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Collecting Writing Gear

Bernard Maisner writes himself into history with his collection of antique writing paraphernalia.By Melissa Ozawa

By Melissa Ozawa

While most of us have traded in our pens for texts and emails, esteemed calligrapher and fine stationer Bernard Maisner continues to collect them. For more than 30 years, he has been practicing the fine art of writing, meticulously and artfully hand-lettering pieces such as wedding invitations and stationery. "Calligraphy is a craft of a bygone era. I do it the simple, old-fashioned way, with an antique pen nib and holder, ink, and paper," he says. "I feel energized when working with tools that are beautiful and have stood the test of time." His large collection includes old pen nibs and holders, inkwells, portable writing desks ("they were the laptop computers of their day"), wax seals, and samples of different scripts for inspiration. His earliest holder dates back to the mid-1800s, about a century after the industrial revolution rendered quills obsolete. While many of these tools are necessary for Maisner's work, his love for them surpasses mere utility. "I enjoy being part of the lineage of unknown artists and scribes before me," he says, "who held these very pens and wrote letters of business, law, and love."

Script Notes

Bernard Maisner on his writing-related treasures:

How I Got Started

I became hooked when I purchased some pen nibs housed in an early-1900s wooden display case. Once I saw the beauty of the case itself, I knew I wanted to collect objects from the era of writing and paper communication.

My Strategy

I scour antiques stores, auction houses, and bookstores, check eBay several times a week (using generic search terms, such as "calligraphy pen nibs"), and try to form personal relationships with dealers. The New York Antiquarian Book Fair, held every April, is a treasure chest of written documents and books.

What I Won't Pass Up

Old pen nibs are essential to my work. If I find a type I like, I will buy 500 at a time. The metal ones from the late 1800s to the 1950s are far superior to the ones produced today, which are made of a lesser-quality steel.

The Piece I Cherish Most

I recently bought a wax seal of two interlocking hands. Wax seals were the alarm systems of their day: They revealed the identity of the sender and provided security for documents. My hands are my livelihood, so I especially appreciate a piece that honors the human hand.

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