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What's the current state of the hobby? Is it still growing rapidly?


Vindiction

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I started using fountain pens back in 2016 and I remember there being a huge amount of interest around the hobby and the community back then, to the point that I knew numerous people in my own life who began getting onboard and seeing article after article being amazed by the resurgence in the fountain pen industry. I also remember this being a huge time for smaller companies and it seemed like there was a new pen model coming out every day and hundreds of people buying new pens every hour. I stopped following everything as actively in the years after and I'm wondering what the state of the hobby is now. Is it still growing as rapidly as it was then? Has interest somewhat leveled off again to pre-2016 levels? What's the future looking like?

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I wonder about this as well.  The Pen Shows attendance numbers would normally be a good metric, but with Covid, those numbers have been artificially slashed.

Then the other thing to look at is online sales, but what I have observed is confusing as well.

 

I used to be able to get on eBay, and find a good variety of pens, with many (which needed minor service), at a reasonable price.   That paradigm has shifted.  

Many of the "more desirable vintage pens" have pretty much disappeared from eBay, or, are at a "higher than reasonable price".  I am guessing that the owners

of vintage pens are "sitting on them".  Some examples of these would be Waterman 7 pens with Keyhole nibs, or Eversharp Coronet pens with the adjustable nibs.

The price for Waterman Patrician pens continue to climb; even for less than stellar examples.  Good examples of Crescent pens are getting harder to locate as well 

(unless they are mis-labelled/mis-listed).   Even the Silver Parker 75s are showing a growth in price as well.  They used to almost be a "commodity item".  

 

Some blame the large amount of money dumped into the economy for "stimulus" as a partial cause.   If so, then prices may deflate a bit in the future. 

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Lots less folks here now in Corona times.

 

Less money?

My guess, Hard decisions to sell pens for the huge loss of income during corona, can cause depression of ones collector's soul.

 

Many suffered terminal sadness near and nearby from the virus, which takes the joy out of life. 

German vintage '50-70 semi-flex stubs and those in oblique give the real thing in On Demand line variation. Modern Oblique is a waste of money for a shadow of line variation. Being too lazy to Hunt for affordable vintage oblique pens, lets you 'hunt' for line variation instead of having it.

RIP...200's once great nib, now a double ball.:crybaby::wallbash:

 

The cheapest lessons are from those who learned expensive lessons. Ignorance is best for learning expensive lessons.

 

 

 

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This is where you would want an impartial trade association or something like that, to assess general market conditions for fountain pens. Even that would only cover new fountain pens, and known makers (presumably members of the association), but it might give some idea of current trends. But I think fountain pens are still too small potatoes to warrant anything like that. 

 

Vintage pen sales (and modern pen re-sales) are that much harder to assess. I don't think there's much argument that fountain pen prices on eBay have gotten noticeably higher in the past 18 months, but the reasons are debatable. Maybe demand has gone up (through increased disposable income or increased number of buyers, or both), maybe available supply has gone down, or some combination of the two. Is it a different market from new pens? I don't know, I buy both myself.

 

Other than these observations, I have been in the hobby too short a time to be qualified to render an opinion on the question.

 

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One pretty good metric, in my view, would be the number of newbies expressing interest in the hobby. For that, susbcribers to the reddit sub, /r/fountainpens would be a solid indicator.

 

There seems to be no slowdown due to Covid:

 

 

reddit.png

Vintage. Cursive italic. Iron gall.

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I think Google trends are probably more accurate than reddit sign ups, since that will be heavily affected by the general popularity of reddit. 

 

A very basic check of Google searches for "fountain pen" suggests a flat or perhaps decreasing interest at the moment. The low point was 2010, and we are still well below 2004 levels (as far back as you can go here):

https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&q=fountain pen

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1 hour ago, loganrah said:

I think Google trends are probably more accurate than reddit sign ups

 

OK, boomer.

 

(It's a joke, for anyone in doubt) :)

Vintage. Cursive italic. Iron gall.

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3 hours ago, loganrah said:

I think Google trends are probably more accurate than reddit sign ups, since that will be heavily affected by the general popularity of reddit. 

 

A very basic check of Google searches for "fountain pen" suggests a flat or perhaps decreasing interest at the moment. The low point was 2010, and we are still well below 2004 levels (as far back as you can go here):

https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&q=fountain pen

Sometimes Google Trends is surprising...I guess they measure relative interest? In that way, the 100 in 2004 could be explained by the fact that the internet has gotten massively larger since then, such that searches for fountain pens (going to early FPN etc.) were once a greater proportion of searches and are now drowned out by all the new things people are doing on the internet. Maybe a computer scientist--which I am not!--has a better idea? Certainly the absolute rate and count of searches for "fountain pen" must be far more today than in 2004...

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3 hours ago, ele said:

Sometimes Google Trends is surprising...I guess they measure relative interest? In that way, the 100 in 2004 could be explained by the fact that the internet has gotten massively larger since then, such that searches for fountain pens (going to early FPN etc.) were once a greater proportion of searches and are now drowned out by all the new things people are doing on the internet. Maybe a computer scientist--which I am not!--has a better idea? Certainly the absolute rate and count of searches for "fountain pen" must be far more today than in 2004...

 

The Trends axis measures interest relative to other searches, so it will control for Google or the Internet becoming more or less popular over time. Here is the explanation from the Google Trends resource for journalists about how to read the Trends page:

 

Numbers on the graph don't represent absolute search volume numbers, because the data is normalized and presented on a scale from 0–100, where each point on the graph is divided by the highest point, or 100. The numbers next to the search terms at the top of the graph are summaries, or totals. A line trending downward means that a search term's relative popularity is decreasing—not necessarily that the total number of searches for that term is decreasing, but that its popularity compared to other searches is shrinking.

 

 

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This won’t answer the question; just things I’ve noticed.

 

Barnes and Noble and Half Priced Books both use nib images in emails. Nightly news uses a fountain pen in over the shoulder images when mentioning something being signed. In the description of an Animal Crossing (Nintendo) journal on the Target app, it mentioned fountain pens working (along with ballpoints and pencils).  

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Big Tangent  Here: 

 

 

IMHO,   Writing with fountain pens is more than just  a hobby.   I do not, however, have another descriptor to replace the word "hobby"

 

I  wrote with  mechanical pencils for 30+ years (other than legal docs and such), it was not a hobby; it was just my way of rejecting the Biro and using what I considered a superior instrument.

 

In my childhood I played with a big box of non-working  fountain pens that  belonged  to  my Dad, so  I grew up thinking that  fountain pens are  just not reliable.

 

Current incarnation of FPNs,  with our cleaning rituals , has transformed the FPN into a reliable and superior writing instrument and in my simple mind,  writing with an efficient superior instrument is not a hobby,  it is still writing. I, for one,  do most of my writing in a work related context, not as a hobby.

 

Just my  1 cent

The other cent went to purchasing FPNs,  it is a freaking  expensive hobby :lticaptd:

 

 

 

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I struggle with that too @samasry I don’t think the way I approach my pens is a hobby. It’s not a collection either. They are tools. They make me write more.  
 

There must be a lot of people either using fountain pens or brush pens (art tools as well that I don’t know about) for all the ink out there. Inks from new ink makers keeps happening. 

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20 minutes ago, Misfit said:

I struggle with that too @samasry I don’t think the way I approach my pens is a hobby. It’s not a collection either. They are tools. They make me write more.  
 

There must be a lot of people either using fountain pens or brush pens (art tools as well that I don’t know about) for all the ink out there. Inks from new ink makers keeps happening. 

 

I  totally agree with your  statement:  " They are tools. They make me write more"  

I would  even modify slightly :  They make me want to write more",  which helped me through very dark days during the covid times.  I just wanted to get to work, because when I work, I use  FPNs and I enjoy writing with them.

 

I consider  all those inks and colors as an  added bonus. For me personally, if I only had one  blue color  like MV Sapphire, I would still be using FPNs.

 

Hopefully you got  some of them  unison  composition notebooks  from Target .  I know you are like my daughter and don't want them :) 

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I looked for 50¢ ones, but didn’t find them. I went too close to closing time. I have 4 composition notebooks from previous years. I’m awful at using notebooks. I buy them, and think I’ll eventually use them. I have 2 Leuchtturms in use, a few spiral notebooks is use, and one composition notebook I use. I have more notebooks not in use vs in use. 
 

I have a reason to go back to Target. Maybe I’ll find the 50¢ ones on that trip. 
 

I like a rainbow of inks.  I agree with you I’d still use fountain pens if I could have just one ink color. 
 

As to the original topic, I hope that the number of people buying fountain pens is increasing. I love Snoopy and Peanuts, and always feel good when I see kids wearing shirts with Snoopy or any of the other characters. 

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4 minutes ago, Misfit said:

I looked for 50¢ ones, but didn’t find them. I went too close to closing time. I have 4 composition notebooks from previous years. I’m awful at using notebooks. I buy them, and think I’ll eventually use them. I have 2 Leuchtturms in use, a few spiral notebooks is use, and one composition notebook I use. I have more notebooks not in use vs in use. 
 

I have a reason to go back to Target. Maybe I’ll find the 50¢ ones on that trip. 
 

I like a rainbow of inks.  I agree with you I’d still use fountain pens if I could have just one ink color. 
 

As to the original topic, I hope that the number of people buying fountain pens is increasing. I love Snoopy and Peanuts, and always feel good when I see kids wearing shirts with Snoopy or any of the other characters. 

 

If you do not need them or use them, then it is probably for the best, as you would have less clutter.

Just in case,  if you want to find the 50c area, it is not  where the  usual notebooks  isle is  located.

My daughter told me this only last week :)   They set up a back to school location near the  camping or home and garden area, where they used to sell patio furniture and stuff like that.  This would be the area where they keep the 50cent stuff,  just FYI.   Take good care @Misfit

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Thanks for the tip on where to find the 50¢ area. Um, clutter?  How did you know?  Oh my. Yes, I’m familiar with clutter. 
 

I used to know where my Midori pen clip was. I’ve been looking for it, and it wasn’t where I expected. You take good care too @samasry  and same for all participating in this topic and all over FPN. 

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Cleaning rituals are yet another way how pens get broken.  

 

If pens are more reliable, it’s because most of them are c/c fillers.

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To the original question, from my admittedly limited perspective, I feel the hobby is continuing to grow.

  • Activity on social media sites (Reddit, Slack, etc) is high and growing.  This brings many new collectors, most often at the younger end of the age spectrum, which is good for the hobby
  • Although the Classifieds section on FPN is down and that seems to have affected participation here, VPS and other sales boards remain quite active
  • pen clubs have sprouted up in many locations
  • new artisan pen makers continue to enter the market
  • established brands continue to introduce new models 
  • although Covid stopped pen shows for quite a period of time, Triangle was apparently a successful show.  I have not heard a report from Miami.  The DC Show in two weeks will tell a lot.  Although some of the international dealers will not be able to come, I understand the hotel is sold out for the weekend.  That show ought to tell us a lot.  Personally, I hope (and expect) it will be great.
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1 hour ago, gyasko said:

Cleaning rituals are yet another way how pens get broken.  

 

If pens are more reliable, it’s because most of them are c/c fillers.

 

 

I mean, yes, but also cleaning rituals are how people can experiment with all sorts of different inks. And ink manufacturing has exploded since the 1960s. Given the prevalence of cheap, reasonably reliable ballpoints, fountain pens can't really compete as a hobby field on things like durability and reliability. That's simply not valued when everyone has a handful of perfectly serviceable bics floating around their desk drawer, and gel pens like Zebra and Pentel Energel give just as smooth and pleasant a writing experience.

 

I honestly think that the focus on inks turns FPs into something that is unique, and offers a value that more standard pens can't offer. And one requirement for taking advantage of the availabililty of lots of different inks and swapping them out all the time is cleaning.

 

Edited to add: pen companies are aware that allowing pens to be disassembled easily has consequences for durability. One reason TWSBI is popular is because their customer service is awesome about replacing broken components. But, of course, one reason they're praised for that is because components break a lot and need replacement. I suspect that the wise pen manufacturer would focus on developing designs that can be easily taken apart WITHOUT damaging durability. If so, then modern pens might surpass vintage ones! Progress!

Edited by Ergative
". . .and another thing! "
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Back in the day as a lad, I'd never heard of cleaning fountain pens....if the ink was a different color, it wasn't bad; it was still mostly the color of the new ink, and eventually the new cartridge's color would dominate.

 

It's not the cleaning of pens that cause trouble but yanking them apart like a Ahab or a Twsbi.looking for invisible ink.

Snide remark removed, in it's often the only reason I can understand for the Invisible Ink Search.

 

xxxx

I no longer have hand pain since I stopped using ball points, when I write with a fountain pen, my hand does not tire.

 

I have 'discovered' paper.....that makes my 64 crayon box of inks dance.

 

I have a wide array of nibs that do fancy stuff .... all by themselves.

 

My handwriting had deteriorated so bad  using ball points I was having trouble reading my own printing.

I can mostly read my cursive today.........:unsure: my wife can't....but now that she's retired I can just speak to her.:P...Such great handwriting, but she's so left eye dominate....may be why she's Still a Ball Point Barbarian...who has two pens in my collection; she will never use. :crybaby:

 

I don't know if there is a ball point com.*

There are many fountain pen coms.

Ball points are just for work*....

Or a very rare use by me. Fountain pens are for fun.....:thumbup:

German vintage '50-70 semi-flex stubs and those in oblique give the real thing in On Demand line variation. Modern Oblique is a waste of money for a shadow of line variation. Being too lazy to Hunt for affordable vintage oblique pens, lets you 'hunt' for line variation instead of having it.

RIP...200's once great nib, now a double ball.:crybaby::wallbash:

 

The cheapest lessons are from those who learned expensive lessons. Ignorance is best for learning expensive lessons.

 

 

 

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