I might be in love.
It’s one of those long-distance things. We haven’t met yet, but we will. Ohhh, we will.
The object of my affection is a pen. A very special-looking pen called the “Fat Boy.”
The Fat Boy is a wide-bodied pen about four inches in length and almost three times the diameter of a standard ballpoint pen. It has rubber grips and comes in an assortment of materials – aluminum, steel, copper, brass – and in unique designs with names like the Comet, the Silencer and the Teslacoil.
The pens use Parker-style refills and are outfitted with mechanisms made in Germany by Schmidt. They’re available in gel or rollerball, or with screw-in converters and fountain pen nibs, although those tend to be sold out.
Pen maker Michael Hochstetler of Bremen, Indiana hand-assembles the Fat Boys and sells them through his website, Michael’s Pens, and through the Fountain Pen Hospital in New York. They can be pricey, running from less than US$90 for the stock Comet gel pens to almost US$2,000 for the spiral-cut ergonomic Arcangelo sterling silver edition.
But Hockstetler says the pens are an easy sell.
“I usually just get them to try to write with it,” he said. “That usually wins them over.”
According to Hochstetler, he began working on pen designs back in the early 90s when he was a student at Notre Dame University. He’d noticed that he had developed calluses from writing and wanted a pen that offered a more comfortable writing experience.
That led him to create the patented Worm pen, a mass-produced 99 cent pen that had a spiral-shaped barrel to make natural resting places for the thumb and forefinger. To achieve the spiral shape, he had to start with a barrel that was much wider than normal. Hochstetler liked the wide-body style – even without the spiral cut into it – and evolved that into the Fat Boy around 2004.
He told his college alumni magazine a few years ago that the name “just came to me. It’s a fat pen. It gets people to smile when they say it.”
Hochstetler said he keeps the work on the pens local, relying on an Indiana machine shop to do the shaping and a nearby laser-worker for the etching. He assembles the pens at home, gets them ready for shipping and does a moderate amount of marketing.
In addition to the traditional models, he also has two ranges called the Believe and the Chai. The Believe edition bears a Catholic cross and the words “Believe” and “Faith” on the barrel, while the Chai edition has the Hebrew chai symbol with the words “Live” and “Life.”
He sells a few thousand pens a year, handling US-only sales through his website and both US and international sales through the Fountain Pen Hospital.
“It’s not as big a business as you would think it would be,” he said when we asked him. “But it’s doing well enough that I can keep going for 10 years.”
His most popular designs tend to be whatever he comes up with next.
“They always want what’s new,” he said.
In the months ahead, he probably will come out with a twist on the Teslacoil design, Hochstetler said.
Santa, I hope you’re reading.