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Pen Ultimate

I greatly enjoyed Elizabeth Vogdes’s “The Poetry of Pen and Ink” (winter 2016), and can testify to the tactile pleasure fountain pens provide. Using one connects the mind with the body in the act of writing. I can’t say the same for ballpoints.

Nevertheless, I’m a ballpoint enthusiast and a collector, mostly of vintage Paper Mates. They are nearly as elegant in their way, more reliable, and require a lot less maintenance. Mine are mostly from the 1950s and early ’60s.

I was introduced to Paper Mates at the Swarthmore Bookstore (then located in the basement of Parrish), where they cost $2 in the 1970s. Now, you’re lucky to get a used one for $20; new—or rather, mint unused—ones go for more. They replaced the 19-cent Bic pens I had used in high school, which made excellent delivery systems for spitballs. Swarthmore classes, I discovered, didn’t require many spitballs.

Admittedly, I’m guilty of reverse snobbery. Along with my princely Paper Mates, I also
have (thanks to eBay) dozens of cheaper ballpoints, old dowagers whose lives I like to think I’m extending and improving. 

The elegance of fountain pens can also present a challenge. There’s nothing more frustrating for a writer than having a fine pen in hand and anticipating the mental and physical, if not spiritual, joy of incising great thoughts on paper, only to realize that you have nothing to say.

—JEFF SCHEUER ’75, New York, N.Y.