I think we probably all know what is meant by legacy manufacturers in the fountain pen world, brands like Parker, Waterman and Sheaffer whose vintage pens are remarkable, but who have stagnated a bit with regards to their current production line. Although it feels a little harsh to say it I’d say these are brands which largely seem to trade off of their past reputation to sell pens, rather than going for modern innovation. So if they aren’t doing anything particularly new and exciting why the post? Well, read on dear reader.
One of the other hobbies I’ve been devoting my time to at the moment is analogue photography, there’s something I find really enjoyable about going out with a mechanical camera and a roll of film and making photos. Now as I’ve been getting more into the world of film photography I’ve noticed that there are quite a lot of similarities between the two hobbies. Both were once the only way of performing an activity, both died a death when their modern equivalent came out and both are currently enjoying something of a renaissance. So where is this all going? Well although I would say analogue photography is probably less secure in it’s renaissance I do think legacy pen manufactures could learn something from the attitude of legacy film manufacturers. Kodak is probably the king of legacy film makers, but unlike many of the legacy pen manufacturers they seem pretty plugged in to what the community want, and have been reviving some of there most popular products that were lost in the dark days of no-one using film. In short they’re re-creating what the community wants from their rich and vast heritage. Now to be fair, I suppose you could argue Parker have done the same with the Duofold (which is the only modern Parker I really have much of an interest in) but they don’t really seem to committed to reviving what made them great in the first place.
As an alternative legacy strategy there are some film manufacturers who have adjusted more to the modern market and have produced some genuinely new and interesting material, designed to cater to the new type of user. This is where I feel the Fountain Pen legacy manufacturers really let themselves down, there are so few pens that come from legacy manufacturers that are even slightly innovative. In fact the only one I can really think of is the Waterman Carene, and even that is really only visually innovative. How many posts on the outlets used by people newer to the hobby involve any of the legacy brands? Very few. What only serves to make this more infuriating is that there are manufacturers that have been around for ages that have managed it. Look at Pelikan, look at Lamy, dare I say it, even Montblanc. They’ve all used different tactics, but they all produce things that are genuinely desired in the fountain pen world and have remained in the consciousness of the community and thus remained relevant. So why can’t the others do it? is it just easier to squeeze a quick buck out of some recognition of a name? Maybe, but that really isn’t going to last all that long.
So to sum up, I feel like fountain pen legacy manufacturers are in a bit of a sorry state, they’re neither trying to return to what made them great, nor are they trying to change, innovate and move forward. I do wonder as names such as ‘Parker’, ‘Sheaffer’ and ‘Cross’ become less household how long they can really expect to survive. There’s a whole fountain pen renaissance that’s going on that they seem to have no interest in capturing. For me that’s a massive shame, I like vintage pens and history and the thought of these great icons of the fountain pen world either disappearing or just offering nothing even vaguely appealing is quite a sad one. Hopefully it won’t come to that.