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JOEL Joel's Blog

Family History


Family History 4
My late uncle Alex Segal was born in Vienna before World War II. His father, Karl, owned a lumberyard and the family was financially comfortable. In the late 1930's, Nazi Germany annexed Austria and Jews were forbidden to own businesses. According to family lore, my uncle's father was forced to give away his business and was sent to Dachau. Somehow (probably by bribery) Karl managed to get out of Dachau, and by spending what assets they had left, the family fled. I don't know where they fled to, but somewhere my uncle, then a young man planning to go into his father's business, found himself broke and without a trade. ORT, a foundation that gave training to refugees, taught him how to drill holes in industrial diamonds and he wound up in New York City in 1939. (The photograph shows Alex's fixtures for holding a diamond while drilling. The drilling was done using steel needles and diamond dust, and the drilled diamonds were used to draw really fine wire for electronic equipment.) Alex's father, broken by his struggle for survival, never worked again.
My Aunt Clara met Alex in New York and they got married after the war. Karl and his wife lived with my uncle and aunt in a two room apartment for the rest of their lives. When they fled Vienna, Alex's family could take only a few keepsakes. My uncle inherited these items from his parents, and when he passed away in the late 1970's, a few items came to our family. Of the half dozen items, one was a non-working Mont Blanc model 334 1/2 from the late 1930's with a gold nib. It was engraved with Karl Segal's name. It's a ghost of their former life. Early Mont Blancs used a cork plunger, and by 1980, when I inherited the pen, the cork had worn out and the pen hadn't been used in years. I took a cork from a wine bottle and turned a very fragile seal that lasted for several years. Then the pen began to leak again, and it it was only recently that I had it professionally repaired. Now I use it daily running my business. It's a wonderful pen, and every time I write something I also remember back to my family history.

Join the conversation
05/07/2009 Old Baleine
That's a beautiful story, Joel, and a very poignant family history. My mother
used an Esterbrook pen throughout her life, the same pen she had in high
school. She wrote with a beautiful, practiced hand that I always admired and
sought to imitate. I can't think of anything that surpasses a good fountain
pen as a tool for writing. Someday, perhaps the art of penmanship will be
resurrected, and Mont Blanc, Waterman, Pelikan, and even the humble
Esterbrooks will be rediscovered as tools for disciplined, creative expression
rather than as shallow signifiers of success. Your story also illustrates the
durability of good hand tools, and the reverence which we feel for their
connections to our past. In your case, a very direct connection.
05/07/2009 Paul Chapman
Fascinating story, Joel. I think it's important to record family history for future generations and I'm sure your children and theirs will thank you for doing that. Lovely pen with some very special meanings.
05/14/2009 John Cashman
That's a wonderful story Joel. What powerful emotions and memories can be brought back every day by physical contact with something so personal. I have a well-worn Stanley marking gage (with the 1873 patent date) that has been in my family for over a hundred years. I still reach for it whenever I build something, and I always think of my grandfather. I have a Tite-Mark, which by any measure is a superior instrument, but it lacks the deep connection that you wrote about which makes it so satisfying. I hope your family always uses your pen, and remembers.
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