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Pen-ache: Expensive Writing Utensils May Be The Season’s Hottest Gift With AM-Oddball

December 15, 1989

Pen-ache: Expensive Writing Utensils May Be The Season’s Hottest Gift With AM-Oddball Christmas, Bjt

NEW YORK (AP) _ It doesn’t need batteries or microchips - just the push of a few fingers and the fuel of inspiration. But it’s one of the hottest-selling items of the season.

Behold, the pen.

Not just any pen, however. These pens are heavy with tradition, lacquer and snob appeal - the new must-have accessory for the Rolex watch set. Sales of fine writing instruments are skyrocketing this Christmas, with some retailers reporting increases of up to 70 percent.

″It’s incredible,″ said Bill Wendell, marketing manager for Waterman pens. ″We can sell every pen we make, and we’ll double sales this year.″

Unlike fad gifts of Christmases past - the pet rock, the Walkman, Giorgio perfume - the pen is a time-honored piece. Puccini used a Parker to write ″La Boheme.″ A Waterman scripted the end of World War I when it was used to sign the Treaty of Versailles.

Updated to the ’90s, the pen with a three- to four-digit price tag is an affirmation of success.

″Some people say it’s a rebellion against computers,″ said Lisa Sawyers, manager of Pen & Paper in Nashville, Tenn. ″People are tired of everything being faxed and computerized. The art of letter writing is coming back again.″

Nostalgia aside, the pen is unquestionably a status symbol, said Jeannette Brewster, a pen buyer for Cole National Corp., which sells fine pens through its Things Remembered and HQ Gifts stores nationwide.

″Maybe the president (of a company) has one, and when he goes to a business meeting, everybody wants to have it,″ she said.

To name a few pens with panache, Cartier’s Pasha fountain pen, with 40 coats of lacquer and an 18-karat gold nib, or point, goes for $775. Parker Pen’s Duofold, a $300 pen drilled from a solid block of acrylic, is trimmed in 22-karat gold and guaranteed not to explode under airplane pressure.

The year’s best seller may be the Montblanc, the product of an 81-year-old West German company. Topped with a signature white ″snowcap″ reminiscent of its namesake, Europe’s highest peak, Montblanc pens sell for $100 to $7,000 each.

Fountain pens are the fastest-growing category of writing instruments. About 12 million were sold in 1987; 21 million were sold a year later.

Because they require special care - refilling the ink and occasional professional cleanings, fountain pens have more cachet, says Waterman’s Wendell.

″You have to have a bit more leisure time to deal with a fountain pen,″ he said. ″Isn’t that the upscale imagery being projected by the user?″

Although a luxury pen glides with ease and can make words look elegant on the page, how they write is often less important than how they look. Parker’s marketing planner Greg Watts said one businesswoman told him, ″I don’t use this pen to write with. I wear it.″