Mightier Than The Sword
Tom Fitzmorris shares his abiding love of fountain pens.
You may not always agree with what Tom Fitzmorris says about a restaurant on his radio show, but you can never say he is boring. A dynamic, opinionated New Orleans native who was born on Mardi Gras day, Tom is a man of many talents and quirks.
"I would never use a cheap ballpoint pen–or even an expensive one," he says as he takes out his latest favorite fountain pen to write a few notes. "Fountain pens are for great men of letters. You don't think Shakespeare wrote with a ballpoint pen do you?"
Tom’s long love affair with fountain pens began in the sixth grade at St. Rita’s Catholic School in Harahan when the nun who was the principal decreed that everyone from the fifth grade up had to start doing schoolwork with a fountain pen.
“I was a good Catholic boy and I never ignored what the sisters told me to do,” he says with a smile. “And she never told us to stop using a fountain pen. So, to this day, I write with fountain pens exclusively.”
He evens remembers his first fountain pen.
“It was a Schaeffer cartridge pen,” he recalls. “It cost 99 cents and included two ink cartridges. A pack of five more cartridges was 99 cents, and a bottle of ink was 45 cents.”
He goes on to tell how his doting mother named Aline found the perfect way to reload the ink cartridges.
“She worked in Central Supply at Ochsner Hospital at the time, and brought home a couple of syringes with bluntly cut needles. We would suck the ink out of the bottle with the syringe, and refill the cartridges.”
Fortunately, success smiled on Tom and in 1974 he become editor of New Orleans Magazine and he could upgrade the quality of his writing mode to the respected Parker Presidential pen.
“Now I have three of them,” he says with pride. “My first Parker Presidential pen was my gift to myself when I became the editor, and I clearly remember that it cost $37.95 at Cambias Office Supply in the Kuntz Building on Baronne Street, where they had a guy who did nothing but sell and repair fountain pens. It was a beauty made of sterling silver with a crosshatch design over the barrel and cap. I still have the pen, and it’s in active rotation with my collection of pens. The nib has been replaced five times, the grip once, the filler three times, and the cap twice. The only original part of the pen is the barrel, but to me it’s still the same pen.”
Tom has owned three gold-nibbed Mont Blanc pens, considered by many to be the Rolls Royce of fountain pens.
“I even owned one of the big fat classic Mont Blancs,” he says. “I just don’t find them especially better than my Parkers.”
And what was the most expensive fountain pen he ever owned?
“It was a Cartier, given to me as a bridge by a restaurant owner that went out of business too soon after for me to return it.”
The well-known food critic with the longest ongoing food show on the air in the country, and currently on WWWL-radio (3WL-1350) from noon to 6 p.m. five days a week and on Saturdays when it isn’t preempted by a live sports broadcast, tells the sad story of the demise of his Cartier pen.
“It was a beautiful pen that wrote well until someone sat down at my desk and needed to write something. She (and, yes, I know who she is) couldn’t get it to write, so she bore down on it – which is what ballpoint people do when a pen won’t write. It destroyed the nib and it wouldn’t write anymore. Sure, I’ll get it repaired some day. Right now it’s just a relic.”
Finding just the right ink is part of the joy of being a fountain pen junkie.
“I happen to like Levenger because it sells good ink in unusual colors,” he says. “One of my co-workers at the radio station gave me a bottle of Cobalt Blue ink, and I took a liking to it.”
Today Tom owns 11 fountain pens.
“That’s nothing for a real hobbyist,” he says. “I’ve seen catalogs that offer wood cabinets made to hold hundreds of pens. I’m not that crazy. And by the way, my three Mont Blanc pens were lost in Katrina, but all of my other pens survived. For that reason, I will never buy another Mont Blanc.”