Fountain Pens

“My fountain pen has always been one of my most priceless possessions; I value it highly, especially for its thick nib, for I can only write neatly with a thick nib.”

Anne Frank

I’m an unabashed stationery supplies nerd. This is probably one of the main reasons I loved living in Japan. I’d get lost for hours in the stationery shops while admiring all their notebooks, pens, mechanical pencils, and other goodies (ah, I miss my したじき ‘pencil board’). If my home only had pens, paper, books (okay, and my cat, Ipo), I think I’d be fairly content. Whilst I have tended in the past to use ball-point pens or rollerballs (I don’t really enjoy pencils, except for drawing), I have increasingly found myself attracted to fountain pens, which I now use daily.

I’ve discovered fountain pens can be a great conversation starter. I was at an academic conference recently and happened to mention my interest in fountain pens to a friend. Upon learning this, he alerted me that a famous scholar (whom I greatly admire and am slightly intimidated by) is a Montblanc aficionado. I took this as an opportunity to strike up a conversation with that scholar, and we instantly bonded over a chat about our favorite pens, nibs, ink, and notebooks.

Some of my grandfather’s pens. The little red Wearever is my mom’s old school pen.

I suppose what nudged me into this seemingly antediluvian world is discovering a box of my grandfather’s old fountain pens from the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. Most weren’t working (I’ve since fixed a few), but their clean, minimalist designs appealed to me, and their ties with my family history made me want to learn more about them. I even found one that my mom used when she was a child. I had hoped to find the much-desired Parker 51, but it appears another family member sold it not realizing I was looking for it. Sigh.

Now that I’ve been using fountain pens every day for the past few years, I know what I like: extra fine, lightweight, and on the smaller side (I have small writing).

‘You’re afraid of commitment, aren’t you?’

Some reasons I like using fountain pens:

  • They’re more eco-friendly (well, at least they’re not disposable)
  • I can fill them with a range of ink colors not available in regular pens.
  • They come in all price ranges, from $3 to $3,000 and up! There’s definitely something for everyone.
  • Using, filling, and cleaning them forces me to slow down and appreciate the instrument. I find fountain pens are aesthetically pleasing in a way that other pens aren’t. They’re really works of art.
  • I pay more attention to my words and how my thoughts interact with the ink and the paper.
  • I find writing meditative and enjoyable. As the Mari Kondonistas would say, I find fountain pens and the act of writing “spark joy.” Of course, I can still write quickly with fountain pens, but I enjoy slowing down now when I write.
  • My handwriting has greatly improved, and I’ve developed a cursive style that suits me.
  • I’ve discovered that far from being old-fashioned or just another hipster trend, fountain pens have a huge following worldwide!
See the Goulet Blog post – Some writers on why they use fountain pens

There are some downsides:

An occupational hazard.
  • There are so many fountain pens from which to choose, so collecting can become a very addictive (and often expensive) rabbit hole.
  • It’s really…really disappointing to get a new pen and then discover it has a scratchy nib or poor ink feed. Such problems can often be fixed with some cautious tweaking, but it’s still frustrating.
  • If you’ve got a non-working vintage pen, it may be difficult to find a repair shop that’s reputable AND affordable. It seems there are always negative reviews, so it’s hard to know which one is good. Apparently, the really good repair people don’t have much of an online presence, are often vague about their rates, and usually have a long wait time (6 months to a year). That’s probably one reason why many fountain pen users/collectors learn to do basic repairs themselves.
  • You’ll feel the loss of a fountain pen more acutely than other pens.
  • You’ll probably get stained fingers from cleaning and adjusting your pens and from changing ink.

Some of my favorite pens

A sampling of some of my pens
Sheaffer Balance #350: This was my grandfather’s pen (late 1930s-early 1940s). It’s on the small side and a gorgeous striated green—one of the best writers I have. The nib is absolute perfection. I’ll never part with this favorite.
Franklin-Christoph Antique Glass limited edition (looks like the offspring of a vintage Coke bottle and a fountain pen). One of my newest pens and instant favorite. Unique design and really comfortable grip. Definitely one for long writing sessions.
Franklin-Christoph Pocket 20:  I LOVE the look and feel of this vintage green pen. Unfortunately, the first nib I received was a dud; however, F-C’s customer service quickly mailed me a new nib, which works wonderfully. Everyone raves about the quality of F-C’s pens and customer service, and they’re definitely the best I’ve encountered.
Wing Sung 601: An inexpensive (but not “cheap”) Chinese clone of the much-beloved and desired Parker 51 (“The World’s Most Wanted Fountain Pen”).  I didn’t expect much from this one, but it is a surprisingly elegant pen and a super smooth writer. Wow, I am impressed with the quality of recent fountain pens produced in China.
Kaweco Skyline Sport: This is one of my primary EDC (everyday carry) pens. I find it a very enjoyable writing experience: perfect size, comfortable, and a great writer. It comes in a range of colors and materials (plastic and metal), but I like the light mint green color of mine. I have an even smaller Kaweco Liliput, but I find it can be a bit slippery to use. I put a small piece of rubber on it to stop it from slipping.
Pilot Prera: What’s not to love? It’s an elegant-looking pen that writes perfectly out of the box. The cap also closes with a satisfying “click.” (Hmm…I just realized that it looks like a piece of bamboo.) I have the cream/ivory and the green and love both. I know the clear “demonstrator” models are all the rage now, but I don’t quite get the fascination. I much prefer solid over clear pens—well, with a few exceptions.
Nemosine Singularity: I adore everything about this pen—the shape, the color (transluscent turquoise blue), the nib, the whole writing experience. The nib is slightly thicker than other EFs I own, but it’s an excellent pen.
Sailor Young Profit: This is simply a brilliant, if understated, Japanese pen. I know some people have complained about Sailor pens sometimes being inconsistent, but mine works perfectly, and you can’t beat their super sharp nibs. I received one as a gift a long time ago; I only used it a few times and didn’t think too much about it. When I found it again after a move, I took it out, filled it up and discovered how much I love the fit and the nib. I love Japanese EF (extra fine) nibs (yeah, Pilot and Sailor, I’m talking to you). I have fairly small writing, so Japanese F or EF nibs (which are often finer than German or other nibs) suit me perfectly.
I have a small collection of vintage Esterbrook pens. They’re compact, easy to clean and fix, and their nibs are swappable. Very nice, consistent writers. Perfect for EWC. The only problem is that they are becoming popular with new collectors, which is driving up their price on eBay. 😦

Some others:

  • Lamy Safari: Everybody raves about the Safari, and its nib and ergonomic grip make it a solid writer. It comes in a range of fun colors, but none of them really stand out to me (I guess because they remind me of magic markers or Skittles). The Neon Lime one I have stands out from the other color options.
  • Jinhao 8802: It’s a pen with some heft to it, but the mother of pearl inlay is gorgeous. Solid writer, too.
  • Jinhao 51a: A Parker 51-inspired pen. One of the smoothest writers I own—but I wish it had a finer nib. Still, a beautiful pen.
  • Moonman M2: This is a recent acquisition. It’s an eye dropper, so it holds a LOT of ink. It has a tight silicone seal to prevent leakage, but I’m still nervous to make this an EDC. A fun note: when the barrel isn’t filled up all the way, I can tip it back and forth and pretend it’s a lava lamp. I also tried the Moonman/Delike wood fountain pen; unfortunately, the nib and feed were horrible. It’s on the small side (Kaweco size), so it had the potential for an EDC, but I had to return it because it didn’t work right. 😦
  • Muji Aluminum Round: This is perhaps the most minimalist fountain pen out there. It only comes with a fine nib (but Japanese ‘fine’ is comparable to the ‘EF’ of many other brands, so it works for me). It’s a no-nonsense solid writer and definitely on my pen rotation list.
  • Pilot Metropolitan: I know everyone raves about this pen, but I find it a bit too heavy and thick for my taste. Great nib, but the pen feels like I’m holding a cigar when I write. Maybe I’ll come around and use it more.
  • Pilot Plumix: Like Pilot’s other offerings, this an excellent writer. The cap looks squid-like to me. Nothing fantastic, just a solid pen—like all Pilots.
  • No-name wooden fountain pen: I received this as a gift. It has a ‘fine’ nib and it writes well. Nothing on this really stands out, except the wooden cap, barrel, and gift box. It’s a good writer, but I like it more for looks than daily use.

My dream fountain pens (for when I win the lottery):

  • Namiki: Mmm…Japanese lacquer. Love this one. But at $750-7,000+ a pop, I don’t think I’ll get one anytime soon.
  • Montblanc: Well outside my price range, but this J.S. Bach pen and sterling silver pen are gorgeous.
  • Visconti Ocean Breeze: A beautiful limited edition pen inspired by the colors of Santorini, Greece.
  • Danitrio MIKADO “I Am a Cat” Maki-e fountain pen: Inspired by Natsume Soseki’s famous novel of the same name. 
  • Onoto fountain pens: Natsume Soseki was a user of this British company’s fountain pens. (Yes, I’m a fan of Soseki’s work.)
  • Edison: These pens are a bit more in the affordable range and come in diverse colors and patterns (including one called “unicorn barf”).
  • Snoopy Fountain Pens: I like fountain pens and I like Snoopy. Where can I find these? It looks like they’re only available in China. 😦

Some Fountain Pen Resources:

Fountain pens can also be turned into weapons (at least in the comic books).
Daredevil No. 132
Yes, but can it write?
Can I write with all the colors of the rainbow?
Gotta burp that pen.
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