Elephant and Coral and me.

Heaven is on the second floor of
Wheelock Place. It goes by the name Elephant and Coral, and I could not leave it
without paying homage to each and every pen on display.

I have a very bad habit of wandering
into National Bookstore and leaving with pens. Never just one. I must have every
Pilot gel pen ever made. G-1, G-2, G-Tec C4 and C3… One of the souvenirs I
brought home from Paris was the supremely kitschy Bic Millenium ballpen, the
stick we all grew up with in gaudy gold instead of yellow plastic. I have a tiny
collection of glass pens. (It is a tiny one because the damn things, being
glass, like to break and chip when I’m not looking.) I have dip pens, and
assorted nibs. I have a music nib, which I rarely use but like looking at; it
looks like a dustpan with five serrations. My elbow copperplate nib is rusted
beyond use. I have yet to find a store here that sells them. I have a Montblanc
149 with an OB nib. It has seen better days. I dropped it and broke the resin,
once. Off it went to be serviced, just like a car. I bought it after much
thought in 1996, when I was childless and fancy-free and somewhat foolish. It is
my best memory of that

Unfortunately for my wallet and
Lucien’s trust fund, I also like pencils. Clutch pencils (aka leadholders),
mechanical pencils, the Cretacolor Monolith (solid graphite, not woodclad),
giant multicolor pencils, mechanical pencils with colored lead (go, Pilot Eno!)
– I must have a representative of each category, and more than one, sometimes. I
am currently obsessed with the Montblanc Leonardo sketch pencil; it is a squat
version of the Meisterstuck, and it is very expensive for a pencil. It accepts
only 5.5 mm lead. (You can buy 6 mm in Sketchbooks. But 5.5 mm is an
idiosyncrasy.) It was the first item I asked to touch in Elephant and Coral.

It wasn’t the last. I saw Namiki
in person for the first time. I’ve only ever seen them online. I
was in the office, once, scrolling through the hand-lacquered designs. I checked
out the price of one I liked – and choked. Six thousand dollars! I suppose you
can’t be seen signing million-dollar contracts with a dinky Bic. (Although that
might have been comme il faut in the good old days of the dotcom boom.) I also
saw Graf von Faber Castell’s last three Pens of the Year; the latest one, with
snakeskin, reminds me of the wallets I always see in trade

I wasn’t too fond of the
ostentatious pens encrusted with filigree and sculpted to within a millimeter of
unusability. Perhaps men with larger hands can use them, and I’m sure they look
at home on 200-year old mother-of-pearl-inlaid writing desks, but I find them
precious to the point of twee.

I liked
the Conway Stewart Churchill ballpen they let me
play with. And a Stipula pen a la moderne that Elephant and Coral had
commissioned, from a design by Singapore Polytechnic University students – it
was sterling silver and resin, if I remember correctly, and was compact, with a
stub nib perfect for aspiring

I did come away with one
pen, after much wringing of hands. Thanks, Elsie, for graciously wiping my drool
off the shelves, and making the process half less painful and that much more