A Montblanc Education

My education in all things Montblanc continues.

After dealing with frozen pipes at my house all day, I decided to take a break and drove to the Montblanc boutique at Tyson's Galleria. I've been thinking hard about a 146. Maybe just go take a look at one, hey?

Alas, the store was closed, even though the rest of the mall was open. Banker's hours, huh?

All was not lost, though. The nearby Tyson's Corner Mall had a Paradise Pen shop and so I swung by there. Wandering into the small but nicely appointed store, I asked the pleasant fellow if perhaps they had the 146?

"But, of course."

The prices of new Montblanc pens are breathtaking. Unlike most other pen brands, Montblanc is deliberately vague – at least online - regarding their prices. You gotta actually talk to someone.

But shortness of breath aside, I wasn't all that surprised.

Handing me the 146, I was struck by its size - more like what I expected the 149 to be.

"Wow, this is the 146? How big is the 149?"

He pointed me towards a phallus-like object I'd not noticed before, resting upright in a mug of some sort. Good lord! Like that would ever fit in the pocket of a dress shirt! My mind instantly raced to how one might ever use such an accoutrement. The image of a diplomat or politician signing some momentous document with an exaggerated flourish was the only thing that came to mind.

Back to the 146. I genuinely liked it. Turning it over in my hand, I examined it closely. The store manager was very friendly, but didn't offer to ink it for me. Perhaps my unshaven, jeans-and-flannel-shirt appearance didn’t fit the typical Montblanc customer profile?

"It's a medium nib?" I wondered.

He nodded.

"How does it write?"

He turned and bent towards the floor, where he retrieved a worn, wooden box. Like what you might expect containing an assortment of fine cigars. He placed it carefully on the glass counter. Opening it slowly, I could see it contained eight or ten black pens, what appeared to be slightly used replicas of the 146 I still held in my hand. Retrieving one, he reached behind him and brought forth a bottle of black ink. Opening the cap on the bottle, he carefully dipped the nib of the obvious-to-me-now demo pen. Bending towards the pad of paper that lay on the counter, he gracefully laid down a stroke or two, and then with a movement of studied purpose, turned the end of the pen towards my hand. Like offering a scalpel.

I grasped the inked pen, exchanging with him the virgin one I had been examining. And bent towards the paper.

A fountain pen, wrought well, seeks an intersection of mind, ink, and paper. There is a collusion which makes those individual elements disappear, leaving behind instead a kind of divine confluence. The thoughts your mind conjures bleed straight to the paper.

That’s the way that 146 was.

The pen was fine enough that it embarrassed me for the struggling script that passes for my handwriting. A pen that good deserves better.

I handed it back. I had never been serious, of course. It was way too much money.

When I had stopped at Fahrney’s last weekend – the first time I had ever seen a Montblanc in the flesh – I saw a beautiful, very diminutive pen. When I had asked what it was, the young employee there replied that it was a Meisterstuck. Well, ok. Any more you can share?

Glancing back down into the glass case now, I see the same pen. And this guy seems rather more knowledgeable about the pens he sells than had that other young fellow. At my nodding question, he indicates that it’s an Amadeus Mozart. He gently retrieves it from the case and hands it across.

Wow. It’s an extraordinary little gem. And the price tag is much diminished, as well. Almost approaching the realm of affordability.

“A piston filler?”

He shook his head. “No, cartridge-only.”

That’s a little disappointing. I had thought most, if not all, of the Montblancs had been piston fillers. Turns out that only a few are.
All of which was well and fine. I drove home with a sense of quiet relief. The 146 was too big and too expensive. And the smaller models didn’t have the charging system I wanted. I could quit thinking about all this.

Back online the next morning, just a little casual looking around. I had seen the Frederic Chopin mentioned before, but didn’t know what it was. But now I discovered that the Chopin sat between the Mozart and the 146. It was a cartridge filler, but one that could take a converter, as well. Still not exactly what I wanted. But size-wise I figured it might be just what I was looking for. And the cartridge capability might even be an advantage on my motorcycle trips, I reasoned.

So a few hours later found me driving the thirty-odd miles back into Tyson’s. The boutique at the Galleria was open this time. And upon the pleasant inquiry from the pretty young woman, I asked if I could see the Chopin and the 146.

“But, of course. Do you know what nib size you like?”

I am well and truly smitten by the Chopin. It might just be the perfect travel size pen. And the understated elegance of the little box as it sat there on the counter added a hint of extra compulsion to everything. In a bit of a surprise – I never really intended to buy anything, all this being rather out of my league. Unjustifiable. But now I could feel myself swinging towards a conclusion.

Returning again, she handed me the 146. LeGrande. And my mind returned to last night.

“Sit,” she offered, pointing to the chair behind the small counter. In her hand she offered two inked demo 146’s, one in medium, one in fine. She pushed a pad of paper in front of me. The logo The Art of Writing was writ in muted letters along the left side.

I took the medium first. Touching it to the paper, I scribed a couple of hesitant strokes. It encouraged me, and so I wrote more. It was just… lovely, laying a glistening, wet line, smooth as molten glass.

“This is an old demo and has been used by a lot of different people,” she cautioned, “and it will have an ever so slightly broader stroke than a new one will. But it will give you an idea.”

Exchanging it for the fine, I found the smaller size nib to have a toothier quality. Very nice. It ran across the page in controlled, elegant strokes. But it didn’t have the exquisite feel of the medium.

I picked that one up again.

Extraordinary things are, by their very nature, rare. Sometimes we’re surprised by the things that come our way. Sometimes we put aside the austere rationality that normally drives our lives. And sometimes it doesn’t take any time at all.

“I’ll take the 146,” I said.


© 2009 Jeff Hughes