Resisting tide of digitalization

Vintage, luxury pens retain appeal in Baghdad market

BAGHDAD — Despite the surge in digital writing tools, traditional ink pens maintain a cherished spot among enthusiasts and officials seeking elegance, along with those looking for prestigious gifts. The Parker 51, in particular, stands out as a preferred choice within the Iraqi market.

Launched in 1941, the Parker 51, known as “The World’s Most Wanted Pen,” represents a pinnacle of design and functionality that has captivated enthusiasts for decades. Its introduction followed extensive testing, including in tropical climates, to ensure reliability under various conditions. With its hooded nib and a variety of colors, including rare ones like Nassau Green, the Parker 51 quickly became a collector’s favorite. The pen has seen various models, including the prized “First Year” editions with distinctive features like double aluminum jewels and a range of cap designs, making them highly sought after today.

Al-Sarai market in Baghdad, known for its extensive range of ink pen shops, offers pens of various types and origins. Prices can soar into the thousands of dollars, especially for pens adorned with gold or diamonds.

Hasnain Abbas of the Abbas Pens shop shared with 964media, “Our family business has been a fixture in this market since the 1960s, offering authentic pens from brands like Parker, Sheaffer, Waterman, Cross, Mont Blanc, and Aurora.”

The price of these pens varies by type and vintage, with some featuring gold, silver, or diamond coatings, as well as stainless steel options. Original pens are priced from $300 up to $1,000, while more value-oriented models range from 20,000 to 50,000 dinars ($13-34)

“Parker and Sheaffer are among the most sought-after brands,” Abbas said, noting that their clientele includes top government officials, doctors, lawyers, and increasingly, younger customers.

Sheaffer, founded 112 years ago by Walter Sheaffer in Iowa, U.S., embodies a tale of innovation and risk-taking. Walter Sheaffer invented a lever-filling mechanism for fountain pens, a significant improvement over the existing methods of ink filling at the time. Despite advice against entering the competitive pen market, Sheaffer persisted, leading to the creation of a company that survived the Great Depression, legal battles to protect patents, and even a transition to manufacturing military supplies during World War II.

The Sheaffer Pen Company has evolved over the years, introducing various models and facing challenges, including a decline in sales in the 1960s as consumer preferences shifted towards more affordable disposable pens​, and being sold off. Sheaffer is currently owned by BIC, a French company known for its disposable consumer products, including lighters, razors, and writing instruments. BIC acquired Sheaffer to enhance its portfolio of high-end luxury fountain pens alongside its range of affordable ballpoint pens.

Qasim Al-Tamimi, a retiree, reminisced to 964media about his lifelong hobby: “I started collecting pens as a university student in the late seventies, particularly Parker pens.”

He recalls purchasing an English Parker 51 pen, prized for its practicality, along with a Parker 21 pen.

The Parker 21 is a more affordable and simplified version of the Parker 51, designed to appeal to a broader market. While it shares the iconic hooded nib design of the Parker 51, the Parker 21 is made with less expensive materials and has a different filling system. The 51 is renowned for its high-quality construction, including a gold nib and a Vacumatic or Aerometric filler, whereas the 21 typically features a steel nib and a simpler squeeze filler mechanism.

“These pens represent a blend of writing finesse, elegance, and authenticity,” Al-Tamimi said, adding that he continues to collect pens even though he doesn’t need them daily in retirement.

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