Why these Islanders are obsessed with fountain pens

A few months ago, a friend gave me a fountain pen.

"You just seem like a fountain pen kind of guy," she said.

A few weeks later, I mentioned my new pen to another friend.

"You should bring it to Pen Night!" he said.

"What's Pen Night?" I asked.

"It's a group who meets once a month to talk about fountain pens!"

For the past few months, I've been working on a series for CBC P.E.I. about people and their passions. I'm calling it The Things We Do For Love. I usually feature one person and one passion, but a group of people who have bonded over a shared love of fountain pens? Yes please!

'Fascinating piece of engineering'

I showed up to Pen Night a smidge late. Ten people sat around a table in the parish hall of St. Paul's Anglican Church in Charlottetown, and show and tell had already begun.

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"I'm Ian Scott," said an older man with a moustache across the table. "Mostly I'm into vintage material — Parkers and Sheaffers. I just never stopped using fountain pens. I came across a Lamy, the first new pen I've bought in a number of years. I'm enjoying it very much."

Ian passed a black pen to the man sitting next to him, who removed the cap and carefully wrote with it on a pad of paper.

"That's a nice pen."

Chantal Lavoie showed her pen next: a special, limited-edition pen called a Pilot Vanishing Point.

"This is probably the most interesting pen, mechanically, I have ever seen," she said, displaying an emerald green pen with silver trim. "You're not going to see a lot of fountain pens that do this.

"The mechanics of it are fascinating. You hear that?" 

She clicks a button at the back of the pen.

"Now that is a sound. This pen is capless, which means you're not going to be holding the cap in your hand or posting it on the back. It's just a click. There's a little door on the inside, and the nib pushes it out of the way. That is a fascinating piece of engineering."

'That has character'

Chantal had her pen loaded up with a beautiful blue ink, which she wrote with as she told me how she came to love fountain pens.

Dave Atkinson/CBC

"I had an English teacher that I did not like very much at all," she said. "And this teacher would give us awful grades and mediocre comments, but they were written with such nice ink with an interesting flow and shading, and I thought, 'Wow, that has character.'"

Chantal's pen was so fancy, I started to become self-conscious about my own pen. I Googled her Pilot Vanishing Point and found it sold for a few hundred dollars. The plastic Platinum Preppy in my pocket retails for between 7 and 10 bucks.

"This is my very first fountain pen, given to me by a friend this summer," I said sheepishly. "A Platinum Preppy. I really don't know anything about it. Do I pass it around now or just put it back in my pocket?"

"You have nothing to be ashamed about!" said the woman sitting to my left. Her name is Debi Mais Murphy. "These are wonderful pens. The nibs and the price point? You cannot beat a Platinum Preppy."

'More expressive than your everyday ballpoint'

My pen is passed around with some reverence. I should have known a group that meets to discuss something so sensible as pens wouldn't disparage mine.

Dave Atkinson/CBC

"Fountain pens with ink I find are more expressive than your everyday ballpoint," she said. "A ballpoint skids and slides across the paper. There's no control. Ink skipping and so on. With a fountain pen, you don't have that. You have a very smooth, expressive line, and I like that."

I got the impression Debi owns quite a few pens, so I asked her to put a number on her collection.

"Oh, I could never reveal that," she said. "Probably too many."

"Dozens?" I asked.

"Yes, I would say there are at least dozens of pens in my accumulation of pens. Some can be sectioned into collector pieces, in that they're a set or a series, and others are just fun to write with."

No exploding pens

After show and tell, Pen Night usually includes a presentation. Debi has given workshops on proper cleaning and maintenance.

Dave Atkinson/CBC

"They're a lot of work, aren't they?" I asked Chantal.

"I compare it to a ballpoint pen," she said. "Those are no work. You open them up. You have to maybe scribble a bit before you write. When you're done, you chuck them out. A fountain pen is definitely more work compared to that. But, still not all that much once you understand the basic mechanics of it. People tend to think their pen is going to explode all over them with ink, kind of Cruella de Vil style, and it's not the case."

Between show and tell and a presentation on handwriting, Pen Night ran about two hours. There is just so much to talk about, said Chantelle Des Roches.

"Every once in a while I stop and think — I feel like we've really touched on everything. I mean fountain pen is a pen, and there's ink, and there's paper. I mean, what else is there, really? And every month we have a very entertaining discussion. Sometimes its very structured, and sometimes, we have Pen Nights where it's just a group of friends coming together for a chat."

It's like anything. When you love something, there's lots to talk about. For some people, it's sports. For others, it's craft beer. For these wonderful people, it's fountain pens. 

I'm glad my friend invited me. My Platinum Preppy and I will return.

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