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Wildwood resident creates pens that are far from ordinary

Wildwood resident David Oscarson with a sampling of his renowned writing pens.
Wildwood resident David Oscarson with a sampling of his renowned writing pens.

A quick, first glance doesn’t tell much more than it looks like a writing pen.

You do remember a writing pen, don’t you? With most communication being done by emails or text messages these days, one might ask: “Who in the heck needs a nice writing pen?”

If one asks such a question, that person hasn’t seen the writing pens Wildwood resident David Oscarson creates and which will be featured at the second annual St. Louis Pen Show, June 21-23.

After that first glance, pick up one of his writing instruments. The weight quickly says it is no ordinary fountain pen. A careful look at the detailed design work on its cap and barrel confirms that.

The colors that seem to glow, the ultra-fine design depicting a varying number of things depending on the pen’s theme, such as the kernels of grain on the head of a stalk of wheat or simply swirls and wavy lines as a background – they all attract the eye and demand closer examination.

Oscarson does all the design work on his pens, giving each limited edition a theme and creating its design based on considerable research. The pens’ high-quality workmanship is done in a small shop in England by three master craftsmen and an apprentice.

David Oscarson pen
Close-up of a David Oscarson-designed ballpoint pen commemorating the martyred Jacques de Molay shows the finely detailed guilloche engraving on the device.

One of his most recent designs is called The Golden Spike and commemorates the driving of the golden spike that joined the eastern and western segments of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869. Because the railroad’s completion occurred a century-and-a-half ago, 150 was the number of pens made for that limited edition. According to Oscarson, a pen from The Golden Spike edition has been used to sign into law all bills approved by the Utah legislature this year.

The design that launched his business in 2000 was in honor of Henrik Wigstrom, one of the Faberge organization’s most noted head workmasters.

Other designs have been in honor of such well-known Swedes as Raoul Wallenberg, the businessman and diplomat credited with saving thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust; inventor, chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel; and botanist-zoologist Carl Linnaeus, who in the 18th century formalized binomial nomenclature, the system still in use today for naming plants and animals.

Earlier in his working career, Oscarson followed his father’s footsteps by going into retailing. It was his experience in the writing pen and jewelry niches that sparked the idea of combining the two and creating pens that are both beautiful and artistic. What makes his pens unique is the combination of design and materials that include 18-karat gold, .925 sterling silver and hard enamel.

As many as four or five levels of intricate engraving are enchased into the silver and gold to create a three-dimensional surface in a process known as guilloché. A skilled craftsman must be at the turning machine used in the process. No die-striking or casting can match the precision of guilloché engraving, Oscarson maintains.

A mixture of glass, metal oxides and water then is ground by hand using a mortar and pestle before the substance is allowed to settle and the water is removed, leaving a paste that is the basis for the hard enamel applied to the surface of the metal.

The components then are fired in a furnace to fuse the enamel to the metal and form a layer of glass. After cooling, the pieces are manually ground with a diamond file to restore their proper shape and surface.

The entire process is repeated until the level of enamel covers the peaks and fills the valleys of the guilloché engraving.

Different colors are created from different oxides, which in turn are fired at different temperatures in a precise sequence that prevents cooler tones from burning with those requiring higher heat in the kiln.

When the firing stages are complete, the pieces are polished and buffed to yield the final smooth finish of the translucent, hard enamel.

“The use of hard enamel means the pen will last for decades and be an heirloom that can be handed down from generation to generation,” Oscarson said. He added that repairs are free if a pen is dropped and the finish is damaged. “Repairs may take a while because the process obviously is a painstaking one. But you can’t beat the price,” he said with a smile.

Oscarson has released 31 collection designs thus far in various color combinations and has created several exclusive designs, including one for the Kentucky Derby. Retail price for a pen from one of his collections is in the $5,800 to $5,900 range. Oscarson has about 30 retailers who sell his pens, including Clarkson Jewelers in the West County area.

In addition to fountain pens equipped with 18-karat gold nibs made in Germany, his writing instruments can be ordered with a rollerball for $200 less. However, it’s not unusual for a buyer ordering a rollerball model later to convert it to a regular ink pen.

The next piece, number 32 in the Oscarson collection, will celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary and be a tribute to Carl Milles. A Swedish sculptor best known in this country for his fountains, Milles created The Meeting of the Waters fountain across from Union Station in downtown St. Louis.

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