Retro fountain pens push for placement in digital world

Don't write off the fountain pen just yet, say aficionados. The tool seems to have defied the winds of change by re-writing its image in an increasingly paperless world.

From obsolescence to opulence, the fountain pen has rewritten its image in a digital world

In an ever-shrinking digital world where billions of people communicate through smartphones, email and social media apps, there's a tried-and-true technology that seems to be fighting the winds of change. 

Almost two centuries after it was created in 1827 by Romanian inventor Petrache Poenaru, the fountain pen is more popular than ever and it seems to be gaining new appreciation among younger generations for its retro charm. 

"I see a resurgence of an age group of about 19 to 35, young students, young professionals coming into the store in awe of what we have here," said Mano Duggal, who along with her husband Baldeep, owns Phidon Pens in downtown Cambridge.

Mano Duggal said her customers, who range from students, to labourers to doctors to judges, come for all walks of life, but they all have something in common.

'Great pleasure'

Mano Duggal and her husband Baldeep own Phidon Pens in downtown Cambridge, Ont. where pen aficionados can buy a writing instrument as cheap five dollars or as expensive as $3,500. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

In an age of email and instant communication, her customers want something slower, more personal and they believe that, much like the ink that flows through its nib, only the fountain pen can deliver. 

"There's a great pleasure they are not deriving out of just a computer," Duggal said. 

Duggal's small downtown store boasts a large selection of writing instruments, from a practically-priced two dollar pen, to an extravagant $3,500 a gold-nibbed luxury fountain pen.

She even sells pens that are a political statement in and of themselves: made from decommissioned AK-47 assault rifles, for $250 the pen even carries the serial number of the gun it was made from. 

One-of-a-kind pens

The one-of-a-kind pens Duggal offers are a far cry from the box of 60 ball-points that can sell for as little as $5.99 in suburban big box stores. 

"We've become a society of disposable throwaway stuff, but I say, why not? Why not buy a nice pen?" Mano said. "There are people who buy nice shoes, they have a nice bag, they buy a nice car, expensive art, why not buy a nice pen?"

It seems like vinyl records and printed books, the 190-year-old fountain pen is rewriting its story from obsolescence to opulence amid growing global figures on sales balance sheets. 

Sales falling, profits rising

According to marketing firm Euromonitor International, the value of global pen sales topped $1.4 billion U.S. in 2015. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Marketing firm Euromonitor International says the value of fountain pen sales has been steadily climbing for the past two decades, save for "one small blip" in 2009 following the global financial crisis the year before. 

The company says global sales topped $1.4 billion U.S. in 2015, with China buying more fountain pens than all of continental Europe combined, with more than $300 million in sales in 2015 alone. 

It also seems the fountain pen has become a symbol of luxury, according to Euromonitor, which says the fountain pen has seen its market value grow by 37 per cent in the last decade, despite sales volume (the  number of individual pens sold) decreasing by seven per cent over that same period. 

Booming in Asia, individual fountain pen sales in North America and Europe fell between 28 and 23 per cent respectively between 2005 and 2015. 

Little to no data exists to say whether it's the older generations or young retro-lovers who are propping up fountain pen profits in the western world.

But to pen afficionados like Mano Duggal, there's more to using a fountain pen than its utility as a writing tool.

"Pleasure, I think," she said. "There's a certain sense of calmness I have at the end of my day as I use a fountain pen as I'm journaling or writing my thoughts down."