How much is too much to spend on a pen? I know it’s a weird thing to think about – they lie around on desks, and years ago, banks gave them away for free, if you were comfortable enough with carrying around the chain they always seemed to come with. You really had to work for those. It seems every business or organization has a ballpoint they’ll distribute for free in the hopes that you’ll lose it somewhere public and the brand will spread.
To paraphrase a line from James Bond, there are pens and there are Pens. The freebies that come with a pad of paper from your mortgage company are different than Pens. Mont Blanc, Caran d’Ache, Monteverde, Visconti.
Now those are Pens.
Sure, they write exactly the same way. They don’t improve your handwriting or vocabulary, and English grammar still is that frustrating mashup of Latin and German that contradicts itself. There’s an X factor in it, however, that means writing with that plastic ballpoint you found on your co-worker’s desk just doesn’t have the same feeling as writing with a Pen named after a defunct royal family.
In the good old days, you could go to any downtown in almost any city, major or otherwise, and find a stationery store.
These were in the days when you’d have to take a horse and carriage, or maybe a street car. They sold not only the papers and cards you needed, but also the writing implements and accessories: gold or flex nibs, cleaning kits and ink wells. Blotter paper if you were the type to be in a hurry and couldn’t wait for the ink to dry.
Now, most of us probably get pens in a 10-pack at the drug store as an afterthought, because we lost all of the others and we’re still two months from our next dentist appointment to get some replacements.
Then there are some of us who need to buy the fanciest Pens that we can afford.
It’s a weakness. I try to tell myself that I am a writer and I need the best tools for my craft. Never mind that 99.9 percent of what I write is done on a computer. Even the first draft of this column is done on a computer, a Pilot Vanishing Point next to the keyboard looking distinguished but wholly outclassed by the digital tools.
Normally, I’m a cheap guy. When buying a car recently, my first inclination was to save a few hundred bucks and get a manual transmission, despite the fact that it’s been close to 20 years since I’d driven a stick shift. A test drive around the parking lot reminded me that the only thing like riding a bike is riding a bike, and I’d become too used to automatic transmissions.
When shoe shopping, I look at the sale section and decide what I like from there. (I’m no longer allowed to go shoe shopping by myself, my wife says.)
Maybe I’m miserly, but I more than make up for it when buying things I honestly don’t need. Even if I needed a fountain pen, in the same way a carpenter needs a hammer or a truck driver needs a truck, I only really would need one. They don’t have moving parts. It’s not like they break all that often. They refill from a bottle of ink, and they last forever with proper care – there are shops that sell only vintage pens.
And for all of the very good reasons why this little hobby of mine serves no actual productive function, the only thing stopping me from buying a $600 Mont Blanc is that fact that I don’t have $600 not tied up in food or shelter. You can rest assured, however, that if a long-lost uncle I’ve never heard of leaves me some Texas oil wells in his will, I’ll be at a Cartier store, and it won’t be for the jewelry.
If I had to answer the question I began with, I personally don’t see a limit to what a pen should cost. It’s a hobby, it’s something I do to pass the time, to learn about and explore, and it makes me happy.
We all have them. We all have something that people on the outside might not necessarily understand.
If someone comes up with a ludicrously impractical fountain pen, with ornamentation that makes it practically unusable as a writing instrument, I’ll laugh.
And if it’s a six-figure price tag, I’ll laugh again. Then I’ll dive right into learning everything I can about it and put it at the top of the list of things I’ll buy when the oil money comes in.
• Kevin Solari is editor of the Morris Herald-News, a Shaw Media publication. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.