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The Lost Art of Pen Display

What do we do with our pens? Do they lay in little cardboard coffins in the bottom of a draw? Are they stored in temperature controlled rooms? or are they strewn across your desk like sunbathers on the French Riviera? It would seem that among the masses of collectors I have come across, both in the analogue world and through online forums, all of the above would seem to be the most common answer!

Whether you are a pen collector, a writing equipment aficionado, the office Biro thief or a stationer, most people will have pens and pencils of all descriptions lying about the home and office. But how do we store our pens? I for one have a sandwich bag of pens in my ‘junk’ draw in various states of working plus pots/cans/coffee jars positioned around my home. In addition,  most drawers and surfaces will host some sort of pen or pencil, much to the amusement of many a guest who visits my downstairs WC to find plant pots filled with drawing and writing pencils and an array of pens. But what about those special items? Whether worth £30 or £3000, some pens are just that bit more significant than others, whether gifted to you, carefully sourced, inherited or just your favourite pen to write with. 

I was inspired to look into the storage and display of pens after the captain of the good ship ‘Hamilton Pens’ Nigel, was kind enough to show me some beautiful old display cases he has in his collection. This got me thinking, it is relatively rare these days to find a traditional stationers on your standard high street - the fact that this has only just occurred to me is surprising as I spent untold hours as a teenager wandering stationers...admiring the beautiful pens in their polished cases, lazily rotating their glass towers and lusting after the elegant and lavish wooden stands and cases which were always out of reach behind the counter! 

Fountain Pens: A Changing Relationship

As most people buy their writing equipment online it is of no surprise that we don't see as much in the way of shop displays, except perhaps in the very niche (and likely expensive) shops found in cobbled back streets. It is a shame for sure, but is a testament to the changing relationship we have with pens. 

In the digital age within which we reside, pens are no longer the everyday necessity they once were. For many people, fountain pens bring back inky memories of their school days filled with smudged workbooks and stained shirt pockets. But for others, the white star of Mont Blanc atop a hefty barrel, or the familiar etching of  ‘Cross’ adorning the clip of a trusty fountain pen is the mark of a treasured item rather than an outdated format. 

The 1960s saw the rise of the ballpoint pen which many were concerned would be the starting point of the extinction of fountain pens, but this was thankfully not the case.

The start of the second decade of this century reported an increase of sales for many well known pen manufacturers, a welcome rise after the 2008 recession battered the sales of limited editions and higher end pens in particular. Interestingly,  both the BBC and Washington Post report that on both sides of the pond it is millennials who are largely responsible for the resurgence of interest in fountain pens and the ‘insta-worthiness’ of it all. This may seem sacrilege to some of the more established pen collectors of the world, but ultimately we are seeing a new lease of life given to the humble fountain pen (and not so humble editions - Montegrappa i’m looking at you! £44k Game of Thrones Limited Edition!). 

Although it most certainly is the case that our relationship with fountain pens has changed, they have remained very much adored, but perhaps more as an accessory than the working tool it once was. This is not to say that fountain pens are no longer a practical item, quite the opposite! Advancements in pen design mean they travel far better than they once did, are less prone to faults and are available in such a vast array of styles, shapes, nib size and aesthetic range that there really is a pen for every taste and purpose. The fountain pen retains status as something of a luxury item, as something to be cherished. This leads me on to the topic at hand - storage. 

Storing Fountain Pens

Fountain Pen storage is one of those topics that anyone who has ever owned a fountain pen will have an opinion on. Correct storage is essential as improper maintenance and care of a fountain pen can cause leakages or damage to the nib and/or feeder. Proper storage is even more important for older pieces and antique pens. 

Essentially, fountain pens thrive in cool, dry environments which avoid too much direct sunlight...much like myself. Depending on a couple of different factors, the position of your fountain pen is down to preference - to an extent. There are some who promote the inverted vertical storage of fountain pens which would have the nib stored downwards. Although this is suitable for pens being stored for short periods of time, it would generally be better advised not to do this. The argument for this position - for the sake of fairness - is that when stored in this way, the pen will write immediately when needed whereas ones stored nib upwards may need a moment to flow. This will make a lot of sense for people who use their pens regularly throughout the day but it should be noted that this position holds the wrath of gravity so you will find instances of leakage much more likely. I am speaking of course of storage whilst inked, if a pen is empty and cleaned - so long as it's posted - it shouldn't matter much in which direction the nib is facing whilst stored. 

I digress slightly. For storage for any length of time more than  a couple of weeks it is best to empty your pen of ink. If you are looking to store an inked pen, the nib should be wiped of any excess ink to prevent any clogging or pooling. Through storing a fountain pen correctly, you are protecting the inner mechanisms which will add to the longevity of your pen and reduce the instances of requiring additionally cleaning or repairs. 

We have noted that vertically storing your pen with the nib down is not recommended for fountain pens, however two positions which are suggested are nib upward vertical storage and horizontal storage with the nib facing any direction you please! If your pen is emptied of ink then there is very little difference in the storage style and is more down to personal preference. However, if your pen is stored with ink then you will find advantages to both forms of storage. 

The much promoted direction of rest for a stored fountain pen is the classic horizontal position. For an inked pen, horizontal storage should not be for longer than two weeks before using the pen so as to prevent any drying or flow issues. For a vertically upward facing nib pen this increases to up to 4 weeks. Due to the capillary action of fountain pens, a horizontal position will keep the nib wetted but prevents the gravitational pull of the earth drawing all the ink to the main feeder, nib and cap of the pen thus lowering the risk of leakage. Horizontal storage keeps the nib wet so you will have no problem writing with it immediately when desired but if not monitored, this position may lead to pooling and drying 

In the vertical nib upwards position, ink will travel to the back of the pen which prevents leakages and clogged feeders/nibs, but pens stored this way will take a moment to write again when used. 

Now that I have taught you all to suck eggs we shall move on to the reason why we are here…

 

Fountain Pen Storage and Display Cases

There are essentially three main types of pen case that the discerning pen owner should be aware of; storage boxes, display cases and travel cases/wraps. Ultimately, all of these forms are suitable ways to store your writing equipment safely, although some forms are better for certain purposes. As a caveat to the discussion, it should be noted that certain pens will have very specific needs - especially antique pieces or particularly delicate specimens so if there is any doubt over the needs of your pen it is best to contact a professional.

Hamilton Pens is always happy to advise on storage so do get in contact if you have any specific questions. On the whole, it is a question of purpose and personal taste when it comes to choosing pen storage solutions. For pens which are travelling around with you, such as to and from your office or even on flights, extra care must be taken to prevent damage or leakage whereas for stationary stationery, box or display storage is more than suitable for your needs. Let's take a look at some options.

Fountain Pen Storage Box

Storage boxes designed specifically for fountain pens are most commonly horizontal, rectangular boxes constructed from various materials whether metal, wooden, reinforced card or plastic​. Within the outer shell of the box is a form of lining designed to protect the exterior of the pen. This lining is usually felt, suede or cotton, though it should be noted that velvet lining is reasonably common but care should be taken as velvet contains nylon strands woven within which can in some instances cause damage to the pen. Similarly, storage boxes with plastic dividers can also be problematic to the body of the pen. If you are looking for a storage box for multiple pens, it is perhaps a safer option to look for one with individually embossed ridges to place each pen in which are fixed and unmoving supporting the pen rather than separating them as such. Storage boxes can be quite decorative or far more understated and as such, certain varieties can double up as a sort of display piece for a bookshelf or desk. 

​Fountain Pen Display Cases

On that note, not all storage boxes are display cases but all display cases are storage boxes! Even the most humble of fountain pens can be considered a work of art in its own way and as such they are a delightful piece to display in your home or office...particularly if you own a finer example of the beloved craftsmanship we see in some fountain pens. ​Display cases may be found as horizontal boxes much like a storage box, often with a viewing window. You may also find display cases presented as vertical receptacles encased in glass or featuring glass panels. Display cases come in all shapes and sizes and were once a staple of the pen company rep and stationers to provide the means to show off their wares. Display cases are best suited to collections of pens rather than individuals, although a great many display forms are available for individual items. A prime consideration with display cases is the effect of sunlight, as most display cases feature glass heavily exposure to too much direct sunlight can cause fading, overheating and more substantial damage. 

 

EDJelley writes a lovely blog on DIY-ing storage

 

​Fountain Pen Travel Cases and wraps

​For many people, fountain pens are part of their daily arsenal not just part of a collection to kept stored away and so a system of protecting them whilst out and about is needed. Travel cases and wraps are a perfect vehicle for this and there are many options available. You may find examples in cloth, leather, plastic or wood and they may be simple in design or more decorative. Practicality should always be the top consideration but as purveyors of beautiful things we know aesthetics are also important. Cases and wraps often feature suede or felt lining and will have straps or buckles to lock the pens in place ensuring limited movement whilst travelling. Cases tend to be smaller in size to allow for the cases to be carried in a bag or even your pocket. Wraps tend to be larger in size and allow for more pens to be transported at once...plus they have the satisfying tactile feature of unfurling to reveal your pens, lined up like soldiers on parade. Leather cases, whether hard, soft or wrap form, are increasingly popular due to their luxury status and longevity, lined with soft cloth and stylish features they make for a beautiful gift for yourself or others.

 

Final Thoughts...

It really is the case that if you treat a pen well it will last a lifetime and for some of the more investment pieces, this is such an important element of the care and maintenance of a pen. No amount of cleaning and adoration will matter if a pen is stored incorrectly or bashed about loose in the bottom of a satchel.

There are many options on the market for products which can perform all your storage and display needs but there is something to be said for DIY options too. An adapted old cigar box, an antique tool wrap or even something more bespoke - all add an element of character to our relationship with fountain pens.

Equally, there is comfort in the purchase of an item designed specifically for the purpose of storing or displaying pens. There is no real ‘wrong’ way to store or display your fountain pen so long as it is done with care and consideration.

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