Fountain Pens – what ails the Indian industry?

Fountain pens for some – fountain of pains for others!

Let’s face it – your children and my children don’t use the fountain pen. They don’t even write, preferring to key in the words. And nine out of the ten people who actually buy fountain pens in India do so to actually use one as an accessory – something to rest in their pockets, preferably with the snow-capped crown visible. Naturally, when they do write, if at all, the pen is used either to add flourish to their signatures or to scribble their names as an instrument to while away time, for idle doodling.

Fountain Pens – what ails the Indian industry?

Simple economics will tell you that when demand becomes a trickle, the supply will naturally dry out and that is exactly what has happened. None of the names that ruled the roost as fountain pen makers of repute in India in the past are in business now and those who survive are literally gasping for breath. Yes, new players have come in, but in general, neither can they fill the existing void, nor do they have the finesse to fit into the finials of the past masters. But more of them later.

This moribund industry, one thought, got a fresh lease of life as it were, when the proliferation of the internet started creating in its wake a backlash against the digital domination of our lives and young people started going “retro”, picking up the fountain pen as a potent symbol of their protest, as a means of giving vent to their feelings. The net also zapped the physical boundaries, with pens that were earlier being sold as junk (and still had few takers) suddenly finding a ready market in far pavilions. We Indians were not too late in jumping on the bandwagon and overnight “pen clubs” proliferated with, being a member in one becoming the flavour of the month. Just like Calligraphy crash courses. And Copperplate writing. 

Fountain Pens – what ails the Indian industry?

But even as the world moved on, the old timers, the real vanguards of the Indian fountain pen making legacy, are still stuck in a time-wrap. They still turn the same ebonite they learnt to turn in the beginning of their careers decades ago and have no fresh designs to offer, forget about even experimenting with newer materials. Their service is terrible to put things mildly with most acting as though they are doing you a favour by selling their pens – customer satisfaction, not being something that they can call themselves to be adept at. Yes, they have jacked up the prices to keep up with the times but have precious else to offer. The time is ticking away for them and it is unfortunate that with them, will go the last vestiges of our inky past. Try buying one of their pens in the open market and you will understand, just how painful the entire rigmarole is.

On the other end are the nouveau. They get their barrels turned by third parties, add Jowo / Bock nibs bought in bulk, fit in a Schneider converter and bingo – they give themselves the right to carry the Tricolour. Some even highlight the imported resins they use in the barrel and cap and swamp the net with pictures of pen-lovers singing their paeans. This is the glam end, where being an assembler gives you the right to sermonise about the prowess of the Indian fountain pen making industry and even add, as to how exactly one is now competing with the best in the world! Quaint, but true.

Fountain Pens – what ails the Indian industry?

Also representing this end proudly are the drifters who have come in from other trades and offer hideous metal contraptions that resemble door handles with divine motifs etched firmly on them. These “blessings in disguise” are aimed at a particular segment of the marriage market where they are destined never to be inked but remain as objects of vermilion smeared reverence. They too move with fair ease among the “collectors” of exotica, if not among the scribes. But who is complaining?

There are, off course many decent fountain pen manufacturers, ones that have brands that are decades old to boot – but they are complacent with their OEM orders and bulk supplies to the lowest rungs of the market. They are neither interested in building upon the salience of their brands nor are they interested in creating a market by scaling up. Who will shake them out of their slumber?    

Fountain Pens – what ails the Indian industry?

Okay, the volumes do not justify a lot of things and the fountain pen manufacturers are being thrown into the deep end of the pool with their hands tied. The answers, and one will not have to go to China for them, can be had in Taiwan. Just see how they have leapfrogged in the last two decades? And please remember, they didn’t have a fountain pen making legacy that is half as exciting as the one bestowed upon us by our forefathers.

The Parker Duofold, the Havana Cigar and the Conway Steawart Churchill – will somebody please tell our turners that there is more to the world? That there were more in India itself than what they choose to copy blindly? Well, there are exceptions, I admit, but exceptions do not make the rule.  

Fountain Pens – what ails the Indian industry?

There is also a segment where old fountain pens, collected from the garbage pickers are turned into fankinpens, or even better, palmed off as antiques and classics to unsuspecting aficionados, often killing for life, their desire to buy another fountain pen. And they, these charlatans, now have the net to fall back upon, showing pictures and so-called global ruling prices to make their killings.

Has any of these movers and shakers taken any conscious step to popularise writing? Popularise writing with a fountain pen? To encourage the children to take up the pen? To explain the sheer psychological advantages that writing with a fountain pen accord? Broken into the Corporate India’s bastions to induce them to take up the cause of writing and fountain pens?

chawm ganguly

Can India boast of one mid-range home grown, home designed, home produced fountain pen that we can proudly put in our pockets? Only one? Anyone out there who can take the challenge? Should I hang my head in shame?

Forget about the larger picture, think vested interests. Here, even websites of reputed players seldom work, emails go unanswered and people ask buyers to contact them on whatsapp to conclude sales, as it is off-grid. Pathetic? Perhaps, but then again, such apathy and callousness, I guess are what characterises us. After all we get what we deserve, down to the use and throw pens!                      

 

Fountain Pens – what ails the Indian industry?

The Indian fountain pen industry is literally in a quagmire. Any ideas how we can first put it on a life support system and then take it forward? Anyone? Please write in, it is time we started exchanging ideas.       

My sincere apologies to all the ruffled quills (feathers)? I am a simple lover of fountain pens and find the state of affairs a tad bit, shall we say, disconcerting? I know I have generalised things and the same yardstick cannot be applied to all – that is precisely why I am not naming names. I write from personal experience and sincerely hope that I am wrong – for the sake of all you guys with your choked feeds, burpy nibs and chipped laminations, et all. But more than anything else I write for the love of the fountain pen, for India!                

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8 Replies to “Fountain Pens – what ails the Indian industry?”

  1. Awesome…WHAT AN ARTICLE! Someone had to tell the hard truth! Need of the hour!
    It is a SUPERB CLARION CALL to the Indian pen Industry which has been…
    “Missing the Wood for the Trees”.
    You have stated the ground reality with such lucidity, every word is worth its weight in gold.
    Any person with common sense for reviving good handwriting, lettering or calligraphy will understand the need of good quality affordable pens for school children, novices, amateurs and the professionals. Unless people write more with a fountain pen, it is useless! The purpose will be defeated!
    The actual need versus most of the opulent boasters of collections, are like owners of Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Ferraris, Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Mercedes, BMWs, Audis, Jaguars or Aston Martin Lagondas and so on have been putting their possessions to shame, who do not even know how to drive properly. (Maybe someone else will drive it and enjoy it!)
    The gap is becoming like Grand Canyon. It is high time that the realisation dawned on these Indian Pen Manufactures….at least now which is better late than never!…. or else they can not save themselves from the agony of shooting themselves in their feet very soon!

     
  2. First of all, I applaud your courage on writing such a honest article.
    Though I have very limited experience in buying Indian-made pens, I can fully connect with your own experience.

    If you look into any public pen forums or such, you will mostly see praises regarding all these Indian pen-makers, and there they too seem to address your queries where everyone else can see how “great” and quick service they provide. But it’s only when you try to connect with them personally, through email or phone, that you find that these pen-makers aren’t even interested in replying to your queries. And this situation becomes worse, even after you have bought an expensive pen from them and still your emails continue to be unanswered and you are stuck with a dud of a pen.

    Also agree with you regarding pricing of Indian pens. I understand that it takes lot of work and years of experience to craft out a beautiful pen, but I wish these pen-makers would at least provide some affordable options for the students of this country. How can you expect to bring a revolution in fountain pen usage when you are only targeting the elite and the premium market of India. It’s the students who need to be your first target so that you can make them fall in love with the use of fountain pens right when they are still young. And that’s only possible if these pen-makers are able to give a good writing instrument at reasonable rates. Of course, they can have their premium section too for those looking for looks and design, but at least every pen-maker should seriously consider having something in their offering that’s aimed at the students of this country, who may not be able to afford expensive pens.

    Just my two cents. By the way, been following your blog for a few months now and appreciate the time that you take to keep us up-to-date on various pen related news. Thanks.

     
  3. This article is long coming.. You just put up something which is a problem or i call it a menace? all over the country. FB is swarming with such kind of posts which is nowhere to promote writing but to sell something i doubt is as good as antique or refurbished even. Thank Sir for putting this here with guts.

     
  4. Sir,

    An amazing article that hits very close to home. I was actually talking to a friend of mine day before yesterday, that I wanted to set up a lathe and mix my own acrylic blanks, and get into the turning hobby. Maybe perfect something new so I could eventually get into manufacturing that. Looking at your article, I think your thoughts echo very close to why I want to create my own, maybe because the manufacturing industry has really gone away from India.

    Looking back in time, so many large scale manufacturer’s and old school pen companies used to do manufacturing in India, but talking about today, I’m not sure anyone does that, or openly admits to it at least. Would you have an opinion on this? why does no one actually look to India any more for manufacturing, for innovation in materials, not just the bodies, but also the nibs? Is it such widely accepted that Gold and Steel are the standards to nib production, that nothing innovative can be done with nib making any more?

    My educational training as a Geneticist makes me question this, but being a small scale entrepreneur, I’m not sure if I have the funds to actually dive head on into the experimentation process to alter this thought. Looking at the Titanium nibs we saw at TIPS in Mumbai, and Palladium nibs from Visconti, I am very sure, there is an array of experimentation to be done, with nib material as well as tipping material, that could project India back to the mainstage of fountain pen manufacture in the future, if only someone was willing to put in the time, effort and funds into this exquisite art…

    Warm Regards

    Deepak
    https://www.penopedia.com

     
  5. Really a must to discuss topic which no one talks about. I teach some students,some want to use fountain pens but when they scroll the market they are very disappointed to tell me that either they didnt found them or they are expensive. Some schools also barred their students using fountain pens which is also strange. I search many stores for pen ink which they reply that they are not available any more. Online stores offers variant products but either they are expensive or not good enough to buy. Indian pen manufacturers must feel that not everyone can buy premium products. There is a market out their where people want to use good affordable products,and i assure you they will be loyal to your product whole life.

     
  6. The day Indian schools stopped making fountain pens compulsory for students – that was the end of that market segment. Regarding adults, the less said the better. How many of us are willing to put the pen to paper and send a letter to a family member/colleague/classmate/relative/friend or even a short hand-written note? I’m a bit of an exception for I still sometimes (valiantly) write letters. I know I may not get a response in kind but the satisfaction of making the recipient experience the joy of receiving a letter through the post is good enough for me. I know we are now a very fast society with very little time for ourselves and everyone else, but in my opinion, if the art of letter-writing can be revived, automatically the demand for fountain pens will increase and manufacturers will also not be so lackadaisical in their responses to customers’ questions and orders. To summarize:

    1. Make fountain pens in school compulsory
    2. Force children to write letters to their classmates – and use postal stamps and NOT courier
    2. Write letters, everyone!

     
  7. Lovely statement of facts and experience with respect to locally made fountain pens. Regarding your point about Ebonite pens and that replicate the Duofold, Cigar or the Churchill I would be thrilled to bits if even if they didn’t change a single thing and do what they do as long as they can ensure fit and finish of these pens such that the cpen deserves its price. Clips are wonky, gaps between the finial and cap or barrel, threading that is so poorly finished that it takes a tremendous amount of muscle to open the pen, unturned pens, cheap feeds that ensure poor ink flow … These should not be mentioned as issues but I have to … Let’s hope that some hints are taken and there’s a movement to deliver a better quality of standard design fountain pens ..

     
  8. Fountain pen lovers, enthusiasts and collectors of India needed this reality check. A round of applause for this amazing piece.
    Judging from the time we are living in where education boards and conductors of competitive examinations have banned the use of fountain pens, there is a lot of work for us, pen lovers, to do than merely collecting overpriced fountain pens. Mere collection would not make fountain pens popular among young generations and until and unless we can involve the gen next, this art will become extinct. For this, the manufacturers as well as the existing collectors and pen lovers would have to work together to popularise not only fountain pens but also the art of writing itself, which has diminished in the digital age.
    And talking about lack of originality of Indian pen manufacturers, I must point out that it’s expected. Just as Indian film industry and music industry has lost originality and only remaking old things, something very similar is happening for our Indian pen industry as well. We need originality and individuality. Indigenous products will definitely get more appreciation not only from our fellow countrymen but in global market as well. Reviving the fountain pen industry will also generate employment and will become a source of income. But we have to bring innovation on our own and will have to stop copying from others.

     

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