Since entering the world of fountain pens, I’ve experienced multiple instances of love at first sight. Some were minor cases of puppy love, where a shape or size of a pen would make me go “Aww…that’s kind of cute!” Others were like celebrity crushes that had me scrambling to Google images so I could save them to a folder for perusal at leisure. A few evoked some violent mood swings: rapture that plummeted into depression, thanks to the hefty price tags.
Thankfully, I got over the unobtainable sooner or later, because there was always something else waiting around the corner. Fountain pens come in so many different shapes, sizes, finishes, filling systems, and materials. It seems that nearly every part of the world has its own preferred brand or style. I, too, have my preferences, but the one thing that makes or break a pen for me?
Never mind customizations by nibmeisters (of which I’ve yet to try—-but maybe someday!). Just the stock nibs on the pens in the market today are varied enough to suit anyone’s fancy. Even nib sizes vary between brands—a Western F, for example, will typically be the size of a Japanese M. (I blame the kanji. You need to write finer to fit in all those strokes!)
I’ve bought pens before, because they’ve looked “pretty”…only to see them fall into disuse because the nib was too “meh, boring” for me. I like my tips to have a little personality to them. And although I love to hawk the merits of a “smooth, buttery, nib”, the fact is that smooth is a relative term. Too smooth and it’s like writing on glass—no resistance, but no soul either. You might as well use a ballpoint to do the same job.
People talk about “smooth writers”,”buttery nibs”, “flex” or “feedback”—-and I’m sure they have their own definitions of those terms too. Beyond the general categorizations, I have my personal definitions as well. How to describe it? I know my pens well enough to predict the type of writing experience I’ll get when I put the point to paper.
For example, my OMAS Extra Lucens is my definition of a smooth writer. It doesn’t write so much as glide across the paper. The nib is steady, but has a hint of softness that adds spring to the ride—like the cushioning of a luxury car. I feel like my words are whispers with this nib—drawn elegantly on the page by the magic touch of an invisible inky spirit. It’s an almost supernatural experience, and every time I finish a sentence, I have to pause and look at my hand to make sure I’m actually holding a pen. Unreal.
On the other hand, my vintage Aurora 88 is another Italian pen but with definite distinction. The semiflexible hooded nib has this firm, blunt, grip on the paper when I write—almost like a cat with its paws against the carpet. But there are no claws on this kitty—the grip, if anything, is a muted, subtle sensation that is offset by the springiness of the nib. The sensation? I don’t know…imagine a happy-go-lucky lion bounding in the soft earth of a field of daisies after the morning rain, and you’ll get an approximation of my feelings when writing with this nib. There is “feedback”—meaning noise—when I write, but it’s offset by the smoothness of the nib. Rather an odd jutaxposition of “rough” and “smooth”, I know, but…that’s what it is. An oxymoronic miracle.
Going further east, we have a vintage Pilot with Shiro nib. Shiro in this case meaning “white”, because the nibs were made with steel alloy at a time when gold was under strict government regulations. There’s a bit of flex in my little Shiro, but not enough to be noticeable. What’s more interesting is the nib—it’s smooth, but somehow, fragile at the same time. The nib just feels “thinner” than my other pens, and combine that with a lightweight plastic body and you have what feels like a toy pen in your hands. Still, the ink flow is so wet and rich that it takes no effort to produce a bright, bold, line. Like the OMAS, it’s whisper-quiet, but it has a wider sweet spot so that you can write at any angle and still reach pen nirvana. A languid, carefree pen, to be sure, used to the slow and steady pace of the past.
And the Platinum GLAMOUR lurking in the left hand corner there? I admit, I bought this pen for looks alone. But it’s a good pen, with a cute nib that performs well—just enough smoothness without being slippery. Sometimes, that’s all you need.
Both of my Montblancs write with a similar feeling—smooth and relatively firm (Dostoevsky has marginally more give), with a low and constant, steady hum of feedback in the background. Usually I dislike feedback, but its volume is acceptable here—and in some ways, almost comforting. I like to think of it as the great pen machinery of German manufacturing expressing itself through my nibs. Precison, perfection, precious resin—these are pens that strive to be heard when they speak. They act both as tools and companions, and their steady, unwavering presence on paper makes for a comforting hum when things are too quiet—almost like rainfall.
My Danitrio Takumi (freshly repaired!) came with a semi-flex EEF nib. At first, it was strange to write with it—a floppy, flamboyant figure that clicked incessantly when I held it at the wrong angle. (Which angle was right? I didn’t know.) But after breaking it in for while, it now performs wonderfully—flexing and thinning as the occasion demands it. Of course, it’s still a picky diva about its inks—it only drinks liquid silk like Iroshizuku, or else it sputters—but the words it writes! The line variation! The shading and sheen potential of everything that goes through its feed! You get the point, right? Slightly higher maintenance but oh, so, SO worth the extra attention.
The two Sheaffers I have are both vintage pens—one a cursive italic, the other a hard-as-nails Triumph Crest nib. They’re my dependable, steady, hard workers. The cursive italic is like one of those crispy crackers with cream filling—soo smooth when you stay in the center, but sharp and brittle near the edges. It takes a little maneuvering to master, but I expect that with an italic nib, so it’s no biggie. The Crest nib writes a stiff, fine line despite its curvaceous figure. It’s a straight to the point, no-nonsense nib (er, no pun intended here)—and may be going to a new home soon. Like other pens, I was enamored by its looks but I wanted something more from the writing experience. I’m sure someone out there who likes nail nibs will give it the attention it deserves.
Summing up my Pelikan M400, I feel the desire to call it a frankenpen of sorts. You see, I bought it used from another user—-so it has the White Tortoiseshell body, but not the original two-toned nib that came with it. The one it has now, a steel M nib, writes more like a fine and the tines are actually slightly misaligned—one side is higher than the other. When I write regularly, it’s not that obvious, but when I speed up, the nib likes to “lisp”—as if telling me to slow down and take it easy. I was too lazy to fix it when I first got it and now I don’t feel a need to—the lisping has grown on me, so to speak, and I like to take it as a reminder to take it easy with my writing. (Besides, my handwriting is worse when I speed up.) It’s an oddball, to be sure, but a lovable one.