October 2003: Un-Supersize Your Pen

Extra Fine Points Index  ]


BY DON FLUCKINGER • We hear the world is getting smaller — communication barriers are breaking down, so we can instant-message our pals across the country or across oceans in real-time. More people on the planet means less space. And of course, the globalization of big companies is supposedly leveling local culture and making us more the same than different.

But I submit that the world’s getting bigger. We used to drive Chevettes and Pintos, but now trucks (including sport utility vehicles) outsell cars. A McDonald’s supersize fries is more than three times the only size Ray Kroc’s joint sold back in 1955.

Tens of millions of people — including your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents — would probably think your friend carrying a Conway Churchill is carrying way too much pen. Extra Fine Points

We’re getting gluttonous, and not just with glutenous fries: Cokes used to be 6 ounces to a bottle; they’re now 20 to 34. The 7-11 store on the corner used to sell the Big Gulp, which morphed into the Super Big Gulp, then the Extreme Big Gulp, and now it’s the bladder-busting 64-ounce Double Gulp.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
To order that Double Gulp, you need a pen of comparably Gargantuan size,
such as the Namiki Emperor, pictured with a Parker “51” for comparison.

And don’t get me started about how the average muffin now is four USDA servings, and the average cookie one purchases at the mall is on average a whopping seven times the size of a single serving. Before you wag a finger and accuse the government nutritionists of being prudes and shrinking serving sizes for the common good, I’ll have you know that serving sizes have remained pretty much static over the decades.

Which brings me to pens. It’s outrageous how large pens are getting. Next to popular oversized versions of most pens, the things they call Standard size look like puny, cheap ripoffs. In reality, many of these Standards are big — take, for instance, the Montegrappa Reminiscence and its recent offspring — they’re still fatties compared to the pens that tens of millions of writers used in the first half of the 20th century.

Fountain pen
Montegrappa Reminiscence

When thinking about this trend, it’s easy to trace the anthropological bread crumbs that led us to this ridiculous situation: Pen collectors, when they first started the hobby, noticed right away that the biggest pens were rarest. So they attached the most value to them. It didn’t have anything to do with how the things actually performed, but rather the thrill of the chase. The longer it took to find a pen, the more desirable it was.

Consequently, when modern manufacturers decided to make new pens, they concentrated on the collector community because these were the people who liked fountain pens and used them daily — and the manufacturers made bigger and bigger pens. Soon, in order to supersize their pens and trump the competitors’, the typical oversize model had to become a 2xL, relegating the standard to merely XL.

That’s ridiculous.

It’s a waste of natural resources — and a waste of good pen design — to not carry a Parker “51”, Standard Vac, or any of the classic Sheaffer Crest, Thin Model, or Snorkel pens. Or a Waterman’s 52. Or whatever your favorite “normal-sized” model of a nice, ripe vintage.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
Parker Standard Vacumatic, Sheaffer”s Snorkel

Again, tens of millions of people — including your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents — would probably think your friend carrying a Conway Churchill or even a more normal-sized (by today’s standards) Delta Nautilus or Pelikan M800 is carrying wa-a-a-a-y too much pen to get anything done. Or that your friend is a showboat along the lines of Deion Sanders, the prototype of today’s pro athlete — complete with supersized ego.

Fountain pen
Delta Nautilus

Oversized vintage pens were rare in the first place for a reason: Nobody wanted them. The demand was low. So Parker, Sheaffer, Waterman, and Conklin didn’t make that many. Just enough to satisfy the few who preferred them. For the rest of the population, the vast majority of writers, smaller pens were ideal. They were then, and they are today.

It’s time we made a statement and stopped the supersizing. The super big gulping. The portion distortion. I’m not saying anybody has to start writing with a Wahl Bantam or one of those pathetic little Sub-Deb Vacumatics. They were rare, too, for good reason. I’m just advocating we drop the illusion that bigger pens are better. They’re not. They’re a creation of Big America, just like Biggie Fries, the Ford Excursion, and this culinary abomination we see advertised on television called the Olive Garden Endless Pasta Bowl.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
Wahl Bantam ó and that Emperor again!

Start small. Or at least a little less large. Think about this the next time you pick up a pen that should have a woodburned “Louisville Slugger” logo on its barrel. And at least give the microscopic — in comparison — 1940s Senior Striped Duofold beside it a second look before you buy that ultimate behemoth.

Fountain pen
Parker Senior Striped Duofold

cover Further Reading: Food Fight, by Kelly Brownell

In this brand-spanking-new book, Yale nutritionist Kelly Brownell outlines provocative arguments for holding the food and restaurant industries responsible for the fact that 65% of Americans are either overweight or obese. Whether you agree with him or not, this book never fails to entertain.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the Biddersedge.com collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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