For all the buying guides out there on the internet, few talk about fountain pens specifically. Maybe it’s because there aren’t enough fountain pen blogs (like this one) or maybe it’s because not many people actually know how to buy a great pen. Nonetheless, allow me to add to this small list by offering my own guide to buying a fantastic pen that you’ll love using, and love taking everywhere with you.
Many people have a whole lot of pens, myself included, yet there are a select few in my collection that I would consider the best; the pens that, if I had to give up all my other pens, I would choose to keep. I imagine you’d like to be in the same situation, having a pen that writes when you want it, looks fantastic in your hand or your pocket, and that would make you think twice before handing it over to someone else to use.
Debunking Some Myths
Oh of course it is going to cost a bit to get that perfect pen, but if you think around $700 would do it, you’re looking at it all wrong. You see, there’s a point around the $150 mark where you start paying less for the pen, and more for the brand and the fancy, superfluous, and oftentimes unnecessary materials and designs that go into it. Limited editions are one of the main culprits that fit the bill here. Who really cares if there are only 999 other pens like yours? You shouldn’t, and everyone around you certainly doesn’t. Take, for example, the numerous LE Visconti fountain pens that seem to come out every week and come encased in boxes made from fine cedar and gold leaf. Do you think they write better than your regular Visconti? Highly doubtful.
Seriously, brand does not matter for the most part. You think that because Mont Blancs are Mont Blancs and they cost $400 they never break, never leak, and always write heavenly smooth? Negative. In fact, one of my local pen stores has a huge bucket filled with broken Mont Blanc pen parts that came off pens that were simply unsalvageable. That certainly doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the brand. Not to say that MBs are low quality, of course not, I’m saying that the $500 Mont Blanc is just as likely to have problems as a $40 Lamy Safari.
Vintage vs New
The best thing about buying an old fountain pen and having it restored is that you know for certain that the pen has lasted 50 or more years, and will continue to last after being serviced. The fact is you may not even need to spend money on purchasing the pen if your father or grandfather has an old Parker 51 laying about that would write beautifully after some TLC. Mind you, restorations can be expensive, but if it means that you can carry on using a pen that your father used when he was young, a pen with a history, then it seems worth it! It would be great for someone to lean over and say, “Hey that’s a nice pen,” and to be able to respond with, “Thanks, it was my grandfather’s when he was at school.”
Online vs Store Bought
Sure you can try out a pen if you go in-store, but online shopping will save you a considerable chunk of dough versus brick and mortar stores. Online shops do not have inferior quality merchandise, this is a myth. Even eBay is a well-trusted source of great pens at great prices. Don’t let the stigma of online shopping prevent you from buying a great pen off there, but do take some caution before shopping with a retailer you’ve never dealt with before.
Things To Look Out For
If a brand just opened up last week, offering pens that promise to last for ages, write well, and perform out of the box, I would be highly skeptical. Ideally you should be going for a brand with history, but also don’t be fooled into thinking that just because it says “Est. 1851″ on the logo that it’s a great brand. Sheaffer, for example, used to make fabulous pens. After being gobbled up by BIC, they’ve fallen to the ranks of regular crappy pens you can find on the internet for five bucks a pop. You compare a vintage Sheaffer to a modern one, and you’d be incredibly disappointed in the poor quality of the current generation product. This also carries over to after sales service.
There are exceptions to this rule. TWSBI is a relatively new brand, yet their customer service and quality of their products are top notch. Read reviews and read a lot of them before plonking down your hard earned cash for a pen.
Construction vs Price
If a pen is marketed as having a 24k gold nib and solid titanium construction, yet costs $20, I’d stay well away. Acrylic resins and plastics are chief in the manufacturing of fountain pens, as they last well, feel good, and are fairly easy to work with. Edison, for example, makes their pens out of acrylic blocks that come in a huge variety of patterns and colours, and the workmanship is simply incredible. Don’t think that because a pen is made from wood or metal it’s automatically better – in fact it may even be inferior to a plastic pen and may not last as long. READ DESCRIPTIONS. I’ve been caught out buying a pen I thought was cheap, only to find it was that cheap because the nib was STEEL, not GOLD. Read descriptions carefully before purchasing!
Also be on the lookout for pen brands that try to market you features that are simply untrue:
- No pen has a 24k gold nib as it would bend on contact with anything.
- 18k is not better than 14k. In fact 14k gold is often the best nib material available.
- No gold nib is better than a steel nib just because it is gold; the writing surface is made from the same stuff!
- “Gold plating” will rub off over time if cheaply made – go for the chrome/steel version when possible.
- Metal pens scratch easier, are usually crazy heavy, and will weigh your pockets down. One good example is the Sailor 1911 metal body version. The amount of people complaining that the pen is so scratched up after just weeks of use is worrying. Make sure you try out a metal pen before buying if you’re worried.
- Titanium is one of the worst nib materials possible. Titanium does not have the same flexibility as gold and tends to flex and stay bent, and doesn’t wick ink well at all.
- Asian pens are in no way inferior to European or American pens. Absolutely not!
What to Buy
These pens are some of my personal favourites and most, as you can see, will not cost you a mint to purchase. They will also last for ages and ages; they will probably outlive you!
#1. Platinum #3776 Century
For: Those that want a no fuss pen that looks brilliant and writes like a champ
This pen is so incredible I could write several articles on it. Platinum is a Japanese brand, the smallest of the “Big 3″, and one of the best in the world. This pen has everything you could ever want: high quality materials and construction, an easily maintained filler, fabulous nibs, and an extremely cool anti-drying system that keeps the nib writing after months of storage. The nibs are all made in-house and are the best I’ve ever used (I own several). It comes in a bunch of colours, most notably the Bourgogne and Chartres Blue versions, and costs around $100-$150. This pen is one I could keep in my pocket forever.
#2. Lamy 2000
For: Those wanting a pen that feels like a precision engineered piece of technology.
The 2000 is widely regarded as Lamy’s best pen ever, and is so unique in its construction and writing ability that I would recommend everyone give it a try (or buy). The pen is made from Makrolon, which is like a fibreglass material which gives the pen a beautiful Bauhaus look and feels fabulous in the hand. The cap pulls off and on with a satisfying click and the piston filler functions as it should. The nibs are heavenly – 14k gold with a platinum coating to give them superb longevity and a brilliant shiny look. Every single piece can be pulled apart and replaced/serviced with very little effort, which cuts down on costs significantly. I own three of these, all different ages, and each performs beautifully.
#3. Pilot Vanishing Point
For: Those that use their pen for short stints as well as long sessions, and hate dealing with caps.
The VP is one of those pens that is so unique it’s difficult to tell you why it works so well without actually showing you in person. For some reason the VP makes my writing look so much neater, I can’t figure out why. The nib is retractable and clicks in and out, which is brilliant and means it can be drawn out of a pocket and used with one hand. They’re workhorse pens with silky smooth nibs and metallic bodies that aren’t too heavy despite being very robust. On last count I think I own about ten of these, some dating back to the 1960s, and each works just as well as the modern ones you can buy today.
#4. Sailor 1911 Large
For: Those that love a beautiful pen similar in looks to a Mont Blanc, at a much better price.
Sailor is another brand that seem to inject a barrel load of quality into every pen they produce, and the 1911 is no exception. Sailor’s flagship pen lineup comes in a massive array of colours and sizes, from the miniature ProGear to the monstrous 1911 King of Pen versions, and they’re all fantastic. The nibs are Sailor made, and are some of the absolute best money can buy. My Sailors (and I do own many of them) all write smooth as silk, feel simply brilliant in the hand, and have lasted for ages without any noticeable wear at all, and my favourite is my black 1911 Large with an 18k gold, rhodium plated nib. If you want a pen that does everything and does it well, you should buy a Sailor.
#5. Pelikan M series
For: Those with a classic style that write for long periods.
Yes, this is not a specific pen, but a series. I own the M200, M400, and M800, and really they’re just the same pen in different sizes (okay maybe the M200 is a bit different). The writing ability of my Pelikans is perhaps not as good as some of my other pens, but after some simple adjustments they have really shone. The construction is the best part of a Pelikan, as they have some of the best piston fillers in the business, and their unique style is yet to be imitated by any other brand. Simply put, the M lineup are all class, and would look just as good in the hands of a student as they do in the hands of an executive or a high priced lawyer. I reviewed the M400 here!
#6. TWSBI Diamond VAC 700
For: Fans of utilitarian design that hate filling their pen too often.
Despite its lower price (around $70-$80) the VAC 700 is one of the most solid pens I’ve ever used. The weight is perfect for those with larger hands and it’s extremely comfortable to use. Unlike the 530/540/580 the cap posts very well, and the pen isn’t overly gigantic when doing so. Add in a healthy dose of good looks and very high quality steel nibs and you have one of the best demonstrator pens on the market. Oh, and it’s a vac filler too, which is very cool. See my review right here!
#7. Platinum President
For: Presidents, executives, or just those that want a seriously classy, large pen.
I mentioned the #3776, but the President is Platinum’s flagship big boy fountain pen. So named because it was President Clinton’s pen of choice, if it’s good enough for him, it should be more than enough for you! It’s a more classic design than the #3776, and it’s quite a bit larger too. The nibs in the President are 18k gold unlike the 14k in the #3776, which makes absolutely no difference, but it means that they are very different to the #3776 nibs. I only own one, but my blue President has been my pen of choice for a better part of a year! It writes superbly, and the weight and feel is simply fantastic, it’s so comfortable to use if you have large hands like mine.
#8. Parker 51
For: Office junkies that leave their pens uncapped for longer periods, or those wanting a fountain pen similar to a ballpoint.
The 51 is well known as being the best selling fountain pen in history, and there’s a very good reason for that. The design is really unique, with a hooded nib designed to prevent the nib from drying out after long periods of being uncapped, similar to a ballpoint. The great design extends all over the pen, with a smooth rounded body that’s comfortable to hold. It also looks like it was made to be posted too; the cap just seamlessly slips onto the other end and brings a great balance to the pen. Despite its small size, it’s very comfortable for large and small hands alike. The nibs are fantastic to use too,and the filling systems are various and very unique (check out the vacumatic filler!). You’ll have to get one used as they aren’t made anymore, but they are very very common and can be had for around $50 if you’re willing to fix it yourself. Ask your grandfather if he has one.
#9. Nakaya Custom Pens
For: Those willing to spend close to $1000 on a pen that is both beautiful to use and look at, and which is as unique as you are.
Nakaya is Platinum’s premium, custom, hand-made, artisanal sub brand that produces custom pens for anyone with the cash to put down. This is the kind of stuff only able to be produced in Japan, as every pen is hand made and hand tuned from top to bottom using techniques that have been taught across generations of Japanese artists over thousands of years. You’ll find gorgeous Urushi lacquer layered pens, hand painted patterns, and even fragmented abalone shells in their products. You choose the design, the colour, and the pattern of every piece, plus any sort of accessories you want. You can have your name hand painted in Kanji letters on the grip, and pick up a kimono style pouch too. The nibs are also hand tuned by professionals to your specific writing style (they ask you what angle you hold your pen at and all that). If I was to spend hundreds on a pen, it would be a Nakaya. Prepare for a months long process whilst your pen is crafted to perfection from top to bottom.
#10. Edison Custom Pens
For: Those that don’t want or can’t afford a super expensive custom pen, but still want custom.
I love Edison despite only owning a single pen from them, but one pen is all it took. My Collier is still in my top ten pens I own because it’s simply gorgeous and writes like nobody’s business. Edison makes custom pens, that’s their jam, and if you want one I hear it’s pretty easy to do. Just pick a design and colour/pattern from the huge HUGE amount available, contact them and they will get to work on your perfect pen. Because each one is custom you can make small adjustments too. Try asking for a shorter body, a thinner pen, or a gold clip instead of a steel one, and they will most likely oblige. If you don’t have the dough for a Nakaya custom, give Edison a serious consideration and you will not be disappointed! See my review here!
Where to Buy
I’ve dealt with the following sites on multiple occasions with great success. I’m not affiliated, just a happy customer! And seeing as I’ve used them, they’re guaranteed to ship to Australia.
- Goulet Pen Company
- eBay (especially users engeika, kyoto pen store, and Judd)
- FPN Classifieds
- Fountain Pen Classifieds
Well if you still have questions or want some help finding a pen to suit your needs, chuck me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll help you out personally!