Cary News

Pen fans didn’t see writing on the wall

Smart phones took the backseat to a more basic mode of communication when people from across the country came to the Triangle this weekend to sell and trade pens.

The ninth annual Triangle Pen Show played host to people who believe that even in today’s world of text messaging and emailing, putting pen to paper still has value. Pens at the show ranged in value from $10 to $1,200.

Even as one craftsmen sold a pen doubling as an iPhone stylis and vendors used iPhone applications for credit card transactions, vintage pens and one-of-a-kind, American-made ballpoints stole the show at the Cary Embassy Suites Hotel Sunday.

Edward Martin, a software engineer from Chicago who collects and restores fountain pens, went to the show to see what collectors had to offer.

“It’s something that’s unique in this day and age, because there’s not a need for it,” Martin said.

Despite his high-tech job, Martin said he enjoys the simpler technology inherent in a fountain pen.

“I like to take computers apart, so naturally I wanted to take pens apart and see how they work. I’m really interested to see how people 100 years ago thought how to put in the ink,” he said.

Martin wasn’t alone in the dichotomy of maintaining a computer job alongside a pen hobby.

Cary Adams, a computer support tech from Richmond, has been working to digitize his company’s documents. Still, he prefers to write with a well-designed fountain pen.

“I still take notes and do sketches,” he explained. “I still work and think that way, and I then transfer what I’m thinking to the computer. It is kind of a contradiction, but that’s just the way I work.”

Pen enthusiasts included local residents devoted to the traditional way of writing. Among them were members of the Research Triangle Pen Club, a group of that finds nothing wretched about being ink-stained.

History in pens

Others at the pen show had a fascination in the history of American-manufactured pens, as most U.S.-based plants have been bought out and outsourced.

Francis Meinhardt, who grew up in Wisconsin and now lives in Leesburg, Fla., sells vintage pens made by Parker Pen, a company that shut down its Wisconsin operations in 2009 after being bought by Newell-Rubbermaid.

Meinhardt’s father helped design Parker Pen’s T-ball jotter in 1954, which was the company’s first retracting, refillable ball-point pen.

“He took a lot of pride in his work,” Meinhardt said. “To us, it didn’t mean nothing; we were kids.”

Meinhardt’s own pen fascination began in 1998, five years after his father died. His mother threatened to throw out old boxes of his father’s pens, but Meinhardt decided to look through them first.

He found out his father had kept one-of-a-kind prototypes that were worth thousands, so he began learning about the history of Parker Pens and why they were valuable.

“What I get into more than anything is the history of pens,” Meinhardt said. “The problem with history is, all the old boys who invented with Parker died out, and all the history died with them.”

Pens survive

But people such as Alan Shaw are trying to recapture the spirit of pen craftsmanship, which was lost to outsourcing.

“My business is growing. I think everyone gets overwhelmed with technology. It’s nice once in a while to get a hand-written note instead of an email.”

Shaw, who operates his pen business in Philadelphia, focuses on crafting fountain pens from natural American materials, such as volcanic ash from Texas and non-magnetic metals from New Jersey that were originally designed for the aerospace industry.

“There’s something about owning a pen that’s been hand made,” Shaw said.

But a hand-made pen is nothing without paper, so Shaw’s wife, Nancy Shaw, sells notebooks with paper made to absorb fountain pen ink.

Selling to 28 dealers nationwide, the Shaws are hopeful that they’re helping promote an appreciation for pens and handwritten notes.

“Nothing is handwritten anymore,” Shaw said, referring to how her grandchildren just text and email. But letters, she says, are something you can hold onto and remember someone by.

“The rest of it just evaporates into cyberspace.”