertising Inc.) and Carol Bellamy (New York City Council president) think more about the color of the ink than the pens they write with. Their subordinates have learned to sit up and read those red and green memos.

"Pens are like jewelry, and I don't want to have to worry about them,' says one executive recruiter. "I want six Flairs in my briefcase so I can just reach in when I need to and grab one.'

Wallace D. Riley, president of the American Bar Association, buys his Pentel Rolling Writers by the dozen ($11.76 per box of 12). "They're great,' he says enthusiastically. "And if somebody borrows one, I can let him keep it.'

Photo: Montblanc: $6,5200 gold fountain pen

Photo: Bulgari's Eccentric, $175

Photo: Sheaffer Targa, $47

Photo: Parker Chinese Laque, $200

Photo: Cartier pen, $165

Photo: This red Waterman fountain pen--from the popular Ripple line Waterman turned out during the 1920s in a variety of colors--is one expecially prized by collectors. It has a 14K gold nib, a hard rubber cap and barrel, and a lever-bar filling mechanism. Originally $7.50, in mint condition this No. 52 model is worth close to $100 today.

Source Citation
McGrath, Anne. "Pen-upmanship." Forbes 7 Nov. 1983: 264+. Academic OneFile. Web. 28 Nov. 2009. .

Gale Document Number:A3002792

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