The Black Pen Society

The History of the Black Pen Society

As told by the Grand Poobah

At one of the larger pen shows, twenty years or so ago, I was sitting around chatting with Bob Novak and the discussion turned to why black pens were not as popular or as expensive as some of their more colorful counterparts. "I can't understand it," I said, "I think black pens are more beautiful and more elegant than just about any other pen." Bob agreed. We went on to talk about the merits of black pens, and on that day the Black Pen Society was born.

The Black Pen Society went on for some time without any attempt to get others to join or to formalize “the society” in any way. At some point Tom Heath joined us but that was it; it was just the three of us. When I’d met Tom and Bob at pen shows the topic of black pens almost always came up. On occasion, we even brought some of our favorite black pens along for show and tell.

Years passed. I knew that there were more pen collectors who liked black pens, and at some point I began thinking of ways to formalize the Black Pen Society. I was sure I could pin down a way to bring us all together. One day, while I was in flight to a pen show, I thumbed through the airline’s magazine and came across an advertisement for lapel pins for any occasion. I took the magazine home with me and went to work.

We started off as a secret society though I can’t remember why. Maybe we wanted to fuel our rebellious spirit. A few of us were probably a bit ashamed of liking pens that no one else liked. Some of us may have even felt a bit superior to those who simply didn't get it, but knew that it would be impolite to say so out loud. We went underground; we went against the mainstream culture populated by collectors who had succumbed to the flash and charm of colorful pens. We saw what other collectors could not see—the elegant and understated charm of pens most collectors scorned and turned their backs to. Pity them!

Those who were at the first gathering knew that our secret society was anything but secret. Word got out, and our first annual meeting at the Washington DC Supershow where quite a group of people showed up at "the pit" where all annual meetings are now held. I believe the first year pins were handed out at that meeting.

There were almost one hundred of us at the time, and the first year Black Pen Society pin was an instant success. Today it is highly sought after by new members as are all the early pins since only limited numbers were made. The first year pin continues to be one of my favorites. As you look at the pin, you can't help but notice that it reads "BLACKPENSOCIETY" in a circular uninterrupted pattern, making it difficult to pick out what the letters spell. I told our original members, now known as the founding fathers, not to lose their pins because one day they would become highly collectible. Only one-hundred originals were made.

I made the second year pin even more difficult to read that the first year pin and only two-hundred of them were made. I must admit that I really like this pin since it is different from all the others. Many of our members had a difficult time deciphering the letters on this pin. I'll leave it to you to figure it out.

The third year pin was the first pin with the words "BLACK PEN SOCIETY" right out in the open. This was actually a mistake. I had difficulty explaining to the pin manufacturer that I wanted the words semi-hidden behind the feather. Of course, they knew what they were doing better than I did and the pin turned out to be one of my favorites.

The fourth year pin is referred to as the "Halloween pin" which, if you'll forgive me, is one of our best pins to date. I'm particularly proud of the way this pin turned out, and I was pretty disappointed that I didn't have the pin in time for our annual meeting. I had to pass out the pin at other pen shows and I know that many of our west coast members waited quite a long time for their pin. Some of our members kept trying to connect Edgar Allen Poe to this pin. If you see the connection-fine, but believe me it is totally unintentional. If it makes our BPS brothers and sisters happy, so much the better! Besides, I suppose it just adds to the "Halloween" spirit.

The fifth-year pin is our first collaborative pin. It was designed by my daughter Sarah who wanted it to have an Art Deco flavor. Since she is not the best sketcher in the world, she invited Ian K. to help out. Ian added a few Goth elements, and a few additional design changes were made by the pin company because they couldn't include all the detail in Ian's original sketch. I must admit, the fifth year pin may be one of the very best so far!

I could go on and on about each year's pin. Maybe I'll add the story behind the rest of the pins at some future date. The 2015 pins were designed by Marta Torres-Quinones, the 2017 pin is a special pin to commemorate our dear friend and Duke (Dutchess?)Susan Wirth. In 2018 we ended up with three pins, the one in purple being a special edition Washington DC Supershow pin. Not to mention the 2019 Bauhaus inspired pin designed by Michele McColgan. Then there was the year I felt badly for the members who would never be lucky enough to get a first year pin, so I made an exact replica except changed the color of the pin.

It's not that we don't like other pens. We do, but we're a little more interested in the qualities that black pens offer that other pens don't. Our annual meeting is at the Washington DC Supershow where we meet at night and discuss important questions like, "Can a Parker 51 really be a black pen?" Some of our members keep asking about a secret handshake, but there is no secret handshake. Anyone who is currently a member in the society can bring in another person, and it surprises me how few of our members know that. That initiate simply has to answer the following question: “So…what do you think about black pens?” In the entire history of the Black Pen Society, only two individuals were not allowed to join because they actually said they didn’t like black pens….repeadly!

In the early days of the society, possibly at the first meeting, there was an attempt at a bloodless coup to overthrow the Grand Poobah. The attempt failed and it was voted that the Grand Poobah shall forever be Grand Poobah. We have a Vice Grand Poobah, who led the bloodless coup, and three Co-Vice Grand Poobahs, who were initiated at the Baltimore pen show, after hours, in 2019. Also at that time, we expanded the responsibilities of another Duke to include the role of Pirate Caption, his duties and responsibilities being a closely guarded secret.

All original founding fathers hold the title of Duke, and they have been elevated to the position and title of Grande (with an “e”) Duke. Most of them don’t even know that or don’t remember. It generally takes about four years or more for members to become eligible for knighthood, but the Poobah can fast track individuals as warranted. Most Dukes have Dukedoms which are mostly located in parts of the United States, Canada, (including the Artic Circle), Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and possibly elsewhere.

Our numbers have grown considerably over the years and now there are hundreds and hundreds of us passing the word about black pens along. We are international in scope and future plans include the possibility of chapters located in other parts of the globe- the Swedish Chapter of the Black Pen Society, The U.K. Chapter, a Chinese Chapter, and so on. You may have guessed that we don't take ourselves too seriously. Our other goal is to have a little fun at pen shows. So, if you like black pens, even if you have difficulty getting to a pen show, you're invited to join us.

About that Fez

You may have seen photos of the Grand Poobah wearing a Fez. It was given to him in the early days of the Society by Grande Duke John Hall, and the GP wears it at every year’s annual meeting. It is only worn that one time during the year. If you think your eyes are playing tricks on you, they aren’t. There are horns of just the right proportion protruding from the fez. The fez has suffered great damage over the years including the loss of letters and a horn. Luckily, most of the letters were found stuck to the fez’s tassie and the horn reappeared out of the blue. A major reconstruction and upgrade to the fez was scheduled to be completed by the time of the 2020 annual meeting, but the Grand Poobah just received word that this year’s show is cancelled due to the pandemic. There will be no 2020 pin, a real disappointment.

A few final notes. Our recording secretary, Pat, started taking names of all the members, but she says she lost the list. Besides, we are growing so rapidly that we can't keep up. It's nice to think that so many people like black pens. It's even better to see so many of us get together each year and share in the fun. If you want in, all you have to do is show your appreciation and enjoyment of black pens. You can send me an email or tell one of our members why you believe you qualify to be a member. We'll believe you and welcome you. Hopefully, you'll show up at one of the pen shows and join us. You can order last year's pin here or you can see me at a show when this Covid madness is over and pick one up there.

In case the Grand Poobah got things a little mixed up, other members are invited to share their thought and remembrances about the society. I’ll put them up here on this web page.

Wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay healthy,

Your Grand Poobah


There are many misconceptions and rumors about the Black Pen Society. What follows is an edited list of edicts the Poobah published in 2015 on Facebook.

Grand Poobah’s Edicts Sept. 5, 2015

Hello, this is the Poobs. This is his first "stab" at Facebook. Please forgive me if I haven't responded to people. This whole Facebook thing is a little awkward for me. I've been getting lots of emails regarding the BPS so I've decided to issue a few edicts to clarify our rules for all our new members and for those who were not able to attend this year's annual meeting at the Washington DC Supershow. I also want to offer a few guidelines just to help keep things straight.

First, we are not a secret society. In the beginning we were a secret society, but we are now a very open and social society whose primary purpose is to spread awareness about the superb qualities of black pens, to have some light-hearted fun, and to connect with other collectors.

Second, Poobs is a pretty straight-forward Grand Poobah, and it's not necessary to use flowery language (Your Worshipful Master, Exalted Leader, Supreme Keeper of the Black Pen, etc.) when addressing him or as a feeble attempt to gain membership. In fact, it makes the Poobs a bit self conscious. If you feel you have to, the Poobah does understand. All pen lovers seeking membership into the society need do is answer the following question: "So, what do you think about black pens?" A correct response means membership.

Third, there is only one Grand Poobah. Someone from another country suggested that there would be a GP located there. Not so. As an aside, in correspondence with me you may see me close with Grand Poobah, poobs, GP, or possibly even pbs. It all means the same thing. I just tend to be less formal with people occasionally. Sometimes I just get sick of typing "Grand Poobah".

Fourth, new members keep asking if there is a secret handshake. There is no secret handshake, and though I remain open to the possibility. Thankfully, none has materialized.

Fifth, members should understand that while we really do like black pens, it's encouraged to like pens other than black as well. In fact, I'm thinking of making up a pin for members that says, "Yes We Do"

Six, people think that this Facebook page and the Journal website have the most relevant and up to date information on the Black Pen Society. They don't. The most relevant information about the society is in Paul's Fountain Pen Journal. I'm the Grand Poobah and I publish the Journal so it only makes sense. By the way, the Journal is home headquarters to the BPS. Please give that some thought.

Seven, lots of pen makers are in the Black Pen Society and are making their own black pens. Any member of the Black Pen Society is welcome and encouraged to make BPS sanctioned pens- the Poobs just asks that they touch bases with him first.

Eight, all members are responsible for getting their pins. We don't even have a list of all the members so he can’t contact you. In the last update in the Journal, Poobah suggested that someone step up and start recording the names of all those who join. It's a daunting task, but one that should probably be done at some point. Any volunteers?

Nine, we knighted and passed out knight pins at this year's annual meeting (2015). It's a big deal as only one-hundred knight pins were made. If we do get more knights, they will have a different pin to distinguish them from the first and original members.

Ten- sometimes the Poobs refers to himself in the third person. You may have noticed.

I'm sure there's more to cover, but that's it for now. I suppose I'll have to check into Facebook more often now that the BPS seems to be off and running.

Thank you for your attention.