The Washington Post

At Fahrney’s Pens, millennial­s drool over the latest gold-nibbed, ink-filled jewels.

- john.kelly@washpost.com Twitter: @johnkelly For previous columns, visit washington­post.com/john-kelly.

I went to Fahrney’s Pens on F Street NW last week expecting to find cobwebs and tumbleweed­s. I mean, come on. Fountain pens? They’d be better off selling buggy whips and whale

oil, right?

Wrong. The place was packed. It was one of Fahrney’s biannual pen fairs, and sales reps from two dozen of the world’s leading writing implement companies were displaying their wares to crowds of eager pen lovers.

Spread out on the counters before them were pens in a rainbow of colors, each a tiny magic wand looking for its perfect owner.

Like vinyl records, fountain pens are back.

“You know there’s a worldwide nib shortage?” said Ken Jones, vice president of a California­based company called

Yafa Brands that both makes pens and imports them from Europe.

Jones said there’s an eightmonth backlog for orders at the nib factory he deals with in Berlin.

The nib is where, metaphoric­ally speaking, the rubber meets the road. Speaking literally, it’s where the ink meets the paper.

“On a turntable, the most important part is the needle,” said Scott Hammer of Sailor Pen. “On a fountain pen, it’s the nib.”

Hammer has been selling pens since 1980 and has represente­d companies such as Waterman and Pelikan. He was at Fahrney’s repping Sailor, a Japanese company known for its super supple nibs, made of gold and available in seven widths, from extra-fine to “music.” (For writing musical notation.)

“Fahrney’s was always a tiptop customer,” he said. “For those that fancy pens, this is a little bit of heaven.”

Of course, to get to heaven, you have to die. But the fountain pen world is robust, or is at least in one of its periodic upswings.

“A Montblanc pen was the power tool of the 1980s,” said

Chuck Sullivan, whose parents Jon and Corinne bought Fahrney’s from founder

Earl Fahrney in 1972. In that greed-is-good decade, the whitetippe­d cap of a Montblanc peeking out from the pocket of a French-cuffed, monogramme­d shirt was a signifier of influence.

In the 1990s, high-end, limited-edition pens took off, Sullivan said. The recession of 2008 dried up the ink on those for a while. The current fountain pen revival, penfolk agree, has been driven by an unlikely group: millennial­s.

Yes, a generation that wasn’t taught cursive and whose members do most of their writing on a keyboard or smartphone screen has breathed new life into the old-fashioned fountain pen.

“There’s less writing now, but when they do write, they want a good experience,” Hammer said.

That means premium pen, nice paper, unusual ink — stuff that looks good on Instagram. Sullivan said a lot of the pens are used for keeping something called a dot journal or a bullet journal, which is basically a fancy to-do list.

There are now indie pen companies that rival indie record labels and indie beer companies in the loyalty they inspire.

They attract customers like Rachel Crawford, a 31-year-old web developer and graphic designer from Fort Washington, Md.

I asked how many fountain pens she owned.

“Total number of pens? I’m not sure,” Crawford said. “Twenty-six are inked at the moment.”

She rotates through her pen collection, bringing five to work with her every day in a Franklin Christoph “penvelope,” each filled with a different color of ink. Rachel’s favorite pen is a Stipula Etruria Rainbow Prisma 88. It was the first expensive fountain pen she bought, a gift to herself after getting her driver’s license a couple of years ago.

That pen was around $500. You can pay less for a decent fountain pen. And you can pay a lot more. A limited-edition pen from Namiki in Japan, its shiny black lacquer sprinkled with gold dust, was on display at Fahrney’s for $7,000.

At the back of the store, Chuck Edwards — a.k.a. the Pen Doctor — was tweaking customers’ pens. He’s worked at Fahrney’s for 37 years, cleaning and repairing pens. At the front, Ross Cameron demonstrat­ed a $140 fountain pen from Conklin called the Crescent Filler, patented in 1901 as the world’s first self-filling fountain pen. Back then, it was a revolution­ary alternativ­e to the nib pen and bottle of ink you kept on your desk.

“It was the first pen that could go with you,” Cameron said. “It was basically the iPhone of its day.”

Fahrney’s is celebratin­g its 90th anniversar­y this year. I wonder if 90 years from now people will be visiting the Apple store with as much affection.

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 ?? JOHN KELLY/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Sales reps from the world’s pen companies packed Fahrney’s Pens on F Street NW to show off their wares. As Fahrney’s is celebratin­g its 90th anniversar­y, fountain pens are undergoing a resurgence.
JOHN KELLY/THE WASHINGTON POST Sales reps from the world’s pen companies packed Fahrney’s Pens on F Street NW to show off their wares. As Fahrney’s is celebratin­g its 90th anniversar­y, fountain pens are undergoing a resurgence.
 ??  ?? John Kelly's Washington
John Kelly's Washington

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