Tell me a little about yourself, your company and your pens?
About me: Liberal arts schooled chemistry/music double major teaches himself machining and funds a startup fountain pen manufacturing business on proceeds from a music career after giving up a frustrating search for the perfect flex fountain pen–for the purposes of ornamental penmanship–and, subsequently, building his own.
The Desiderata Pen Company is centered around making affordable handmade pens which can handle a variety of nib types, and that are primarily used for calligraphy, ornamental penmanship, drawing and sketching.
There are dozens of designs in my head that I’m trying to get to, but I started my company first with the intention of making an affordable, handmade flex pen that worked straight out of the box (with minimal prep). Though the price didn’t end up where I wanted it, it’s exactly what I wanted it to be, even if it wasn’t at all what I had planned.
I strive to make pens I love, and sell the pens I make, so, day to day, I focus on: streamlining operations, optimizing quality and tolerance adherence, and refining designs that excite me. When I am not doing that, I’m working my hands to the bone practicing piano, teaching or writing.
A bit more detail:
I’ve been a writer for most of my life. I wrote primarily for fun, and when I got my first typewriter, it made the process easier. Up to that point, my utensil of choice was a pencil because I never liked how hard I had to press with a pen.
Fast forward to high school and college, when note-taking became a necessity, and I discovered the downside of writing with a pencil–smudging. Sophomore year, my English teacher gave every student in the class a small box of blue, Paper Mate® ballpoint pens, and I was very taken with them. I took such good care of them that I made about three of them last until college. I still had the rest, but, I found, to my chagrin, they had dried up. Disillusioned with them, I searched high and low for a new favorite writing instrument, and after a brief stopover with the Pilot G2, it wasn’t long until I discovered the Pilot Varsity–an outstanding bargain for a guy who didn’t know much about writing instruments beyond what he liked or didn’t like. Hell, I could get more than just blue or black?! This was the Next Big Thing. I bought a few, and with a handful of these, I organized my life and notes by color, and the sensations I felt while writing were the best I had ever experienced.
Well, one night, I was walking back to my dorm in the rain, and when I took out my notes, I noticed a little water got in my bag. Pages of notes, whole lectures, ideas, formulas and reminders were quite literally vanished from the pages of history. My history. I was thunderstruck. Betrayed. Alone. In the rain.
I crawled back to the Pilot G2s and those became my bread and butter for a number of years. Life moved on, and I forgot about the lowly fountain pen. After college, the unused Varsitys, still in their pouch, were placed in a box under a staircase in a house full of memories to which I never returned. It wasn’t until one of my piano students was about to start his journey as a full time note-taker, and for a graduation present, I thought to get him a fountain pen. When I did a google search, I came across a company run by a man who was making waterproof fountain pen ink. I had never seen ink in bottles used before, and when I saw how many colors were available, I had warm, vivid flashbacks to my halcyon days with the Varsity.
Fueled by my own and Mr. Tardiff’s passion, I went on a challenge to find the colors I loved the most, and the best pen to write them with. I discovered that I liked inks that “shade” a lot. If you’re unfamiliar with this property, the simplest way to explain it is that some inks, when written, appear to exhibit two colors and gradual shading between the colors. Some of my favorite inks include:
- Caran d’Ache: Storm
- Noodler's: Apache Sunset
- Private Reserve: Naples Blue
That’s about when I discovered “flex pens”.
I love a good writing instrument, but in our increasingly digital society, where the hand-written word is going the way of the dodo, sometimes it’s hard to find the occasion to use one. Always wanting to be prepared, part of what I like to do with a fountain pen is practice my handwriting. Wanting to know more about handwriting, I discovered ornamental penmanship. After dabbling in a number of scripts, letterings, and other calligraphic styles, and doggedly trying to get the results I wanted, I realized that in terms of shaded writing (this is the term penmen and calligraphers use when talking about a wider line, rather than ink shading) there wasn’t a pen on the market that could perform the way I wanted. Sure, the dip pens I had would do it, but no inexpensive, easy to obtain fountain pen I had could give me the easy, fast broads (without railroading) I loved, and still quickly turn around and give a fine line with ease. I scoured the web, and that brought me to vintage pens.
I should probably tell you that I am a musician, and I have money to burn about as often I have camembert, fois gras and champagne to feed to my neighbor’s dog. You can spend as much as you want on vintage pens, and suffice it to say, I did. I got lucky and snagged a bag of parts from vintage Watermans and was able to cobble together a frankenpen that had performance I liked. Still, even this lucky kluge had its own problems:
- Because it’s not made anymore, if I ever had to have it repaired, it would cost me an arm and a leg and the wait lead time would be huge.
- Though it was smooth, pleasant 14K gold flex, it wasn’t giving me the quick returns and fine lines I was looking for. It was more like the current industry flex pen leader, but easier to flex.
I figured, with those caveats, why not just take the nibs I was using that did get me the results I wanted and retrofit them into some existing pen?
I tried, and I couldn’t get any of them to work!
All manner of pens were leaking, not starting, having erratic flow, you name it. In fact, I even actually got a nice combination going once, but I couldn’t put the cap on the pen. That was when I decided I had enough. I figured I'd do better designing and making my own damn pen to get the results I wanted, so I did. I hope you enjoy it.
A little bit about how I do things:
- The pens I make are machined, not injection molded or cast.
- Production is done manually, that is, not computerized (CNC).
- I machine my own feeds out of ebonite.
- All design, engineering, development, customer support, fulfillment, purchasing, and production is done by me.
DesiderataPens AT Gee Male Dot Com