Why do you live in New York City? Even today, in an increasingly franchised world, you can get whatever you want. Fountain Pen Hospital, founded by father and son Al and Phil Wiederlight in 1946, has been operating from this storefront at #10 Warren Street since 1946, and has survived the onslaught of plastic Bic pens and magic markers that began in the 1960s.
When I was a kid and even into my teenage years I had a mania for copying. Call it Aspergian if you like, but I would thumb through magazines and books and hand-copy material, filling binders full of notepaper. I have discarded them all by now, but if I had kept them and passed away with them still in my possession, I guarantee no one could have figured out what I was trying to do. The weird part is, I didn’t know myself. And, at least initially, I used a fountain pen to do it, complete with ink cartridges, because no plastic Bic could match the free flow I could get with the surface of a fountain pen. Even today I would much rather write with a fine tipped sharpie or magic marker because it’s all in the texture.
It turns out that even as the Wiederlight family (the business is still in the family) had to expand to office supplies and plastic pens to keep afloat, the fountain pens are coming back among the downtowners and Wall Streeters because fountain pens communicate prestige and power that plastic pens cannot. Though most of the business is in retail (and some very expensive gold-tipped pens are available) there is still a busy pen repair area in the basement.
I’m scanning a lot of postcards for a future ForgottenBook (think 2015) and some of the handwriting on the back of those cards is so intricate yet disciplined it’s striking to compare them to today’s chicken scratching, myself included. I came across one gorgeous example, executed with a fountain pen, with incredibly thin strokes combined with thick flourishes. There was an artistry to handwriting that now seems forever lost.