published on page B2, MST Sunday, 11 Nov 2012
Mona Caccam was a university sophomore in 1986 when she saw a
classmate carelessly put a Pilot 55 “entry-level student pen” in the
back pocket of his jeans. He sat on it and cracked the cap. Mona, upon
seeing that he was going to throw it away, asked for the pen and
repaired it. “I found it romantic to be writing with a fountain pen.”
She lost that same pen and cried about it. Her father saw her and
gave her another fountain pen, a Montblanc 144, as a graduation gift.
More than two decades later, Mona—a technical writer based in Pasig
City—still has her father’s present alongside dozens of other pens she
has accumulated over the past five years. She belongs to a group of
fountain pen enthusiasts in the Philippines, a thriving, growing
community of collectors at a time when “writing” has come to mean
stringing words together to make a coherent sentence or paragraph by
pounding on a keyboard—or keypad.
For fountain pen lovers, however, “writing” means exactly that:
seizing a pen and letting the ink flow onto paper with one’s distinct
Entrepreneur and former pharmaceutical executive Chito Limson recalls
that as a high school student, using fountain pains forced him to be
more deliberate in his choice of words. Now, he says fountain pens
“remind a person that there are ways of communicating that are more
elegant than tweeting, shooting an email or a text message…”
“It’s a discipline that defines who you are.”
Fountain pens are different from ordinary ballpoint pens in two ways,
explains MST columnist/GOCC employee Jenny Ortuoste in her blog,
GoGirlCafe (www.jennyo.net). Fountain pens have nibs, which “come in
gold, steel and other metal alloys, are generally pointed in shape and
have a ball of iridium on the tip for strength.” FPs are also refillable
with ink from a bottle, unlike ballpoint pens which you throw away once
the ink is spent.
A business analyst from Michigan, Thomas Overfield, concedes that
“fountain pens are in no way a practical modern convenience.” He is
quick to add that they are, instead, many other great things.
A good fountain pen for Tom is one of moderate cost, high quality,
and low bling. Mona looks at a host of indicators: “The quality of the
nib. The ergonomics of it. The way the filling system is engineered. The
ease with which a pen is maintained. The beauty in its body design.”
Chito talks about having some affinity with one’s pen on both the
physical and emotional/ intellectual levels:
“The pen must fit your hand
and grip well. It must not skip strokes or deposit large blobs of ink
on your paper. A good pen connects with your heart and your mind and
squeezes out the best and most creative thoughts.”
Then again, fountain pens are only half of the equation. The other
half is all about the ink. “The beginning strokes of the word start with
a paler shade of the ink’s color and pools into a darker hue as you
complete the word,” Chito says. This, one “cannot have with a ballpoint
pen or a rollerball.”
Mona has steadily built her collection since 2007, but she prefers to
be called a “user-accumulator.” In the beginning, she bought a lot of
inexpensive pens from Recto and Binondo and on eBay. As her knowledge
expanded through participating in online forums, she discovered the pen
features that appealed to her and thus became more discriminating. Last
year, she bought only four pens; this year, seven so far.
Chito mostly shops online —from members of the Fountain Pen Network,
an international organization, stationery stores in the US
(brick-and-mortar or Web-based), and eBay sellers from Japan, Singapore
and Malaysia. Chito also says that the number of enthusiasts coming out
of the woodwork here is an encouraging sign.
According to Jenny, there was not much of a fountain pen culture in
the Philippines when she became interested in them, even though she
lists National Book Store, Luis Pen Store in Escolta, Office Warehouse,
Fully Booked and office supplies stores in Recto near the university
belt as among those selling fountain pens. Now there’s a specialty FP
store called Scribe Writing Essentials at Eastwood Mall.
Do the pens get better as the price goes up? Thomas, who says the US
is the best place to be a collector of vintage fountain pens, does not
believe so. “The more you pay for a pen, the less you get.” Vintage
pens, however, are “a different animal. Rarity in numbers manufactured
or difference from peers makes some pens worth as much as
collectibles…The key is finding one that is properly restored.” Thomas
has in fact acquired some skills restoring vintage pens. “So I do buy
broken pens and bring them back to life.”
These individuals’ love affair with fountain pens is not limited to
the pens themselves, or even the ink. It is next to natural to also be
particular with paper—yes, journals and pads, as well as storage
paraphernalia to keep their collection in.
Jenny credits the Internet for linking her with the now-expanding
Fountain Pen Network – Philippines. Four years ago, while still a
greenhorn at fountain pen collecting, she blogged about “the demise of
one of my early Inoxcrom Jordi Labandas.” She soon received an e-mail
from UP Professor Butch Dalisay, a Palanca Hall of Famer, inviting her
to the first-ever meeting of FP collectors at his home inside UP Campus.
This was in early July 2008.
Since then, the “pen meets” have been held more often and the group
has expanded. They have created a Yahoo! Groups account (282 members) as
well as their own closed Facebook group (125 members) where they talk
about their acquisitions, ink hues, repair and storage techniques, and
But nothing beats the “pen meets.” What goes on there? Mona says “We
usually have lunch first. Then we bring out the pens we are currently
using or would like to show. We try pens we are thinking of acquiring.
We also get to try different inks and papers. We buy, sell, trade. A
fair amount of enabling goes on. We perform occasional small repairs.”
She enjoys the camaraderie most of all—and the opportunity to indulge
her geeky nature by being able to talk pens the whole time.
“Members discuss experiences with their pens,” Chito adds. “[It’s
like] Show and Tell for new acquisitions. Tips. Sales and bargains.
Thomas has in fact flown to the Philippines and has met many fellow
FP collectors. “Pen collecting led to my meeting some of the finest
people one can imagine…on the other side of the world.
Tom, Mona and Jenny also blog about their FP hobby, as does Leigh
Reyes, a creative executive who has an extensive collection. Leigh takes
her love for FPs a step further: she draws using her pens and posts
these in her blog, www.leighreyes.com.
Different hats and ink-stained hands
Mona, Thomas, Chito, Leigh and Jenny may be passionate about fountain
pens, but they have other hobbies as well. For instance, Mona knits and
crochets, takes photographs, and writes. Thomas collects vintage
watches and has recently obtained a certificate in horology (watch
repair). He also enjoys photography. Chito is likewise into watches—and
pocket knives. Jenny reads voraciously and is a prolific writer. She
snagged first prize for the 2011 Palanca Awards – essay category.
Despite their other hats, they count themselves fountain pen lovers
first and foremost. “Fountain pens are a throwback from the old days
when people took care of their vocabulary, their grammar and the
neatness of their writing on a page,” says Chito.
Tom, on the other hand, cannot find enough words to describe FPs.
They are, he says, “an ancient tool, a twisted history, an obvious
eccentricity, long artisanal endeavor, lovingly wasted effort, quirky
engineering, worst charlatanism, silly trifles, ridiculous expenditures,
a portal to past moments and a hand away from beautiful creation.”
Mona’s reasons are simple and to the point—“There is something satisfying about seeing ink flow onto the page.”
Jenny’s observations during the first “pen meet,” written in her
blog, says it all: “I look around and see that everyone has ink marks—on
their hands, forehead, temples. Leigh rubs my chin. ‘Ink?’ I ask, and
she smiles. Caloy has a streak of green on the right temple; George, on
the forehead. Butch’s fingers are a riot of color, as are Jay’s and
Inigo’s. We are true FP fanatics, I think, the stains worn as an emblem
of pride. No one tries very hard to remove the marks.”