Like many other objects whose utility is no longer exclusive, fountain pens, their manufacturers and buyers have also kept up with the times.
Mumbai’s Flora Fountain, near Chhatraprathi Shivaji Terminus, where several such shops dedicated to pens are located, is a witness to this change.
Imran Kolsawala's Apna Pen Mart, has been around since the 1950s, and sells both imported fountain pens and used antique ones.
“The market for antique pens has diminished. Couple of years back, I used to buy and sell 100 pens a day and now not even a whole week sees this much business in antiques,” says 50-year-old Imran.
“Youngsters read more about brands and come here asking for specific models. Two days ago one young boy came and bought an imported fountain pen for Rs 50,000. His mother kept asking if such a costly pen was needed but he insisted. He knew its worth. It is a good sign that youngsters are ready to spend so much on pens when they have so much other things to spend money on,” Imran says.
Even though this is one of the rare instances of the demand for expensive antiques, a new market has cropped up – a young generation that prefers cheaper Chinese-make pens that they learn about from the internet.
For Imran, customers who buy Chinese replicas of branded pens are very important. Gesturing at a Chinese replica of a Platinum’s President model pen, Imran said that the Chine make cost around Rs 1,000 while the original was priced at Rs 20,000.
Nilesh Kalambe, a government employee who was in the shop, seconded Imran. Pulling out a Versace leather wallet, Kamble smiled and said, “This isn't the original. I got this from a roadside shop. If I can get an exact replica, why should I spend ten times the money and buy the original? Even if this is lost I will not be sad.”
For Shukla & Co. survival depends on imported pens. The shop's owner Abbas says, “Earlier there used to be many Parsis who bought pens, used them for a while and then returned it to buy new ones. This doesn't happen these days. Most of my customers these days are advocates and builders who buy imported ones.”
Apsara Pen Mart, which opened in the 1940s, is the biggest shop in the area and deals in imported pens and watches. While the Parkers, Sheaffers, Pierre Cardins and Mont Blancs are visible on entry into the shop, it’s a corner in the room which has something to watch out for: vintage pens. Pen models of the 1940s and 1950s such as the Parker 17, 41, 51 and 81, Sheaffer Imperial, Pilot 180, Capless and others are displayed in a wooden cabinet with a glass door.