By. Garrett Mack
There’s a sanctuary in the French Quarter, and its shelves are stocked with beautiful things. The vibrant bodies of fountain pens shimmer inside their glass display cases. Little wooden boxes show off bottled inks. Special brands of paper, reserved only for calligraphy, are arranged by weight and size and stored in individual slits built into a shelf designed to such meticulous parameters that it couldn’t possibly be used for anything else. It’s a stationary store that sells paper goods, wax seals, and fine writing instruments. It’s called Papier Plume, located at Royal and Dumaine. Papier Plume exemplifies the kind of business we feared had vanished in the wave of automation that’s computerized so many industries. There’s a specific pleasure to physically handling the product you will one day sell. The store’s owner, a kind, humble man by the name of Patrick, knows firsthand the significance of craftsmanship in his line of work. Standing at his drafting desk, Patrick resembled a Renaissance artisan with his endless to-do list spread out before him in the form of taken-apart pens and recipes for ink. Patrick spoke with particular reverence about the joy he takes in repairing pens, even going so far as to liken them to his children. During an interview, he lifted a cloth-wrapped pair of pens from a box labeled “Finished.” Inside the fabric were two green-lacquered beauties, waiting to go home. He almost seemed disappointed by the knowledge that, eventually, he’d have to part with them. “I used to personalize every box,” Patrick mentioned, motioning to a stack of freshly-stained boxes that soon enough would hold calligraphy kits. “But now, there’s just so many.” It would appear that the demand for handwriting supplies still flourishes in a world of digital communication. Of course, the pens in question bear little resemblance to those sloppy, dime-a-dozen Bics you can borrow from any slack-jawed commoner in your morning lecture. Papier Plume sells everything from industry standards like the svelte, sleek Lamy Safari (a plastic “beginner” fountain pen meant for everyday use) to what are commonly referred to
in fountain pen communities as “grail pens.” Some of these top-tier pens boast impressive descriptions. The Kaweco AC Sport has a barrel made from carbon fiber. Platinum routinely rolls out fresh models fashioned from ebony and gold. Some designers, like the little-known Cleo Skribent, make their name through their intricately-inscribed nibs. Patrick continues to dedicate himself to exploring beauty through the art of writing. Lately, he’s been working to perfect new ink formulas for Papier Plume’s personal brand of fountain pen inks. Behind the desk sits the inaugural box of fresh colors, yet to be released, and already Patrick’s working on the next batch. A glance at his notebook reveals the fine details of mixing dyes, as he records the same stripe of green over and over, each one with 5mL more of yellow dye.
It’s an international effort. Patrick ships samples between here and France, where his chemist works. Of course, what seems intricate on its nose is mere scratchwork to Patrick. “I have other notebooks with more serious records,” he said. “I could show you if you’d like.”
Papier Plume has housed some truly unique specimens. One visitor spoke legends of a commemorative Titanic
pen whose grip was forged from a salvaged fragment of the sunken ship’s hull. It was estimated to sell for around $10,000. Today, the Titanic pen has gone off to live with its new owner, but Papier Plume never lets their dazzling collection grow dull. The hot item on everybody’s lips right now is a pen made from hardened lava. A limited-edition Carnival pen, a grail you could only get by visiting the store in person, fascinates the eye. Inside its clear enamel, ribbons of gold, green, and violet dance in a swirl, like confetti brought to life and then preserved forever in the prime of their youth. Only thirty were made in the world, and they’re already sold out. The store runs on the passions of its superior staff, who handle their pens like Faberge Eggs. You can really see the horror in their eyes when a family brings in a rambunctious child. But even the most over-caffeinated seem to leave their chaos at the door. Papier Plume is a store you walk around with your hands behind your back. You don’t do it because you’re afraid of getting caught touching something, or because you’re being watched. You do it out of the inherent respect for beautiful things, and at Papier Plume, beautiful things run from wall to wall.