The write stuff

A classic Waterman fountain pen

For the benefit of our younger viewers, fountain pens (some of which are worth up to $5,000) are classic writing devices that need no downloaded software to function, just some manual dexterity . . . and a lot of tender loving care. With Rita Braver now we'll see a master at work:

"When I'm repairing grandfather's or grandmother's pen, I'm basically giving back a piece of their heritage to the owners," says Richard Binder, known as "The Pen Doctor."

Once a developer of high-tech computer software, he now rescues low-tech tools of communication, working in his New Hampshire studio.

He showed Braver one pen that was probably dropped - "Came down on a desk or a floor like that."

His specialty is the nib (or the point), which governs how a pen writes:

"Fortunately this kind of thing isn't difficult to repair," he said. Not for him!

No wonder he has a four-month backlog of work. It turns out there aren't many Nib Doctors: "I'm one of perhaps a half-dozen in the world," Binder said.

And though YOU may never have heard of Richard Binder, he is a celebrity in the world of pens.

Yes, in this age of texting and e-mail, there IS a world of fountain pens.

And many were on display at the annual Washington Fountain Pen Supershow. With 220 dealers, it's considered the biggest in the nation.

"They're just excited about pens," said Bob Johnson, who runs the show. "They come here and they talk about pens."

Johnson says there's a lot of pen history here, starting with examples from the late 1800s. They have no ink supply, but must be dipped for each use. And they're gold.

The first successful FOUNTAIN pen, with an ink supply inside, is credited to Lewis Waterman, who established the Waterman Pen Company in New York in 1883.

Soon the whole country had a passion for pens:

Rob Morrison, who specializes in vintage pens, says there were hundreds of fountain pen manufacturers.

He showed us a Parker vacumatic, made in the 1930s.

But there are plenty of new ones here, too, some costing thousands of dollars.

Real estate developer Kareem Abdul Salam says the pen show is better than football: "I always win when I come here!" he laughed.

And his Suburban Maryland home is filled with his "trophies" - a whole room devoted to his pen collection. There's one that pays homage to the "Da Vinci Code," several that celebrate the constellations, a whole section of Mont Blanc pens in honor of writers, like F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Salam showed Braver a 1920 "jazz age" pen . . . ivory with black onyx.

A collection of rare - and extremely expensive - fountain pens
A collection of rare - and extremely expensive - fountain pens.

And then there was the 250-year-old bamboo pen. One of yellow jade, with purple jade on top. There was one Salam had made special: "Swarovki crystal with the glass with an overlay." Some have 18 karat gold feeds.

Kareem recently added up what he's spent on his 400 pens:

"And when I saw the bottom number, and it was like over half a million, it was like, 'What did we do?!'"

But, he says nothing beats the feel of a good fountain pen.

And then, there's the way friends react to his collection:

"It ranges from, 'You must be nuts,' to 'I could have found a better use of that money.' or then three is, 'How do I get started?" he laughed.

All you need is one . . .

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