The Day – Norwich resident specializes in modern and vintage pens

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, many more people are keeping journals and writing old-fashioned letters in late 1800s and early 1900s style.

This happens even though “it’s faster, cheaper and easier to email,” said Norwich resident Nathaniel Cerf, owner of His online business sells modern, limited-edition and vintage pens, as well as pen/pencil sets and inkwells to people around the world. It also repairs many types of pens.

“I think people really like the experience of unplugging (from the computer) and having a tactile moment,” Cerf said in a phone interview. “So with writing, it’s often very calming for people to be able to sort through their thoughts with a pen in their hands and some paper. It’s both a physical and a psychological high that I think really helps to inspire some creativity and allow people to work out more complicated thoughts that they maybe couldn’t just rip on a keyboard. ‘computer.

For most people, he said, vintage pens are categorized as those from the 1970s through the 1920s. pens”.

Cerf said many people choose to use vintage pens when writing because there are nibs or writing nibs that can write anything from an extra fine line as fine as hair. from a baby to very thick lines, as well as “specialized tips like a butt”. which has a calligraphic style aspect to the way the writing comes out.

Then there are the flexible nibs, which he says “can go from an extra fine line to maybe a millimeter or two in thickness”, which are useful when working on scripting. Spencerians.

Pen materials range from hard rubber and plastic to celluloid and metals. Some pens with “beautiful filigree work” on the metal parts of the pens “are works of art,” George Dunbar of Fuquay Varina, North Carolina, said in a phone interview. ” I have many. Waterman was a classic… You look at these things and you say, ‘Oh my God. They are beautiful.'”

Dunbar, a retired urban planner from Detroit who has been buying, selling and trading with Cerf for two years, said he enjoys collecting and displaying vintage Sheaffer, Parker and Waterman cartridge pens and using modern cartridges and converters to to write.

Currently, Cerf said there’s been “an explosion of interest in ink.” Instead of buying traditional blue or black ink, many people choose from “hundreds of different ink colors and tints that help express themselves more the way they want in their writing.”

Dunbar said he liked the subtlety and flowing characteristics of Japanese inks and generally used black and blue inks. If he wants his message to “appear on paper”, he uses green.

Cerf’s customers are roughly split 50-50: about half love vintage pens and prefer older styles, designs and fill systems and the way nibs write. “Then there are people who are strictly into modern pens and really love all the features and benefits of the modern fountain pen experience.”

Pens made by American companies in the 1920s to 1950s “were extraordinarily well designed and crafted,” said Dr. Tobias Goodman, president of the North Stonington Historical Society in a telephone interview. He also trades and buys pens from Cerf. “He’s very outgoing and interesting, but he’s also sincere and ethical and knowledgeable and he does a really good job with these fountain and dip pens.”

Goodman’s favorite pen is a “modern and sleek” Parker 51 fountain pen with a medium point, because “they are wonderful for writing; it only scratches the surface. There is no resistance.

The former Westerly Sun book reviewer said he “always writes by hand with a fountain pen first. Then I type it after that… I always think better with a pen in my hand.

Every vintage pen has a story, and people are fascinated by their company history and the types of people who used them, Cerf said.

“I once sold a pen that had the name of some guy engraved on it who invented the rotary engine for airplanes. So it was kind of a novelty pen that ended up going to a collector’s item. aviation who knew who this guy was.

Most popular: “Parker and Sheaffer pens from the 1920s through the 1940s and 1950s, which was truly the golden age of fountain pens.”

Cerf also sells pens similar to those used to sign various surrender documents at the end of World War II, such as the Parker Duofold Jr. used by General Douglas MacArthur during the Japanese surrender.

He said he once saw a picture of a pen with a long engraving for appraisal that was a 1919 Christmas present from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author and character creator of Sherlock Holmes) and his wife to a friend.

Most of his pens range from around $19 to $500. However, some limited/special editions and very rare vintage pens can cost upwards of $4,000.

“Pens have never gone out of fashion. They have a sort of different function and purpose in our modern world than they might have had 30 to 40 years ago,” said Cerf, a member of the North Stonington Historical Society. .

He said many of his clients are looking for signature pens to close important deals, something luxurious and “maybe also a certain talking point about it that makes the whole ceremony more official.”

Montblanc, an extremely expensive German brand, is the most sought-after modern pen in the business world, Cerf said. Their most famous pen is the Montblanc 149, which they’ve been making since the 1950s, and costs around $1,000 brand new from the factory. He usually sells used models for between $400 and $500. “So you have a lot of people looking to get a Montblanc 149 to impress their clients, but at the same time hoping to save a little money instead of buying brand new ones.”

Others like to collect original and limited-edition pens that are “very unique and fun”, like the one in the shape of Jean Pierre Lépine’s “Freeride” (motorcycle design) and the pearl gray celluloid of Omas from 1995 “Omas the movie theater”. which celebrated 100 years of cinema, and Visconti’s “Van Gogh” fountain pen.

Even though Cerf runs his business entirely online and ships items to customers, Cerf said he does “a lot of emails and phone calls” with his customers. He also meets many people in person when he travels across the country to watch fountain pen shows. In fact, he said he met his fiancée, Dawn Sillars, at a show in Ohio in 2018 and they had “instant chemistry.”

He added: “I’ve never had so much in common with anyone.”

Cerf, now 46, first became fascinated with pens when he was about 9 years old after discovering his grandfather’s antique 1928 Sheaffer Lifetime Balance pen in his grandfather’s office. -mother and she left it to him.

“I found a bottle of ink at a stationery store and just started writing and loved it. And ever since then I’ve kind of been addicted to pens.

After learning how to repair many pens from an artist friend, he found manuals and learned how to repair even more types. Around 2005, he consigned used pens to an antique mall in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, while working as an associate city editor at Argus Leader.

In 2007, he launched his part-time online business. It became a full time business 10 years later.

Short humorous/mystery stories written by him, his father Art Cerf (retired journalist) and friends have also been part of his website blog since the start of the pandemic. “We thought, ‘How can we help people cope with the isolation and misery of the pandemic?’ So we turned to a very, very old and famous book called “The Decameron”, which came out after the Great Plague of the 1300s in Italy by a guy named Giovanni Boccaccio. (To entertain themselves while remaining isolated for 10 days, 10 people wrote a new story every night, which totaled 100 stories.)

This project is finished. However, Cerf plans to release two books as a series on the website to keep people entertained.

For more information on buying, selling or trading pens, visit, email Nathaniel Cerf at [email protected] or call him at (847) 708 -5062.

Long-time Norwich resident Jan Tormay now lives in Westerly.

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