Putting The ‘Quill’ In Quill & Pad: Introducing Resident ‘Pen Expert’ Nancy Olson
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Nancy Olson face-to-face (or nib-to-nib as it were), you’ll know what I mean when I say that she is a 24-karat stick of dynamite. And her pen is always mightier than the sword.
Many regular readers of printed watch literature will know Nancy today as the managing editor of iW (International Watch) magazine, which was the first specialist watch magazine published in the U.S.A. However, her beginnings in professional journalism began in quite another field: she has been a passionate advocate of pens and the art of handwriting for twenty-five years.
“I have a fairly large collection of contemporary writing instruments that I really treasure,” she says. “And I find an excuse to use one or more of them every day. Though I obviously would be lost without my computer for most of my daily work, I find that writing by hand really connects me with my thoughts.”
She first fell in love with writing as a child in Providence, Rhode Island and became fascinated with writing instruments when she discovered her father’s gold-nibbed Sheaffer fountain pen.
“My Dad graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design Commercial Art Program, and the pen was a graduation gift from my mother’s dad,” she says, taking a look back. “I remember being fascinated by the lever filler and the nib, and though I never dared put ink in it (I wouldn’t have known how – I was raised on ballpoints!), I knew the pen was something special and deeply connected to my family’s history.”
So it was more kismet than a career opportunity when she found herself editor of Pen World magazine in 1989. “I’d been freelancing at a local newspaper and applied for the Pen World editor job when my family and I relocated to Houston, Texas. I immediately felt a connection to the topic.” A small quarterly publication at the time, Nancy was instrumental in bringing it international acclaim and distribution, and she became co-owner in 1991.
Pen World’s initial focus was primarily collectible vintage writing, but it soon began to include modern pens, thus paralleling and encouraging the growth of the writing instrument industry in the early 1990s.
This afforded Nancy the opportunity to visit virtually all of the major pen manufactories worldwide (and a variety of independents), from Italy to Germany and the Midwestern United States to Melbourne, Australia. She discovered a fascination with handmade and hand-finished products as well as the artisans who create them.
If this sounds familiar, it should. Obviously, the world of pens draws an immense parallel to the world of high-quality wristwatches: from the old-fashioned nature of the instrument to a modern attraction to the handcrafted nature of the quality examples.
Indeed, both represent anachronistic items that the world unfortunately has little use for today, except as a reminder of the artistic ingenuity of humankind when it comes to beautifying items of everyday use.
As the art of handwriting began to languish in part due to burgeoning computer technology, Nancy began to teach about the subtle and not-so-subtle benefits and cultural connections of writing by hand. She has been a keynote speaker at a variety of events and trade shows, and has volunteered in schools to teach penmanship to children using everything from sticks to quills to fountain pens to illustrate her message.
It was during Nancy’s next pen publishing venture, Stylus magazine, that I had the good fortune to get to know this bundle of energy. The bi-monthly magazine was published by Fine Life Media (also the publisher of iW, a magazine I had collaborated with for years at that point) and distributed internationally.
She was also the editor-in-chief of the Stylus Annual, a yearly publication that featured all the major pen brands including their histories, current news and products for the year. As the former senior editor of Wristwatch Annual myself, I can vouch for the immense amount of work and expertise required for creating such a comprehensive compendium. In the world of pens, Stylus Annual remains unique.
In 2001, Nancy founded her own consulting company, Nancy Olson, Ink. It assists small businesses – writing instrument and otherwise – in marketing their brands. She has also written for a variety of luxury publications as a freelance contributor, and has been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and International Herald Tribune, among others, for her expertise in writing instruments and watches.
So when was it that watches entered Nancy’s professional life? Nancy was a co-founder of In Sync magazine (now Watch Journal), sister publication to Pen World, and it was there that she developed an abiding love of watches and educated herself about the industry. Nancy is particularly proud of the fact that she was one of the earliest attendees of the SIHH and has been consistently making the annual trek to Baselworld for almost two decades.
Nancy has quite an affinity for ladies mechanical watches and is thrilled that watch manufacturers have begun taking note of women’s growing interest in timepieces, particularly of the mechanical variety. She remains managing editor of iW magazine.
You can follow Nancy’s pen and handwriting musings on her own blog, NancyOlsonInk, and from now on here at Quill & Pad.
Ian and I are overjoyed to welcome her to our growing team of expert writers in luxury and technical fields and feel that Nancy’s professionalism, sensibilities and wide journalistic experience will add yet another layer – as well as more of the “quill” – to Quill & Pad.