Online resources are great, but there's still no substitute for a good book. And in contrast to the situation not so many years back, there is now a broad selection of excellent reference works for the collector of old writing implements. Don't skimp on your library: even the most expensive books cost no more than a lower-to-middle-range fountain pen, and you will find that good books soon pay for themselves both monetarily and in depth of appreciation and enjoyment. In addition to the books listed below, we stock a small selection of more specialized publications not readily available through conventional booksellers, which are listed here.
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An essential reference work for American pens is George Fischler and Stuart Schneider's massive Fountain Pens and Pencils: The Golden Age of Writing Instruments not cheap, but an investment that will quickly pay for itself. Solidly researched with extensive color illustrations and an old but well-researched price guide. Sometimes called the "Blue Book" (from its dust jacket color), this volume should be on every pen collector's reference shelf. Fischler and Schneider's second opus, The Book of Fountain Pens and Pencils (also known as the "Brown Book") is another massive volume packed with information and color illustrations. It is basically a supplement to the first volume useful, but not essential. Our advice: get the Blue Book first. Includes price guide and sections on advertising, decoration, and repair. The authors' The Illustrated Guide to Antique Writing Instruments is an affordable pocket-sized paperback that is particularly handy as a take-along price guide. Coverage of pens and pen history is, however, rather less than comprehensive, so don't shortchange your enjoyment of pen collecting by making this your only reference book. Glen Bowen's Collectible Fountain Pens: Parker, Sheaffer, Wahl-Eversharp, Waterman is an economical paperback, originally published in 1982. Despite minor updates over the years, it is showing its age: coverage is less than comprehensive, and nearly all illustrations are black and white. Although it is now out of print, watch out for The 1992 Official PFC Pen Guide. A dense compilation of black & white illustrations, it is still useful for quick identification, but cannot be relied upon as a price guide, even for relative values.
Paul Erano's first pen book was a bare-bones paperback with an innovative approach to helping readers understand what features make certain pens more or less appealing to collectors. The same practical attitude informs his Fountain Pens: Past & Present, which many collectors swear by. Another economical volume is Jonathan Steinberg's Fountain Pens: A Collector's Guide. Full of beautiful illustrations, this book by and large showcases the rarest and most exotic. No price guide, but the book is worth it for the pictures alone. A handy book originally published in the UK is Alexander Crum Ewing's The Fountain Pen: A Collector's Companion. This handsomely illustrated guide's primary focus is on modern pens, but there is considerable information on vintage as well, including illustrations and discussion of early specimens not readily found elsewhere.
Andy Lambrou's massive Fountain Pens of the World is lavishly illustrated, and covers penmakers across the world nearly up to the present day. Full of information, but a bit weak on the smaller US brands. His older and smaller Fountain Pens: Vintage and Modern is still a great value, but if your focus is on American and British pens, the newer Fountain Pens: United States of America and United Kingdom is the better bet. Just published in 2012 is Lambrou's latest, Fountain Pens of Japan, co-written with Japanese fountain pen authority Masamichi Sunami. The Chronicle of the Fountain Pen: Stories Within a Story is a beautiful survey of pen history, in which the authors attempt to integrate the stories of individual pen manufacturers into a more integrated chronological narrative though it by no means stints on illustrations of fabulous pens. A long-time favorite is the handsome Une affaire de stylos by Pierre Haury and Jean-Pierre Lacroux available in English as A Passion for Pens (the Italian edition is La seduzione delle stilo). Lots of beautiful photos, a great range of pens and accessories, plus an excellent section on filling mechanisms. Even now, French and French-market pens tend to be neglected, but this volume does much to fill in the picture.
Italian authors were the first to publish in-depth monographs, starting with Luca De Ponti's La storia dell'Aurora dal 1919 ai giorni nostri/The Story of Aurora from 1919 to the Present (Milan, 1995) and Emilio Dolcini's OMAS: La storia di una grande casa italiana e dell'intera sua produzione/The history of an important Italian firm and its entire production both now out of print, and expensive when found. Other monographs are more readily obtained, such as Enrico Bettazzi and Letizia Jacopini's Tibaldi: A Story of Fountain-Pens and Men and Dansi and Jacopini's paean to the distinctively Italian Waterman overlay safety, as well as Jacopini's two-volume encyclopedia on Italian vintage pens. Virtually all of these books have been published with Italian and English text side-by-side. Some can still be bought at reasonable cost directly from their Italian authors or publishers, though shipping can get expensive.
More recently, David Shepherd, in collaboration with various other authorities, has written a number of notable and comprehensively researched monographs on classic Parkers. The list so far includes Parker "51" (2004), Parker Duofold (2006), Parker Vacumatic (2008), and Jotter: History of an Icon (2010).
Fortis, Vannucchi, and Fedeli's Fountain Pens/Penne stilografiche is economical and full of useful illustrations, though rather light on the text (English/Italian). Nonetheless, a nice pocket-sized survey book. Juan Manuel Clark's volume is comparable, and has been aptly described as a coffee-table book in miniature. Giorgio Dragoni and Giuseppe Fichera's Fountain Pens: History and Design is well-produced with some nice illustrations, especially of Italian pens not often seen, but the text is riddled with errors and the attribution of some pens is entirely mistaken. Regina Martini's Pens and Pencils: A Collector's Handbook has many illustrations of secondary brands, especially German and British (the book was originally written in German, and the translation is at times a bit awkward). Much of the pen company history in the text is unreliable. Dietmar Geyer's Collecting Writing Instruments: From the Flint Tool to the Stylus, From the Quill Pen to the Fountain Pen and Felt-Tip Marker is an enjoyable, heavily-illustrated book that touches on a rather wide range of material. Originally in German, with a European focus.
For early writing instruments, you can't do better than Michael Finlay's scholarly Western Writing Implements in the Age of the Quill Pen. The original hardback is long out of print, but the slightly smaller softcover reprint is still readily available. Jim Marshall's Pens & Writing Equipment: A Collector's Guide is a 100 page pocket-sized paperback, part of Miller's Collector's Guides series. Written from an English perspective, it covers a great range of material including dip pens, quill cutters, and the like. Concise and informative with good illustrations, excellent value. The same author has independently published a number of other invaluable booklets on various aspects of 19th-century writing instruments and their history. A truly important work and a must for pencil collectors is Deb Crosby's pioneering Victorian Pencils: Tools to Jewels This is a heavily-illustrated hardback which covers a great deal of material not available elsewhere, incorporating much original research. The official history of Cross by Barbara Lambert, Writing History: The A.T. Cross Company and the Making of a New England Industry, is an exemplar of incisive and professional scholarship. Few amateur pen historians have attempted even a fraction of the original research that went into this book. Out of print, but findable and well worth finding. There is still not much in print for ballpoint pen collectors. The chief exception is Henry Gostony and Stuart Schneider's The Incredible Ball Point. A comprehensive history with plenty of colorful details about the mad rush to riches occasioned by the ballpoint's initial introduction, the crash that followed, and the subsequent developments that led to the ballpoint's present market dominance. Heavily illustrated, with price guide, A fascinating book for anyone interested in the history of writing is engineer Henry Petroski's The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance. The focus here is not on elaborately decorated instruments so much as ordinary workaday pencils -- their manufacture, technology, and social history. Recommended reading and a great gift for anyone who writes. For an authoritative analysis of how pens work, there is Geoff Roe's slim volume Writing Instruments: A Technical History & How They Work, now out of print.
A fascinating book on the history and uses of the material that made fountain pen production practical, Mike Woshner's India-Rubber and Gutta-Percha in the Civil War Era is a gold mine of information found nowhere else. Focus is on military and utilitarian objects, c. 1840-60, with listings of patents and extensive bibliography. The story of the invention of rubber is quite a tale. Goodyear's name is now famous, but Hancock is known only to specialists. The books above recount how great a leap the development of vulcanization actually was, and how important the rubber industry soon became.
Friedel's Pioneer Plastic: The Making and Selling of Celluloid is a compact but exhaustively researched book, a must for plastics scholars and historians. For a broader survey, there is American Plastic: A Cultural History, which traces the impact of plastics of all kinds upon American technology and material culture.
There is a decided shortage of scholarly works on inkwells. Most books currently in print are heavily illustrated, but light on historical background.
Workshop tips are invaluable -- don't stint on either books or tools! Frank Dubiel's repair manual (popularly known as "Da Book") was the first comprehensive modern guide to vintage pen restoration, but is now primarily of historical interest. For practical instruction, look to the more recent works of Marshall and Oldfield or Richard Binder. Note that some of these repair guides are privately printed, and may be much cheaper when bought directly from the authors or their designated distributors. Marshall and Oldfield's Pen Repair is at the time of this writing up to its fourth revised edition; the authors also have a separate volume devoted to Onoto repair. These can be ordered from the authors in the UK here, or in the USA from Pendemonium.
A clever recent invention, that allows a strong but even grip all around the circumference of a round object, and which has become a favorite of those who work on pens, vintage or modern. Available in other sizes as well. A section of rubber tube is recommended to protect the workpiece from marring.
Interested in real old-time calligraphy, including the use of quill and reed pens and the application of gold leaf to vellum? Edward Johnston's classic Writing & Illuminating & Lettering has been in print for decades for good reason, and is currently available as a thick but reasonably-priced Dover paperback. Michelle P. Brown's A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 is an essential, affordable, and authoritative guide for those with an interest in paleography. For modern scribes who wish to learn in detail how it was done in the past, Brown and Patricia Lovett's The Historical Source Book for Scribes is an excellent resource. Another work in a similar vein is Stan Knight's Historical Scripts: From Classical Times to the Renaissance. Having trouble finding out about the technical aspects of the illustration of manuscripts? Jonathan J. G. Alexander's Medieval Illuminators and Their Methods of Work is the definitive scholarly study, now available in a high-quality university press paperback edition. Recommended to anyone with an interest in medieval manuscripts.