THE LOST ART OF THE PEN
Daly’s Pen Shop owner still relishes the beauty and simplicity of the instrument

By Gay Griesbach - Special to Conley Media

May 3, 2019

 Brad Bodart is pictured Tuesday at the Hampton Inn and Suites in West Bend, where he was in town to buy pens, as well as the ink that fuels them.
Gay Griesbach/Special to Conley Media

WEST BEND — Brad Bodart doesn’t collect pens — he finds them new homes.

Bodart grew up with stationery; his parents owned Pen and Pad in Mayfair Mall. At the age of 10, his favorite place in the store was the pen section.

In 1999, he bought Pen and Pad’s competitor, Daly’s Pen shop. Daly’s opened its doors in downtown Milwaukee in 1924 and is billed as America’s oldest pen shop.

A portion of Bodart’s customers were of the millennial generation, but they favored less-expensive fountain pens — Pilot Metropolitans, futuristic looking TWSBI, German-manufactured Kaweco, all of which can be purchased for under $40.

Not exactly profitable.

Some customers would visit his brick-and-mortar store to try various writing instruments, but would buy pens online. Once they got the pen and weren’t sure how to use it, they’d return to the store for instruction.

Instead of fighting the eBays and Amazons of the world, five years ago he moved to selling vintage writing instruments online. He closed the physical store about a year ago.

Now Bodart’s customer base is worldwide, especially in Europe and Asia, where fountain pens are still in common use.

Traveling from his home base in Wauwatosa, Bodart and by extension, Daly’s turned to the road to replenish his inventory.

Bodart sat in the Glacier Conference Room of the Hampton Inn and Suites in West Bend equipped with a smartphone, iPad and an array of fountain pens and inks that were brought in that morning.

By mid-day March 30, traffic had slowed.

He did pick up a couple of 1940s-era Schaefer pen sets and a few sundry items, but last week in Madison, he bought a 400-piece collection.

“You never know what will walk in the door,” Bodart said.

He buys and sells classic name brands; Parker, Waterman, Sheaffer, Montblanc, Pelikan, Omas, vintage and pre-owned fountain pens, ballpoint pens, roller balls and pencils along with ink wells, nibs and other ancillary items.

Bodart said that often, pens that can go on writing are thrown away when children clear out an elderly parent’s home.

Last year in Beloit, he bought a collection from a daughter whose mother worked at the Parker Pen Company, founded in 1888 by George Safford Parker in Janesville. The company closed its doors in Janesville in 2009.

After looking through the bulk of the collection, the woman opened her purse and pulled out a box with three prototype Parker Vacumatic pens.

Bodart guessed that her mother worked for one of the higher managers and was probably sent to the archives to retrieve the prototypes. Since pens, especially at a pen company, move from here to there, hand to hand, it’s likely the Vacumatics found their way into her desk.


Rarities

But his biggest prize was a hand-painted Parker Duofold. Duofolds had their world premiere in early 1921.

“When it came into the store I wasn’t sure what it was,” Bodart said.

He had a Parker expert come in to identify the instrument and sold it to a man in Chile.

The find earned him a six-page spread in “Pen World,” a niche magazine for fans of fine writing instruments.

“I’ve never found one like it before or since,” Bodart said.

When it comes to personal writing instruments, Bodart’s weapon of choice is a Parker 45 cap-actuated ballpoint pen and he prefers a broad stroke.

Bodart said he doesn’t seek out pens once owned by the rich and famous since provenance is difficult to prove, but he once owned a Cross Townsend with Barack Obama’s official presidential seal.

For decades, presidents used Parker or Cross pens.

President Donald Trump’s bold signature comes from the nib of a Cross Century II rollerball pen with felt insert, Bodart said.

He still has a once-signed photo of former President George H.W. Bush from 1980 — the problem being that the ink on the signature faded to nothing.

Bodart disparages the loss of teaching cursive in most schools.

His German grandmother wrote recipes in flowing formal script that nowadays is as difficult to decipher as cursive is to those in school after Common Core standards dropped cursive from required curriculums.

“It’s a shame kids don’t learn cursive,” he said. “What they didn’t realize is that they also removed the thought process, the artistry, the spark in the brain.”

But not for a sector of the millennial generation. Type “learn cursive writing” into a computer and hundreds of suggestions pop up instantly. They are taking cursive classes and learning to decode messages from their parents and grandparents.

For more information about Bodart and Daly’s, including his pen buying calendar, see www.dalyspenshop.com.