Passion for fountain pens leads to global friendships

Della Johnson | Staff Writer

 Penmanship enthusiasts are inking up impressive collections. 

Fountain pens–ornate pens with tips of metal–have been around since their replacement of the older dipping method in the 20th century, and have faded out of common usage due to cheaper, more modern, and more easily accessible alternatives. For a select few, however, these writing utensils haven’t left the spotlight in the slightest. 

Collecting fountain pens is a classic hobby that has found its way into the lives and interests of Mason students and faculty, particularly senior Ryan Arp and drama teacher Allen Young. Arp has collected fountain pens for the past three years. He was first introduced to the hobby through the internet, on a discussion-style website called Reddit. 

“I thought, ‘Wow, that’d be really cool to have a pen that’s special to you [that] you write with all the time,” Arp said. “I went and bought one for my birthday. I looked through the Reddit page, and I was thinking that it’d be cool to have more. It became a process of collecting them and looking for certain features that I like.” 

Online sources like Reddit commonly introduce people to fountain pen collecting. The fountain pens “subreddit” has over 175,000 members. Discussing the pastime online has massively affected the kind of people who participate–reaching out to younger generations more than it traditionally would. This same effect has also been seen in hobbies that have also had large communities on social media platforms. 

Arp has connected with people of many different ages since his collecting began, especially thanks to his discovery of an online platform. He said that starting the pastime was the result of a multitude of different first initiations. 

“With the internet becoming more prominent, more people know about it,” Arp said. “Something I’ve seen a lot is when someone’s grandparents give them a fountain pen [it] sparks their interest. I’d say an easier way to get into it is to just look it up; there’s a lot of options online. Even asking grandparents, since it’s more of a thing from their generation.” 

The first pen that Young collected was less of a self-discovery. After he first got one, however, he quickly learned to love writing with it, as it required less effort than other pens. 

“I had a student of mine who I wrote a letter of recommendation for,” Young said. “She gave me a fountain pen and a journal as a gift. It wasn’t a great pen, but it was so much easier to write with than any kind of pen I’d used before. I was kind of hooked.” 

For many, fountain pen collecting isn’t just a simple pastime. It turns into something much larger as people around the globe are able to meet one another and connect through their shared love of the subject. These types of group meetings are often connected with more popular pen-making companies, such as Pelikan, which is based in Germany. 

Events like these have gone global and are happening more and more often. Arp, as a high school junior, hosted one of these Pelikan pen meet-ups in 2019. He said he connected with the company throughout the entire process in order to have it done correctly. 

“Pelikan reached out to me and asked me to organize the gathering for the pen club in [Cincinnati],” Arp said. “There are global meet-ups in various cities all over the world. They basically said, ‘We’re going to send you a bunch of [products]. You need to find a venue, organize the event, and find the people. Just send us photos when you’re done.’” 

As the world becomes intertwined with technology, it can be difficult to find things to do that are off-screen. Young believes that fountain pens provide the perfect opportunity to anchor oneself with more classic ways to write. 

“In this digital world, we’re all used to typing on screens and everything becomes obsolete,” Young said. “A fountain pen is a forever thing. It’s a growing industry, a resurgent field that people are discovering. It breaks the digital thing away. It gets us writing on paper, which helps a lot of people with memory and it’s a way to embrace the old as well as express yourself through the new.”

Photo contributed by Ryan Arp