Decoding the Symbolism of the Montegrappa Fortuna Credo Shema

The Montegrappa Fortuna Credo Shema (also known as the Fortuna Shema Yisroel, or various combinations of those parts) sits at the intersection of two of my primary areas of interest: stationery and Judaics. My love of stationery goes back to grade school, but so does my love of Judaic studies, as I attended a Jewish school, and later minored in Judaic studies in college. Post-college I’ve continued my path of lifelong learning as I could, whether it’s been doing a very poor job of keeping up with the latest Daf Yomi cycle, or writing poetry about my favorite prayers. While there isn’t normally cause for the overlap between these two worlds to work it’s way into this blog, Passover seems an appropriate time to me, especially this year as we are all sitting in our homes, waiting for a modern plague to pass us over.

The Fortuna Credo series of pens from Montegrappa take their signature Fortuna pen model, and imprint or etch upon those pens symbols of a particular religion. There’s a tinge of irony here as Fortuna herself was the Roman goddess of luck, and yet the Credo line features a variety of monotheistic religions. The Shema itself is as much a proclamation of monotheism as it is a prayer.

The pen is covered in religious symbolism. There is the Shema prayer, of course (consisting in this case of the first line and the first paragraph, commonly known as the ve’ahavta), but there is also the large Star of David (the modern symbol of Judaism, since the the 19th century) featured on the rear of the cap, the Hebrew word “Chai” (hard “ch” sound) which means life, etched on the grip section, a ring of interlaced Stars of David around the grip section, and the seven branched Menorah at the bottom of the pen, which is an ancient Jewish symbol going back thousands of years (the nine branched candelabra used during Hanukkah is actually a different thing, properly referred to as a Hannukiah, like the first two syllables of the holiday, but then the last syllable is a car brand.) There is also an engraving of a palm branch on the barrel, which features on other pens of the is line as well, that is meant to symbolize peace. It is not as immediately identifiable as a Jewish symbol as the others are, but it is also not a symbol alien to Jewish culture and customs.

As for the prayer, for which the pen is named, I won’t drag you down a long esoteric explanation. What I will say, for the unfamiliar, is that this is an important prayer in Judaism, and the same prayer (written out in full) is what is inscribed on scrolls tucked in to the mezuzah cases on the door posts of Jewish homes. This version of the prayer cleverly swaps out one of the letters each time that the holy name is written, to ensure that no special ritual treatment is required in the handling of this pen (Jewish law requires that any document or object with the holy name written on it be disposed of through burial at the end of its usefulness, and there are prohibitions against things like walking into a bathroom while it is in your pocket. Thankfully, that is all avoided here.)

Symbolism aside, this is a very lovely pen in its own right. The brushed stainless steel finish is covered in a glossy coating to protect it, and the gloss really makes the pen shine in the light and even gives it some surprising depth. The Shema pen was originally available in a black resin model internationally, and in blue resin, stainless steel, and teak wood models in the US. At this time, the black and blue resin models are out of production, but the steel and wooden models should still be around.

The Fortuna model, without the Shema, comes in a wide variety of finishes. A couple of consistent pieces between those models, though, are the block threads and the roller clip. The block threads, which we saw above, make the pen very comfortable to hold. Even on the resin and wooden models, metal block threads are a feature, although the block threads on this unit have the same glossy coating as the rest of the pen, giving them a great look. Worth noting, the threads inside the cap are plastic, so be careful not to over-tighten the cap.

The roller clip is a simple enough feature, but you see it on surprisingly few pens. The small wheel at the bottom of the clip rolls to allow the clip to move more smoothly onto or off of a shirt pocket or pen loop or whatever you may be clipping it to. This is a clip that is designed to be used. The pen also features the Montegrappa emblem on its cap finial, with a 1912 for the year that the company was founded.

So we’ve gone over the symbolism of the pen and we’ve gone over the Montegrappa design touches, but what does it actually feel like to write with? Well, this pen is of a medium weight in the hand, with most of its mass being in its cap. The barrel is still made of metal, or course, but as it fills with international cartridges or converters there are no mechanisms adding additional weight. If you post it it does become a bit back heavy, so if you like to post but don’t like that weight distribution, please be aware. The aforementioned block threads make for a comfortable grip, but you may feel some texture while holding it even if you avoid the threads, because of the etchings on the grip section. I didn’t find this uncomfortable, and as I wrote I forgot it was even there, but just be aware it isn’t perfectly smooth.

I was very pleased with the performance of the Montegrappa nib when writing. I did find that the pen was prone to hard starting when sitting for hours between uses, but once the ink got flowing (with just the help of gravity) I had no mid-session interruptions. I do not know whether the nib or the feed was at fault here, but either way it was a small hiccup that didn’t prevent me from writing, only took me an extra moment to get going. Maybe it’s the weight of the pen, or the weight of the symbolism etched into it, but this feels like a pen that I should use to write something very important. Maybe it’s time to go write a poem about a different prayer…

This pen was provided to me for review by Jay Emery, who is not affiliated with Montegrappa or its distributors. Thank you Jay for enabling me to share this pen with the larger community!

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