The art of ink is back. The creative act of the cursive script with lavish loops and lines bleeding into textured paper is returning to true desktops all over the world. Pen makers and stationers are seeing a significant increase in sales of fountain pens.
In the past five years interest has grown, with a dramatic 5% rise in 2011. Amazon reports that sales have already doubled last year's figures and Ryman's note a 10% increase.
So why, in the age of speed and screens, are people purchasing pens which can be expensive, messy and even superfluous? When was the last time you wrote a letter?
In my primary school our wooden desks had deep holes on the top right side. Their purpose remained a mystery to me, perhaps because by the 1980s the plug had long been pulled on ink wells. We started to use pens when we turned 10 but were offered only plastic biros. Mr Biro invented his revolutionary pens in 1938 in Hungary. Were those school desks so old?
Convenience may have taken a while to reach Lancashire. Nevertheless, we learnt joined-up-writing and I developed my own personal style. Remember what they used to say about what your handwriting says about you? These days we differentiate ourselves in text-speak with emoto-coms and acronyms but there are limits to how many faces commas can pull. I was given a Waterman for my 17th birthday and I have been hooked ever since.
Perhaps those who learnt blotting and dipping at school are taking up cursive craft in their retirement. Pots of Parker Quink could be adorning many a baby-boomer's bedside table. I like the thought of couples writing love letters to each other before lights out, finding blue/black smudges on the duvet in the morning. Or could it be that, just as twenty-somethings have rediscovered crochet and cross-stitch, the glamour of the silver nib has enticed the most ardent mac book lover?
There is no doubt that pens can cost. Although prices start at around £16, Mont Blanc has developed a pen that would warm every oligarch's heart: a diamond encrusted fountain pen will set you back over a £100,000 but it will come in gold and be pitted with diamonds. There is no end to gifts one can buy a lady who has everything. A girl can never have too many bags and pearls. Men however are more tricky, and although the FT forever has full page ads for cufflinks, surely they are of limited interest and variety.
The fountain pen has more symbolic potential: are you are Continental gentleman, preferring a weighty Graf von Faber Castell, or a creative type longing for a vintage Parker yellow mandarin vest pocket made in 1927? The boardroom will no longer be a place where men compete to embody ease with the latest electronic gizmos; instead there will be a battle- not only of the biggest pen - but also of the most confident flourish, which only fountain pens make possible.
Pens can tell stories. I bought my partner a fancy fountain pen on our first anniversary and it still sits proud, as it has for well over a decade. I started writing my first novel whilst studying in Chicago and ended up writing whole thing with a Cross pen. I have a 1960s red pen I recently picked up in a flea market in Lisbon. My poshest pen is a solid silver yard-o-led with my name engraved on the side which was a leaving gift from the congregation of my previous parish church.
Last October the Queen came to visit Goodenough College where I serve as Chaplain. The visitors' book was brought out in preparation for our patron to sign. Of course, the big question was: what pen should Her Majesty use? A biro would not do. I offered my silver pen and it was gratefully received. ER was inscribed without fuss, so clearly she is no stranger to the art of ink.
My expensive pen may one day be regarded by some as a relic and double in value. Perhaps she will be offered a bejewelled pen for her Diamond jubilee celebrations. Having grown up amongst austerity I bet the Queen uses the one she was given at her coronation. For those who love them, pens are friends, adding a touch of class and reassurance every time.