A Pen In Hand

Our history with ink and paper has a long history that started in 3000 BC. Ancient Egyptian scribes were the first to write on paper with reed brushes on papyrus scrolls. By the 7th century, the quill pen replaced it after establishing history with the writing of The Dead Sea Scrolls and signing of the Constitution of the United States. During the 19th century the metal dip pen with a steel nib to hold the ink replaced the quill. As history laid its foundation so did the involvement of the writing instrument. In 1943, the ballpoint pen arrived on the scene followed by the felt tip pen in 1960 and then the rollerball pen (my favorite) in 1980.

In 1929, amid the stock market crashing and the Great Depression looming, Earl Fahrney founded Fahrney’s Pens as a fountain pen repair shop in Washington, D.C. It’s original home was the famous Willard Hotel in 1950 for twenty-one years. In 1971, the store relocated and was sold to Jon and Corinne Sullivan in 1972. The couple continued the commitment to quality that Earl Fahrney established. Eventually their son, Chris, took charge of the general run of the business but remained loyal to the Fahrney’s Pen tradition.

My slow but growing addiction to fine writing instruments began with my first ACME pen that I happened across in a stationary store during a clearance sell. The pale yellow background had detailed Hula skirted girls and I knew I had to have it. A pen with a fun motif, was unheard of in my writing world and the chase was on for the next fix. Another favorite of my writing collectables is the Tornado series by Retro 1951. Their hip, cool collection of pens equals their motto, “Life is too short to carry an ugly pen.” Later, it was my sister who introduced me to Fahrney’s pens; little did she know that she was only helping a junkie to find her next fix.

Once again, I rode the rails to Washington, D.C. to seek out my favorite store that several of the pens I own in my collection came from. As I stood outside Fahrney’s, 1317 F Street, N.W., I began to quiver with excitement and a film of sweat began to form on the bridge of my nose. Before entering, I took a deep breath and entered. As I made a slow and deliberate walk past each glass case, my heart quickened, then raced once I reached the one I was looking for,  The Retro 1951 Masters of Mystery. The manager, Emile Benjamin, knew how to handle a pen junkie in her drunken state. He started with a calm conversation of what I wanted, what types of pens I had in my collection and tested my knowledge of pen nostalgia. Finally, I could breath again and return to the sensible human being that I am under normal conditions.

It was during this time that I found out that the most expensive pen that Emile had sold to date cost 69,000.00. It is the one of a kind, Colours of Australia by Curtis Australia A few famous faces that have made their way into Farney’s were Terry McMillan and Nicki Giovanni. Judges and lawyers are collectors of special edition pens. They reluctantly drop them off or send their clerks to do so for required repairs. If you think women are bad about buying things and hiding them from their husbands you haven’t met a man who has lost a Farney pen. “It is no secret that they will spend what amounts to a mortgage on a pen, paying part cash and part credit and leave the packaging behind, hiding the fact they’ve spent that much at Fahrney’s,” said Emile. No show and tell here! There was an incident when a woman brought in a Mont Blanc that she found and requested an estimate. The pen was from the Solitaire Carbon Steel collection with a quoted price of 1100.00.

In several showcases, exquisite, collections abound like the Krone Limited Sigmund Freud Rollerball Pen. This and several other collector styles come in special designed trunks, not boxes, but small trunks that look like fine keepsake, or jewel boxes. Just the feel of one of those would have put me into shock! And the asking price for such writing instruments can go as high as 10,000 and more. Of course these are the ones you use to write a letter to the President of the United States and then place in your safe deposit box when you’re finished. I bid goodbye to my new friend Emile, and head to the Willard Hotel for afternoon tea. After such an occasion, I had to settle myself before boarding the train for home. I gained a new-found knowledge for my pen addiction and the store that supplies it. Writing fills me up, allowing me to share it with others and now I do it with beautiful writing instruments of style and grace.Fahrney's


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