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Susanne and Patrick Clay. Photo/Ken Downie

Whanganui's unexpected specialist store

For classicists, the pen you choose says as much about you as your watch or shoes.

The last time Susanne Clay used an ordinary ballpoint pen was to fill out an immigration document. “Why a ballpoint?” asks her husband Patrick, with a slightly horrified expression. “Because,” she replies, “it’s required by law.”

The couple run a specialist stationery shop, Inkt, on Whanganui’s main street and it has the largest selection of fountain pens in New Zealand – so the thought that one of them might employed a common Biro is almost grounds for divorce.

Patrick began using a fountain pen when he sat his School Certificate exams. “I even managed to do my accounting degree with the same fountain pen,” he says. “Unfortunately, I lost it at the end of the course.”

Today, the classic ink-filled pen is back in fashion, not so much as a working tool for the classroom or the office, but as a personal luxury accessory. Catering to a sizeable market of enthusiasts and collectors, Inkt has a selection of some 200 fountain pens, ranging from as little as $6 to an eye-watering $1500. But even the cheap ones look good. “People tend not to walk off with your pen if it’s a bit more fancy,” says Patrick. “And the more expensive it is, the more you tend to keep a pretty good eye on it.”

The rhodium-coated Caran d’Ache Varius Ivanhoe has a gold-plated nib.

The shop’s collection of some 500 different pens also includes calligraphy pens, rollerball pens, ball pens, inkball pens and gel pens. There are 300 different inks to choose from, as well as old-fashioned blotters, sealing wax and seals, nib holders, paper and all sorts of accessories. But if it’s a basic ballpoint you’re after, you will need to go elsewhere.

Susanne still has the Cross fountain pen her parents gave her when she graduated from university in the mid-80s. Often gifted to mark a rite of passage or important birthdays, top-shelf pens also tend to be bought by people who intend to use them.

Pen ink.

“Take the Caran d’Ache Varius Ivanhoe, it’s a tactile experience,” says Patrick. “The engineering, the design and the sleek lines – it’s just a beautiful object.” A symbol of power and success, with rhodium coating and a gold-plated nib, it will last a lifetime for a mere $1350.

After running an online store for seven years, the couple left Auckland for a small lifestyle block just out of Whanganui and opened Inkt in a historic building on Victoria Ave in 2017. They commute to and from the shop in their 1979 Porsche 911 – which explains the way Patrick compares the modern disposable pen with his preferred classic writing tool: “You push a ballpoint, but you steer a fountain pen.”

Seals for wax.

This article was first published in the October 2019 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email for more great stories.