When I lived in New York City, I could have found Art Brown International Pen Shop blindfolded. Squarely in the middle of the grid that is midtown, they were impossible to miss.
They moved in 2008 or 2009 to what I thought, foreshadowing, was a way-too-blingy all-glass façade one block south on West 45th Street. Nevertheless, I relished long walks to the shop at midday, leaving behind my office job for an hour. I could browse, occasionally buy, and keep myself topped up with notebooks. Walking down the Avenue of the Americas on a business-day noontime is no one’s definition of fresh air, but stepping into Art Brown, oddly, was.
Art Brown Pen Shop closed on Friday, August 2nd, with very little warning. The news reached me through a blooming e-mail trail of shock and surprise from members of the Big Apple Pen Club.
I clicked down through the messages, picking up fragments of firsthand accounts. Although I left New York only 18 months ago, this is a huge nostalgic flare to memory — one way, already, that the city will never seem the same to me.
What do I have in my collection that came from Art Brown International Pen Shop? Into my drawers and cases I went, into my holders and wraps. Here’s the tangible legacy I found:
Modest pens, all of them, collectively representing less than $1,000 out the door. They are “users,” as pen folk call them. All these pens have heavily seen journal or story-drafting duty. Because they’re all fine pens, however – and this is why you choose them – none look any worse for their wear.
The earliest pen there is at third from left in the group photo, and above. A Lamy Dialog 1 from 2003, purchased on a weekday where I wasn’t working. My wife and I were shopping for wedding party gifts, and I bought the Dialog “at the groom’s discretion.” We used this pen to sign our marriage license and I carried it in the jacket pocket of my wedding suit.
The most recent purchase – and one of the most heavily used, as evidenced by the dirty nib – is this Lamy 2000, a gorgeously rich-writing extra-fine. This Lamy was one of those impulse purchases made over a lunch hour — I must have been having a not-so-nice day at work.
By the autumn and winter of 2011, I was halfway gone from New York City already. Our decision to relocate to the West Coast was no longer a question of “if” but “when.” This pen made the “road-trip” rotation, with me in the pen slots of my messenger bag as we drove across the United States.
One note: for all my love of Art Brown on this post, I do remember haggling with the Art Brown sales assistant on the Lamy 2000. The store had the frustrating but shameless New York-y habit of baiting and switching between online prices discounted 20% but showing, in-store, the full retail price.
I’m going to try and have reviews and personal histories of each pen individually in the future. Just wanted to get this post out there as an in memoriam to somewhere I will miss returning.
New York was a city that, until August 2, 2013, could boast of three or more destination-worthy brick-and-mortar pen shops. I will mention how Fountain Pen Hospital thrives on Warren Street for bling, brands, and killer deals. Stevdan Stationers in three locations around Greenwich Village makes for an awesome treasure hunt of new old stock.
Despite how I believe enthusiasm for writing instruments and writing remains vibrant — just in more virtual forms, like this one — I don’t think any American city can now say they have more than two storefronts.
Art Brown was a classic New York place I loved for as long I could, and won’t forget, any more than I’ll ever stop being a handwriting type, or a New Yorker.