A Tale of Two Pens: How I Got Started

I remember it clear as day, like it was yesterday, or maybe a month ago.  I was in a damp dusty, and dark antique store in Avon, NY.  A beautiful 19th century building.  It had tin ceilings, lots of wood trim and hardwood floors, and a ton of character.  It was your classic house converted to an antique store, small rooms, stuff piled as high as possible to fit into the small amount of space allotted.  But there it was, in a glass case, shoved behind some costume jewelery and a Zippo lighter.  A beautiful striped pen.  I knew nothing about fountain pens, didn’t know if that thing on the end was called a nib, a nip, a knip, whatever.  I had no idea what to do with them, or how to fill them, but I DID know one thing.  I needed it.  I forget the price, but it couldn’t have been much.  I was essentially an sales intern at a music store in Pittsville, NY and not making a whole lot of money.  Once rent and utilities were paid for there wasn’t much left for things like pens.  I did love antique stores though, and found it relaxing to sort through what was otherwise someone else’s junk.

There it was, various shades of red and grey pinstripes on this pen.  It even had an imprint on the barrel, Venus Autograph.  I didn’t know a Venus from a Parker Snake, but I did think it was cool, so for the price (probably under $20) I bought it.  I went into the small bathroom and was told the way to fill it was to lift the lever.  I tried in the sink and it appeared to suck up water ok and spit it back out.  I was hooked and it was mine.

Venus Autograph Fountain Pen

Venus Autograph Fountain Pen

On the way home some of the old ink in the sac had reconstituted itself and it now was writing.  When I think back on this event, this was a miraculous event that a pen in an antique shop would not only have a good sac, but would be in writing condition!  I was scribbling on a piece of paper the entire trip home (No, I was not driving) until the gold plated steel nib eventually broke off a tine.  It wasn’t anything I did, rather, something I had not noticed in the dim and dark store.  There was a crease in the tine and my eagerness to use this new fangled object practically gave it a heart attack.  So there I was.  Not even home and the pen wouldn’t write anymore.  What to do?

I went back to the store the next day and asked if they had any other pens or spare nibs.  No such luck, but they were kind enough to pass on the name and phone number of the dealer who had the pen in the showcase.  I gave him a call and he kindly sent me a new nib, only to find it wouldn’t fit (he sent a screw in nib, whereas the Autograph is friction fit).  We chatted on the phone for an hour or so and he told me of the famous Parker 51 and the big four and what to look for.  I left the conversation more informed, but perhaps deadly so.

Then came ebay.  Not having any idea what lay ahead of me, but armed with the Fischler & Schneider book (the small red one), I knew what designs I liked.  I had a list even.  I quickly became aware of the fact I had expensive tastes when it came to pens.  Many were crossed of the list immediately when I saw what they were going for.  Then I discovered Esterbrook.  There it was, a red LJ (or was it an SJ, I can’t remember other than it was red) and I nabbed it for about $15.  It arrived a week later and again, as with most Esterbrook, with a working sac and 1551 nib that was smooth as butter.  I was hooked.  A good looker, and now I had a working pen!  I began to use the pen on a daily basis.  During that time, computers were new to me and the business I was in didn’t use them at all.  All invoices and purchase orders were written by hand, usually in triplicate or more.

Esterbrook Red LJ

Esterbrook Red LJ

One night when I was out to dinner a friend saw me use it to sign the check.  She loved it and asked I get her one just like it.  “They come in various colors” I said, not knowing what I was getting her or myself into.  I was instructed to go online and find her one.  Well, a week later I had a red SJ at my door.  Wait a minute, there are two sizes?  My OCD kicked in.  Time to go back online and see if I can get her something else.  Then I discovered blue and green.  Sorry, couldn’t sell the red one to her, but she could have one of the other two, since I knew I could find some more.  From there on eBay became a regular habit and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, how did you get started?