Category Archives: Famous People & Pens

Debra Messing Writes with Montegrappa

Debra Messing, the TV star best known for her roles on “Will & Grace,” “The Mysteries of Laura” and “The Starter Wife,” turns out to be a fan of fountain pens. She once posted on her Instagram account about one of her favorites being a white and rose gold Montegrappa Fortuna.

TV star Debra Messing will be reprising her role from the hit show “Will & Grace.” If you want to write like Ms. Messing, might want to pick up a Montegrappa Fortuna.

She clearly has incredibly good tastes.

Montegrappa pens are Italian works of art. Most of their pens use intricate celluloids that take a full year to cure. Plus, they are decked out with gold and sterling silver trim. Completing each fountain pen is a hand-tuned 18k gold nib.

Now that her hit series “Will & Grace” is slated for a comeback, we thought you might be interested in her favorite pen.

President Trump’s Pen of Choice

(DISCLAIMER: This is part of an on-going series of posts and not a political piece intended to stir any ire of pen collectors. Please do not flood the comments section with your love or hatred of the man. It will not be published.)

President Donald Trump signs an executive order with a black-and-gold Cross Century rollerball pen that uses a felt-tipped refill.

This week we head to Washington for the DC Pen Show! It will be our first time there, and it is only fitting that we look, once again, into the pens used by our presidents. As we have covered most of the signing instruments of presidents dating back to John F. Kennedy, it is time to look at the pens most used by Donald Trump.

The early days of the Trump administration saw several pens used to sign his initial executive orders.

Six months into the new presidency, it appears Trump has settled on Cross Century pens that are black with gold trim. These are the iconic skinny pens most associated with the Cross brand. Trump appears to use the rollerball version with felt-tipped refills.

Although most of these pens are made in China, Cross is still considered one of the few remaining truly American pen brands. Now that Cross also owns the iconic Sheaffer brand, I had wondered if we might see Sheaffers in the White House.

Alexandre Dumas: The Man & The Pen

Alexandre Dumas wrote some of the greatest novels in history. It is difficult not to love “The Three Musketeers,” “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Man in the Iron Mask.”

Alexandre Dumas is my favorite writer of the 19th century. Nobody comes close to his adventures, characters or ability to capture the human condition. If you spend any time with his most famous novels, all of his characters are easily recognizable as people you can identify with in modern times. That is the secret sauce that elevates his writing to a timeless status.

My love of his work started at the age of 13. I picked up “The Count of Monte Cristo” on a bit of a whim. Before I knew it, I was hooked. It was pure literary crack. In spite of its length, I could not put it down. The tragic tale of Edmond Dantes and his need for vengeance is still rivetting. I teach fencing classes to junior high and high school students. Every 4 years or so, as new batches of kids rotate into class, I give them an end-of-the-year gift of a copy, and those who read it…even the 12-year-old girls…all come back grateful for a read that rocks their world as much as any Harry Potter or “Hunger Games” novel. (The highest praise of youth today.)

And honestly, Dumas only gets better with age! If you only read his works as a youth, you NEED to revisit them. Since turning 30 more than a decade ago, I’ve made a concious effort to reread at least one of his novels every year. There is soooo much more depth and realism that I missed my first time through as a teenager.

Here’s a small selection of my books by Alexandre Dumas featuring early translations and modern reprintings.

“The Three Musketeers” take on an almost cartoonish quality in our modern pop culture, but to revisit them, you find a complicated story of love, sex, loyalty, honor, war and true friendship. The musketeers are ordinary men in extra-ordinary circumstances. Clever, hard working, mostly honest (you really can’t trust Aramis much), these are 4 fellows who know how to game the system and make the most of the life of warriors. Dumas first wrote the novel as a serial in newspapers in 1844. It took Paris, and then the world, by storm. He actually followed it up with 4 more books: “Twenty Years After,” “The Vicomte de Bragellone,” “Louise de la Valliere” and “The Man in the Iron Mask.” The last one is my absolute favorite, and its symbolic significance–no spoilers, I promise–completely held me in its grasp. Not only did it fully reveal the truths of all the main characters to me, it really helped me to make better sense of the world around me at the time I first read it. Pretty impressive for a novel that came out 170 years ago in 1847.

A new book of the Musketeer series called “The Red Sphinx” was just rediscovered. It was in serialization when Dumas died in 1870! Technically, it doesn’t have an end, but some of his notes divulge how it was to end. Although I have yet to read it, it is supposed to take place about 20 days after the original “The Three Musketeers” novel ended.

More than this, Dumas wrote 300 books! He also wrote many plays, newspaper, magazine and fictional short stories. Another of his most famous stories is “The Corsican Brothers.” Here nobel twins, who were separated at birth, can feel each other’s nervous systems and emotions from across great distances…eventually learning of their parents tragic murder and uniting to extract revenge.

I own and have read dozens of his lesser known works. Most of them are as good as his biggest hits. The real trick is finding good translations! For me, the tranlator helps to be from the late 19th century or early 20th century. They try to capture the English language of the time period in which Dumas was writing. This builds a rhythm and poetry that Dumas conveyed in the original French. Modern translations fail for me because they try too hard to make it sound like modern, American English language and times. It destroys the cadence of the language and the romance of the 1800s, as well as the eras in which Dumas was writing about.

These are 2 of three volumes that I own of the original source material of “The Three Musketeers.” These are “The Memoirs of D’Artagnan” in an early 20th century translation!

How big a junkie am I? I found an early 20th century translation of the 3-volume biography of the actual 4th musketeer D’Artagnan! I have yet to read it, but I can’t wait. It supposedly gave Dumas the inspiration for writing the adventures of the musketeers in his fictional masterpieces.

Dumas also was a fascinating man, even without his incredible skill as a writer. He was a biracial man born of a white mother and black father in 1802. His father was one of Napoleon’s top generals…until they had a falling out during the Egypt campaign. (Any number of historians thought that Napoleon’s not listening to Gen. Dumas was one of his greater blunders in Egypt.) Although his father died in exile, young Alex got to encounter Napoleon as Napoleon changed horses while beating a hasty retreat from Waterloo.

Alexandre started writing as a young man, primarily for the stage. His early plays were often political and controversial. (France was undergoing several revolutions during his lifetime.) He didn’t really find success until he wrote a play about Henri III. Historical fiction was practically his invention. (Shakespeare mastered it on the stage, but Dumas really developed it into an art form in novels.) With great success, came great loves and travel adventures of his own. Ultimately, no matter how much money he made, he spent far more. He died heavily in debt and fairly poor.

This is a 1996 Mont Blanc Writers Series Alexandre Dumas fountain pen with the wrong signature on the cap and box.

Mont Blanc wisely chose to honor him in 1996 with one of its early limited edition writers series pens. The pen was handsomely trimmed in classical French style accents, such as a fleur de lis on its nib. Collectors especially love this pen because it features a significant mistake on the part of Mont Blanc. The company’s early releases of the pen featured not Alexandre’s signature but the signature of his son, Alexandre Dumas fils, who famously wrote “Camille.” The company scrambled to recall these pens and replace them with the right signature. As such, the wrong signature pens are worth more than most of the other writers series pens.

Farewell, President Obama

After faithfully serving the country for 8 years, for better or worse, through thick and through thin, President Barack Obama hands the reins over to Donald Trump today. Judging by the uproar online and everywhere else, it will be a sadder day for some than others.

President Barack Obama signs a bill into law using a black-and-sterling-silver ballpoint Cross Century II. During his first term in office, we noted he was using Cross Townsend pens to sign bills.

President Barack Obama signs a bill into law using a black-and-sterling-silver ballpoint Cross Century II. During his first term in office, we noted he was using Cross Townsend pens to sign bills.

However, as we put aside politics for our shared love of pens, we noted earlier in his presidency that President Obama was signing bills into law with Cross Townsends. As we have noted the changes in presidential pens from Esterbrooks to Parkers to Cross pens, we to must acknowledge one last change in President Obama’s signing pens.

Some time during his second term we spotted this photo of him using a different Cross pen. These are the Cross Century II ballpoint pens in black lacquer with a sterling silver cap. It is a handsome pen and nicely weighted, while being a little thicker around the middle than the more common Cross Century pens each of us likely has two dozen of rattling around a desk drawer or shoe box.

With that observation, we wish the Obama family well and thank them for their service to our country … while wondering what pens President Donald Trump will use.

James Bond Has No Ordinary Mont Blanc

James Bond uses a sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 LeGrand solitaire fountain pen in the classic 1983 film "Octopussy."

James Bond uses a sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 LeGrand solitaire fountain pen in the classic 1983 film “Octopussy.”

Between the ages of 7 and 10, I set out on a quest to watch every James Bond movie made up until that point. Over the course of several summers, I was in a state gadget and spy bliss. I’ve keep up with Agent 007 ever since then. When an opportunity too good to pass up arrived, I was able buy each of the Bond movies in a mega collection on Blu-ray this summer for an insanely cheap price.

Satisfying my inner 10 year old over the summer has been tons of fun. Bond has a history of awesome pens, but the easiest one to identify was a sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 Solitaire in the 1983 classic “Octopussy.”

Roger Moore plays Bond, and it is one of his better Bond films. Not as good as “The Spy Who Loved Me,” it is still better than most of his others. This time a fake Faberge egg leads to a ring of jewel thieves led by a mysterious Maud Adams in the title role. Yet, her backers are really using her as a cover for their own nefarious nuclear attack. Louis Jourdan (of “Gigi” fame) is the evil villain.

Unlike a typical Mont Blanc fountain pen, Q tricks out this one to hold a reserve of highly potent acid that burns through metal.

Unlike a typical Mont Blanc fountain pen, Q tricks out this one to hold a reserve of highly potent acid that burns through metal.

As the infinitely clever Q outfits Bond with his gadgets for the film, he hands him the sterling 146. Unlike a traditional fountain pen, it is loaded with a very potent acid instead of ink. The acid is strong enough to melt steel bars. Yet, it is mild enough not to eat through the plastic (oops, we mean “precious resin”) base of the fountain pen under the sterling silver. This is why Q gets paid the big bucks.

Spoiler alert: The pen comes in handy as Bond uses it to bust out of a prison cell in India.

The pen also holds an amplifier that allows Bond to hear conversations through walls. A very hand device for a super spy.

James Bond's sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 also holds a special amplifier that allows him to better listen to conversations through walls.

James Bond’s sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 also holds a special amplifier that allows him to better listen to conversations through walls.

Mind you, I absolutely love Bond movies. But the big question I always have is simply, once the villain identifies Bond is, in fact, Bond and captures him, as he invariably will, why doesn’t he take all of Bond’s stuff. By now they always know that Bond is a super-star assassin/spy who kills every bad guy he comes into contact with. Why do they always–ALWAYS–fail to take his watch, pens and other possessions. Even the ones who used to be spies themselves always fail to thoroughly search him for every possibly possession.

Anyhow, the one really unique thing about this pen in “Octopussy” is that Mont Blanc fails to brand the pen. Instead of their traditional snow cap star, they put on a sterling topper. Mont Blanc even gets special thanks in the credits. It seems odd they wouldn’t want to take advantage of the Bond sales bump.

We have a sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 LeGrand fountain pen that is very similar to Bond's. Unfortunately, it only holds ink. DO NOT load it with acid!

We have a sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 LeGrand fountain pen that is very similar to Bond’s. Unfortunately, it only holds ink. DO NOT load it with acid!

We are more than happy to take advantage of it. We have one such sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 LeGrand fountain pen on our preowned luxury pens pages. It is in great working order and a helluva bargain compared to a new one.

My First Published Book: ‘Little Victories’

It was a dark and stormy decade, but I finally found a publisher for my novel, “Little Victories“!

The aptly named Last Chance Press released it today, which, coincidentally, is the 9th anniversary of ThePenMarket.com’s launch! I guess good things are meant to happen on August 5th. I should buy a lottery ticket.

Here's the front cover of my novel "Little Victories." It was beautifully drawn by Kim Kagarise and designed by Rhonda Jackson.

Here’s the front cover of my novel “Little Victories.” It was beautifully drawn by Kim Kagarise and designed by Rhonda Jackson.

My novel exposes the travesties and small successes of the American children’s mental healthcare system. From laws written to unintentionally benefit sex offenders and other abusers to spending cuts on social services, this story gives voice to the voiceless children across America who are being as abused by the bureaucracy as much as they are their tormentors.

Far from being a bleeding-heart crusade, it is a cold reality check that follows a year in the life of a mental health worker and the elementary school students she tries to help. The characters are fictional, as to write about real people would break confidentiality laws, but the events are events that happen every day in every community in the United States. I’ve spoken with scores of teachers, mental health workers, social workers and local child-protective agency employees. Specific wording of the various laws referenced in the book vary a little from state to state, but the core of the problems are the same in all 50 states. Experts in several states have read this and agree that I’ve nailed the heart of the problems while showcasing the lives most effected by them.

There are no long, dry political rants; this book just shows life as it really is from the points of view of the people most intimately involved in the system. It is a very fast-paced read that I hope keeps you turning the pages.

It is a hard-hitting book, which I hope goes a long way to help people, much like the Boston Globe’s unveiling of the Catholic Church’s child-sex scandal. That reporting only exposed problems in the priesthood. “Little Victories” sheds light on a far more wide-ranging national problem.

As depressing as it can be at times, I intentionally keep a steady stream of really dark humor running through the book. People working under that kind of pressure and duress keep their sanity via gallows humor, which I consciously included to pepper the dialogue and narrative as these employees would. It works much the way humor does in “Catch 22,” the classic Joseph Heller novel about World War II.

I would be hugely honored if you bought a copy of “Little Victories.” You can ask for it in any book store, and you can find it in print and on Kindle at Amazon.com. If you order it from Amazon, please, please, please write a review for it. If I can get enough reviews on Amazon, it will help tremendously to get the word out.

This wouldn’t be much of a blog post for a pen site, if I didn’t mention the pens I used to write this book.

When I started writing this book in early 2005, I was writing in my off hours when I was an editor at a newspaper. I needed some relief from the computer, so I opted to enjoy myself writing the 326-page rough draft longhand. I wrote with my entire–very limited collection–of fountain pens. I wrote the most with my late grandfather’s 1928 Sheaffer Lifetime (black and pearl), a gold Cross Townsend, a Cross Metropolis and a 1945 Parker Vacumatic Major in emerald pearl. I worked in a Rotring double-broad stub pen, too.

It is much easier to compose on a computer, and I probably won’t write another novel out longhand, first, but it was very cathartic to do it on this novel.

Please buy a copy of “Little Victories” and join the fight to help abused kids in your community. Thank you!

Simon Pegg’s Fountain Pen Happiness

Pens play a key role in “Hector and the Search for Happiness.” They save the day on more than one occasion.

However, if you haven’t heard of this movie, yet, let me introduce you.

This Visconti Van Gogh has a starring role in "Hector and the Search for Happiness." Simon Pegg is Hector and uses this pen to write in his journal on a flight to Shanghai.

This Visconti Van Gogh has a starring role in “Hector and the Search for Happiness.” Simon Pegg is Hector and uses this pen to write in his journal on a flight to Shanghai.

“Hector and the Search for Happiness” is a warm British comedy that slipped in under my radar in 2014. It is about a middle-aged psychiatrist named Hector (Simon Pegg) who is in a bit of a funk–in spite of having a successful career and a loving girlfriend played by Rosamund Pike. Unsure about what his life really amounts to and what it could have been, Hector boards a plane for visits to China, the Himalayas, Africa and America to ask EVERYBODY what the secret to happiness is.

Overall, it is a touching comedy that is a lot of fun.


We have a colorful Visconti Van Gogh rollerball pen for sale, if you want a pen similar to Hector's.

We have a colorful Visconti Van Gogh rollerball pen for sale, if you want a pen similar to Hector’s.

Pens come into the picture frequently, as Hector fastidiously maintains a journal in which he investigates happiness in its many forms. Of course, he is always losing his pen.

At first, while on a flight to Shanghai, he asks a high-power banker to lend him a pen. The banker views his seatmate as highly annoying and lends him a pen to keep Hector out of his hair.

“Be careful.” the banker cautions, “It’s worth more than your car.”

Only pen geeks like us would identify it as a Visconti Van Gogh. An elegant pen and expensive–but not worth an entire car. More like a one-month payment on a lease for $289 (full retail).

While in Africa, Hector unwittingly befriends a crime boss played by Jean Reno. Hector inadvertently walks off with the crime boss’ gold pen. Yet, it turns out to be a good thing later in the film. (No spoilers here.)

If you get a still of that pen, we’d love to identify it, too!

Keep the pen spotting requests coming. In the meantime, be sure to settle in for this nice, quiet feel-good comedy!

What Pen Does Robert De Niro Use?

I have reached a state of predictability. While out on a date with my girlfriend to see “The Intern,” a pen-and-pencil set flashed across the screen.

Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway bond over Facebook in a scene from "The Intern." De Niro uses Cross Century pens in the film.

Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway bond over Facebook in a scene from “The Intern.” De Niro uses Cross Century pens in the film.

Without missing a beat, she turned to me with a whispered question, “So, what type of pens were those?”

“Cross Centuries, my dear.”

For those who aren’t familiar with it, “The Intern” is a feel-good comedy about a retired executive who takes on a “senior” internship with a hot start-up dot com. Robert De Niro stars as the title character to Anne Hathaway’s fashion retail start-up. Both actors are lots of fun to watch in this tightly written script. The jokes gently run both ways while poking fun at the generations: Baby Boom, X and Y.

Here is an example of the Cross Century ballpoint pen used by Robert De Niro in "The Intern." It has a chrome finish with gold trim.

Here is an example of the Cross Century ballpoint pen used by Robert De Niro in “The Intern.” It has a chrome finish with gold trim.




The Cross Century pen and pencil make their first appearance in the montage of Robert De Niro settling into his new office space with an “old-fashioned” physical clock, attachĂ© case, traditional office supplies and his pen-and-pencil set in a leather case. The Cross instruments were chrome models with gold trim. It is interesting that Mont Blanc didn’t jump on the merchandising bandwagon, but the Cross Century really came into prominence in the 1970s and ’80s–the era from which the film most tries to paint De Niro as a dinosaur.

Yet, the suit-wearing De Niro stands in appealingly sharp contrast to his bearded, unkempt, T-shirt-wearing Gen Y cohorts whose desks are festooned with toys. Cue the standard jokes about Generation Y’s inability to grow up and Baby Boomer’s inability to adapt to technology. Once those are out of the way, the movie really takes heart as both generations learn from each other and help one another navigate life.

It’s a fun movie and definitely a thumbs up.

Pens of World War II–Revisited

Back in October of 2013 I discussed General MacArthur’s Big Red Parker Duofold and General Eisenhower’s Parker 51s used to sign the surrender treaties at the end of World War II because I had seen one of them in Paris’ Museum of the Army. The plot thickened when the museum responded with no knowledge of the Parker 51 I saw. They did mention a French General’s Parker Duofold used to sign treaties at the end of the war. Grandson of Kenneth Parker (who personally gave Ike a set of 51s to end the war), Geoff Parker then discussed his knowledge of the famed 51s.

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower holds up 2 of the pens used to sign the German surrender, ending World War II in Europe in May of 1945. One of those pens is a Parker 51, which is now on display in Paris' Musee de l'Armee.

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower holds up 2 of the pens used to sign the German surrender, ending World War II in Europe in May of 1945. One of those pens is a Parker 51, which is now on display in Paris’ Musee de l’Armee.

At the end of that article, I left a challenge for other pen collectors to find the Parker 51 I failed to photograph back in Paris.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, although nobody has sent us a photo, yet, the story caught the eye of fascinated WWII historians Cheryl H. and her husband Roy R. They had been reading John Toland’s “The Last 100 Days,” when they stumbled on these “Drippy Musings.” Bless their hearts, they tore into the mystery like a pit bull on a juicy marrow-filled bone.

Below is exactly what they found, and it is pretty fascinating for history and pen buffs! Unlike Geoff who said Ike had several pens to use, Toland limits it to two…the rest is Cheryl’s message to me:

Using numbers to make this a bit easier to follow….

1. Totally no doubt about the 2 gold pens: 1 gold plated and 1 solid gold from Kenneth Parker and that indeed Ike had carried around knowing they would eventually be used….

2. At Rheims, France, on May 6-7 in a local school Eisenhower waited in his office while the other participants assembled.

3. By the time everyone got done horsing around with what were eventually 3 surrender documents it was early on May 7, 1945. (Signing was at 2:41 a.m.)

4. The signers were: Ike’s Chief of Staff Walter Bedell Smith; Russian Major General Ivan Susloparov; French Major Francois Sevez; German General Alfred Jodl, and for the Brits, Major General Bernard Montgomery.

5. AHA! Ike didn’t sign!! (He refused to be in the same room with the Germans before they surrendered.)

6. BUT! Ike’s pens did! One of Ike’s aides named Butcher brought in the 2 Parker pens and gave the solid gold one to Walter Bedell Smith and the gold-plated one to Jodl. The solid gold one was passed to the other Allies by Walter Bedell Smith…that is, to Sevez, Susloparov, and Montgomery.

7. It appears as though Ike had planned to present one of the pens to President Truman and send the other to our old friend Kenneth Parker. That was his stated intent at one point, at least.

8. Aide Butcher, after Jodl signed with the gold plated Parker, took the Parker away from Jodl and gave Jodl his (Butcher’s) own personal Scheaffer pen to sign the following 2 documents as a nice little souvenir for Butcher. (Gotta love a guy who sees through the historic significance of the moment…..)

9. Previous to May, there had already been an armistice signed between Italy and the Allies. Mussolini and Alan Dulles for the U.S. (His brother was Ike’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles) Sorry…appears no one knows or cares what pens were used!

10. At some date after May 7 there was another armistice signing on the eastern front between the Russians and the Germans…I think they used Bic ballpoints. [Cerf here: Ballpoints came into prominence during the war, but Bic didn’t make the first ones. So likely not Bic. Bic was founded Oct. 25, 1945.]

But this leaves the question of Generale Tassigny…his pen is photographed and he must have signed something with it…but it does not appear to be the documents at Rheims. Guess someone will have to go to Paris to figure out that little puzzle. (I will probably burn up the internet tomorrow or sometime to work on that…)

(AND search she did. She continues…)

Re: French Major Generale Tassigny. I think we have solved that one. On May 7 I believe that M.G. Tassigny was a “witness” to Major Sevez’s signing. The next day, May 8, there were another series of surrender papers signed (by now the Russians had arrived at Rheims) and M.G. Tassigny did actually sign that day. What I/we didn’t realize is that there were a number of different surrender documents, signed over a number of days, and signed by various people. The French are so (justifiably) proud of their history and their people that it seems to me that since they have M.G. Tassigny’s pen, why not use it as fully as possible? He did indeed sign an armistice/surrender document. BTW…one reason for various surrenders was that the Russians didn’t trust anyone, and few trusted the Russians!

Another little tidbit: Ike told, I think it was, Walter Bedell Smith, that of the 2 Parker pens, one would go to President Truman and one to Kenneth Parker. Bedell Smith replied,” What about Churchill?” to which Ike said, “Oh darn it. (or something like that!) I forgot about him!”  That leaves me puzzled because Ike had to have given Churchill “something;” the pen in Ike’s Abilene library is no doubt the one used on May 7 by Bedell Smith.

Me again. Just to clarify, the pen at the Eisenhower Presidential Library is the pen he gave to Truman. Geoff Parker thinks it is possible there were more than two pens, so that Churchill and Kenneth each could have gotten a token of the surrender. And that, dear friends, is what we have found so far.Always feel free to contribute, as we love to hear from other dedicated pen fans and historians!