FOUNTAIN PEN HOSPITAL, Tribeca

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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.

5/14/14





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6 Responses to FOUNTAIN PEN HOSPITAL, Tribeca

  1. therealguyfaux says:

    Remember– as we discovered when that young woman testified at the George Zimmerman trial– people nowadays can grow up and not be exposed to cursive writing. Somehow, the thought of using a fancy-schmancy fountain pen just to do simple block lettering seems a bit peculiar.

  2. Here is a place that specializes in pens;
    Pen Island
    http://www.penisland.net/
    Their URL can also be mistaken for
    PenisLand

  3. jerry says:

    Here in Boston there’s a similar old-timey shop downtown called the Watch Hospital…which performs the expected service and also sells some handsome watches. Hmmmm….I wonder how many other of these various “hospitals” are still eking out a living in American cities?

  4. John says:

    Kevin: You went to Catholic school as did I. When it was time (I think in 4th grade) to learn how to write, our class had to buy cartridge fountain pens. I only learned recently that writing cursive is no longer taught in school. They see it as some ancient specialized skill taught by nuns.

  5. Jim S. says:

    One of my most prized possessions is a Mont Blanc fountain pen. Nothing writes like that! I had no idea that cursive is no longer taught, that’s a shame. The thick and thin stroke writing you describe is called Copperplate, which was originally done with a special pen where the thickness of the line was determined by the pressure you applied to the pen.

  6. Bill Tweeddale says:

    Going through school in the 50′s at PS 121 in Brooklyn, I remember that all the desks had a hinged metal cover in the furthest right corner. We all knew they were ink wells, even though fountain pens were no longer used in school by that time.

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