Pen Ink – Keepsakes and Prized Possessions

John Skoyles writes the column “Pen and Ink” and is a professor, a poet, and author of the memoir, Secret Frequencies: A New York Education. Find out more about John and his work at

Antiques Roadshow has a wide audience because we like to see other people’s junk and compare it to our own. I am often stunned by a garish, multi-colored urn decorated with leprechauns and snakes appraised for thousands. It leaves me shaking my head, only to shake it even more when an object is priced high, but then come the dreaded words, when the expert says “If you hadn’t cleaned (substitute here re-finished, touched-up, etc.) this piece, it would be worth twice as much.”

I can sympathize with that last experience because I’ve lost money by throwing away dust jackets on books, only to find that, over time, a particular book is worth peanuts without the original cover. It kept slipping off when I was reading it thirty-years ago, and so it went.

And so it goes…to the boxes and papers that come with fountain pens…

Who keeps the box? I do now. When I first began the hobby of collecting pens, I tossed the box and placed the pen in my desk drawer. When I got tired of the pen, I tried to trade it at several pen sites, like the Fountain Pen Network, Fountain Pen Classifieds and Pentrace, only to be asked by potential buyers if I had the original box and papers. As I said, I do now.

I never threw away the fancy “presentation boxes” that come with Omas, Delta, Stipula and Visconti pens. Most of them are ridiculously huge for something that weighs a few ounces—but they make a formal, impressive housing for a gift.

I also learned that you should keep the cardboard boxes that come with ink because they block sunlight and prevent loss of color. Of course some of these boxes are also beautiful, like those in the Pilot Iroshizuku line, and you probably wouldn’t part with them in the first place.

Pen cases come in handy if you lose the box, available in a variety of types, like wraps. Some will hold several pens.

Naturally, I have real keepsakes, not just those empty pen boxes under the bed. So does everyone, which is why the Roadshow is so popular.

When I graduated from college, my aunt gave me a pair of gold cufflinks. She said a gentleman should have such a pair. The trouble is, I have never owned a shirt with French cuffs. Some gentleman!

I have a coffee mug filled with several glass cocktail stirrers or swizzle sticks. One is from the defunct Commodore Hotel near Grand Central (which is today Donald Trump’s Grand Hyatt New York). My uncle Louie Pioselli was a waiter in the restaurant there, working his way to maitre D, something our family was proud of, as my mother’s side were Italian immigrants. Another comes from P. J. O’Hara’s bar on Third Avenue, with its long gone phone number, when the prefixes were names. O’Hara’s was EL for Eldorado.

A rectangle of carborundum from my father. The small sharpening stone still has its worn leather case printed with the words “Pocket Hone.”

A cheap Waterman fountain pen. Cheap by today’s standards, but when my mother gave it to me one Christmas years ago, she pronounced the word, Waterman, with such feeling that it has meaning for me because it did for her.

Now that I think of it, I gave my son a Rotring pen and pencil, for no occasion at all—just because I thought he would like them. They have a manly aura, and you don’t need a special kind of shirt cuff to write with them.

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