Fountain pens are no longer a thing of the past. Sid Misra of Mineola, 23, part of a new wave of young enthusiasts, has been fascinated with them ever since fifth grade. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp; Photo credit: AFP via Getty Images

Joel Blumberg was running a $75 million leather company when in 1992 he announced to his wife that he’d be going into the fountain pen business. She immediately wrote off the idea because she didn’t see the point.

“She questioned how I was going to make a living from selling pens at a time when no one was using fountain pens in such a great degree,” Blumberg said.

The fountain pen, long a staple in offices and elsewhere and an invention dating back to the 1800s, had been threatened with extinction from ballpoints by the ‘70s; and by the ‘90s was widely considered just a curious “relic” that older people might still use, have tucked away in an old desk, or enjoy collecting.

But Blumberg, who had received his first as a bar mitzvah present, thought of both the look of a fountain pen and writing with one as “something beautiful.” He was convinced they could flourish again, and he was right.  Today fountain pens are enjoying a resurgence — particularly among younger customers — with the industry at nearly $1 billion and growing.

And the business Blumberg founded, Mineola-based Kenro Industries, does between $7 million and $10 million annually as the U.S. and Canada distributor for the world’s finest luxury pen brands, Montegrappa and Aurora, whose top models can sell for thousands. In 2018 it purchased the iconic Esterbroook brand that literally helped write some of America’s most significant history.

Esterbrook fountain pens made their way into the hands of Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Walt Disney artist Carl Barks, and Peanuts comic strip creator Charles M. Schulz.

National Museum of African American History records show an Esterbrook pen with an Esterbrook 2668 nib, a black plastic grip, and a clear plastic body was one of the pens Johnson used to sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law.

Blumberg, Kenro's president, and other fountain pen authorities said its big rally started about four years ago when social media helped write a new chapter for this once-dominant instrument.  And for Blumberg, 85, buying Esterbrook was a game-changer.

“When we started, everybody was between 45 and 75,” he said of Kenro's fountain pen customers.  “Once we bought Esterbrook and we have all the colors and everything we do, we started bringing in the younger generation.” The Westbury resident added the company also saw a shift in the gender demographic of fountain pen users. “Before it was 70 percent men and now it’s at least 50 percent women. I think a lot of the colors attract a lot of women — the colors make a statement,” he said.

According to the global research and consulting firm Verified Market Reports, the fountain pen is experiencing a comeback virtually everywhere, and that’s expected to continue. In 2023 the fountain pen market was valued at $956 million, and the firm predicts it will grow to $1.1 billion by the end of 2030.

Joel Blumberg, founder of Kenro Industries, in his Mineola office.

Joel Blumberg, founder of Kenro Industries, in his Mineola office. Credit: Howard Schnapp

When we started, everybody was between 45 and 75. Once we bought Esterbrook and we have all the colors and everything we do, we started bringing in the younger generation.

— Joel Blumberg

In-person clubs and shows held regularly on Long Island and beyond are seeing participants skewing younger as well.

Authorities said young people began seeing on Instagram and other social media eye-catching creations made with fountain pens, and finding it something "new” to them, and a perfect instrument for the on-trend practice of journaling.

“I’m definitely guilty of posting many social media videos of me doing calligraphy,” said Alyssa Ahrens, 36, of Bellmore. She started her calligraphy and engraving business in 2017, and among her clients are jewelry designer Kendra Scott, Bergdorf Goodman and Guess. “Social media has helped in showcasing how fun and satisfying calligraphy can be with all the different types of tools like fountain pens with broad tip nibs and many other calligraphy tools.”

Ahrens added that while she does her calligraphy with a dip pen — the fountain pen’s predecessor that like old-fashion quill pens requires constantly dipping the pen in an ink bottle to write — even just signing your initials with a fountain pen is “a perfect and distinctive way to stand out among the crowd.” In addition, writing by hand can have a soothing effect, Ahrens said. “I would rather handwrite everything than type it up and print it out. It definitely puts me in a more calming head space, hearing the pen flow across the page.”

Bryan Hulser, a 52-year-old Plainview resident, who along with Elizabeth Lopes, 45, of Wantagh, and Ryan Sirignano, 41, of Bellmore, is a Kenro owner/partner, said the company started pursuing the young fountain pen buyer after seeing some of their creative work on social media.

Bryan Hulser, co-owner and brand strategist at Kenro, said the...

Bryan Hulser, co-owner and brand strategist at Kenro, said the company started connecting with young enthusiasts on social media. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Instagram started to change everything and we got aggressive.

— Bryan Hulser

“Instagram started to change everything and we got aggressive" about going after the younger market, said Hulser, who is also Kenro’s brand strategist. When he saw some of the beautiful fountain pen work being done by young enthusiasts, Hulser began reaching out to those creators and asked them to include mention of Esterbrook on their pages.

Today, fountain pens represent 80% of Kenro’s stationery offerings.

Fountain pens have long been a part of Sidhanth Misra’s life, although the Mineola resident is only 23. He decided he had to have one when he was in sixth grade, and now he restores and repairs vintage pens as his business.

“My mother and father both used fountain pens growing up in India in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Misra said. “My father particularly used them as he lived in Sri Lanka and Indonesia as well growing up. In Asia using fountain pens is still a common thing.”

Sidhanth Misra has a home business restoring and repairing fountain pens. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The day after I saw [The Diary of Anne Frank], I had my father take me to Staples and he bought me a beginner Cross fountain pen.

— Sidhanth Misra

But it wasn’t family influence or his culture that drew Misra to the fountain pen.

“In fifth grade I had to read the diary of Anne Frank, and after reading it I had watched the movie with my mom,” Misra said. “In that movie, Anne Frank was gifted a notebook and fountain pen by her father, which was used to document her life in hiding. Her use of a fountain pen is what drew me to wanting to use them.” He added, “The day after I saw that movie, I had my father take me to Staples and he bought me a beginner Cross fountain pen.”

Misra has 27 fountain pens in his personal collection, and said he considers himself both a collector and everyday user. He attended the three-day California Pen Show held in Los Angeles earlier this month and is a member of The Big Apple Pen Club on Facebook.

“I tend to keep a small highly tailored collection and I don’t keep pens that I don’t use,” Misra said. He collects certain brands and styles of pens or specific nibs. “I buy my pens at many different places. I buy pens online from retailers, on sites like eBay, from pen shows, and from friends who are vendors in the community just like myself.”

Misra said he feels other young fountain pen lovers are picking them up to draw a line on their involvement with technology.

“In this digital world, which moves incredibly fast, I feel people are gravitating towards fountain pens and journaling as a way to get back in touch with the analog experience. Writing with a fountain pen is an experience — from buying one and choosing the right one for you — to using it. The pens are like art, especially if you buy custom pens from independent makers, it gives you something to appreciate.”

Another Big Apple Pen Club member, 32-year-old Christine Shue of Queens, agrees. She is a CUNY New York College student majoring in English who was introduced to fountain pens in high school when a substitute teacher won one in a calligraphy contest.

“I have around 20 pens right now and I don’t consider myself a collector,” said Shue. “Usually, I write using fountain pens in my journal or pen pal letters. It’s my favorite hobby along with stationery.”

Another Queens resident and member of the pen club, 29-year-old Neil Purohit, said his grandparents used fountain pens regularly. The Columbia University graduate student is studying for his master’s in social work and began using fountain pens himself after receiving a Pilot Metropolitan while in college. “I grew to love the way that fountain pens wrote, and I quickly bought myself a Lamy Safari.”

Both Shue and Purohit have vintage “Esties” in their pen lineups.

Michael Sheehan, a 59-year-old attorney who worked in Manhattan before moving to Naples, Florida, started the Big Apple Pen Club in 2011 after falling in love with writing with fountain pens when he began practicing law at 28 years old. He became a collector at 30. “I had one fountain pen, now I have 400 to 500 — one worth about $10,000. This group and social media exploded the interest and knowledge about fountain pens.” He added, “The Fountain Pens Facebook group went from zero to over 50,000 regular users.”

The appeal of a fountain pen becomes "very personal," Blumberg said. “It even starts to write the way you write; the point starts to wear" a certain way. 

“Five years ago you would have thought [the fountain pen business] was over," he said. "We just don’t sell so many ballpoints anymore.”

A short history of Esterbrook pens

The Esterbrook fountain pen brand, now owned by Mineola-based Kenro Industries, got its start in Camden, New Jersey, in 1858, founded by Quaker and English immigrant Richard Esterbrook.  It began as United States Steel Pen Manufacturing Company but became The Esterbrook Pen Company one year before it closed up shop in 1971 after being acquired by Venus Pencils in 1967.

At one point the Esterbrook business was the largest pen manufacturer in the United States, producing dip pens, then the focus shifted to fountain pens. It made a record 216 million pens a year.

A dip pen requires constant dipping in ink to write, while a fountain pen has a built-in reservoir with a continuous flow of ink.

“Nobody before Esterbrook was really good at working with steel,” said Bryan Hulser, an owner/partner of Kenro, which purchased the Esterbrook brand in 2018. Modern fountain pen nibs (the metal writing point at the end of the instrument) are most commonly made of stainless steel or gold alloys. “They made a pen for Abraham Lincoln, that’s how old this company is,” Hulser added.

Hulser noted, “When the Civil Rights Act was signed into law 118 Esterbrook pens were given out — everyone involved received a pen.” The supporters included movement leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Today Esterbrook sells online and has distributors and retailers in 46 countries. Most of their fountain pens are considered “entry level,” in the luxury pen market, Hulser said, usually ranging in price from about $200 to $400.

Some of its collections are nods to the past, but like other fountain pen brands now keeping new and younger buyers in mind, Esterbrook pens and inks no longer stick to the traditional basic black, brown and blue tones. Today’s selections include vibrant colors, patterned designs, sparkle and more, and have names like “Sea Glass,” “Botanical Garden” and “Petrified Forest”. 

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