Richard Binder “the ultimate goal for any pen collector should be the pleasure derived from the process of collecting”
Richard Binder is a well-known authority on the repair, restoration, and history of fountain pens. His intense interest in the pens themselves and in the innovative technology that has gone into them over the past century and a half has led him to share his knowledge in the form of an increasing number of books and a website. He is noted for thorough coverage of his topic and an accessible, easy-to-read style. He is also an amateur historian of World War II and has published a book about the war. When not indulging in his hobbies or writing about them, he shares a passion for cooking with his wife Barbara. The couple live in an 1846 New England house that they share with their two Abyssinian cats. Here in an exclusive Interview with www.inkedhappiness.com Richard Binder talks about his passion for all pens fountain. Excerpts:
Q1. How did you become the globally acknowledged collector of fountain pens that you are? What had aroused your interest? How did the interest turn into a full-blown passion?
Richard Binder: It was primarily a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
There is, of course, more to say. My son-in-law introduced me to the idea of collecting fountain pens in about 1998. I found them appealing and bought a few. Except for my late grandfather’s Waterman No. 7, they were at that point all modern. When I sent the Waterman to Fahrney’s in Washington, DC, for repair, it came back with an apologetic note saying that the repair person couldn’t get it apart to replace the sac. If they couldn’t, I could. I had it safely apart in a matter of minutes, and after I bought a sac for it I quickly had it writing again. That experience showed me that my skill set was ideally suited to working on pens. I was soon restoring pens that my son-in-law and I bought from eBay. I wrote on the Pentrace website about my experiences, and by 2000 I was working on other people’s pens and being paid for it. By then things were well past the new-hobbyist stage, and my passion was in full flower.
In 2002 I took a buyout from the computer company I was then working for and set myself up as a full-time pen worker, with my wife Barbara joining the business as the office staff. I began grinding nibs at pen shows; and on the advice of a collector friend, I bought some Pelikan M200 nibs, ground them, and began selling them at shows. In order to be able to provide pen bodies for my nibs, I began buying M200s from a dealer in Germany; that deal grew into an official dealership for Pelikan. A year or so later, a friend approached me at a pen show, dropped a box of new pens on my table, and informed me that I was thenceforth a dealer for Filcao pens, whose U.S. representative he was. We soon added more pen brands. and things just continued to grow. They were still growing when we decided to close down the business in 2015. Since then, I do only nib work at pen shows.
Q2. There are fountain pen experts and there is Richard Binder – what prompted you to take up the pen to share your knowledge about the pen? Was it premeditated? Or was it one of those strange quirks of fate that enriches us all?
Richard Binder: My perennial passion for learning led me to become versed in the fascinating technological aspects of fountain pens and in their history.
I have always enjoyed writing and teaching. What better opportunity could there be to do something I enjoy than to combine writing and teaching with my passion for pens? Part of what I had done as a computer engineer was developing a “website” that we used as the front end for our documentation CD. I could — and did — build my own website.
As one ages, one’s mortality begins to creep up on one. I have amassed, and am still amassing, a lot of knowledge about pens. If I don’t share what I know, especially the things that I have had to learn on my own for lack of a teacher, that knowledge will be lost when I die. By putting it on the Web and into books that will survive after my website is gone, and by teaching workshops and mentoring certain individuals, I hope to ensure that others will not have to discover it anew, as I have had to do.
Q3. Do you view yourself as a writer who collects pens or a collector who writes about them?
Richard Binder: In my mind, the two are essentially on an equal footing. Collecting pens gives me an excuse to write about them, and writing about them gives me an excuse to collect them.
Q4. From your vantage point, how does the world of fountain pens look like? Is the “growing interest” that everyone seems to be talking about here to stay, or is it just another fad of the young and the restless?
Richard Binder: I think the “growing interest” is here to stay. I think it is in part a response to the increasing isolation that we experience as the paradigm of day-to-day life shifts from experiencing the people and things around us in a personal way to experiencing them through a video screen and a keyboard. Fountain pens are things of the senses; you can see them, examine them, choose them, feel them, and use them. Sharing your writings with others and having others’ writings shared with you satisfies a need that we may not even know is there. In some ways, we are herd animals: even if we do not consciously realise it, we need a direct connection with each other, and pens are one of the best ways to make that connection.
Q5. What would be your advice to people entering into the exciting world of fountain pen collection? What are the fallacies that they should guard against? What should be the ultimate that they should try to achieve?
Richard Binder: Fallacy Number One is the idea that fountain pens are a good investment. They are not. Yes, certain models, almost all of them vintage, are rare and desirable, but these qualities do not guarantee a profit. Buy pens because you love them; invest in the stock market to get rich (but don’t count on that one, either.) In my opinion, the ultimate goal for any pen collector should be the pleasure derived from the process of collecting. It’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey. And if you decide to repair your own pens, you will inevitably break some. Do NOT learn on pens you care about.
Q6. What are the top five pens that define your collection? Any interesting stories that you want to tell us about them?
Richard Binder: There aren’t five. There are only two. One is my grandfather’s Waterman No. 7 Ripple with a Blue nib, and the other is my wife’s mother’s 1944 Parker “51” set. All of my other pens exist in sort of a stew that is continually being stirred. Although the pens I like most at any given time are the ones I am currently writing about, I do have three continuing themes: pens with interesting technology (such as the Parker “51”) , pens connected with interesting history (primarily the Morrison Patriot), and Japanese long/short pocket pens (such as the Pilot MYU, which because of its integral nib also pushes the “technology” button).
Q7. Anything that you would like to communicate to our readers.
Richard Binder: Pens are wonderful, but the very best thing about them is that at the other end of every one of them is a real human being. It’s all about the people.
All five of the personalized pens are in Richard Binder’s book “Personalized Pens: History in Your Hand.” One may find a common thread of World War II in five of these pens, four of which are personalized; they reflect a powerful intersection between Richard’s interest in that war and in personalized pens.
For more information about the man, his passion and his pens, visit: