Lamy’s Reintroduction of Dark Lilac Ink Sparks Controversy

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Lamy, a German pen manufacturer, made a recent splash when it quietly rereleased Dark Lilac, a much-celebrated color of ink. A lush purple with a golden sheen, Dark Lilac, despite its popularity, had been produced only once before — as a limited edition in 2016.

Its reappearance a couple of weeks ago was so unexpected that the fountain pen community, which makes up a small but passionate corner of the office supplies market, was agog.

There was just one problem: It was not the same color.

“There is drama in the fountain pen community,” Aidan Bernal, a 23-year-old fountain pen enthusiast, said at the start of a recent TikTok in which he did his best to explain the saga — one that has involved conflicting company statements, amateur sleuthing and an elusive shade of purple.

“An absolutely beautiful ink,” Mr. Bernal said in a telephone interview.

Long overshadowed by its ballpoint, gel and felt-tip rivals, the regal fountain pen, which has an internal reservoir for refillable ink, has enjoyed a modest resurgence in recent years. Brian Goulet of Goulet Pens, an online retailer in Richmond, Va., suggested that its revival had dovetailed with a trend of consumers returning to analog goods like vinyl records, mechanical watches and single-blade safety razors.

“The fountain pen really plugs into that,” he said.

As a teenager, Mr. Bernal was so enchanted by his grandfather’s fountain pens that he hit the internet to find out more about them. There, he said, he found a vast community of fellow hobbyists. He now has an online audience of more than 550,000 subscribers on YouTube.

“I’ve been interested in stationery my whole life,” said Mr. Bernal, who works as an engineer in Seattle. “I always had to be the kid in class with the coolest pencils and erasers.”

Given the passion of the community, neither Mr. Bernal nor Mr. Goulet was surprised that Lamy’s reintroduction of Dark Lilac caused such a hubbub. Mr. Goulet recalled the color’s release as a limited edition in 2016.

“It crashed our website because so many people wanted it,” he said.

More recently, Mr. Goulet said, small bottles of the 2016 version were selling for $300 or more on the secondary market, a sharp markup from the original retail price of about $12.

But no one expected Lamy to rerelease Dark Lilac — that is, until last month, when a few European retailers began selling an ink called, wait for it, Dark Lilac.

“Everyone was freaking out,” Mr. Bernal said.

Adding to the confusion: Lamy had already unveiled a new ink for 2024 called Violet Blackberry, which many assumed was a homage to Dark Lilac.

Something, though, was amiss. The lucky few who got their hands on the new Dark Lilac were dismayed that, once they put pen to paper, the ink was not quite the same as the original. The base color, according to an early YouTube review, was neither as blue nor as rich. The sheen was green instead of gold. And it definitely was not Violet Blackberry.

“Was it an error in translation? Some new-old stock that someone found in a back room? A reproduction? A mistake?” Mike Matteson, a philosophy instructor from Greensboro, N.C., who goes by Inkdependence on his social media channels, said in an interview. “There wasn’t a press release or any teasing of the product, and so no one really knew what was going on.”

Enthusiasts opened investigations. Among them was a man who runs an Instagram account called Fountain Pen Memes. The man, who declined to be identified, citing a government job in Brazil, posted an interaction he claimed to have had last week with a Lamy executive, in which the executive said the new Dark Lilac was identical to the old ink. In a subsequent post, the account shared an interaction with a different Lamy official in which the company retracted that statement, acknowledging the ink was different.

The man behind Fountain Pen Memes said he believed the company was unaware of the ink’s immense popularity.

On Wednesday, Lamy confirmed to The New York Times that the inks were slightly different. Some ingredients from the original version were no longer available when the company formulated the new one.

“So you could say the Dark Lilac of 2024 is the old special edition with the technical possibilities of today,” Lamy said, adding that it regretted the confusion. “We should have given our revised Lilac release a different name.”

Mr. Goulet had a couple of bottles of the original Dark Lilac stashed away, so he was able to do a side-by-side comparison when he received a sample of the new one this week.

“Hardcore pen fans may point out the differences like they’re night and day,” he said. “But it’s also a very solid effort on Lamy’s part to bring back a beloved ink.”

The ink was barely dry on that fiasco when, on Wednesday, more news broke: Lamy, family-owned since 1930, had been acquired by the Mitsubishi Pencil Company of Japan.

“That,” Mr. Matteson said, “was not something I saw coming.”

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