The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — When turn-of-the-20th-century Americans composed a letter or signed a document, they did so with a flourish and with their favorite fountain pen.

Sold in every size, shape, color and style imaginable, the writing tool was favored by those who took pride in their penmanship and often was a prized possession.

But by the end of World War II, its reign came to an end — only to be replaced by the ball point which purportedly had the ability to write under water and even through butter.

Dethroned fountain instruments drifted to the farthest recesses of desk drawers where they were all but forgotten. But today, after decades of dormancy, they are being rediscovered.

And it’s not by boardroom types.

It’s by collectors who want to get a grip on a bit of history.

Tom Mullane is one such individual. Not only does he collect fountain pens, he restores them.

His interest began during his childhood, the 63-year-old Hagerstown man said, when “I started writing with a fountain pen in elementary school — back in the dark ages.”

Mullane, originally from the Bronx, N.Y., said he attended parochial school and although ball points were just starting to come onto the market, he was required to use fountain pens from second grade on.

“They wrote better and also it was easier to teach good handwriting with a fountain pen,” he recalled. “To this day, I still have beautiful Palmer-style handwriting as was taught back then.”

Mullane said he continued to write with fountain pens even after ball points and gel pens became popular.

“I always had at least one pen in my pocket as my signature pen,” he shared. “I used the other types because that was what they wanted for business use.”

Mullane said he also is a wood turner and started making custom wood fountain pens.

“I had a table at the Hagerstown Farmers Market during the Christmas season for a few years, selling my various styles of pens and did very well until I eventually flooded the market and sales dropped,” he said.

He eventually found a fountain pen forum on the web — — and learned that the older vintage pens he loved were still available.

“I started by purchasing a few, learning to repair the basic ones and my collection just sort of took off,” he said.

The first vintage pens Mullane collected were the Sheaffer brand, which “was one of the big three manufacturers in the fountain industry from the beginning,” he said. “For some reason, I then started to purchase some Parker pens, another of the big three. And now my collection is primarily focused on the Parker line. There is just something about the various models of Parker pens that I really love.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (3)
  1. Bill Chance says:

    Nice article. I too have a love/addiction for vintage fountain pens. There is something amazing about rescuing an old pen from the limbo of a musty desk drawer or a pile at a flea market (or a listing on ebay). I only wish I had his skills at handwriting.

    Thanks for sharing.

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