Pen is mightier than (s)word

Pictures Martin Bostock'Pen Collector john Ashworth of Marton, one of the many attending a big pen show at Lowther Pavilion Sunday - which brings pens worth thousands of pounds to the fylde and collectors, dealers and others with them.
Pictures Martin Bostock'Pen Collector john Ashworth of Marton, one of the many attending a big pen show at Lowther Pavilion Sunday - which brings pens worth thousands of pounds to the fylde and collectors, dealers and others with them.
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The rather flashy Franklyn Covey ballpoint pen only cost about £8 at Staples but the young schoolgirl who has just helped me caption up some photographs for a feature on her group – Young Carers – hands it back with real reverence and regret.

“What a wicked pen. It’s well nice. It just makes you do your best hand writing, doesn’t it? It’s the best pen I’ve ever held.”

For the record, she’s about to get one herself, by way of thanks for helping me out.

Some statements strike a chord. You never forget your first special pen. I was roughly the same age as the young carer when I won a Sheaffer fountain pen and propelling pencil set from The Gazette in the Young Seasiders’ creative writing contest. A few years later I became a junior reporter. The rest isn’t so much history as this story. I still have the Scheaffer – some 40 years on. Not that it works any more.

But right now I’m facing a specialist pen dealer, repairer, collector, who tells me the only pen I will ever need is a Parker 51.

Yes, mi’lady, a Parker. One of the most robust writing instruments ever made, worthy of the school of hard knocks, hasty notes, scribbled aids to memory and lengthy rants that represents a local journalist’s daily lot in life.

Jeremy Collingridge is just the chap to sell me one this weekend. He is one of the co-hosts of the Northern Pen Show at Lytham’s Clifton Arms Hotel from 10am to 4pm on Sunday, admission £5. It’s second only in size in the UK to the international pen show in London – and that’s the largest in Europe.

Classic, retro and modern pens are on sale. The star of the show is likely to be the Victory Casket, made from a piece of HMS Victory herself, the Orlop deck where the casualties were treated and where Nelson himself died from musket shot wounds. It contains the superb Onoto Limited Edition Nelson pen. Kismet, Hardy.

Infiltrating such ranks is a bit like freemasonry for freehand, a covert clan of calligraphers and collectors with a wealth of expertise at their disposal, and your’s for the asking.

Got any broken pens? These guys can probably fix them. Can’t source nibs or cartridges or refills? Try topping up or stocking up here. Want your nib adjusted by the UK’s top Nibsmith to suit your writing style? Bring it here. The experts talk a different language to those of us bred in the disposable pen age – a throwaway society. Enter a mysterious world of hooded nibs and shrouded nibs, dip pens, wipe down points, italics, and rolled gold tops.

The art of letter writing is dying, elbowed aside by online missives, emails, texts, tweets and updates. The rise in postage stamps doesn’t help.

But there’s still a place in society for pens – and Sunday’s show represents high society for pen fans.

Cave dwellers may have improvised for art but the Greeks are said to have invented the first writing instrument to resemble a pen. It was called a stylus.

With quills came the thrills of fancy writing, today’s copperplate and italic calligraphers following in the footsteps of the monks and scribes of old.

John Ashworth, 67, of Marton, a retired housebuilder, is a keen calligrapher.

He also used to be a collector, but sold the lot after becoming ill. He quickly regretted it and has started rebuilding his collection.

John’s passion is for Parker Duofolds from the 1920s, “robust yet sleek, big and bold and beautiful pens,” he says. “They are quite collectable.”

He now has six. He says there are modern collectables too, the likes of Conway Stewart epitomising the finest of hand made English pens, HM the Queen reputedly writing with one. “Just don’t get the Churchill one,” he advises. “I think they’re disgusting.”

John got a passion for fine writing implements as a child after gazing in wonder at his father’s rather fine copperplate calligraphy.

He took up calligraphy himself in his 30s and stuck with it for 15 or so years, helping form a local guild of scribes “and illuminators” which met weekly at Marton Institute.

He also joined the London society which organises many pen shows.

John’s hope is for more kids to get hooked on writing and pens. “There’s a prize for children submitting the best hand writing of their favourite poems at the show,” he adds.

“I still like letter writing. I never really got into computers, never wanted to. But the price of postage is becoming so prohibitive I might revert to carrier pigeon, especially as I live on the Moss.”

The last word goes to Jeremy, a trained engineer, who has personally overhauled every pen he has ever owned, and can bring the most battered pen back to life.

“We want young people encouraged to develop their handwriting skills rather than their keyboard skills,” he concludes. “Pens may be disposable - but that skill isn’t.”


or tweet her @jacquimorley