March 31, 2014

Freud’s Fountain Pen

        The pre-2003 Zoss List archive on eScribe is totally, irretrievably lost, so here’s a blast from the past, namely from 1998.  Carlos Henrique Jacob wrote on Zoss on Mar 30, 2002, “My fountain pen drive (Freud would call it a sex drive) began a few years ago when I found an old Parker 51 that belonged to my grandfather”.  Well, let’s talk about Papa Freud’s pen drive.  The Sigmund Freud Museum was used as a film set in David Cronenbergs film A Dangerous Method, and more recently, in the first episode of Simon Schama’s PBS series, The Story of the Jews
both of which included some scenes showing Sigmund Freud’s collection of antiquities in his psychoanalytic consultation study, and it made me think of something I posted on Zoss on Dec 19, 1998.  I posted about one of the actual fountain pens that Freud owned.  This is what I wrote.
       “Here’s an interesting pen-sighting for all those living in or traveling to the Washington DC area before Jan 16, 1999.  You might want to take advantage of the opportunity to see a show of Sigmund Freud manuscripts and his
collection of ancient artifacts at the Library of Congress.  The show continues at the LC until the above date and then moves on to New York, Vienna, and Los Angeles.  Included among the other articles on display is Freud’s fountain pen!
       “More information on the exact show dates can still be found
online.  [I can’t believe that this link is still alive!]  And there’s a review of the show in the New Yorker on Nov 9, 1998, on page 53.  The reviewer mentions, “a stark, glass-enclosed room in which Freud’s fountain pen, his spectacles and case, and sundry archeological talismans are laid out on a desk”.
       “Also, in case you are interested, there is a book on Freud’s art collection by Lynn Gamwell and Richard Wells, Sigmund Freud And Art: His Personal Collection Of Antiquities (1989).  There are pictures on pages 14 and 28 showing his consultation rooms in Vienna and London with his desk and all the artifacts laid out on it, and standing upright in a little alabaster vase is his pen.”
        And Bart Grossman asked, “Please don’t leave us in suspense.  What kind of pen is it?”.  Dave Lambert wrote, “C’mon, cut the suspense!  What kind of pen is it?”.  Nancy Handy wrote, “How big was it?”.  Bernadette Landolf-Fritsche wrote, “I bet his PEN was huge”.  Brent Wilson wrote, “I’m suffering from a chronic case of pens envy.  Sorry, couldn’t resist”.  So I finally put them all out of their misery.
       “Oh, sorry.  Did I neglect to mention what kind of pen Freud used?  Call it a Freudian slip.  First of all, you have to understand that I live up in the mid-western prairies of Canada, so I have not had an opportunity to attend the show at the Library of Congress, and I haven’t seen the pen that they have on display there.  But from the two photos in the book about Freud’s art collection, one photo of his consulting room in Vienna, and the other of his consulting room in London, his pen appears to have been an early, red hard rubber Mont Blanc Safety pen, one from the 1910s or 20s.  And what size is it?  It’s a pen with perhaps a #8, #10, or #12 nib.  It’s an enormous, almost tumescent, all-red pen, except for the suggestive, white, dripping star on the tip of the cap,

       “It may be true that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a pen is just a pen, but in some cases, at least, it seems justified to make the comparison between a pen and a phallus.  When it comes to pens, and size, and wish fulfillment, and pen envy, and just how well-endowed we prefer our pens to be, it seems that we can live out our personal fantasies.  Well, Papa Freud liked his pens big and red.  So do most serious, big-time pen collectors.  Its easy to have a great collection of pens.  All you need is a lot of money.
       “Now, I don’t know whether the pen in the book and the pen on display in the show are the same pen.  To find out for sure, we’ll have to await the reports of some of the Zoss List irregulars from the DC area who have attended the show, even though we can only participate in this great pen experience vicariously.”
        Bruce Herbitter wrote, “Wow, talk about Freudian!  Or is that Jungian?”.  And Jon Rosenbaum wrote, “While I really don’t care about the size or even the make of Freud’s pen, your post was most amusing!  As they say, ‘Keep it up’”.
        Now, what would Papa Freud the pen collector have made of all this?  He would have had a field day with it, especially with a red hard rubber safety pen in the #20 size with its propel-repel nib!  Try pulling back the foreskin–I mean, screwing the pen out–I mean, propelling the nib.  A nib is sort of shaped like a little helmet, isn
t it?  Its in the furbelow, down in the fen.  “Alright, enough”, I can hear you say, “sometimes a pen is just a pen”.*  Just don’t forget to put a space between those two red words.
        The pen should be back on display in the consultation room in the Freud Museum in London, so maybe somebody could check it out for for the rest of us.

* Footnote, Apr 7, 2014.
        Concerning not forgetting to put a space between those two red words, I discovered that in 1993 when I was writing a brief, literary history of the fountain pen through a survey of the literature on its origins and evolution.  It turned out to be 20 pages long, single spaced.  Well, if you write something about fountain pens, you will inevitably use the words “pen” and “is” together in the same sentence, you know, “the pen is this”, and “the pen is that”, that sort of thing.  But when I performed a spellcheck on the text, low and behold, I found the word “penis” in my text.  And I thought to myself, “Where the hell did that come from?  I didn’t use that word”.  So I reread the surrounding text to get a better sense of the context, and then it donned on me.  
I forgot to put a space between those two red words.

Addendum, Aug 7, 2015.
        When I wrote the above post, I had not seen the pen in the exhibit, and I did not have access to original, detailed, digital photos, but since then, some new information has turned up online.
        It always troubled me that the pen in this
color photo, and this detail, didn’t look decisively orange-red.  It looked more like a red and black mottled, or red ripple hard rubber pen.  But then this other color photo of what purports to be Freud’s fountain pen shows up, well, at least what purports to be one of Freud’s pens, yet another one.  It looks like a Waterman’s #7 red ripple pen with a red nib, by the looks of the color band.  So maybe this pen is the same as the one in the above color photo and detail, and the same as the muddled red pen on the desk in this photo.
        This doesn’t invalidate the identity of the pen in this other
black & white photo of Freud’s desk in Vienna.  It’s still a large Montblanc Safety pen with a big, dripping, white splat on the cap, but now I have to admit that it looks much more like a conservative black hard rubber pen.
        It pains me to have to take back some of what I wrote before, because what I said was funny.  But now I have to revise it to say, “Papa Freud liked his pens big and black”, which is also funny, but in a different way., image 12  !  !!!!  !  !  !

George Kovalenko.