In spite of the wonders of modern technology, handwriting is undergoing a resurgence, with fountain pen and ink sales rising as a result of ‘techno backlash’, say experts.
A new report, ‘Office Products in Australia, 2016-2018’ (Penfold Research), reveals that unit imports of fountain pens and stylograph pens increased by 134 per cent from 2014 -15.
Leading pen manufacturer, Pilot supports this; “We have seen a 200 per cent increase in sales of our prestige range of fountain pens & inks in the last twelve months,” said Mr Scott Thornton, managing director, Pilot Pen Australia.
This is a global phenomenon. In 2015, the UK reported a five per cent year-on-year increase in stationery sales 1 ; in the US, speciality pen sales grew by 11 per cent. 2 In China, the world’s biggest market for fountain pens, sales rose to $341 million – an increase of 7 per cent from 2014. In 2014, pens and writing tools generated global revenue of $16.2 billion expected to reach $20.2bn by 2019. 1
Australian retailers are reporting similar findings at the till.
“We have seen a twenty per cent increase in the number of fountain pen sales, particularly at the premium level, where sales start at around $500 and can go up to $1.7 million (the most expensive fountain pen ever sold). Ink sales have increased by ten times within the last six years alone,” said Ms Barbara Nichol, owner Pen Ultimate, specialist writing shop in Sydney’s QVB.
Experts consider this emerging trend to be following in step with the recent surge in popularity of adult colouring-in and ‘mindfulness’ craft activities.
“Technology and high rates of screen use are driving a counter-reaction with more people switching onto ‘go slow’ hobbies and activities that involve detail, thought and skill. A larger broader shift towards the pursuit of handcraft and wellbeing related products and activities is an increasing trend and will play out in the coming years,” said industry expert and researcher, Andrew Penfold.
Barbara Nichol says amongst her customers, there is a level of nostalgia and a desire to retain what they see as ‘traditional’ handwriting skills that are being lost.
“The drive to resurrect and retain our cultural heritage and a need to communicate beyond the keyboard, is contributing towards the resurgence in handwriting popularity,” she says.
Customers range from students looking to improve their handwriting, to 50 plus customers wishing to re-learn their penmanship skills because they are out of practise owing to spending more time using a computer keyboard.
There is also an increase in the number of professionals such as doctors, architects and lawyers purchasing high-end fountain pens. Some of this, says Barbara, is because they need legibility but another part is the desire to present their best self to the world through their handwriting.
“Holding a beautiful fountain pen, carefully forming your letters and presenting yourself, your thoughts, your work on paper, says something about who you are.”
One of the trends highlighted by the Penfold report is a shift to feature-rich and design-oriented products that have unique shapes, colour and materials and that have an ‘intimacy’ link, ie they are regularly used and viewed.
Barbara agrees and says just like watches, mobile phones and cars, fountain pens are becoming fashion accessories in their own right.
“You choose carefully the colour, brand and fabric of your handbag or wallet. You make sure your nails are manicured nicely, you have a nice looking smart phone. A beautiful fountain pen completes your look.”
Barbara says that for those looking to improve their handwriting, the one tip is to switch to a fountain pen.
“Writing with a fountain pen is like ice-skating – you are floating on a bed of ink,’ she says.