Are American vintage pens any good?

American fountain pens set the standard worldwide from the 19th century up until the '50s. Waterman and Parker began as American firms; Sheaffer remained one up until a few years back, when it was acquired by Bic. When fountain pen manufacture in Germany was in its infancy shortly after the turn of the century, gold nibs had to be imported (by Montblanc, among others) from New York. The leading Italian penmakers of today got their start as small-scale manufacturers of replacement parts for imported pens – mostly American.

In the postwar era, Americans increasingly turned to the ballpoint. By the '70s, American penmakers had largely abandoned the market for better fountain pens, leaving a vacuum that Montblanc's marketers brilliantly exploited. Ironically, fountain pen sophisticates hold the current product in scant regard; despite their carefully crafted image of Germanic solidity and precision, post-1962 Montblancs have a bad reputation as fragile and crack-prone.

An historical footnote: a similar reversal of reputation took place in watches. A hundred years ago, American watchmakers led the world in mass production of quality pocket watches, and Swiss firms responded by cranking out cheap counterfeits. How many people know this now?