Paris 2019 | the fountain pen store

Marian Parsonsa slice of life, Antiques, Favorite Finds, Travel38 Comments

As I shared in THIS POST, I visited a pen & paper shop mentioned in the book A Paris Year on our first day in the hopes of finding a fountain pen.  While the shop was charming, it wasn’t what I was expecting and they didn’t carry what I was looking for.  I knew from walking around last year that there were tons of pen & paper stores in Paris and I just had to find the right one.

I looked up fountain pen shops in Paris online and found an article on Fountain Pen Love sharing a list of John’s top 10 shops.  The description of Mora Stylos caught my attention, specifically because they carried vintage and used pens.  It wasn’t too far from the Marais district, so we decided to walk in that direction after our tour and lunch.

John and Wendy hung around outside of the shop while my mom and I went in to find my fountain pen.  I smiled at the man behind the counter and said “Bonjour!” and he replied.  I leaned in to get a closer look at the rows of pens under the glass cases.   They were all different and I could only see tags for about half of the pens.  The tags I saw did not fill me with hope that I would walk out of this shop with a pen.  We’re talking 800-1200€ pricetags.  I felt like they probably had something in my price range, but I was going to need help finding it.

I turned to the man behind the counter and asked if he spoke English.  He just shook his head and answered, “No.”  He didn’t smile or show any willingness to try to communicate and help me purchase a pen.  I looked at the contents of the cases for a few more silent minutes.  I felt completely out of my depth.  Disappointed, I thanked the man, turned around, and left the shop.

Wendy saw that I came out of the shop empty-handed.  I explained the situation and, since she is fluent in French, she offered to translate.  At first, I declined and took a few steps away from the shop.  I waffled.  I must admit that a wave of embarrassment came over me at the thought of walking back into the shop, but another part of me thought this might be my best chance to find “my pen.”

I took her up on her offer and we walked back into the shop.  Let’s try a little humor on the staunch man behind the counter.

“Tell him that I just needed to get someone who spoke French.”  Wendy relayed the message and he cracked the faintest hint of a smile.  Wendy let him know I was looking for a vintage/antique pen that was less than 150€.  The shopkeeper made a general arm motion towards the counter to the left of us.  I leaned down and looked at the rows of pens again.  Nope, still not seeing my pen.

I asked Wendy, “Can he show me the pens that fit that description?”

Once she relayed the request, he nodded and started selecting pens, setting them on a black velvet pad on the counter.  Now we’re in business.  

He put a few pens on the counter that were okay, but nothing I was excited about.  He then brought up a green pen with gold details.  Ooooo…I like this one.  He followed it up with an identical pen in a tortoiseshell pattern that I also really liked.  “How old are these pens?”  The gentleman answered, “1920s.”

“You do speak English!”

He told Wendy in French that he’s just not very confident speaking English, but from that point on, he answered my questions directly and only needed an occasional translation.  He also warmed up, recognizing my excitement over the pens he selected for me.

I decided to try writing with the green pen, since that was the one I was drawn to the most.  He pulled out a pad of paper and a bottle of ink.  He dipped in the pen to fill the nib and handed it to me.  I wrote a few words and made a few scribbles and loved the fine gold nib and the feel of the pen.

“This is my pen, but you have to show me how to fill it!”  Another reserved smile appeared on his face and he agreed.  It was a pump-style fountain pen, which I wasn’t familiar with.  The pen has a gold lever on the side that is used to draw ink into the pen.  He showed me how it worked and, comfortable that I understood, he cleaned the nib, packaged my pen for me, and included a little glass bottle of black ink.

“Is this pen from France?”

He shook his head.  “No.  America.”

We all laughed.  I traveled to Paris to buy a vintage American pen.  Sometimes you have to travel a few thousand miles to find things that were meant to be yours.

And I love the pen.  It’s one of my favorite purchases from my trip.

I loved the process of filling up the pen.  You open the lever, stick it into the ink, close the lever, and the pen sucks up the ink.  You can even hear the slurp!

I wrote out a few lines and it was just as wonderful as it was in the shop.

Buying a fountain pen got off to a bumpy start, but I’m so glad I took up Wendy’s offer to go back into the shop and translate.

I ended up with a special souvenir from Paris.

Paris 2019 | the fountain pen store

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38 Comments on “Paris 2019 | the fountain pen store”

  1. My husband had a pump fountain pen for years that he loved. I think it might have been his grandfather’s. He was bummed when it broke. (He used it a lot.) This post is a good reminder of what I should buy him for Christmas. However, I won’t be going to Paris to do my shopping, Any suggestions for a good online source? It doesn’t have to be vintage, but I think he’d prefer that.

  2. I love your new pen! I had an Estherbrook Fountain pen in grade school that you filled with the lever and I loved it. My bottle of ink sat in the desk well. It was black marble with gold accents. After several ink mishaps on clothing the school directed us to only use cartridge pens. A sad day indeed.

  3. Hi – I’m so glad you found your beautiful pen! I’ve noticed this week that pop-ups for the Personal Retreat Guide are appearing about 4-6 times during the time it takes me to read your blog. As a regular reader, that is really annoying. Would you consider adjusting your settings to limit those? Thanks for your consideration!

    1. Oh yeah, I’m sorry about that! Something is malfunctioning because it should only appear once for you when you are seen as a “new reader” (if your cache is clear, etc.)

  4. Technically you purchased a ‘lever filler’ pen, not a ‘pump.’ There are true pump fillers, but they are exceptionally rare (Dunn Pen). I purchase vintage pens off eBay, but you have to be knowledgeable and careful. There are some online retailers, like Anderson Pens, and the Fountain Pen Hospital that sell quality vintage pens.

    1. Oh, good to know! The gentleman at the store called it a pump pen, but he was also speaking half French-half English!

  5. Nice to see the Watermark ink popping up here. Childhood memories from Belgium :). We learned in second grade how to write with pen and ink.

  6. What a delightful story! My boss of almost 35 years, now deceased, ALWAYS used a fountain pen. It brings me happy memories to see yours.

  7. Very nice! It’s a sheaffer balance pen – the white dot was meant to be a lifetime guarantee on the nib. they would have called the color Jade, I think. Yours is remarkably clean and the color has been preserved beautifully! Congratulations!!

  8. I remember having an Estabrook pen as well. Our local stationary store had a good selection. Somehow I remember buying different nibs that fit the pen. Long ago and far away.

  9. That man is the lucky one that you gave him your hard-earned money. I think I’d have kept walking if someone gave me that “city cold shoulder.” Ah well, lovely pen – USA – ha- and happy you are happy.

    It really is beautiful, as is your penmanship – just gorgeous writing, Marian.

    1. With all do respect, Michele M., for your opinion… I do not speak French either, but when I’m in Paris and looking for something in particular, I look up how to ask the questions in French that pertain to what I want to buy the night before and practice saying that a few times. It never fails that the French person breaks in to English and helps me. It is all about making an attempt to be polite. When you walk into a shop, you should say “Bonjour, Monsieur” or “Bonjour, Madame,” and you use Madame unless you are talking to a girl. I totally get where they are coming from because I’ve had people speak to me in Russian and Spanish in my shop and expect me to understand them. It felt almost like a demand and one that I am not equal to. I think one gets points or something for trying. That didn’t work for me in Montreal though. In the French quarter of Montreal, shopkeepers gave me rather dirty looks . Marian, gorgeous pen! I love fountain pens.

  10. I remember my mother using a pen that filled the same way. It was her everyday pen….probably in the late 50’s.

  11. I found that some people in France were the same regards speaking English at first. We often mistake that for arrogance but it can just be as in the case of your shop keeper a lack of confidence in their own language skills. I found that when I made an effort to speak using my limited & often badly pronounced French, people would respond with their non perfect English. 🙂

    1. Yes, I agree that he wasn’t being rude, but just didn’t feel confident in his own language skills. I probably would’ve done the same!

  12. What a beautiful pen, so glad it all worked out. I have heard of pens like that, very handy to fill with ink and not get it everywhere.

    1. I’m 75 & that’s the kind of pen we used in school. I’m also left handed & what a mess on the side of your hand as you wrote, dragging through the ink! Wish I had kept the one I used in Shorthand. When a young person looks down on my computer expertise, I ask if they’ve ever heard of Shorthand!

  13. Perhaps having nicer writing tools is one of the keys to a more beautiful writing, that and strict teachers. I have yet to meet someone over the age of 75 to 80 that didn’t at one point have beautiful cursive handwriting. Not all of them do now of course becoming shakier and more frail with age at times. I have tried and tried and tried and it just won’t come naturally. I’ve been told I have one of the most beautiful printing hands people have ever seen, but not my cursive. I’ve also been told its because I’m lefthanded and not even a natural lefthander to boot. When little my great-grandparents were my babysitters until I was 13 and my Memaw died suddenly with a massive stroke. Thankfully I had my Nanny until 1988 when he was 93. Well I became my great-grandfather’s little shadow imitating everything he did. He was lefthanded and in a time when you got a big whack with a hard ruler if you wrote lefthanded. Nanny was raised Mennonite which meant he only went to 6th grade as it was. When he was a young man in his 30s or so , he had an accident with a saw and cut off parts of his fingers on his right hand. He told me years later he saw that teacher who whacked him so much for writing with his left hand and held up that right hand with parts of his fingers missing and stuck it in her face. He said, SEE….God knew what he was doing, He said he KNEW I was to be lefthanded for a reason. All I know is that accident never slowed him down one minute. Old Doc Kohler wanted to sew them back on he told me but he said no, they”ll just become stiff. This is the middle of the 20th century and obviously they couldn’t do all the neurological surgery they do today. The irony of it is, he married a schoolteacher, the sweetest, kindest, lovingest, dearest woman who ever lived, my Memaw. Then in 1962 at 8 months old when my mom began working fulltime they began babysitting me. They live right next door. She couldn’t get around well so we played school a lot and she had me reading then by age 4 or 5. Something that wasn’t done as preschool weren’t even an idea yet and no child learned to read until 1st grade. My mother used to get a kick out of it. For many years she taught 1st grade Sunday School and in the beginning of the year none of the children could read and she watched their progress all until until Rally Day usually all of them were reading. But I digress. So I imitated Nanny in being lefthanded in eating, in writing, in all sorts of things but in the things he didn’t do, I was righthanded. Then….my brother used to imitate me, so two righthanded parents ended up with two lefthanded children. Go figure! But I have tried and tried to have an attractive handwriting and to me it seems awful. But at least compared to anyone under the age of 30, its sheer perfection, almost artistry as MANY of these kids can barely write cursive at all. I think the country is fooling itself if they believe manual writing won’t be needed. Maybe in 500 years. I was told in the 1980s going to work for Hopkins research studies were going to be “paperless” as the world is going to be “paperless”. Well I am STILL waiting on that paperless world. I think the world is slowly finding out computers and all these digital gadgets are not the be all and end all of everything.

  14. Now I’m going to have to search for that cigar box of pens that came from my grandfather. He was born 1886…and passed away in 1961. The box was passed to my mom and is now in my possession. TY for your posts of your trips and life. It’s like being there. I hope I have 1 more trip to Europe in me 😊

  15. I noticed that your pen is green right away~ could there be something trending for you 🙂
    I’m glad you found your treasure!
    Cynthia

  16. When you shared that he said it was from America, I thought “I wonder if it is from Ft. Madison, IA” as the Sheaffer Pen Company was there for years. There is still a museum there.

  17. This story made me laugh! I’m So glad you found your pen, that you caught him in the act of speaking English, and that it ended up being from America!

  18. I love this story of finding your pen, Marian; there are good lessons in it. I think people often miss out on unexpected joys, discoveries and connections due to pride or fear of embarrassment. I’m so glad you went back into the shop – and look at your reward! And the shopkeeper’s gruff demeanor, which really was masking his fear of looking foolish for his poor English, almost made him miss out on a sale, but your warmth broke through his tough shell. Kindness and understanding can move mountains. Merci!

  19. I love the colour of that pen. Beautiful pens certainly help to keep the art of penmanship alive.
    I’m pleased that you were able to work through the situation to get such a lovely pen. Mutual respect, patience and understanding definitely breaks down barriers.
    Unfortunately, when I’ve been in France (and Europe generally), I have too frequently witnessed tourists being very rude to retail staff, demanding that they speak English to them! I wonder if this man had ever been in that situation? I think “if the shoe was on the other foot” – I know that I would be shocked, and probably annoyed if a tourist demanded that I speak a foreign language for them, in my own country!
    I love hearing about your trip, Marian. I’m looking forward to more stories.

    1. Yep, I agree! I didn’t feel he was being rude, but just didn’t feel comfortable trying to navigate a transaction in a language he doesn’t know well. We were able to work it out, though!

  20. As they say “All’s well that ends well” and you did find a beautiful American made fountain pen in France. LOL! However, although I know I wasn’t there so I am not trying to judge the intentions of the shopkeeper but I feel perhaps you are giving him more credit than he deserves.
    He certainly understood English well enough and spoke it well enough to communicate with you once you came back in with your translator. Maybe he wasn’t downright rude but he wasn’t very welcoming and his whole body language spoke volumes. Its nice you gave him a second chance and gave him your business. I hope he will be more accommodating and pleasant the next time an American walks in his shop.

    1. Teresa, It isn’t them who are being rude/arrogant, that is what Americans don’t understand. No matter what country we visit, we need to catch up on our manners for that country. You see, they think we are being arrogant.

      P.S. If anyone finds a fountain pen with a dry-rot “bladder” they can be replaced. So look for good brands at lower prices as they can be mailed in and repaired.

  21. I love that you gave the shopkeeper another chance. I prefer to give everyone the benefit of the doubt in most situations. We never know what the ‘offender’ is going thru or what they are feeling. Even if I’m wrong about them I walk away happier knowing I gave them another chance, because that’s the kind of person I want to be, rather than being eager to take offense. Instead you found a way to solve your language problem and found a pen that makes you happy.

    I just heard it said this morning: The time to make up your mind about someone is never.

    We are all constantly changing and growing. I would hate to be judged on the person I was 10 or 20 years ago because I’m not that person anymore. And we all have bad moments too. Some days I’d hate to be judged on who I was 10 minutes ago. Maybe we should all stop judging each other so much….

    1. I have followed your blog for many years, and never commented; however, I just wanted to thank you Stacey for your insightful comment. I love that thought to never make up our mind about people. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  22. I have been to France twice. I have NEVER had a French person be rude to me. I agree that you must try to speak basic French. They do appreciate it and usually begin to speak to you in English if they know English. I always found the French people to be very nice. People who disagree, you were probably rude first! My husband and I took a train to a small town where there was a chateau I wanted to see. We missed our stop and got off at the next even smaller town. The station was deserted and we did not know what to do. A van drives up and two men get out and they are there to do some maintenance. We asked if they spoke English. One did not and one just barely. We asked about a taxi and were told no taxi. We were able to communicate we missed our stop for the chateau. The two spoke to each other in French for a few minutes and then the one said “wait here 5 minutes”. The one who spoke no English pulled up in his personal car and waved us to get in. He then proceeded to drive us 20 miles to the chateau!!! He refused any money at all!! We just patted him on the back and said Merci a few times with big smiles!

  23. The pen you bought is lovely. I enjoyed your story about buying it too. Paper products are a siren call for me-love them! Might have to think about pens too now.

  24. Marian,
    Your pen is a treasure for sure, and the bottle of ink another treasure. French stationery stores are my favorite shops to visit while traveling in France. I could spend hours in each one. I always come home with pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners, notebooks with graph paper pages, rulers, unusual-shaped paper clips, etc…

    Judith

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