Point man for revival of fountain pen

SUNDAY SNAPSHOT

Jim Rouse...

February 04, 1996|By Michael Ollove

Point man for revival of fountain pen; Jim Rouse: Computer-age people yearn for fine writing instruments, he says.

While the computer and the fountain pen might be considered polar opposites as writing implements -- one modern, the other old-fashioned -- Jim Rouse believes the development of the former led directly to the resurgence of the later.

Co-owner of Bertram's Inkwell in downtown Baltimore, (there's another store in Rockville), Mr. Rouse attributes a rise in the sale of fountain pens to a yearning for the sort of distinctiveness that neither computers nor ballpoint pens afford.

"The computer is not personal and the ballpoint is so light that it has no personality," said the sandy-haired Mr. Rouse, 38. "But when you write with a fountain pen, it's richer, it's fuller, it's more expressive. It's just prettier, more refined."

Fountain pens all but disappeared in this country (but not in Europe) after the development of the ballpoint at the end of World War II. (Pilots needed a reliable writing instrument at high altitudes.) Popular as ballpoints were, however, the blossoming of stores wholly devoted to the sale of pens did not occur until the fountain pen started its comeback a decade or so ago.

Today, people buy elegant pens -- fountain and otherwise -- not only for personal use but also as collectibles. A low-end but quality pen can be had for as low as $30, but just for you, Mr. Rouse would be willing to order a gold Montblanc encrusted with diamonds. All you'll need is $100,000.

Mr. Rouse, who is as ardent about writing instruments as others might be about a Rembrandt, says people want fine pens today as much for the writing grace as the statement they make. That statement, he says, is: "I've made it!"

"You don't want to close a $100,000 deal," he says, "by handing the guy a 50-cent Bic to sign the contract." Last May, $300,000 in medical supplies arrived in Lodz, Poland -- one more contribution to the betterment of Polish people and culture made possible by Stanley A. Ciesielski of Baltimore.

Mr. Ciesielski has been making such contributions since 1974, when he founded the Polish Heritage Association of Maryland, a group devoted to education about and preservation of his ancestral culture. The group sponsors lectures, conferences and concerts, and has established a fund that awards five $1,000 college scholarships every spring. Students do not have to be 100 percent Polish to qualify, says Mr. Ciesielski.

"We've had Ferraras, we've had Reillys" win the scholarships, he says. So long as the student has some Polish blood, he or she can apply.

Mr. Ciesielski, 85, whose parents were born in Poland, said he decided to establish the organization after he retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in 1972 after 23 years. He had a lot of time on his hands.

"I got some friends together and organized," he says. After a month or two, they were incorporated and holding regular meetings. The group now meets on the third Sunday of every month at the Joseph Center at Broadway and Eastern Avenue in Fells Point, also home to the Polish National Alliance Council No. 21, a group established in 1907.

After the state of Maryland established a sister city connection with the province of Lodz, Poland, Mr. Ciesielski got involved in an effort to send antibiotics, aspirin, gauze and bandages to the city of Lodz, Poland's second-largest city next to Warsaw. A local fund-raising effort never materialized, so Mr. Ciesielski contacted a friend who works for Americares, which has sent medical supplies all over the world. Last May 6, a freighter carrying $300,000 worth of supplies left the Port of Baltimore bound for Poland.

Arthur Hirsch

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