In­vest­ing in writ­ing in­stru­ments has been pro­pelled by digi­ti­sa­tion, as col­lec­tors value the in­creas­ingly rare act of putting pen to pa­per, finds Panna Mun­yal

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In­vest­ing in rare pens

T he digital age is re­plete with para­dox. It has made many of us im­pa­tient, in­sou­ciant and all about the in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion, yet we also place great value on the tra­di­tional (think vinyl and watches) and the tai­lor-made (suits, shirts and shoes). From hand­made and lim­ited-edi­tion prod­ucts to be­spoke ex­pe­ri­ences, true lux­ury has be­come syn­ony­mous with one-off, per­son­alised and un­usual pieces. And a rare pen – that mighty bas­tion of an ana­logue era – sits firmly in the pre­mi­umprod­uct cat­e­gory, with col­lec­tors reg­u­larly seek­ing out in­vest­ment-wor­thy in­stru­ments.

This might ex­plain why sta­tionery is an im­por­tant mar­ket for both age-old auc­tion houses and mod­ern­day shop­ping por­tals. “Many of our clients say they ap­pre­ci­ate fine pens pre­cisely be­cause they rep­re­sent a re­spite from the digi­ti­sa­tion of ev­ery­thing. The very act of us­ing a foun­tain pen is, in a sense, a small re­bel­lion against the triv­i­al­i­sa­tion of the art of writ­ing,” says Ivan Briggs, di­rec­tor of writ­ing in­stru­ments at Bon­hams auc­tion house. “In con­trast to the blitheness of dash­ing off a quick text or tweet, us­ing a fine pen makes one keenly aware of the value of self-ex­pres­sion. One tends to slow down, to be­come mind­ful of one’s pen­man­ship, to se­lect one’s words more care­fully, and to gather and de­velop one’s thoughts more thor­oughly. The act of writ­ing be­comes in­tensely per­sonal, pro­vid­ing an oa­sis in the midst of hec­tic mod­ern life.”

Like­wise, from a re­ceiver’s point of view, get­ting a hand­writ­ten note, card or let­ter holds far more mean­ing. The printed type of a digital mes­sage sim­ply can­not match the sen­ti­ment that can be con­veyed through ink on pa­per.

From an in­vest­ment view­point, the pre­cious­ness of a pen is di­rectly pro­por­tional to its rar­ity. Ac­cord­ingly, an up­com­ing Bon­hams auc­tion will in­clude such spec­i­mens as a Pi­lot-Namiki maki-e pen from the 1930s dec­o­rated with a Ja­panese fan mo­tif, by artist Shogo; and a Parker Ul­tra-Giant hard-rub­ber foun­tain pen, circa 1905, which holds a red Baby pen within its bar­rel. Although the lat­ter is fully func­tional, it’s too large to com­fort­ably write with, and will work best as a dis­play piece.

The De­cem­ber auc­tion will also of­fer at least two Mont­blanc in­stru­ments, in­clud­ing the Mont­blanc 75th An­niver­sary 18K gold Skele­ton, modelled on the com­pany’s clas­sic Meis­ter­stück; and a Mont­blanc for BMW Cen­ten­nial Skele­ton. The pens are es­ti­mated to sell for be­tween US$15,000 and $35,000 (up to

Dh128,500) a pop. The most ex­pen­sive pair of pens ever sold by Bon­hams were the Dun­hill-Namiki Em­peror-Sized Golden Tiger and Black Cat A- Grade Maki-e Foun­tain Pens from the early 1930s, which went for just over $300,000 (Dh1.1 mil­lion) in 2015.

“Its ap­peal as a col­lectible aside, a pen can also be a wise in­vest­ment op­tion. Writ­ing in­stru­ments are a glob­ally col­lected prod­uct, and tend to hold their value over time. The fact that each has its own story, told through care­fully cra ed de­sign de­tails, colours and ma­te­ri­als, very much adds to their col­lectabil­ity,” says Franck Juhel, pres­i­dent of Mont­blanc Mid­dle East, In­dia & Africa.

In fact, no men­tion of lux­ury pens would be com­plete with­out ref­er­enc­ing Mont­blanc. Ev­ery in­stru­ment that the Ger­man lux­ury house has re­leased over the past cen­tury has been hand­cra ed in its Ham­burg out­fit. Each year, Mont­blanc also pro­duces spe­cial and lim­ited-edi­tion pens across three cat­e­gories, ded­i­cated to a Pa­tron of Arts, Writer and Great Char­ac­ter.

This year’s Pa­tron of Arts, for ex­am­ple, is Ital­ian car­di­nal Sci­p­i­one Borgh­ese, the 17th-cen­tury col­lec­tor of Baroque art. The gran­ite bar­rel of the trib­ute pen has been cra ed to mir­ror the mul­ti­coloured pat­tern of the mar­ble floors of the grandiose rooms in Rome’s Gal­le­ria Borgh­ese. The Mont­blanc Writer’s Edi­tion 2017, mean­while, pays homage to au­thor and pi­lot An­toine de Saint-Ex­upéry, and ref­er­ences his Cau­dron Si­moun mono­plane through en­grav­ings on the night blue, pre­cious resin bar­rel and cap, which are rem­i­nis­cent of the air­cra ’s riv­ets.

“Writ­ing will al­ways be part of our lives. And col­lec­tors are as in­di­vid­ual as the writ­ing in­stru­ments they col­lect. So we have those who fo­cus on one par­tic­u­lar col­lec­tion, such as Pa­tron of Arts, while oth­ers seek foun­tain pens across the col­lec­tions,” says Juhel. “We have an amaz­ing young col­lec­tor in the UAE, who only wants Mont­blanc roller­ball writ­ing in­stru­ments, and an­other who wants pens cra ed in a spe­cific ma­te­rial. The ul­ti­mate col­lectible would be a unique piece – a writ­ing in­stru­ment of which only one has been cra ed,” he adds.

For first-time buy­ers, a pen from a spe­cial-edi­tion col­lec­tion, which is based on a theme that ap­peals to your per­son­al­ity and life­style, is a good start­ing point. The op­tions are al­most lim­it­less, and range from the Chi­nese opera and Char­lie Chap­lin to golf and Gandhi. Ital­ian com­pany Mon­te­grappa, for ex­am­ple, has lim­ited-edi­tion lines ded­i­cated to the 60th an­niver­sary of the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League, Game

of Thrones char­ac­ters, Ernest Hem­ing­way and the Egyptian de­ity Thoth, who was said to have in­vented the al­pha­bet. Lux­ury e-tailer Mr Porter of­fers the Kingsman pen, based on the movie fran­chise, cre­ated in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bri­tish man­u­fac­turer Con­way Ste­wart – the gold cap of the in­stru­ment is en­graved with the se­cret spy es­tab­lish­ment’s moniker: “Ox­fords not Brogues”.

Per­son­al­i­sa­tion is an­other great way to en­sure the one-off­ness of your pen. This can take the form of mono­grammed text, etched-on images and be­spoke nibs, or pre-de­cided ma­te­ri­als, de­signs and even pre­cious stones, to con­struct an en­tire pen based on in­di­vid­ual spec­i­fi­ca­tions, the value of which will be price­less to its owner. While ev­ery Mont­blanc nib has the num­ber 4810 en­graved on it, a ref­er­ence to the Alpine Mont Blanc moun­tain’s height, the com­pany also has a ser­vice that en­ables the in­di­vid­u­al­i­sa­tion of a foun­tain pen’s nib, based on a buyer’s loops, an­gles and writ­ing pres­sure.

As with most col­lectibles, re­search is a must. “There are many ex­cel­lent books, mag­a­zines and web­sites de­voted to fine pens. My ad­vice is to do your re­search and then buy the pen that speaks to your in­ter­ests. The key thing is to iden­tify your tastes and then buy the best within your cat­e­gory and price range. If you’re buy­ing with an eye to fu­ture re­sale, make cer­tain to keep the pen in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion, prefer­ably uninked, and re­tain the some­times elab­o­rate pack­ag­ing ma­te­rial and pa­per­work, as col­lec­tors are stick­lers for com­plete­ness,” says Bon­hams’ Briggs.

Mont­blanc reg­u­larly brings its col­lec­tors from all over the world to­gether, for din­ners and launch events. “There re­ally is a dy­namic world of col­lec­tors, which most peo­ple are quite un­aware of un­til they be­come a part of it,” says Juhel. “But it is very much alive, and o en multi­gen­er­a­tional. Many young col­lec­tors fol­low in the foot­steps of their fa­thers or moth­ers, who have in­stilled in them an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the hand­made cra sman­ship of writ­ing in­stru­ments, which our col­lec­tors share an in­tri­cate in­ter­est in, knowl­edge of and, o en, friendly ri­valry for.”

THEMED WORKS Far le , the Kingsman pen cre­ated by Con­way Ste­wart in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mr Porter. Le , a pen from Ital­ian com­pany Mon­te­grappa’s Ernest Hem­ing­way: The Trav­eller col­lec­tion

FINE PEN­MAN­SHIP Top, at just over Dh1.1 mil­lion, the Dun­hill-Namiki Em­peror-Sized Golden Tiger and Black Cat were the most ex­pen­sive pair of foun­tain pens ever sold by Bon­hams. Above, Mont­blanc of­fers a Be­spoke Nib ser­vice, based on an in­di­vid­ual’s...

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