Sunday, July 27, 2008

Chicago and Pens

I arrived in Chicago mid-day Tuesday, the 23rd. The purpose of the trip was to work with Pelikan pens that were recently added to the Sachs/Fultz collection, which stands as the greatest known collection of fountain pens. It’s a testiment to my schedule that only today, Sunday the 27th have I gotten time to post here. But the hard work has been lightened by the time spent with Greg Sachs, owner of the collection, Keith Zaransky, the curator of collections, and the delightful Catherine Morris, archivist and collection manager.

Personally, it seems fitting to be here, twenty four years after I met my first pen collecting friends and attended my first pen show while living and working in Chicago.

Many of you know Keith, who has collected and dealt in pens (as well as other antiquities) for more than twenty years. Keith is also a lifelong friend of Greg Sachs, and when Greg decided several years ago to revive his youthful passion for pens, he turned, naturally to Keith, who facilitated the transfer of the collection of L. Michael Fultz to Greg, and when Greg decided to establish a pen museum, he retained Keith to manage the effort.

Keith then turned to Catherine, who, at 26, is an aspiring coloratura whose academic training and field work in anthropology has trained her to manage collections.

Together, they are a dynamic team who are bringing order to the collection, cataloguing it and assessing where to go next and how to get there. With Greg as a guiding light and patron this is the most exciting project in the world of pens in more than two decades. Within the next few years Greg and Keith are developing plans to create a world-class museum devoted to the role of fountain pens in the history of human communication.

For now, the collection is housed securely in this building in downtown Chicago.

As I arrived Tuesday afternoon, I was able to meet the staff of Aqualeaf Holdings, Greg’s company, and most particularly Catherine, who has applied museum cataloguing standards to the cataloguing of pens. Over the next few days, I would come to appreciate the rigor and exacting standards she and Keith are applying to a collection so vast and sprawling that no one, up to now, has fully understood its scope.

This is the office where Keith and Catherine work.

On Wednesday, bright and early, I got down to work at the back of the "living room", a comfortable reception area on the second floor, which is the heart of the collection. Here is my temporary office.

Before me was this cabinet with lovely pen related objects on display

Now, through various means, the Sachs/Fultz Pelikan collection was not altogether unfamiliar to me, but for the first day, I dealt with little more than a dozen pens as I sequenced, scrutinized and learned to apply the exacting criteria of the collection to these recent acquisitions.

I also had a chance to get to know Greg Sachs over dinner on Thursday and lunch on Friday. While it is premature to discuss specific plans, I am confident that in the next few years the Sachs/Fultz collection as exhibited in a totally new museum setting with revolutionize our hobby and take pens to a new level.

I must have done my work well, for on Friday afternoon Keith suggested that we take some time off. So we toured through the building and the collection (which, I have seen before) so I could take the images that follow.

Keith asked what I wanted to see, and since I had seen the Pelikans, you know, I said, how about Vacumatics.


A random box of Vacs



Few of us will ever see one of these Vac prototypes, let alone trays and cases full.

Second from right, a curious, small burgundy Vac, sitting between a deb and oversize for comparison.

Keith here holds a late Vacumatic prototype

Because life ain't all Vacs, here's a 51 you will not see elsewhere, with a frosted gold cap and in an uncommon colour.

Before Vacs there were Vacuum Fillers, here's a charming box that I was previously unaware of.

Before Vacs there were Duofolds, some made for Zaner Bloser

And some even more special than that. Not all Toledo-work pens are Pelikans.


Not all pens are Parkers and Pelikans, so we have some Ryders.

To be honest< I don't even remember if these are Parkers or Ryders and I don't know my early abalone slab pens well enough to tell. But they sure are purty.

At the back of the second floor offices is the carriage house, which some at Aqualeaf say is haunted. The ghost must not be a collector, since (s)he left behind these. In reality, this is combination workspce and photo studio.

Apologies for the blurry image, I was on a stepstool shooting in low light

The storage room ahead of the carriage house.

Because I was pen obsessed and it was late Friday and there weren't many folks around, I did not get any images of people. More on Monday or Tuesday.

Throughout, I have to say that Keith has been a superb colleague, companion and host. I have had the time to hang out both during business hours and afterwards with Keith and his wife Lynn and with Catherine, who has become a younger sister to Keith and Lynn. I have smoked cigars with Keith and his father Rudy, met Keith’s mom, Sherrine, and have been as much a guest as a consultant. Friday night Keith and Lynn hosted dinner for Catherine and me and today Keith and Catherine and I hung out, talked pens, (and cars and stuff) had lunch at Fat Willy’s BBQ and rambled through Oak Park looking at houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Sadly I forgot the camera.

It’s been work, a lot of work, but it has also been fun, even more fun.

1 comment:

Ramón Zarate said...

Thanks for sharing!
/Tony