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« Double take | Main | Chocks away »

Make your mark

Christian M. Rauch, managing director of writing culture at Montblanc, writes about the importance of preserving and encouraging the art of handwriting...

Personal Code Ink, Montblanc

Today two billion pens are manufactured each year in the United States alone. Pen manufacturers span the globe from Namiki in Japan to Aurora in Italy to Curtis, Australia. When typing ‘pen’ into the Google search engine over 124 million results come up.

However, looking from a distance it seems that, other than for students sitting exams, handwriting has been relegated to lesser importance – writing a ‘to do’ or shopping list.

As early as 4000 BC a crude pen was made using a hollow straw. Later, around 500 BC man began using bird feathers and continued with these quills until the 19th century when steel was used to make a much more sophisticated instrument.

It wasn’t until 1906 in a district of Hamburg, that the fountain pen was born. Three men – stationery trader Claus Johannes Voss, banker Alfred Nehemias and a Berlin engineer named August Eberstein – dreamt up their first fountain pen. Twenty years later the art was perfected with the aptly named Meisterstück – ‘Masterpiece’.

No other brand today personifies handwriting more so than Montblanc. Every Montblanc nib is hand made. It is a process with over 30 stages of forming the 14 or 18 carat gold sheet, embellishing it with other precious materials and pointing the tip with iridium; each nib is unique.

The nib is the essence of any fountain pen. It is the reason you buy a fountain pen. Nothing writes like it. Once ‘broken in’, a process which takes six to eight weeks, the nib really becomes an extension of your hand, your thoughts, yourself. It bends and softens to your writing style and becomes indelibly yours. I have often thought that J.K. Rowling took reference from a fountain pen when describing the process by which her wizards choose their wand. Just as the wand chooses the wizard, the pen chooses the writer.

Montblanc’s seniority in the marketplace was cemented in February of this year with the Bonhams & Butterfields sale of the Montblanc Fortune Number 88. Estimated to fetch $4,000-6,000, the highly sought-after pen sold for $25,620 [around £16,000] and established a new world auction record.

Montblanc’s latest offering is the John Lennon Limited collection of pens. The collection triumphs with the Limited Edition 70, celebrating what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday. Only 70 of these pens are available and this collector’s piece will set you back £17,300. The pen reflects and echoes Lennon’s music and style, with the word ‘Imagine’ rendered in a skeleton of white gold encircling the writing instrument and blue resin on the cap and barrel making a fond reference to the musician’s trademark blue glasses. Three diamonds mark out the chord for ‘Imagine’ on the clip and the cone is lacquered to resemble a piano keyboard. Also, with this edition, the 18ct gold nib bears Lennon’s self-portrait signature.

Why invest in such a piece? Because it is not only an object of art itself, it inspires art too.

Handwriting at length, to be read by others, seems now to be confined to school and university examinations. The simple reason for what some may call an archaic practice is that, without it, examiners are forced to trudge through mountains of copied and pasted, plagiarised text. As one university lecturer points out: ‘At least the handwriting I struggle to read reflects, in most cases, some attempt at independent thought’.

Writing by hand forces one to reflect, distill your thoughts and consider your words. This is not a practice to be sniffed at from any standpoint – be it when working on a thesis or business pitch.

The weight of a fountain pen in your hand inspires respect and delicacy in what you are writing.

Most importantly with handwriting, the words are your words, your signature. Montblanc has pushed this ownership even further with its recently launched Personal Code Ink. Comprising components containing an invisible, inimitable botanical code similar to a human’s DNA, it is impossible to copy or re-engineer and so prevents the falsification of signatures. Montblanc can verify the authenticity of Personal Code Ink on any document on which it has been used. Thus only one person can only own it during their lifetime — it is unchangeable and belongs to them.

When you write you give a little bit of yourself to the reader. Indeed, when we teach a child to write, we teach them express themselves. This should never be lost. montblanc.com