While working my through a box of pens recently I came across an dusty old ballpoint pen. Me, someone who resents ballpoint pens for what they have done to the fountain pen industry. The skills and craftsman of vintage fountain pen manufacture, artisans of amazing engineering, lost because of this upstart newcomer – the ballpoint pen.
What first caught my interest was this old, cheap looking, dusty old ballpoint.
The object of my distaste. Why I picked it up? I do not know. I played with it and noticed the button was stuck, the ink cartridge was dry. It needed fixing! I pulled it apart to see what was the problem. It was re-assembled by someone unfamiliar with engineering: the spring was upside down; the wrong cartridge was used; and the button needed adjustment. I had spare ink cartridges which with a little adjustment fitted perfectly. It didn’t take much but it was soon working.
It was then that I noticed the internal craftsmanship, the parts fitted neatly. This was all metal, no plastic parts, elegant, designed to last a long time.
It had a slim line, and not uncomfortable to use. The earlier ballpoints had class not like today’s mass-produced plastic injection-moulded, cheap, through-away pens. Know I finally knew the real competition to vintage fountain pens.
After a little cleaning I realised this was real gold, 18ct gold. A lot of research later and I finally found the history behind Baignol & Farjon and their French made ballpoint pens. This was a classy piece of work, like the advertisement above, I imagine a gentleman taking the pen from his pocket, proud of this symbol of social status, and using it to write his signature. This is a 1960’s status symbol, an object of desire.
“A vast movement of industrialisation characterises France in the nineteenth century. It is in this context that a new industry is born: the writing materials industry. In a rapidly changing world, this industry is experiencing rapid and significant growth, where written communication is one of the vectors of economic development.” translated from “L’aventure industrielle de l’entreprise, Baignol et Farjon” by Laurent Bigand, in “Review of the North” (1996) Issue 316 pp. 511-517.
It describes the birth of the company “Lebeau aîné” in 1850 on the port site of Boulogne-sur-Mer manufacturing the new metal nibs for quills pens. François Lebeau enticed experienced British craftsman to relocate to France and copy the British made nibs. With his expertise, this family owned company continued to grow, benefitting from the high tariffs against British imports. Twenty-five years later having married his two daughters to Camille Baignol and Ferdinand Farjon, François steps down and passes the business to his two sons-in-law. In 1920, a pivotal date in the history of the company, the catalogue offers six types of products: the pen nib, the graphite pencil, the coloured pencil, the eraser, the penholder, and mechanical pencil. The company was on the right side of history, creating a niche of high quality writing instruments rising off the tide of technological advancements.
Have I finally been converted from vintage fountain pens to vintage ballpoints? No, but I can certainly appreciate a functional piece of art. I have never seen on of these Baignol & Farjon ballpoints, they are even relatively rare in France. This pen will hold a valuable place in both a collector of fountain pens and a collector of fine writing instruments.
I am not a collector and having done my bit, it is someone else’s turn. Having given this pen a new lease on life, benefitting from one of the latest ballpoint refills, it is now going up for sale. My hope is that it will go to someone who appreciate’s this example of Fine Art. I will be sad to see it go but unfortunately it does not fit in my collection of “everyday user” fountain pens.