Pen collecting: Gift snowballs into hobby

Ann Kopecky

Ann Kopecky

As the ink smoothly flows onto the paper, the professor stops to ponder the intricate mechanics behind the writing tool.

No, it’s not an inkjet printer.

The writing instrument is a fountain pen and just one of the many pens in SDSU math professor Dan Kemp’s collection.

To many people, a pen is simply used for writing, only to discard when the ink runs out. To Kemp, a pen is a beautiful mechanical tool.

“I enjoy the mechanical aspect I guess more than anything,” Kemp said.

Kemp’s collection began 25 years ago when one of his first advisees graduated.

“She gave me a pen. It was a fountain pen and had a broad point to it,” Kemp said, as he reflected on how his hobby began.

Since the pen had a broad point, Kemp found it difficult to use for writing math equations and symbols. He decided to look for other types of fountain pens and bought one with a thinner point.

From there, the collection flourished as Kemp started attending flea markets in search of fountain pens.

“Once you start this, collecting anything, it just starts to snowball,” Kemp said.

Snowball it did. Twenty-five years later, Kemp has built a collection of more than 100 fountain pens that can be found in his office and home.

A burgundy Sheaffer pen from the 1950s, a vanishing point Pilot, a thick-based Rotring, and a Parker 51 are just some of the pens that Kemp pulls out of his collector box to show.

Each fountain pen holds a story and a piece of history for Kemp.

The first pen that started the collection, a Sheaffer pen from the 1950s, was the beginning to a streak of Sheaffers for Kemp.

According to Kemp, the brand is known for its unique white dot at the top of the pen.

“When you would carry the pen in your pocket, the white dot would show and everyone would know you were carrying a Sheaffer,” Kemp said.

Although the collection is made up of mostly Sheaffers, other brands and styles have been picked up along the way.

One of Kemp’s students gave him a pen from Italy, a Viscanti, which is not sold in the United States.

The Parker 51 also made the collection. According to Kemp, the pen was introduced in the 1940s for Parker’s 51st anniversary and turned out to be one of their best-selling models.

It’s also one of Kemp’s favorites because of it’s hooded nib that allows only the very point of the pen to show.

While Kemp said that he is not actively collecting pens right now, he is on the lookout for some unique colors and styles.

A mandarin yellow ink Parker pen from the 1930s, valued at $4,000 to $5,000 in good condition, is one item Kemp would like to add.

“The only hope is that you find a box of pens and at the bottom of the box is a yellow Parker,” Kemp said. “It hasn’t happened to me yet.”

Although the collection has became a passive hobby, Kemp still has one aspiration left.

“My next step is to learn how to repair them,” Kemp said.

For now, the pens sit in three display cases in his home and are scattered around his office, just in case he needs to write something down.

#1.887545:4135273318.jpg:pen.jpg:Dan Kemp, math professor, shows off his collection of pens at his home. Kemp began collecting pens 25 years ago, after receiving a pen from one of his students.: