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Inside the world of rare writing instruments
For many, the mere mention of collectible pens is enough to set pulses racing. In the connoisseur's mind, visions of limited editions, vintage style icons and bespoke rarities fuel imagination, emotion, and the urge to possess.
Rare fountain pens are kept in safes and private studies – sometimes displayed as trophies. For thousands of writing enthusiasts around the world, these are objects of absolute desire.
Giovanni Falcone loved to take notes with his eclectic fountain pens, while the writer Roland Barthes entrusted their solid gold nibs with his talent, and waxed lyrical about their gentle, even flow.
But collecting pens is not exclusive to admirers of the written word. As objets d'art and capsules of history, writing instruments are hugely emblematic – symbols of the era in which they were made.
Pens that have passed through the hands of famous historical figures are highly coveted, as are those that have played a role in pivotal moments in history.
Landmark treaties and agreements signed with fountain pens have included Germany’s Instrument of Surrender, Reagan and Gorbachev’s Nuclear Forces treaty, and the first peace accord between Israel and Palestine.
Markers of influence
Beginnings of a timeless technology
Ever since its inception, the fountain pen has been universally embraced as the supreme writing instrument. But the emotional, cultural and material value of fountain pens is constantly evolving.
For more than a century, rival penmakers have competed on points of unique design, manufacture and engineering. With such a colourful variety of collectible pens for sale, which ones do aficionados gravitate to most? Let's revisit some of history’s most influential designs.
In 1864, the Frenchman Jean-Benoit Mallat invented the Siphoïde – precursor to the modern fountain pen. The first true fountain pen didn’t arrive until 1884, when Lewis Edson Waterman filed a patent for a writing instrument with a continuous ink duct. His invention swiftly rose to popularity, and many of the most keenly collected models of the era are those that introduced breakthrough technologies. Examples include Parker’s Lucky Curve from 1894, with its safety feed channel. Conklin's 1897 Crescent Filler – the first self-filling fountain pen – is also highly sought-after.
The era of mechanical innovation
The early twentieth century was a period of refinement, as fountain pen makers addressed matters of practicability and portability. Among the most collectible pens of the era is the Waterman Safety Pen (1906), fitted with a retractable nib and spiral shaft. Only two years later, Sheaffer followed with the lever-fill – a revolutionary invention that heralded the beginning of automated filling.
For collectors, the Parker Jack-Knife Safety with its hermetic cap is a rare find – as is the Trench Pen, a model supplied to First World War soldiers together with water-soluble ink pads.
For many, the everlasting promise of Sheaffer's “Lifetime” fountain pen remains as alluring today as it was in 1920. Created in 1921, the Parker Duofold with its distinctive red and orange colouring is another design to enjoy near-mythical status.
A move towards fine and fashionable
The most distinguished collections usually include a generous complement of celluloid. Long coveted as a status symbol, hallmark celluloid models include Sheaffer's Lifetime Jade Green, the Duofold Senior and Parker's Patrician. For aficionados of engineering, there is more exotic fare on offer – such as Wahl's Gold Seal with its fourteen interchangeable nibs, Sheaffer's aerodynamic Balance, Conklin's no-reservoir Nozac or Wahl's 12-sided Doric.
The Parker 51 is a jewel of the 1940s with its Bauhaus-inspired design: many regard it as the most iconic fountain pen in history. Other keenly collected post-war models include Scheaffer’s PFM (Pen for Men), the Capless (with retractable nib), and Parker’s titanium T1.
Collecting is a labour of love
Those with a passion for pens know that discovery is often a question of patience. Collectors take care to ensure that new additions to their collection are of acceptable condition. Vintage pieces that have suffered discolouring or are in poor working order are worth less, as are those with damaged nibs and misplaced caps. Fountain pens are delicate objects, and need to be stored away from excess light and heat, with regular cleaning and maintenance.
Pens from the modern era are less prone to imperfections, and the popularity of limited-edition releases in recent decades has given collectors a new scarcity to contend with. Many makers use limited editions as a proving ground for their most innovative and avant-garde ideas. Aficionados need to devote time to keep pace with the variety of artistry and technology on offer, but be ready to react before an edition sells out.
The specific theming of many limited editions has led many collectors to specialise, while also attracting many new members to the fold. Common motifs are special anniversaries, or remarkable cultural characters and narratives. Consequently there are more sub-genres of collecting today than at any time in history.
Montegrappa collector pens
Magical Italian engineering
In the world of collectible fountain pens, Montegrappa is a constant: a name that has consistently brought Italy's finest artisanal traditions to the realm of luxury writing. Founded in Bassano del Grappa in 1912, the maker has devoted itself to creating singular designs for years. With approximately ten new releases each year, each new edition is a showcase of strytelling and craftsmanship – and celebrates themes ranging from high culture to pop culture.
When Montegrappa opened its Limited Edition division in 1992, it helped inspire a resurgence in fountain pen collecting. Let’s look back at some of the luxury maker's most celebrated creations...
Debuted in 1995, Dragon was an audacious fusion of East and West that solidified Montegrappa's luxury credentials. Pioneering use of lost wax casting brought jeweller's craft to the realm of penmaking.
Great individualists are celebrated in the Montegrappa Icons series. 2010's tribute to Muhammad Ali was affectionate and audacious – with a finial modelled on the GOAT’s diamond-encrusted championship ring.
By contrast, Invito a La Traviata is an all-Italian affair. Classical fretwork and portraiture decorated 2009's homage to Giuseppe Verdi. The ultra-rare encore edition was studded with 34 diamonds.
Montegrappa’s 88th Anniversary model marked the beginning of the new millennium, and remains one of modern luxury’s finest examples of Art Deco craftsmanship. Only 88 pieces were made in 18K gold.
Throughout more than 100 years of history, Montegrappa’s signature has featured on many of the writing world's most remarkable and collectible designs. Though acquiring a Limited Edition can be difficult, fountain pen aficionados can have faith that more precious rarities are always under development, preparing to reveal themselves.
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