When we launched our first True Writer pen in 1999, it was a strange thing to do. After all, the nation was in the midst of the dot-com boom. The smart companies were betting on virtual things. Levenger, by contrast, sold old-school real things—bookcases, leather notebooks, 3x5 cards and other decidedly low-tech “Tools for Serious Readers.”
The explosive tech boom at the century’s end seemed to bring with it yearnings for these older things. There was a rage for fat cigars and equally fat fountain pens, especially those with the Mont Blanc snowy logo on top. Things that had gone out of style before the Eisenhower administration were back.
So when the the big money was looking forward, we looked back. We appreciated that our customers were buying the fat-cat Mont Blancs, yet we knew from studying the history of writing instruments that most people back in the heyday of fountain pens, before WWII, used less expensive pens made not with nibs of gold, but with nibs of steel.
An old cigar box
In gaining a hands-on feeling for fountain pen history, we got a lucky break. My grandfather, George W. Knock, had been a penmanship and typing instructor, teaching for most of his career at North High School in Syracuse, New York. He passed away in 1957.
When my mother saw we were selling fountain pens, she called me, laughing. “Your grandfather would be so pleased—his grandson selling fountain pens! ” Then, as an afterthought, she said, “ I found an old cigar box of pens in his desk and put them in the mail to you.”
A battered cigar box of my grandfather’s held the beginning of a True (Writer) story.
When they arrived, it was like Christmas.
My grandfather had left us well-used Parkers, Sheaffers, Esterbrooks and other brands now lost to memory, including a beautiful tortoiseshell pen from Moore Pen Company. There was an astonishing variety of colors, including a number of pens in a sort of marbleized green that must have been popular back in the day. The pens hadn’t been used in decades, but when we washed them out and dipped them in new Levenger ink, the old pens wrote just fine. It was a gift.
And that’s when the light bulb came on. Fountain pens didn’t have to be costly status symbols. We envisioned creating a new pen in the spirit of the best of the everyday working pens of old—functional, honest, well made, long-lasting, pretty—maybe even inspiring—and not costing as much as a car payment.
We found the right German company that could make high-quality yet affordable steel nibs, feeds, and converters for filling the pen with ink from a bottle. A little company in Taiwan still made gleaming pen barrels of polished resin, the old-fashioned way.
We needed a name that would convey the sensibility and flair of what we hoped would be an enduring series of pens. Our head merchant, Denise Tedaldi, came up with “True Writer,”which seemed to capture the essence of a tool that would stay true, write after write.
Thus prepared, we launched our first pen in May, 1999—in that marbleized green we had found in my grandfather’s cardboard treasure chest.
101 Dalmations...and True Writers
And thank goodness it did, because we had bet big on tooling and inventory commitments.
And it still sells.
I was surprised when our product team told me how many True Writers have come out in the last 20 years: 101
That’s not counting all the different modes —ballpoint, rollerball—and different point sizes of fountain pen nibs.
The Levenger Kyoto True Writer (2006) , on the left, next to its inspiration: The Moore tortoiseshell pen that George W. Knock, my grandfather, owned.
It sure feels good to be celebrating the True Writer’s twentieth birthday. My thanks to our dear Levenger customers who purchased more than a quarter-million True Writers over the last two decades. Collectors of Levengeralia can enjoy a limited edition Anniversary pen.
I’d also like to thank George W. Knock and my mother for the gift of his cigar box full of pens. As the penmanship teacher at his high school, every springtime he would write each graduate’s formal name on his or her diploma. I think he would have been pleased to know that his legacy also includes the thousands of Americans who have used their True Writers in the 21st century to pen their own words, worthy and wise.