You remember the fountain pen - the thing that James Bond could turn into a gun faster than you can say double entendre. It's back, for reasons as varied as yuppie cachet and elementary school penmanship.
Last year saw $82 million in sales of fountain pens nationwide, according to the Writing Instrument Manufacturing Association. Twelve million were sold in this country last year, compared with half that many more than a decade ago.Even former President Reagan, who usually signed documents with felt-tip pens, was prevailed upon by the Parker Pen Co. to use a fountain pen when he and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the agreement eliminating intermediate-range nuclear weapons.
David Grundhoefer, manager of Daly's Pen Shop in Minneapolis, said one reason for the pen's resurgence is the increased emphasis on teaching penmanship and calligraphy in schools.
"They decided Johnny can't read because Johnny can't write, either," he said. Parents come in to buy the basic ball-point pen, "then they see the others and it triggers something in them."
Sally French, public-information director for the Minneapolis schools, confirmed the theory of a cursive resurgence. "We have a tremendous emphasis on writing now," she said. "Kids just write and write and write and . . . that creates an appreciation not only for writing, but for handwriting."
Prices generally range from $1.98 or so for a disposable fountain pen to $475 for the Mont Blanc Solitaire with a sterling silver casing. But it's possible to spend more. Mont Blanc has a solid gold pen priced at $8,600 and once offered a platinum one for $12,000.
At the pricey levels, though, they're not pens, but fine writing instruments that exude status.
It wasn't always this way. When the ball-point pen was invented in 1945, it threatened to send the fountain pen the way of the goose quill. It didn't leak, it was convenient, it was new. But it was never really as comfortable as a fountain pen.
"It will groove to your style of writing," Grundhoefer said, explaining how the nib bends to the particular angle of one's hand. "That's why you never lend out a fountain pen."
A good pen, often costing about $100, has a gold nib, or writing tip, which is superior to steel because it promotes a better ink flow. Gold-electroplated steel nibs sell for less.