Lifetime Guarantee: My Grandfather’s Pen

Nell Minow
2 min readDec 3, 2014

This calendar and pen set belonged to my grandfather. It stood on his desk, where he used the pen to write down totals of long columns of numbers (added in his head), scores of gin games (he usually won, unless playing with grandchildren) and entries in checkbook ledgers (balanced to the penny).

I’m the only one in the family who still uses fountain pens, so when he died, my grandmother gave it to me, and I used it at my office for a few years until it stopped working, then brought it home. There is an annual international pen show near where I live, so I brought my grandfather’s pen to see if it could be fixed.

A specialist in antique pen repair knew just what the problem was and told me the history of this model as he worked. It’s called a snorkel pen, and its tricky filling system was the most sophisticated ever developed for a fountain pen, more efficient and less messy. It was a big innovation in the mid-50's and the ads featured celebrities like Jackie Gleason and “Li’l Abner’s” Al Capp. But what we now call disruptive technology was about to eclipse fountain pens entirely: ballpoint pens, followed by felt-tips, rollerballs, and now even a digital stylus with no ink at all. There is always an elegant stylus display at the pen show, with “For your iPad!” in bright, hopeful letters. But no one pays much attention to it.

My grandfather loved technology. He had wonderful cameras and watches and I can imagine him really enjoying the snorkel mechanism for filling the pen. While I did not inherit his talent for numbers, I do share his love of gadgets and have all kinds of whiz-bang digital toys. And I still love fountain pens, though these days do not get to use them much.

I keep this desk set on our kitchen table now. I like to think of my grandfather every morning. And there is something about turning the analog plastic dials on the calendar that connects me to the new day more meaningfully than checking my automatically updated phone and atomic watch. Afterward, I take the pen out of the holder to do the newspaper crossword puzzle, enjoying the feel of the gold nib laying ink on the paper as the letters make words, using the snorkel to add more ink as I think of what I have written since the last refill.

And I remember what the man told me at the pen show. “Didn’t this come with a lifetime guarantee?” I joked to him as he finished the repair. “Yes, that was for your grandfather’s lifetime,” he smiled as he handed it back to me, good as new. “And now yours.”

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Nell Minow

Movie critic, corporate critic and shareholder advocate, Contributing Editor at @ebertvoices plus @moviemom, and #corpgov #movies and editor at @miniverpress