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The Immortality of the Pen

Fountains pens once ruled, but by the 1960s the perfection of ballpoint pen technology was a powerful rival. It would have taken an optimistic soul then to predict anything other than demise for the fountain pen, and, in the following decade, fountain pen makers found themselves losing ground to cheaper pen manufacturers.

At around the same time, the arrival of quartz watches threatened the future of traditional mechanical watchmaking. By the end of the 1970s, most wristwatches were being exported from Hong Kong and the Swiss watch industry, which had until then enjoyed a virtual monopoly, was in turmoil.

For some industries, the tide of changing technology was too strong. When the typewriter makers fought their last-ditch battle against the personal computer, they failed. Gimmicks such as electronic screens or automated liquid paper dispensing were no match for the young rival. While there may still be a small niche market for traditional typewriters, they are virtually unseen today.

In the early years of the ballpoint threat, fountain pen makers tried price wars and innovation but failed to stem the tide. What stemmed it was sentiment and affection. The fountain pen found a way, as did the mechanical wristwatch.

We no longer need a fancy fountain pen for writing in the same way that we no longer need an expensive mechanical Swiss watch to tell us the time. The clocks on digital handheld devices are much more accurate and practical. However, a finely made mechanical watch is an item of immense value and can be highly sought after and treasured. In addition to its physical beauty, the appeal lies in the fact that it is a symbol of the ingenuity of mankind and our ability to master the mechanical world and harness the most precious and elusive of things: time.

The fountain pen is a similarly symbolic item. Scientific research shows that the human brain has not evolved significantly over the last few thousand years, and yet mankind has achieved more in this time period than ever before. This is down to mankind’s ability to transmit knowledge and culture through time, for the next generation to build on the established knowledge pool. The ability of mankind to write is the key to this. The pen, therefore, is the cornerstone of modern civilization, a symbol of the endurance of human knowledge. We may no longer need it to write notes or messages, but it is truly the case that the pen has transported our culture and knowledge through generations and is a symbol of mankind’s mastery of the written word.

Many famous authors, among them Neil Gaiman, Anthony Horowitz, and Tony Buzan, have all expressed their love of fountain pens. At the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2013, Anthony Horowitz publicly stated, “I love writing with a fountain pen, it reminds me that I work with the same tools as all of my literary heroes before me.“

While most writing today is done on digital devices, it is the pen, not the keyboard, that is the symbol of writing and writers. It is a pen, not a keyboard, that you may give to your son or daughter who is graduating. It is the pen, not the keyboard, that we still say is mightier than the sword.

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