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Tony's LA: Meet the King of Fountain Pens

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Los Angeles, CA -

(FOX 11) In this edition of his Fox 11 Special, "Tony's L.A." host Tony Valdez meets the people and takes us to the places that make Los Angeles so unique.

Meet the King of Fountain Pens. He sells them, repairs them, collects them, and keeps a centuries-old tradition alive.

Perhaps a rare commercial from about 1952 illustrates that point. It's advertising from the Golden Age of television which in today's terms looks like a scene right out of "Mad Men."

In the ad, Vivian Vance, in character as Ethel Mertz from the "I Love Lucy" show, says:

"Hello Lucy, I just got Fred's Christmas present, a Sheaffer snorkel pen, you know, the one you fill without getting in the ink, hmm? no, I mean the pen doesn't get in the ink (chuckles) only the little tube does."

Back then in Los Angeles, The Fountain Pen Shop was the place to buy a Sheaffer, or any other kind of writing instrument. The Shop was in the Metropolitan Building on 5th Street between Broadway and Hill.

The building's best remembered for the large J.J. Newsberry five-and-dime store that was on the street floor.

After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Fred Krinke, the third generation owner of the Fountain Pen Shop, decided to pack up his pens--thousands of them--and move to Monrovia in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley.

The move saved Fred 300 miles of commuting every week.

Stepping into the current version of the Fountain Pen Shop is like going into a time warp. The display cases, brought over from downtown are now 60-years old.

The big, bold and beautiful safe is even older. The writing instruments range from classics and collectibles to whatever's on the cutting edge of technology and fashion.

But its customer care that's kept the Fountain Pen Shop successful for all of its 91-years.

"This is one of the things I like my customers to do is to try a pen before they buy it, which is kind of hard to do on the Internet," one customer said.

It's also nearly impossible to make these curliques and write with any kind of flourish without using a fountain pen.

As if on cue, this was when Mark Bauman, a young student walked into the Fountain Pen Shop to buy a bottle of ink for his two fountain pens.

Baystate Blue is based on a formula used in colonial times when people took their handwriting, especially their signature, and their pens very seriously.

"I do like the feel of them, I'm in law school and I find that writing out things by hand helps me remember them a lot, and you don't get hand cramps as much," said Bauman.

If Fred had had his way, he would have been a musician, playing piano or sax, preferably in Stan Kenton's band which headlined in the 50s and 60s at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa.

Fred eventually decided to work with his father and his grand father and nowhere is the wisdom of that decision more obvious than in the workshop, filled with old but reliable tools that can be used to fix an old friend.

"Maybe they'll accidentally drop it and get the pen point or the nib out of alignment, or it's badly bent, I can straighten those nibs if they're not too badly bent and realign them and get them back into working order," Fred said.

Fred can also spruce up a newly discovered writing companion.

"That's why I pick up all these pens wherever I can find them, I've got boxes and boxes of old pen parts, behind you is shelf after shelf of vintage pen parts, some of them are 60, 70, 80 years old and they're brand new."

There are very few places that can do the kind of repair and restoration work that Fred is known for.

"I've had people call me from all over the United States asking if I can restore their pen," he said. "They'll go to a yard sale or they'll open an old desk, and 'oh, there's an old fountain pen, let's see if it's worth anything.'"

In a different context, that's the question for Fred Krinke. His love of music and his lifetime's work have turned into something worth a lot, to him and to others.

"For my own Elks Lodge in Duarte, for 60 some odd years I've been their organist, 62 years to be exact ... I like working with pens, I like working with people and that's the name of the game as far as I'm concerned!"

More Information:

Fountain Pen Shop - (626) 294-9974

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Austin, TX 78701

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