A fountain pen: crucial tool of trade or pretentious affectation?

When Malcolm Turnbull signed one of his first agreements as Australia's 29th Prime Minister using a fountain pen, he joined a long list of leaders who turn to the traditional implement when it's time to project a sense of gravitas and occasion.

According to the Fountain Pen Network, a blog for fountain pen aficionados, US presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy both used a classic Parker 51 (Kennedy also used a dripless Esterbrook) while Bill Clinton used the fittingly named Platinum Presidential.

It is far more pleasurable to write with a fountain pen than any other writing instrument.

Perry Singer, Tafts

When Tony Blair, the then UK prime minister, hosted the G8, he gave away 58 sets of Conway Stewart fountain pens to his fellow leaders.

Although Australia's new PM is frequently noted as one of our most stylish and well presented politicians – he recently graced the cover of GQ magazine – his use of a fountain pen to sign an NDIS agreement on his first full day in the top job was more likely a protocol around the signing of an official document, says style consultant Lizzie Wagner.

The managing director of the Canberra-based Lizzie Wagner Group, one of Australia's leading corporate training schools, adds: "You're not going to whip out a Bic ballpoint, are you?"

Even so, Wagner says the fountain pen is still held in extremely high regard around the world. "When I travel overseas, I am often given a fountain pen as a gift," she says. "There is definitely still a place for them."

Who needs one?

Aside from being used to sign historic documents and as gifts, are fountain pens an unnecessary relic in today's high-tech world? Are they a pretentious affectation up there with monocles, top hats, and Peter FitzSimons' red bandanna?

"People who don't use them think it's a bit of one-upmanship," says Perry Singer, owner of Tafts the Pen People in Collins Street Melbourne. "But people use fountain pens because they get great enjoyment out of writing; it is far more pleasurable to write with a fountain pen than any other writing instrument."

Singer says although writing with a fountain pen can be a messy affair initially, it is worth persevering. "It's like smoking a pipe, you have to learn the art," he says. "I have a lot of university students buy fountain pens from me because they are quicker and easier to write with and less stressful on the fingers and even the arm.


"I have a lot of customers who are lawyers. They love fountain pens because if they are pondering a legal argument the head and the hand and the pen flow as one."

Which might explain why High Court Justice Patrick Keane QC uses a fountain pen to write his thousand-word judgments.

What to buy?

As for what fountain pen to buy, Singer says the most popular aspirational brands are Montblanc and Visconti. "The nibs used by Visconti are to die for," he says. Other high-end makes include Faber Castell, Parker's Duofold, and Pelikan.

Tafts' most expensive fountain pen is a solid gold Parker that sells for $25,000. But Singer says you don't need to spend that much; you can pick up a fountain pen from Tafts for as little as $50.

Wagner adds that you should never ask to borrow another person's fountain pen. "It's just not done," she says.