It’s nearly gift giving season, and finding the right gifts for writers can be tricky, particularly if you don’t exercise the same level of enthusiasm or knowledge as said writer or pen enthusiast for either writing or pens. A simple way to go about things would be to effortlessly order a widget from a large, online retailer, but such a method screams “cookie-cutter”, “mass produced”, and “forgettable”. I’d rather you effortlessly buy those gifts for writers from us (small wonder I’d think that), a small business primed to offer you products that are an amalgam of unique, handmade, and are memorable to boot.
Finding Gifts for Writers When The Status Quo Won’t Do
As I write this I'm in 'patiently waiting' mode as I bounce from store to store doing some early Christmas shopping. At times I even enjoy escapades like this if the crowds aren't at their strangling worst. Today is fine in that regard, but as we're having unseasonably warm weather here in South Dakota there is a general lack of festiveness in this outing as I require a cold, white frosting on my holiday festivities for the ultimate satisfaction. Even better are saucer sized flakes descending almost pendulum-like, the ones you can walk between as they fall.
I vastly prefer patronizing locally owned shops that have something particular to offer–you know, the anti Walmarts where you won’t find the same things in the same spot in every town and state–and I find it notably more satisfying to spend my money where I've had a nice experience and I know they have a genuinely positive impact on our local community. There are of course limitations to this effort, like when I'd like to get an older model iPod for my daughter. We have precious few used iPod dealers in our area (again, small wonder), but I'm thankful used iPod dealers do exist online, where I can find what I'm looking for.
The same conundrum exists for small makers like us–we similarly deal in specialty products that really don't fit in most retail environments. Beyond that, the size and scale of our business doesn't lend itself to having a presence in retail shops throughout the country. I'd be so bold as to say most of us would find it nearly impossible to find and procure an actual portable writing desk sans internet, and Penwell only if you happen to be walking the streets somewhere in New Zealand or the Philippines (a story for another day).
While my hailing the benefits of brick and mortar shopping might seem counterintuitive coming from an almost exclusively online business, I do so because we’re not really all that different in a number of ways. While we lack a physical retail outlet, our 'brick and mortar' presence is mobile, and manifests itself by our attendance at pen shows throughout the country. It's there we get to meet so many people and it’s where you get to handle our products in the flesh. It's where we make friends and acquaintances. It's there we truly get to act the mom and pop shop we really are. The rest of the time we have to do our best to communicate that reality through our online presence.
I suspect to many we look larger than we really are. A little spit and polish, some nice photos, and a great website template let anyone look larger than they really are. The reality is if I’m not retrieving Nerf darts from under my desk I’m searching for my tape dispenser which has been requisitioned to tape images of cars cut from magazine pages onto bedroom walls (the apple falls not far from the tree).
All this is to say we are not a nameless or faceless company shilling someone else’s goods. I walk four blocks (put another way, halfway across town) to an old Pure Oil/Phillips 76 (take your pick, it’s era dependent) service station which I’m in the slow process of restoring as the GMB shop. On my way I pass the post office where I mail all our orders, and just prior to getting there I’ve already walked past the postmaster’s personal residence. From my shop, depending on if my slice is rearing its ugly head, I could hit every major business and civic entity in this little town with a golf ball. During summer days the single paved street, aptly named Main Street, is thick with kids going to and fro to friends’ houses. It’s Norman Rockwell Americana, and I love it all.
If I haven’t made a case for our online shop being as near as it can be to an old fashioned brick and mortar, there’s not much more I could say to convince you. We are a small business that offers truly unique, handmade, and memorable products that are great writers' gift ideas. Gifts, I would argue, unique in part because they are the direct manifestation of something I wanted to exist that didn't, and speaking of such, here are two of our flagship products–both poised to be star gifts for writers you know and love.
Penwell – The Gift for Writers Who Use a Fountain Pen Come Hell or High Water
The cornerstone of our product line is the Penwell. This is where it all began and this is still our bread and butter. The idea for the Penwell came shortly after I discovered the joy of writing with a fountain pen. In my case, most writing was for work, and of that writing it was almost exclusively quick notes and jotting down figures. I would constantly be bouncing between my computer mouse, calculator, and pen with my right hand, and it didn't take long to become a bit irritated at the constant capping and uncapping of my pen–one with a threaded cap, no less.
The easy solution would have been a click pen, but I was intentionally trying to use the most enjoyable rather than the most efficient tool for the job. Still, good tools can be made better, and after envisioning some contraption that would simply hold my pen cap stationary so I could access it quickly with one hand I got to work on making that very thing.
As it turned out, the handiness of the Penwell went beyond holding my pen cap, as it now gave me a semi-permanent home when using my pen so I was able to reach for it without looking. It was also safe from it being bumped off my desk, which considering the relatively fragile nature of a pen nib is a nice feature.
The Penwell is designed to hold the cap, of course, but it might be more accurate to say that I designed it to hold the pen in the cap–unscrewed. That was the key to ending the tedium of capping and uncapping, or in other words, threading and unthreading. With the cap stationary I don't thread the pen into it between uses, but I simply rest it loosely there–the cap itself provides the perfect support to keep my pen where I want it.
Lest you think this is a tool for threaded caps only, I would suggest the same use with slip fit caps as well, particularly as some of these can be a stubbornly tight fit. I have a particular felt tip pen I enjoy using to write thank you notes that I pack in orders, and the cap on this is notoriously sticky. I simply leave it resting in the cap at all times and never fully seat it–unless of course I'd like to remove it to take elsewhere. This pen is always in the same spot and always handy to access, two characteristics that would most definitely not describe it if it were not for the Penwell. The Penwell is a tool designed to magnify the delight of using your pen–nothing more, nothing less, and is a delightful gift idea for writers and fountain pen lovers you know.
If indeed you’re after gifts for writers in your life and are considering a Penwell but unsure which model, we offer a number to choose from. Here is a brief overview of each:
This is the original, and the design is highly influenced by Civil War era stoneware bottles. I have one of these bottles on display as a reminder that product design is always a confluence of existing ideas or a reinterpretation of them. The Classic can be outfitted to fit anything from a pencil (as a simple holder) to pens nearly a full inch in diameter.
Classic Penwell next to stoneware bottle that inspired its shape. Note: stoneware bottle must have been boxed up in a fit of redecorating and wasn’t available for photos–do your best to imagine
Our second model, one focusing on portability while also offering a bit of versatility not seen with other models. The design of this one was influenced by the hard lines and angles of industrial machinery, although depending on your eye it may look a bit like a mini cannon or a whale–or so I’ve been told. It collapses for packing and when in use can be adjusted to any angle up to and a bit beyond 90 degrees. We often offer it in a double version and occasionally a triple. We also pair this with the Clip, an accessory the Penwell sticks to that magnetically attaches to your notebook so your Traveler can be made even more portable, the perfect gift for writers that can’t sit still for long.
The Craftsman began as an effort to make a Penwell heavy enough that it didn’t need the microsuction pad for stability for folks who wanted the freedom to move it on a whim. The inspiration for the design of this one was an art deco pen holder I saw years ago. I loved the angles and radii and it was a fitting form for a concrete Penwell. Fun fact: this is the shape of the very first Penwell prototype I made where I put effort into the aesthetics rather than just the function. The Classic shape, the first shape we sold, was actually developed later.
Writewell – The Gift for Writers Who Adore Old Fashioned Writing Boxes
If the Penwell is our signature product, the Writewell is our crown jewel, as it not only incorporates the Penwell but adds substantially more. If awards were given for the ultimate gifts for writers, this would surely have a chance at a blue ribbon (if I may be so bold. And I will, because I think it’s a great product and want to convince you to buy one. Go here to do just that). The Writewell is designed to be robust and highly functional, and in that spirit is made from solid black walnut. While it isn’t a featherweight, it’s also not at all cumbersome to use, and its solid nature lends it the gravity something like this deserves.
It’s appointed with solid brass screw caps and can be outfitted with multiple Penwells, a Miscellany Niche, a book weight, a rollstop, and a Reader’s Kit. We offer complete customization with regards to Penwell placement and number so you’re able to equip it how you’d like for your use, and each Penwell opening can be outfitted with our Standard or XL Foam Inserts to best fit your writing gear. The Miscellany Niche is a slot for whatever miscellaneous items you might like to have close at hand, or it fits perfectly our Curiously Heavy Book Weight–a weight that looks like a solid piece of shaped walnut but weighs as much as a can of soda.
We offer rollstops in walnut to match the Writewell or brass to match the appointments. The Reader’s Kit is the most unique accessory as it’s a book holder that fits a very wide range of shapes and sizes. A solid brass rest (made right here, in house) is designed to slide in and out of the base of the Writewell to allow for varying thicknesses of books. The acrylic piece is a page holder and helps to hold the pages tight, as the book would be if one were holding it in hand. The page holder may not always be needed and easily slips out when desired. Either the page holder or the brass rest can also be used to hold electronic devices, although we’ve heard of books sabotaging the use of such modern technology on such an analog tool.
Both the Penwell and Writewell are made right here in our humble shop in South Dakota. Technically, the metal Penwell Classics are made 30 miles away, but they’re usually picked up by Mom and Pop polishes them by hand before assembling and packing them up. Other than that, most everything is done in house. You can be assured of not only handmade gifts for writers, but gifts that are inherently unique, useful, and memorable.