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Pro­fessor Kelly Franklin’s fountain pen on his desk. Col­legian | Nolan Ryan

When Kelly Franklin received his first fountain pen from his mother, he had no idea of the obsessive hobby it would spark.

Franklin, assistant pro­fessor of English, said he has seen a notable rise in fountain pen use and sales over the last decade or so. At one point, many fountain pen and ink com­panies were “tee­tering on the brink of extinction,” he said, but now, people of all dif­ferent back­grounds have come to embrace the alter­native writing implement.

Fountain pens are, as Franklin puts it, no longer just found in the desks of CEOs, only to be used for signing important doc­u­ments. Even big-box stores like Meijer or Walmart carry these pens now. Indeed, sales are rising globally. According to a 2016 article from Euromonitor Inter­na­tional, the United States was the fourth-highest market for fountain pen sales in 2015.

A fair amount of stu­dents on Hillsdale’s campus use fountain pens. One of them, junior Christopher Van Scoy, bought himself a fountain pen in his junior year of high school and never looked back. Van Scoy loves the feel of a fountain pen, saying it’s easier on the wrist and smoother for writing.

But users embrace the fountain pen for more than its utility.

Our culture, Franklin believes, has lost some­thing in the rush to dig­itize. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gollum forgot the sound of trees, he said, and humans aren’t far off.

“We’ve for­gotten the feel of paper and the feel of pens and pencils,” Franklin said.

Sim­i­larly, Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of English Dwight Lindley thinks that the pre­vious decline in fountain pen use is con­nected to a con­tinuing dis­regard for the impor­tance of hand­writing. Lindley said with the advent of email, people don’t hand­write letters to each other anymore.

“Mes­sages we send to each other are usually elec­tronic, so people only write if they’re forced to,” he said. “People are just fine with main­taining a util­i­tarian, chicken-scratch style of hand­writing.”

Lindley received his first fountain pen as a gift from his father upon grad­u­ating from college. 

“I think he under­stood that I had certain Luddite ten­dencies and appre­ciated old-fash­ioned things,” Lindley said.

From there, Lindley came to appre­ciate the art of hand­writing and its tactile nature. He paid more attention to the practice of phys­i­cally writing things down and to the appearance of his hand­writing, even as these things became less appre­ciated in the culture at large.

Lindley also noticed that we relate to our own writing dif­fer­ently when we form the words by hand rather than just typing them on a com­puter.

“If you use your body, not just your mind, to make the letters, it gets into you in a dif­ferent way, and you relate to it more as a whole person,” he said. “I find that I actually write more humanely and better prose when I write by hand, which is why I write out all my papers by hand and then type them up.”

His prose is slower but “has more flavor.” It may look the same on a page, but hand­writing ulti­mately feels better to him.

Besides, hand­writing is more per­sonal than digital writing, and it helps people connect. This is why Lindley hand­writes all of his com­ments on student papers and why he hand­writes a poem to his wife every Valentine’s Day.

While Lindley’s father gave him his first fountain pen when he grad­uated from college, Franklin was just beginning his career in higher edu­cation when he encoun­tered this new way of writing. Franklin’s mother, an author, bought herself a fountain pen when she pub­lished and sold her first book. She pur­chased her pen from Pelikan, a German company, and the pen was made in West Germany before the Berlin Wall came down.

Years later, Franklin’s mother gave it to him when he became a college pro­fessor.

“She handed it down to me and said, ‘You’re going to do a lot of writing. Here’s my old fountain pen.’ It’s an heirloom,” he said.

Franklin said he only used the pen for a year or two. He didn’t love the blue ink that came with the pen. But a couple of years ago, his mother bought him some more pens and ink for Christmas.

“That was the end of it all for me,” Franklin said.

Now, he keeps a variety of fountain pens and nibs — the point of the pen which transfers ink to paper — in his office. Franklin ded­i­cates an entire shelf to dis­playing his multi-colored col­lection of inks. One of his drawers is full of pens, some of which he gives to stu­dents who want to try them out. It’s one way he shares his love of this elegant writing instrument with others.

Franklin is par­tic­u­larly drawn to the vibrant colors of ink and potential for cus­tomization. 

“There are water­proof inks, archival and fade-resistant inks,” he said. “You can leave a per­manent record if you’re careful about your pen and ink.”

There are hun­dreds of dif­ferent kinds of fountain pens, nibs, and inks. Franklin also said dif­ferent inks tend to work better with dif­ferent kinds of paper. It’s a learning process that requires some trial-and-error to nav­igate.

“It’s a little slower, and that’s probably good for us to slow down,” he said. “I’m relearning cursive for that reason.”

Franklin will admit his hobby perhaps borders on obsessive, but we all need hobbies like that, he said. He watches YouTube videos, espe­cially from Brian Goulet, whom Franklin describes as “the American pope of fountain pens.” Goulet’s videos feature reviews, com­par­isons between dif­ferent pens, and FAQs.

“You could spend a full-time job keeping up with the fountain pen social media world,” Franklin said. “But I try not to — that’s a rabbit hole.”

Like Franklin, senior Elyssa Warren received a fountain pen from her mother freshmen year of college. But to this day, she doesn’t know why her mother bought it for her.

“I didn’t ask why. She had bought herself one, and she sent me one out of the blue,” Warren said. “I had to know how to not wreck it, so I turned to the internet. But the internet con­sumed me, and now I have four pens.”

Franklin, Lindley, and Warren all prefer fountain pens to ball­point pens because they are not dis­posable. The only thing you will be throwing away, Lindley said, is the occa­sional ink jar. 

“I came to dislike the throwaway culture, which defines so much of American con­sumerism,” Lindley said. “It’s less expensive, and I throw away far less.”

Franklin’s love for fountain pens shows no sign of waning even after four years. He carries five of them in a small leather pouch wherever he goes, and his col­leagues have noticed.

“Dr. Bart said there was this leather thing peeking out of my pocket. She said it looked like I was packing,” Franklin said. “But it’s not a gun. Just a fountain pen.”