For many pen lovers, celluloid harkens back to the golden age of the pen industry. Renowned for its comfortable and velvety hand-feel and its durability, celluloid is considered one of the premier materials used in the penmaking process. But if that’s the case, why isn’t it more common? And, from a consumer side, why is it so expensive?
In an investigation with Inkstable, it appears that the expense of celluloid today has a lot to do with the common economic principle of supply and demand. Today, hardly any pen manufacturers use celluloid and, because of this, smaller batch productions are done, resulting in higher overall costs. Brands like Montegrappa, Maiora, and the recently-resurrected OMAS have all dabbled in celluloid, but all in all, the sight of a celluloid pen is a rarity on the market.
Which is a shame, when one thinks about it. Celluloid pens are remarkably durable and have an exceptional level of vibrancy when mixed with colors. Up until the advent of plastics and acrylics, celluloid was the de rigeur selection for luxury pen making. But, unfortunately, acrylics are cheaper and faster to produce, making it the preferred option for manufacturers who produce large-bulk production lines for their global markets.
This leads me to the second point on why celluloid pens are so expensive. It’s because celluloid is unlike any other material for making a beautiful pen. To produce celluloid, a manufacturer must first produce cellulose through breaking down the raw materials of wood, cotton fiber, or other organic matter into a pulp. The cellulose is then mixed with nitrate to create a material that has elastic qualities but is stable enough to produce a durable material when hardened. During the liquid phase of the material, color extracts are added and blended into the cellulose, giving it that distinctive swirl and color dimension to the pen.
Again, because this process is not done on a large scale anymore, and because of the time consuming nature (and danger – the nitrate procedure can be flammable), it means that only small batches are produced and replaced with easier materials to move, such as plastics.
Finally, one sees expenses when considering the second-hand and deadstock market. OMAS was known for using vintage and deadstock rods to create their celluloid pens, going back into the archives of celluloid producers and using up stock they could find to create limited pens. The very nature of using limited resources means that the price will be inflated to cover the raw expenses of buying the material – and the time needed to craft these sorts of pens for the modern user. That means that, more often than not, celluloid pens have some sort of hand-crafted nature to them, making the price account for human intervention versus machine automation.
All in all, while the sticker price of a celluloid pen make seem higher than what you may pay for a comparable resin, acrylic, or even metal pen, one cannot deny the intrinsic beauty and velvety feel of a celluloid pen when in use. It’s a testament to the popularity of this material that, nearly a century later, pen lovers still sing the praises of celluloid and flock to new celluloid pens when they’re available.
So if you ever seen a celluloid pen at a pen show or for sale from a contemporary brand, I suggest taking a close look and, if possible, writing with one. I promise you, you won’t think the price is so high after that.
This article is wonderfully written. However, there’s a few points I would like to cover.
Firstly, not all celluloid fountain pens are expensive. The ones which are generally considered on the pricier side mainly come from the original Omas and to some extent Montegrappa. However, if you look at vintage Swan, Schaefer, Parker you can pick up a bargain!
I feel the main issue with the decline of celluloid has more to do with the flammability of the material. As pretty as it is, celluloid can be highly prone to heat…not only that, it will off gas causing issues to metals if stored close by.
Modern plastics can offer incredible depths and to be honest it’s only a matter of time that we will see synthetic plastics offering the same depth of celluloid.
Anyway, it was a great read! Hope this doesn’t come off as negative, I just felt that readers should also consider these points before splashing out.