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A Life-Long Love Affair
How I started with pens!
from the fountain pen of Glenn C Jones

Upon moving from Virginia Water Junior School in Surrey, England (or "Very Wet Jam Sandwich" as the in-crowd used to call it), at the age of seven, to prep (a.k.a. boarding) school, one graduated from pencils to fountain pens. This was a major event, on the par of transitioning from tricycle to bicycle with trainer wheels. Fountain pens were standard issue Platignum school pens which were made of royal blue plastic with an elongated barrel, reminiscent of a dip pen. There was no clip since these were made to sit on top of our wooden desks. The wooden desks were designed with an inkwell recessed in the top right hand corner of the desk. But since we were only allowed to use cartridges, the inkwells were left to accumulate schoolboy detritus such as chewing gum, pencil shavings and other unmentionables. Despite all attempts to maintain decorum by issuing boys with standard-issue pens, an imaginative array of custom modifications were made to the pens. Customizations included gnawing off the tapered end of the barrel to create the "sawn-off" barrel, melting the plastic barrel into Giacometti-esque abstract pieces, attaching the pen to large plastic erasers to create the Colt 45 writing instrument and, with the addition of rubber bands and wooden rulers, the infamous trebuchet-like washable blue ink catapult.

Despite the ingenious modifications, we were taught how to write with a fountain pen. No pencils or ballpoint pens were allowed for our in-class work or our homework. Sure we made a mess sometimes (a popular accessory was an ink eraser pen which dissolved washable blue ink), but neatness was an asset and even bought you an occasional bonus point on tests. As we grew older and more senior in school (when a boy reached the age of ten, he was allowed to wear long pants rather than shorts), individuality began to creep into our choice of pens. Sheaffer and Parker were the major players, with Targas and Arrows being the weapons of choice. In retrospect, the Targas were the bomb; anyone with a stainless steel Targa was automatically part of the in-crowd. The integrated nib was thought of as being très cool. One bad-ass kid (I wish I could remember his name) was fortunate enough to have a Parker Falcon. We were most envious. At the time, England and France were priding itself on the development of the Concorde, and the Falcon was the Concorde of pens. I had completely forgotten about the Falcon until I started becoming obsessed by pens and visited the "antique" pen web sites. Then, when I saw one, the memories flooded back and I HAD to write this article.

I graduated from prep school to Eton, a famous "public" (interpret "private") boarding school, founded in 1440, in the shadow of Windsor Castle. Fountain pens were de rigeur, although they weren't mandatory. Many of the students sported their dad's fountain pens, such as old Parkers, Conway Stewarts and Watermans. As an import (i.e. my Dad was American), a Sheaffer Targa was adequate (although many a titled young Englishman esteemed my pen). A feature of an English education was that our exams and subsequent grades were all based on end-of-term essays. Regardless of the subject, math and physics included, all final exams were (long) essay-based questions. The beauty of this was that the neater the exam booklet, the greater the benefit of the doubt. I specialized in Math, Chemistry and Biology and excelled in Biology. Thankfully, biology required extensive essays on such subjects as evolution, DNA replication and photosynthesis. My handwriting earned me much needed bonus marks.

I graduated from Eton and traveled thousands of miles to California for undergraduate studies, where fountain pens were an anachronism. I could spend a paragraph discussing my thought about California, but that's for another time. I did not appreciate pens again until I returned to Europe for grad school in Paris. It was astounding to see just how much the French adore pens, ink and paper. I was caught up again in pens, especially since there was a "Paperie" on every corner (my favorite was on the Rue du Bac, near the Boulevard St. Germain). For graduation I bought myself a Lamy Titanium Persona, and was ecstatic (although I soon proceeded to lose the cap).

Next came medical school, where I wrote my history and physicals with a superb Waterman Expert in turquoise ink, much to the consternation of my superiors, who couldn't see to understand the point of legible, handwritten text. I found solace at Gilbertson and Clybourne on Michigan Avenue where my infatuation was transformed into an obsession. When I graduated, I forced my parents to give me an engraved MB Doué traveler for a graduation present. I wish I could retract my request and purchase a limited edition Delta and a smooth-nibbed Pelikan M800 or 1000 with the money they spent, but such is life and the bain of inexperience.

With a newly minted medical degree in hand, I traveled south of the Mason-Dixon line for residency (I'm told North Carolina is in the South, but I can't convince myself of this when I look at a map). Since all patient history and physicals, orders and discharge instructions are still hand-written, this new phase in life presented a fantastic opportunity to enjoy using a fountain pen every day. One day when I was on call, I popped on the internet, and while browsing, encountered Shangri-la, also known as the Fountain Pen Hospital. What an amazing assortment of writing instruments (I heard a joke the other day that any pen costing over $100 automatically becomes a "writing instrument")! Since my girlfriend, and now fiancée, Trish had recently moved to New York, I was able to make several pilgrimages and thus began my love affair with Deltas and other Italian pens. Now, as I am completing my residency, I heard of Ross McKinney through Pentrace and have started a new romance with vintage pens, having bought a 1941 Vacumatic from Ross.

I am now moving on to practice medicine in a small Virginian town, where I will start in August. My addiction to fountain pens has accelerated since joining Pentrace, and I wake up in the morning looking forward to using my pens to write notes and sign orders and to signing on to see what's new on the site. I am so pleased to have found a like-minded group of insane pen-lovers at Pentrace, and I anticipate many years of tormenting my fellow collectors with my not-so-subtle opinions. Thank you for having invited me into your fold.

 

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