An interesting little shop called Peroklinika (the Quill Clinic) can be found right on the Main Square in Zagreb. Believe it or not, you can repair your mechanical pencils, pens and even fountain pens here. Even though they might seem like something from ancient history because Word, SMS texts and e-mails are used instead of old fashioned letters and postcards, quality pens haven’t lost their importance to the Varićak-Keranović family, who owns the shop.
As soon as you step into the shop, you’re taken back in time when calligraphy was an art which brought magic to life.
The late owner, Boško Varićak-Keranović, had tragically passed away a few months before the interview, so his wife told us a story about his fascinating life and about this shop, which is one of the four remaining in Europe.
“Boško Varićak-Keranović was born in Zagreb in 1941, when his father opened a shop for writing instruments repair, with an emphasis on fountain pens. Boško later graduated from Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Naval Arhictecture and took over his father’s shop when he died in 1979. The shop soon became famous worldwide because Boško repaired old fountain pens that you could no longer find parts for. My husband used to make spare parts himself and used them for fountain pens that grandparents gave their grandchildren as present when they graduated from university”, Mrs. Keranović remembers.
The Story about Penkala
Boško Varićak-Keranović spent years learning about the history of Zagreb and Croatia, which gave him the idea of creating a souvenir which would represent Croatia as a cultural nation, and so he made a replica of the first mechanical pen in the world, patented by Slavoljub Penkala in Budapest in 1906. This way he managed to save Slavoljub Penkala and his invention from oblivion. “My husband was like an encyclopaedia. He considered hand-written manuscripts to be more permanent than technical writing and he used to say that literacy was an important element of human existence and culture. He tried to spread love for writing among the younger generations as well.” Mrs. Keranović remembers with pride.
The replica soon started travelling around the world and representing Croatia globally. The Keranović family founded Penkala d.o.o. in the 1990s, and the presentation of the souvenir took place in the Upper Town manor house of Dverce in 1992. Slavoljub Penkala’s son Miroslav travelled to promote the souvenir around the world with the Keranović family. “It was the first product to bear the ‘product of Croatia’ mark, and at a time when Croatia hadn’t yet been internationally recognized. Various politicians showed interest in the souvenir, notably Croatia’s first president, Dr. Franjo Tuđman who bought a hundred pens in wooden boxes. He gave the pens as presents to foreign politicians he would meet while travelling abroad because he wanted to promote Croatia that way.” Mrs. Keranović told us. She adds that today’s politicians forgot about the souvenir and that the funding they receive is not sufficient to sell a reasonable number of pens. “Contrary to our expectations, we only sell about 2,000 pens a year nowadays. We didn’t really see eye to eye with the souvenir shops and other shops that could sell our pens, so we had to give up on my husband’s dream about opening the Penkala Foundation.” Mrs. Keranović pointed out.
The small box containing a replica of the original pen made by Penkala, commonly referred to as penkala in Croatian, also contains a short story about Penkala and his invention. The story is written in various languages, including English, German, Italian, French, but also Hebrew, Arabic, Esperanto and Mandarin. The box is also a reprint of the package that Penkala’s original pen was sold in.
The importance of an authentic souvenir was recognized by tourists, Zagreb Tourist Board, as well as foreign TV channels whose journalist reported about Boško Keranović’s shop and his souvenir. Showing his favourite tools and writing instruments, Mrs. Keranović tells us that this shop is more than a mere service shop and that many important lectures on culture and writing instruments were held here. She adds that her husband was a versatile man who was interested in many things. In 1992 he put Wartime Wall Newspapers on display in windows of 10 different shops around Ban Jelačić Square. “This way the public could find out about what was happening in the rest of Croatia during the Homeland War. Boško was born in Kosinje, in Lika, and after the war he helped renovate the church there. He also found the oldest vine and a rare grape variety vineyard, which he wrote about in Večernji list’s section on gardens.” Mrs. Keranović adds proudly.
Heir to the Shop
We couldn’t help noticing all the boxes with small parts, precision tools and other tools. “We have various tools to repair fountain pens, but also pens and mechanical pencils. Factories that produce fountain pens sometimes don’t have the parts necessary for their repair, but we do. My husband carefully collected everything. He sometimes bought old fountain pens and then he would take them apart to repair other fountain pens. People often gave him parts or fountain pens as presents. He was careful about everything.” Mrs. Keranović remembers with nostalgia. We were curious about what would happen to the shop after Mr. Keranović’s death and whether the people of Zagreb would still have a place where they could repair their favourite pens.
“No need to worry. The shop will continue working the same way it always has. I’m in charge for now, but my son Goran will probably take over soon. He worked here with his father, so he learned the trade. We have no intention of abandoning this tradition and craft.” Mrs. Keranović points out.