Why are fountain pens making a comeback?

The fountain pen - the renaissance of a writing instrument

A fountain pen is not a ballpoint pen. It is not given away en masse at trade fairs, you don't lose it all the time and it is hardly suitable for quick shopping notes. Writing with a fountain pen has to be learned. Anyone who scratches the paper too hastily with the pen or presses it too hard will fail. Slowness and care are required. The fountain pen is not an everyday writing implement. In view of digitization, this is only apparently a curse and primarily a blessing for manufacturers.

A blessing, because it makes the fountain pen something special, a luxury good that a lot of money is paid for. A blessing, too, because in most schools, using the fountain pen is still an integral part of the curriculum. According to industry data, the retail trade sells around 1.6 million school and youth fountain pens every year - many times as much as the sales of adult fountain pens.

Writing with a pen

One might think that in the age of smartphones and e-mail, people wrote less and less by hand - and when they did, then with ballpoint pens. And that one day the use of digital media in the classroom could play a bigger role than writing with a pen.

"It can already be seen that the fine motor skills in children have changed," says Beate Oblau, managing director at Lamy, the market leader for school and youth fountain pens. "The first thing children can do today is swipe on their smartphone. Putting on beads, embroidering, handicrafts, cutting out and sticking small items - all of this is no longer so much in focus today."

Nevertheless, Lamy's core business with school and youth fountain pens is going brilliantly. Between 2009 and 2016, the Heidelberg company increased sales from just under 46 to around 112 million euros. "The company remains true to its core competencies", says Thomas Grothkopp, managing director of the trade association office and writing culture. "When it comes to learning to write, digital change is not yet as gaining ground as it is elsewhere," adds Oblau. "This is also due to the fact that the schools are often not yet equipped accordingly."

Booming business

Things have been more turbulent at Pelikan in recent years, Lamy's main competitor in pens for the school and youth segment. The Berlin-based company is now owned by a Malaysian group and now sells a much wider range of products than Lamy. "The fountain pen no longer plays such an important role in the overall range," says Grothkopp.

And yet: The business with the noble feather is booming - even in times of Whatsapp and Facebook. Total sales of fountain pens rose between 2014 and 2017 by six million to around 153 million euros, according to data from the market research company Marketmedia24. For 2019, the analysts expect an increase to around 160 million euros.

This not only benefits manufacturers whose core business is based on school fountain pens. The Hamburg company Montblanc was taken over by the later Swiss luxury goods group Richemont in the early 1990s. Since then, the company has specialized in fountain pens, which start at more than 300 euros and can cost well over a million euros.

"We have increased sales in Germany by a double-digit percentage over the past few years," says Oliver Goessler, who is responsible for Montblanc's Northern European business. "At a time when people are writing less and less, the writing instrument with which you sign or write a letter has to be something special." Goessler does not believe that this could change in the coming years. "The trend has solidified. This applies to many products in the analog area."

But companies are watching the digital change closely. "Of course we adapt to it and deal with it very intensively," says Lamy managing director Oblau. "We observe, for example, that there are digital devices on which you can write with a digital pen." Breathe the charm of a pen into such digital tools, however, will be difficult. (dpa / rs)