How to Buy A Pen That Will Last Forever

Fountain Pen Buying Guide

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

Price

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.

Brand

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

Track Record

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

Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue

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

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

Pilot Vanishing Point Raden

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

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

Pelikan M800

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

TWSBI 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

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

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

Nakaya Blue Dragon

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

Edison Collier Silver Marble

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.

What Else?

Well if you still have questions or want some help finding a pen to suit your needs, chuck me an email at questions@pentorium.com and I’ll help you out personally!

  • https://www.facebook.com/raffaello.palandri Raffaello Palandri

    thanks for your guide !!

    • jono

      Thank you Raffaello!

      Jono

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  • http://thatonepen.com Todd

    This is a great post and one you clearly spent a lot of time thinking about and working on to get just right. Nicely done. I’ll be sure to refer myself and others to it many times in the future.

    • jono

      Thanks very much Todd!

      Jono

  • Barry Conway

    I am agree about the titanium nib in my Omas Emotica but my Stipula ti the nib is wonderful. Wet smooth as good a flex as any of my vintage flex nibs
    Barry Conway
    acolythe@gmail.com

    • jono

      Some Ti nibs are great if they’re well made. It takes a pretty skilled manufacturer to get it right as titanium is such a difficult metal to work with.

  • http://gravatar.com/billtse Bill Tse

    Hello Jono and thank you for your guide! Just tonight I was thinking about getting a new pen and I could not decide between Pelikan M400 or M200. I own a Lamy Al-star and a Lamy Vista and I wanted to try a gold nib because these two are steel nib, but then I read that gold nibs are not necessarily better than steel ones
    and in your M400 review you mentioned it might even be worthier to get two M200 instead of one M400.
    M400 is a bit too expensive for me whereas M200 is an acceptable price tag. And I see in this guide that you recommend Platinum #3776 as well. Here in China M200 and #3776 are nearly the same price. So what do you recommend?

    • jono

      M400 is a mostly cosmetic upgrade to the M200. The M400 nibs are pretty good, but not much better than the M200. They’re also exactly the same size! I actually did a review of the M400 you can see here

      http://www.pentorium.com/2013/01/14/pelikan-souveran-m400-review/

      I also compared it to the M200 in that post.

      The #3776 is, in my opinion, superior in writing ability, but not in construction. Also the M series is piston filled, holding much more ink than the converter in the #3776. However, I would choose the #3776 every time if it was up to me, just because I love finer nibs and the Platinum nibs are best of the best.

  • Bill Wood

    Hello, I enjoyed reading your texts on pens.

    I am a wood turner and would enjoy making the cases and inserting the “works and nib”

    Any shops where I can buy just the works and nib for your list of preferred pens ?

    • jono

      Not really. It’s possible to source the nibs and/or feeds separately from the pen on the used market or by other means, but I doubt you’d be able to find many of the nibs and inner workings of the pen unless you bought the entire pen.

  • http://fountainpenclassifieds.com Karl

    Nice work! And thanks for the Fountain Pen Classifieds plug!

    –Karl

    • jono

      Thanks Karl! You’re very welcome.

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  • Kyle Caalim

    how can you say that titanium is the worst nib material? i have never seen it used as a nib except by Stipula and i have heard that their nibs aren’t that bad? also by the Conid Bulk Filler there was an option to install a titanium nib. lol at 24k nibs!

    • pentorium

      By worst, it doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Basically, almost every other material is preferable over titanium. Read what Richard Binder has to say about them, and he’s an absolute expert on the topic. Binder states that they’re very fragile, bend easily, and are difficult to work with when making a nib.

  • Kyle Caalim

    btw it is true what you say about how no gold nib is better than steel nib because the tipping material is the same but generally solid gold nibs come from higher quality brands such as sailor that make great nibs. usually the high end nibs from trusted brands such as sailor and pilot are made of gold. hence, gold nibs tend to be ‘better’ than steel because of the brands that make them.

    • Joe0000

      The article does not state “…no gold nib is better than steel nib because the tipping material is the same”. I think you’ve misread it.

    • Moth

      i think you might be confused. gold nibs aren’t better at all they are the same level of quality the only difference being that steel nibs are less springy. which doesn’t matter in the least bit.

  • http://gravatar.com/gibsonworks gibsonworks

    Thanks for the guide. It was very helpful, and prompted me to take another look at my rather large collection of pens.

  • Zelmor

    Hey there,

    You mentioned titanium nibs to be sub-par, but how about iridium ones? I am looking at this pen right now, and I wonder if you have experience with their products:

    http://www.allegorypens.com/writing-instruments/dignitary

    • Glenn Higley

      I hope you didn’t buy that. It’s a kit pen. What you’re paying for here is the woodworking, not the parts that matter. Iridium is a hard, rare and expensive element only used for tipping material, not the entire nib. The more you know about FP’s, the more likely you are to be pleased with those you buy.

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  • Amir H. Jadidinejad

    I had some fountain pens, all of them was bloody!
    Today, I buy Platinum 3776. I don’t believe how it is too smooth and flowing.
    Thank you for this guide. I know a lot about fountain pens.

  • Glenn Higley

    I guess I’ve just really really bad luck, but the two 3776’s I own have terrible nibs (medium and soft-fine). I had the medium worked on by a nibmeister at a pen show and it remains as bad as before. I really like the 3776’s size, weight, looks, etc., but with such bad nibs they’ve been a complete waste of money for me.

    • Jason Yu

      must be bad luck, my 3776 M is my favorite pen, thinking to buy a second one as backup

      • Glenn Higley

        Many, if not most, folks really like the 3776. I’ve a friend with a medium nibbed 3776 that writes very well, but I know that he adjusted the nib to his liking. My enjoyment of his pen prompted my ill-fated purchases. When I took my medium 3776 to be worked on by Linda Kennedy of “Indy-Pen-Dance” at a pen show both she and her husband weren’t surprised that I didn’t like the Platinum nib which tells me that I’m not alone. That and her inability to make it perform better should have kept me from buying the 2nd pen (she was trained by Richard Binder). I emailed Mike Masuyama with my problems and he suggested using a lighter touch. I don’t apply pressure when writing, so I can only assume that I’ve either really bad luck or have expectations of Platinum nibs that they can’t meet. As much as would like to enjoy them, the brand is currently off my list. I envy your success with the 3776.

  • Rajiv

    What about OMAS? Where would you put them?

  • Jason Yu

    great tastes, I have 3776, sailor 1911 standard, and lamy 2k. I prefer my 3776 M to 1911 M, though