India’s fountain pen collectors and their fascination
Ashok Jain from Delhi has a collection of over 1,400 pens. He also started the Pen Club of India, which helps collectors use pens as collateral to get loans... so they can buy more pens.
Vishal Singhi with his collection in Mumbai. He thought up and helped organised the first-of-its-kind India Pen Show in February. For two days, pen collectors toured a total of 40 stalls and attended workshops at the event.
Can you imagine applying for a loan to buy a fountain pen? Or using a pen as collateral for a personal loan?
They are getting organised both online and offline with summits, meets, and even help with pen loans.
Some of India’s most avid pen collectors are doing both. The pens they prize cost between Rs 30,000 and Rs 12 lakh each, and are typically limited-edition pieces by brands such as Mont Blanc, Sheaffer and Parker, hand-crafted from silver or, as in one case, one by Visconti made from lava spewed by the volcanic Mount Etna in Italy.
The most ardent collectors have hundreds of these pens, and meet regularly to discuss their collections, share tips, chat about maintenance, and are now holding organised events such as this February’s first-ever India Pen Show (IPS). For two days, the Nehru Centre in Mumbai teemed with pen collectors touring a total of 40 stalls, attending calligraphy workshops, taking guided tours with pen experts, and even looking in at a special letter-writing booth set up as an ode to the joys of writing with a fountain pen.
“Before this there were only informal group meets within one’s own city or hubs facilitated by international pen brands such as Pelikan,” says Vishal Singhi, 39, a banker and pen collector who thought up and helped organise the IPS. “It was about time India had something of her own.”
Singhi started collecting fountain pens in 2007 and has more than 400 today. “It’s an out-and-out infatuation,” he says, laughing. “I collect because, quite simply, nothing else makes me swoon as much.”
Typically, collectors start small. Ashok Jain was 30, a young art dealer in 1990s Delhi, when he started collecting pens. “My first purchase was a Sheaffer 14-carat gold pencil I paid Rs 2,000 for, the same price as 5 gm of gold at the time,” he recalls.
The internet helped Jain scour like he’d never scoured before – he found pens made of gold and silver, embellished with precious stones and covered in intricate designs. “I was hooked,” he says.
Today he has over 1,400 pens, the rarest of which is a vintage 1920s Mont Blanc with a long, gold nib. “Only five to six of these are known to be in circulation, in the world,” he says. They sell for anywhere between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 12 lakh a piece.
So how do you keep collecting when the prices are this high? To address this problem, Jain set up a loan system. “Banks in India will accept a house or car as collateral but won’t accept a fountain pen, even if it costs as much — or more,” Jain says.” So, in 1996, he started the Pen Club of India and in 2010 the club began to help collectors get loans. The club began with three members and now has over 300. Each of these members contributes a fixed sum, so that, if a collector needs to urgently borrow money in order to buy a pen, he can offer a pen as collateral and borrow from that fund. The loans are interest-free for the first three months.
“We not only collect pens here but also help others learn the nuances of collecting, or advise them on which pen to buy,” says Pradeep Jain, 52, a pen dealer from Delhi among the first members of the club.