Meet the $935 Pen That Turns a Scribble Into a Status Symbol

Why President Obama and Johnny Depp both own Montblanc's Meisterstück

It's not often that a pen finds itself at the very center of an international event, but that's exactly what happened 52 years ago when John F. Kennedy visited Cologne, West Germany. His host was Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who invited the young U.S. president to sign the Golden Book (Cologne's official guest book), then found he had no pen on him. The incident was a second away from being a national humiliation until J.F.K. came smoothly to the rescue. Without missing a beat, J.F.K. reached into his pocket and produced his own pen.

It was a Montblanc Meisterstück No. 149, probably the most famous fountain pen in the world. 

Photo: Nick Ferrari

It still is. Hamburg, Germany-based Montblanc has been making its top-of-the-line Meisterstück (in German, "masterpiece") since 1924. On Wall Street, it's known as the "Power Pen" because it's in every fat cat's vest pocket. And while the pen's price has changed a great deal over the last 91 years (today, a Meisterstück 149 will set you back $935), its style has not. It's the same shiny, black-cigar-thick pen it's always been—not subtle, and not meant to be.

"The Meisterstück is never out of trend because it actually goes beyond writing," said Montblanc CEO Jens Koch. "It's a statement—not only toward others, but also yourself—of where you're going."

That's another way of saying that, sure, the Meisterstück is a very nice fountain pen—but it's really a lifestyle accessory, carried and worn to serve the deeper purpose of signifying one's individuality to others. The 149 isn't just standard equipment for presidents (Kennedy, George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama, to name three), but also for the rich and famous: Diane Keaton, Dustin Hoffman, Donald Trump, Queen Elizabeth II, Eva Green and Johnny Depp—all have been spotted with a Meisterstück over the years.

The pen's chic cult status is a far cry from the modest beginnings of Montblanc. It launched its business as the Simplo Filler Pen Co. in 1907 and started making pens called Rouge et Noir before taking the name of Europe's highest mountain three years later. (The white star on the pen cap tip symbolizes the snow-covered peak.) Fortunately, writers knew a good pen when they held one, and Montblanc nibs laid down the prose of scribes ranging from Ernest Hemingway to Anne Frank.

While the total number of smartphones in the world approaches 2 billion, it's worth noting that sales of fountain pens like the Meisterstück have been steadily rising in recent years. That's partly the status thing, but also a latent discovery that handwriting still matters. "Most people feel that the handwritten note is old school because it takes so much longer to reach its intended recipient than an email or text. But when you want to stand out and really impress someone after a business meeting or job interview, taking the time and energy to put a pen to paper shows that you've gone the extra mile," said Jessica Kleiman, author of Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work. "A personalized, well-crafted note on beautiful stationery—particularly written with a fountain pen, which is not only expensive but also takes some practice to use—demonstrates that the letter writer values the written word and wants to be remembered."