Today, I Am a Fountain Pen: 100 Years of the Meisterstück

Montblanc’s Meisterstück, perhaps the world’s most famous writing instrument, is celebrating its centennial in exquisite fashion

May 9, 2024 6:35 am
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A closer look at the Montblanc Meisterstück Origins Collection
Raw Pixel, InsideHook

My grandfather was my grandmother’s elder by 14 years — by the time they married in 1951, he was 40, she 26. He was born a year before the Titanic took its maiden and fateful voyage, and 13 years later, he became a bar mitzvah, the traditional age of the ascension to manhood in the Jewish tradition. At which point, in the mode of 20th-century American Judaism, he received a fountain pen.

Yes, such was the importance of the fountain pen in the previous century that it became a symbol of the entrance into adulthood. Both finely crafted and utilitarian, this everyday objét d’art represented permanence — its ink could not be erased — and professionalism. A signer of contracts. A sealer of wills.

I recently unearthed my grandfather’s fountain pen. A handsome thing housed in a gold body, it is inscribed with the date of his bar mitzvah: 1924. (No doubt he read a few dusty old lines in a text he couldn’t possibly understand and then exclaimed, as per famed Jewish comedian Sam Levenson’s old joke, “Today, I am a fountain pen!”) 

The year 1924 is an auspicious one as far as fountain pen history is concerned. It was then that a German company called Simplizissimus-Füllhalter — something or other about fountain pens — released a flagship model in its Montblanc collection that it called “Meisterstück,” or “masterpiece.” This elegant writing instrument, with its piston filling system and Montblanc snowcap emblem on the pen cap, became so popular that, by 1934, the firm adopted “Montblanc” as its new name. 

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This year, 2024, thus marks a full century of Meisterstück, the pen that has become synonymous with the very word “pen.” Many will doubtlessly scoff at the importance of a pen-iversary — Gen Z isn’t even taught penmanship in school! and all that — but that would be missing some important points. For one thing, it’s arguable that no other writing instrument has the cachet and importance of a Montblanc, particularly a Meisterstück; they’re still given to people to celebrate important life events, even if — indeed — two thumbs have replaced the nib and inkwell in the process of modern, digital composition. (And even if they’re not necessarily the 21st-century bar mitzvah gift of choice.) 

This is to say nothing of artistry and mechanics. Fine pens, much like mechanical watches (which Montblanc also incidentally manufactures), are a joy to behold and to use, despite constituting admittedly antiquated technology. And if you happen to be one of the happy few who still favor putting pen to paper? Well, you can certainly do that with a cheap, plastic Bic. (I mostly do. Don’t @ me.) But there’s a certain joy that comes from using a well-made object — from its smooth operation to its considered design to, yes, its aesthetics — that can’t quite be satisfied from a 10-cent, dollar-store purchase. 

The Montblanc Meisterstück
The Montblanc Meisterstück Origin Collection
Olff Appold

“I consider writing much more than just the business that we do, but the inspiration that we do through writing,” says Montblanc CMO Vincent Montalescot. “The main category at Montblanc is still writing. And what was interesting was that during COVID, the business was growing. This wasn’t a complete surprise for us, but it confirms that [writing] is something that won’t disappear from one day to another.” 

Indeed, given the Meisterstück’s importance to the brand, Montblanc wasn’t going to let this big birthday slip by without some sort of anniversary product. So witness the new Meisterstück Origin Collection, a group of fresh new Montblanc pens that celebrate a century of centrality to the written word. Though their cigar shape and famous emblem will no doubt be familiar to legions of aficionados, small touches differentiate the new instruments from their more common brethren.

Where once the nib of a Montblanc featured “4810” — the height of Mont Blanc, the actual mountain, in meters — it now also shows “100” as well as “1924” and “2024.” The cap ring likewise features the anniversary years as well as the Meisterstück logo, a nod to vintage versions, while the bent clip references 1920s editions. Meanwhile, the precious resin cap itself is manufactured to appear like dissolving ink — a beautiful effect that’s color-coordinated to the colorway of each particular edition. In short, this is the Meisterstück people know and love, but with subtle, thoughtful updates that will surely delight collectors, or even first-time buyers and gift recipients. 

Speaking of editions, there are several. Within the Resin Editions, you’ve got your choice of the Precious Resin 149 with a black barrel, platinum-coated fillings, and a rhodium-coated, solid Au750 gold nib; the Precious Resin LeGrand with a dark blue barrel and a rhodium-coated, solid Au585 gold nib; and the Precious Resin Classique with a green barrel, gold-coated fittings, and a solid Au585 gold nib in the collection’s centenary design. 

Additionally, there are the vintage-inspired Doué and Solitaire editions: The Doué LeGrand features a platinum-coated cap, lacquered archive pattern in blue, a blue resin barrel, and a rhodium-coated, solid Au750 gold nib; the Doué Classique boasts a gold-coated cap, lacquered archive pattern in green, a green resin barrel, and a rhodium-coated, solid Au750 gold nib; the Solitaire LeGrand Edition, meanwhile, has a gold-coated cap in Montblanc’s signature coral color. 

The Montblanc Meisterstück
The Montblanc Meisterstück Origin Collection
Olff Appold

And these, of course, are just the fountain models — there are also five rollerball and five ballpoint pens, all of which feature elegant decoration to match their fountain pen cousins. Pricing runs from $615 to $2,235, and you can even snag Meisterstück-inspired bracelets or cuff links if you’re a true connoisseur. If you blush at such prices, consider that in our digital world, writing has benefits that extend beyond the potentially niche applications of keeping a diary or filling out a postcard.

“Writing is good for your brain, and good for your memory,” Montalescot says. “And when I look at all the creative people we’re working with — and Wes [Anderson, who created a special short film for the Meisterstück anniversary] is a perfect example — everything starts with pen to paper. Of course, you have to maintain the minimum amount of education about how to write — but that’s our job,” he smiles. And sure, you can write with that dollar-store Bic and save yourself some cash, but the joy that comes with using a beautifully made object is difficult to describe, while easy to justify. 

My grandfather passed away 30 years ago now, when the internet was in its infancy. Looking back a century to his bar mitzvah in 1924, would he be surprised to know that a simple pen — especially a beautiful, elegant fountain pen such as the Meisterstück — is still capable of sustaining a large business? Would he find it curious that people still gift them to friends, colleagues and children? Ultimately, the written word is no small part of what differentiates us, Homo sapiens, from other animals. It’s how we preserve our history, how we create meaningful art, how we reflect upon our condition. I can only imagine that he would hold his gold writing instrument aloft and bemusingly exclaim, “Today, I am — still — a fountain pen!”

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