It's all about the written word...

Celebrating three years in publication. Thank you for visiting often!

Friday, April 30, 2010

It's in the Mail

The Pen Collectors of America (PCA) will co-host Pens & The Post Collect: Correspond, and Celebrate! It will be held on May 29, at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum (SNPM). Members of the PCA will join museum volunteers and staff to offer families and friends a fun and educational experience. Kim Svabik, who initiated the event, is the self-professed organizer, marketer and “chief cook and bottle washer.” She says the whole thing was initially inspired by a chance meeting with Tadas Osmoskis, a docent at the SNPM, who stopped by the PCA table at last year’s Washington, DC Supershow. Following are Kim’s answers to a few of my burning questions.

Nancy Olson, Ink: What do you hope to achieve as a result of this family event?

Kim Svabik: The mission of this event is to make the pen community relevant to this generation and fill in the missing links for the postal community, since every letter sent first had to be written with a writing instrument. It's a beautiful story that the Postal Museum and the PCA are willing to tell it.

NO: What events will be held during the day?

KS: The events start Friday evening, the 28th, with an awards reception for the two students from Chicago who won handwriting contests sponsored by TTPatton in Chicago. She worked with principals, teachers, and fifth-grade students to have a fair writing contest, and the two winners received a paid trip with a family member to the event in DC. Thank you Theresa Patton, a dedicated PCA member in Chicago. Also, we will be honoring Tadas for seeing value in a relationship between the museum and the Pen Collectors of America. There will also be Pens for Kids workshops and pen collecting workshops for adults by Ralph Stillwell, and Fahrney's Pens will host a handwriting workshop as well. Eight different tables will fill the museum atrium representing different facets of pens, pen collecting, and pen use… There will also be a PCA booth.

NO: What does the future hold…will this be an annual event?

KS: We are already talking about 2011, and we are researching the possibility of a reception during the DC Supershow at the museum this August.

NO: Anything else is you’d like to share?

KS: Alan Shaw of Shaw Pens is making a pen to commemorate the event that will be awarded to Tadas. He will also provide pens for the two Chicago contest winners. Fahrney's Pens is playing a large role in the event, as well, making it the perfect "go to" place after the pen fires are stoked. The Pens & The Post logo was designed by Jim Vakaloupolos of Flint, MI

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I’ll Take Two if by Sea

Delta, the Naples, Italy-based pen company, recently came out with another limited edition pen: the Amerigo Vespucci. You may remember earlier limited editions, such as the Giuseppe Garibaldi, Enrico Caruso and the Giacomo Puccini. But lest you think the company only pays homage to deceased men of Italian descent, don’t forget the iconic Dolce Vita (a great and very lively Italian movie, but I think the pens were named more for the spirit of the phrase, which means: “the sweet life”). I am a huge fan of Delta and its owners, and the Amerigo Vespucci did not disappoint me. Just 931 pieces of each version (ocean blue or night black resin) trimmed in sterling silver are available (Classic), with a special 18-karat gold-trimmed version (Celebration) limited to just four pieces. Why just four pieces? Well, I’m glad you asked. This number apparently commemorates the four wooden helms on the ship used for Vespucci’s voyage in 1501—his first under the Portuguese flag. Thus the overlay on the cap of each of the pens in the collection is crafted from wood. The collection includes a fountain pen and rollerball, which can be converted to a ballpoint. The fountain pen (with an 18-karat gold nib) is filled by cartridge or converter, though the four Celebration fountain pens are button filled. The pen comes in a collector box with a dramatic blown-up image of nautical rope on the front.

I particularly like the natural matte finish of the wood overlay on the cap, which is hand finished using bee and carnauba waxes. It is perfectly and smoothly fit between the clip ring and the lower cap ring. The section is the same material as the pen (blue or black resin), which I like, since a pet peeve of mine is an obtrusive gripping section on an otherwise nice pen. The sculpted clip has good action, and I’m pleased, as always, that something other than a cartridge- or converter-filling option is available, albeit for a higher price. In general, I appreciate the subtle nautical theme of the Amerigo Vespucci, which is neither overbearing nor kitschy, as some commemorative limited editions are wont to be.

Monday, April 26, 2010

He stepped all over my corns…

I love language and all its permutations. I particularly like colorful idiomatic colloquialisms from various parts of the world and I collect them like other people collect pens. Hey wait a minute, I collect those, too. Anyway, imagine my delight when I heard one over the weekend that I’d not heard before. It was from an acquaintance from Ireland, who, when describing someone who’d been painfully “in her face,” said, “He stepped all over my corns” (which sounded more like "carns" in her lovely brogue). That immediately went into my lexicon, and I plan to use it the next chance I get. Even though I don’t have any corns and I don't want anyone to think I do.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It’s Earth Day…a time to reflect on our planet, our spaceship, Gaia

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by all the things I could be doing to protect the environment. Maybe I’m too busy, overworked or just lazy. Or maybe I am underestimating the aggregate of all the little things done by many individuals. A few examples: I use a cloth shopping bag, and I wash my clothes in cold water—unless they’re really dirty—on the short cycle (no reference to my height). I recycle. I set the dishwasher on “air dry” most of the time, and run fans rather than the air conditioner til the Houston climate gets the best of me. I walk whenever possible, rather than rely on my car to take me short distances, but I’ve been known to waste gas driving around the block just to hear the end of a song. Of course I use a fountain pen, since ten billion non-degradable disposable plastic pens are tossed into landfills each year worldwide. I can proudly say that not one of them is mine, but there might be a disposable razor or two with my fingerprints. While none of these attempts at living consciously is a big deal, if you multiply any one of them by thousands of people doing the same or similar things, exponential change is the result.

As I review all this, I find two glaring points: I am grateful for having choices, when much of the world does not. And I am humbled by how much room I have for improvement. Oh yeah, number three: always use a good pen.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A declaration of independence

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently gave a talk in Dallas about some trends in contemporary pens, one of which is the advent of independent pen makers who are creating some really exciting products. Their pens fulfill a need for pen lovers in general, and collectors in particular, since they appeal to the desire for exclusivity, hand craftsmanship and limited quantities. One such pen maker is Brian Gray of the Edison Pen Company. Gray is as talented as he is personable, and his products are wonderfully made with great attention to detail and some interesting twists. I had the opportunity to see and touch—over a period of a few days—a couple of his products. One was a Huron Bulb-Filler in Bronze Pearl Acrylic with an 18-karat gold medium Edison nib. The bulb-filling system is unique in itself, since it requires that the nib be submerged in ink while the bulb is repeatedly squeezed, thus creating a vacuum to draw ink. It’s a lot more fun than a vanilla plug-in-a-cartridge-and-go filling system. The acrylic body of the pen is indeed beautiful and the finishing superb. The ink is visible through a translucent area on the barrel, making one’s choice of ink color an aesthetic decision. The second pen was the Pearl in olive ebonite—a grassy post-spring hue with all the tactile qualities of hard rubber. It has a steel nib that Gray ground to a 1.1mm cursive italic. Again, great work. The Dallas audience was impressed with the pens, as I was, agreeing that they are testimony to the talents of this admirable young pen artist. Gray has a number of pictures available through his site.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Texting Wasn't Even a Word

I think text messaging is getting way out of hand. I was in a shuttle bus the other day on my way to the airport, and of the five of us, four were busily texting away on the 5-minute trip from parking to terminal—thankfully not the driver. No eye contact was made, no pleasantries exchanged. Granted, it was very early in the morning, and I can’t honestly say how much pleasant I could have mustered. But still. I was at a meeting recently, and someone was texting during the presenter’s opening talk, well within view of everyone in the room—including the presenter. I had a party a few weeks ago, and one guest jumped to his BlackBerry every time it signaled “incoming.” It seems to me that we’ve gone from Pony Express to an I-can’t-live-a-minute-without-outside-stimulation-and-everyone-needs-me-at-all-times mentality in pretty short order. It’s rude. And your thumbs are gonna stay that way.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Touching Is Believing

I am a toucher. It probably goes back to some fortunate—or unfortunate—experience in my youth (doesn’t it always?), the end result of which is that my sense of touch is as acute as my hearing or sight in relaying information to me about my world. I don’t buy a car based only on performance or gas mileage or looks…I also have to enjoy how the steering wheel slides under my fingers, how the clutch performs to the demands of my sole and how the door reverberates in my hand when I close it. I feel the same way about people, though I gave up randomly touching strangers on the street when I moved to a planned community in 1989. But a good handshake, a squeeze of the shoulder or a chaste hug can tell me more about a person than direct eye contact, a British accent, or a shifty slouch ever could. So when I saw a picture of the new Vox Luxury stationery box (the Writer), I thought, “Hm, nice stationery box.” Then I got one. The rosewood veneer exterior is smooth and flawlessly finished, and the interior is a whole city of compartments for everything from stamps to stationery to pens (a letter opener is included) accented by brass-plated hinges and screws. Each compartment is covered in a soft neutral suede-like textile, and ecru laid stationery (also included) rests in its own little upholstered apartment. A tasseled brass key that locks the whole thing up serves—at least in my case—as yet another tactile accoutrement on my happy road to discernment.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Judge not and write a lot...

I don’t think I can ever REALLY leave my job at the office. Sure, I have a life, but it’s a grammatically correct one. As an editor, I don’t have the freedom to throw around casual sentences that end in prepositions. I am judged—if only in my mind. And this often leads to some pretty stilted—though complete—sentences in some awkward situations. Does anyone really ever say “whom” in conversation anymore? I do. Does anyone really care that the term “hold forth” is not the same as “hold court,” though they are often (and irritatingly) used interchangeably? What a burden, but what a joy: I love language. The same holds true, I think, in my use of pens. When I speak with people at shows or via letters to the editor of Stylus, I am often asked when and how I use my ever-growing collection of pens. In other words, do I really practice what I preach in the magazine? The answer is, yes. I write letters and notes. I keep a journal, and I’ve recently gotten into writing as meditation. But, unlike my fear of ever dangling a participle in public, I don’t do this because of my job. I truly love pens and the personal communication they engender. Earlier this year, I gave a presentation about how to put one’s pens to good use. At one point, I said something like, “One thing is for certain: if you send a letter, you’ll get a letter in return.” Boy, did I get a bunch of letters, and it took me almost a week to answer every one. I may be grammatically pretentious and a little judgmental, but I’ll write you back.

Friday, April 9, 2010

If You’re Ever Down in Dallas…

When I walked into the Dallas Pen Collectors’ Club meeting on Wednesday night, I felt like I was home. This warm and devoted group of collectors had invited me to make a presentation at one of their regular meetings, which are held every other month at a hotel in Richardson. After a few months of emailing and calendar exchanging, the ever-patient Mike Walker (pictured) and I determined that April would work for both the club and me. They had no special request in terms of topic, but since the group is interested in both new and vintage pens—with lots of crossover—I decided to talk about trends in contemporary pens. I then focused on “Twenty Under Two Hundred,” more precisely: 20 brands that offer good fountain pens under $200. It was a great evening, and I particularly enjoyed seeing familiar faces and meeting some new people. The pre-meeting dinner was a lot of fun. Mike Walker, Larry Bedinghaus (whom I’ve known for years), Twila Teasley (a delightful woman I hope to see again…she loves desk sets!) and I shared burgers and salads and great conversation. Their hospitality quelled the pre-presentation jitters that will probably plague me for the rest of my life. The formal part of the presentation closed with some pen raffles courtesy of Randy Spicer at Pelikan. Pelikan offers some wonderful examples of well-made, great looking pens in the under $200 category; their more expensive pens are amazing, too, as my growing collection will attest. The group then milled about—asking questions, talking and examining the many pens I had brought for the show-and-tell segment of my act. My thanks to the manufacturers, who allowed me to use their pens for this purpose, including Dallas’s own Retro 51. There’s nothing quite like Texas hospitality. Y’all should experience it, too: visit the Dallas Pen Show this fall, September 24 and 25,

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How Many Diamonds on that David Oscarson Seaside?

So he beckoned me to a remote corner of the room, far away from the crowd, and I waited with wild anticipation. Somewhere on his person was a one-of-a-kind David Oscarson Seaside pen embellished with pave-set diamonds, including the fancy yellow kind. My furtive friend and his wife had commissioned it from Oscarson and had indeed helped to design the pen, which as of that moment I had yet to see. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, it appeared from a well-hidden pen pouch tucked somewhere near his chest. The pen gleamed like a grail and twinkled like crazy—even in the low light of the room. I requested permission to hold it and, permission granted, I whisked it nearer to a window where I became heady under its full effect. White and yellow diamonds everywhere on the yellow gold pen combined to create an absolutely breathtaking piece. My friend explained how he and his wife had worked with Oscarson to bring it to fruition, changing details here and there in the process. He credited his wife with the final astonishing assemblage. Then, as quickly as it appeared, it was gone. And the collector, who wishes to remain nameless, disappeared into the crowd.

I am amazed at the power of a pen to inspire. Sometimes men should listen to their wives.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lighten Up

Pens have learned another thing from watches, it seems. Not only are they taking on some of the physical characteristics, as in using watch parts as art elements on a pen, I recently saw one that has illuminated accents, much like a watch. As I’m sure you know, Super-LumiNova is a trade name for a material often used on the markers, hands and bezel of a watch to illuminate them. Edelberg—a new brand just introduced in Europe—uses it to highlight the clip and front cone (and also a line running the length of some models) on its pens. I must say I was duly impressed with the new Edelberg range of rollerball pens that I saw during my recent trip to Europe. Founded by pen aficionado and collector Carlo Naldi, the brand offers, in addition to pens, other accessories, such as belt buckles, cufflinks, eyewear and rings. But the pens—all Swiss made—are really something to write home about. They are sleek and techie looking, with a minimalist design and good engineering. They come in a variety of combinations of steel, rose gold plate, resin, carbon fiber and Super-LumiNova. The clip retracts when the pen is open, minimizing the chance of a nasty ink stain in your pocket.

Mr. Naldi is a distributor of many pen brands in Switzerland and operates an exclusive pen shop in Zug, Style. In addition to the launch of the new Edelberg brand, he also offers accessories he designs and produces under the Naldi-Italy brand name. Keep an eye out for Edelberg. My sources tell me it will soon be on American soil, but not soon enough, in my opinion. The pens will range in price from around $500 to $800. My trusty camera didn’t quite capture the essence of the pens, but it loved the exuberant Mr. Naldi.