I’m a bit of a minority in my social circle since I’m an FP addict. Oh sure, I’ve wheedled convinced a few friends into trying them out, and a few more now use Platinum Preppys or Pilot Varsities alongside their usual lineup, but try talking to them about nib widths and paper and you’ll start getting glazed looks…
That’s why I take my love of pens online, where I can rant to my heart’s content and even find readers for my efforts. Yayness. Still though, this little blog is pretty haphazard and that bothers my meticulously-ordered-and-detail-oriented side.
You know, the one that says to keep all the silver ties on the neck of Iroshizuku bottles ’cause they’re so pretty even though I have to keep retying the little bows after every refill.
Or the one that makes me cut and reuse lined backing paper with my blank journals so I don’t accidentally write crooked.
Or the one that gets a little miffed when my lowercase “r”s don’t end up having those pretty loops ’cause I rushed through my cursive handwriting.
Small things like that. So I’ve decided to do some virtual organizing!
There are a plethora of pen blogs on the web, each with its own unique focus. Some specialize in vintage pen restoration, others in writing up pen/paper/ink reviews, still others in plentiful postings of praiseworthy pen & paper photography.
Well, I’m terrible at taking things apart (much less putting them back together), too busy to be a regular reviewer, and the best camera I have on hand is my iPhone. What I can do is write—and rave—on and on about pens. So I’ll do that instead, because I like writing stories and reading them, and snatching these snippets out of my head and onto this screen is the best way to share them with fellow pen enthusiasts.
There’s that tried and true saying about people asking a penny for your thoughts. I’ll be throwing around my two cents’ worth in the future, under the Personal Penny heading because it sounds cooler that way. Actually, I’ve written pen-related babbles a few times in the past, but it should be easier to find them from now on under a uniform tag. Basically it’ll be longer blog posts with more pictures and more introspection on all things pen-related. O joy of joys! ٩(^ᴗ^)۶
Now to round out the post with a gratuitous pen photo!
Why yes, I do use my Nakaya pen kimono for my Danitrio Short Octagon. Because Danis are my babies and my Nakaya Briarwood is tough enough to survive without it. Siblings should share even if they’re pens, y’know!
By the way, if there are any more budding fountain pen fans out there waiting to take the dip—do it! And then tell me all about it. And for those trying to convince friends to join in the party: bribe ’em with free ink refills. Diamine Schubert made it irresistible for one of mine. 😉
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.
Hang around the FPN forums long enough, and you’ll eventually stumble upon the words “holy grail pen”.
No, it’s not a pen modeled after the Holy Grail or King Arthur legends (though that’d be cool—-imagine having Excalibur as your pen clip!). It’s just a generic term for that pen (or pens) you’ve been wanting to get but haven’t because of its cost and/or availability.
For me, there are holy grail pens, and then there are dream pens—the kinds you also want to get, but have a slightly better chance at actually buying. The differences between Dream pens and Grail pens are in degrees. Both can hit you when you least expect it, leave a lasting impression that makes you want more, and dig a hole in your heart until you fill it up by actually buying the darned thing. (Or give up. There’s always the option to give up.)
Grail pens just hit harder and dig deeper—because they’re just that much more difficult to get.
I consider myself lucky to be picky about my pens—it means I don’t get hit with the OMG-Want-This-Now Bug as often. Still, I have fallen victim once or twice…maybe even thrice.
Take, for example, the Montblanc Fyodor Dostoevsky (Dostoyevsky if you like extra consonants) Writer’s Edition. Beautiful pen, tapered section, ink window!!!, with gold accents and a shiny blue cabochon in the clip…it was love at first sight. Then I saw the current price tags and love turned to heartbreak.
At that moment, the Dostoevsky transformed from “lovely pen” to Grail status. I was sure I would never get one, and would have to settle for longingly looking at Google images from far away…but THEN!
An eBay listing appeared for a used Dostoevsky! Just the fountain pen, without boxes or papers—-which meant it was being listed at a fraction of the market price. Heck, even at a fraction of the original retail price! (MB Writers’ Editions tend to sell for more in the years after they come out. Darn limited supply.)
So, I bid on it.
And, six days later, I got it.
Today, I have a Grail pen. And it is beautiful.
Yes, I know I spelled his name wrong. It was hot. I wanted fro-yo. Accidents happen…
Of course, another interesting fact about Grails is that they tend to multiply. Probably because human desires for unattainable things tends to run unchecked—precisely because it is unattainable, there can’t be more harm in fantasizing more about the things you can’t get, right? So the logic goes in my brain. 😄 Ha! Illogical logic, but since these desires are related to emotions, I can relate.
So, just for fun, I’m going to list some of my private wanna-haves below. Because listing them is more likely than me actually getting them. Comprende?
Aurora Archivi Storici (thanks to an FPN member!)
MB 146 UNICEF (2009 version) (thanks to another FPN member!)
Danitrio Sho-Hakkaku (short octogan) in Ki-dame (just because it’s pretty. But if I really want it, I’ll need to save up serious $$$ and sell off some others to justify its use in my EDC)
Hero Century Dragon (I know where I can get this pen for much cheaper—it’s just, the pen is too heavy (38g!), so even if I do, I wouldn’t use it. It’s still nice eye candy, though.)
Pilot Custom 823 in Amber (the main appeal of this pen is its ability to be used on AIRPLANES, thanks to the pressure-releasing valve. But in the end, it still looks too plasticky for me to justify the cost—I don’t fly all that often, so meh.)
Sailor pen with Sabi-togi nib (I’ve heard so much about Sailor’s XXF+ nib that I want to try one someday, just to see how it compares to my .38mm gel pens. But that’s not a reason to go out and throw money at one. And the ink capacity of Sailor pens…depressingly small! )
Guanleming 2001 hooded demonstrator for less than $10 (seriously! they went from $3~5 on isellpens a year ago…now Todd’s out of stock, and the only ones I can find go for $12.75 on eBay—ridiculous. But if I get desperate…)
Another Fancy-smanchy demonstrator with gold trim (but as all the ones I like have ridiculous price tags…eh. No thanks.)
MB Dostoevsky (by a miracle of eBay and luck + virtue?)
Danitrio Kaguya-hime (no chance of getting this limited edition—even if it pops up, I don’t think I can bear to pay that much…)
Pelikan Moon Goddess (very, very, VERY tempting. Thank goodness it’s sold out, or I’d be seriously bankrupt.)
Waterman Serenite (despite what people say about its flow problems, its proportions are divine. If I could custom-order one with a maki-e design of my own choosing, that’d be the icing on the cake. Sadly, Waterman discontinued the Serenite models.)
Various Danitrio maki-e pens (that I will not list, for the sake of my sanity and wallet)
****** (Currently in the works—a custom project I will talk about when it finishes. ^-~)
So…the moral of all this?
I like pens. But I refuse to go absolutely crazy over them. Balance is key to maintaining a healthy collection! 😉
(For reference: Dostoevsky on left, MB 146, 2009 UNICEF Edition on right.)
Once in the lower levels of Lotte World in Seoul, Korea, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a little pen store nestled next to the underground parking lot and a convenience store. Pen Cafe, it called itself, a tiny space smaller than a typical American garage, stuffed to the brim with pens.
Website here: http://pencafe.co.kr/
What a wonderful place. There were three “salesmen” inside—Korean men in glasses and business suits—and no customers. I didn’t speak any Korean, nor did I look the part of a typical pen-buying customer. If anything, I probably looked like a little lost schoolgirl who’d wandered into the place by accident. Their glances reflected as much, as they mostly ignored me.
But I didn’t care. Just being able to see the pens was enough. And there were so many of them—even exotic versions and limited editions of pens I’d never seen online before. So glorious! I spent precious minutes pouring over each pen in the display case, moving methodically from left to right. I was too timid to take pictures of the pens themselves—it seemed rude—but I did manage to snag a shot of a glass Parker display case with a giant Aurora nib on top.
I asked for some prices of their inks—Iroshizuku, Montblanc (of which they had the LE Winter Forest in a bottle!). The salesman took out a giant calculator, typed in the price in Won, and converted it to USD for my benefit. It was all full retail price, so I was disappointed and decided not to buy anything. They were still looking at me as if I were in the wrong place. I knew I should have brought my pens with me that day…
Eventually, I wandered outside to check out their displays…and was pleasantly surprised to see some LE on sale, like this Parker Duofold here.
I do believe this was my first time see a real LE fountain pen in person. (Montblancs don’t count—there are so many MB boutiques that their limited editions are something of a “norm” to me now…)
Still, upon closer inspection, I couldn’t help but notice how dusty the pens were. Day by day, they must have sat in these display cases, watching the people go by, probably being ignored most of the time, maybe only earning the occasional glance or two from a random passerby…
So many layers of dust…so many forgotten years spent waiting and waiting….so many words left unwritten…
Did the pens hold their breath as the people passed by? Did they try to look sharp for the holidays, in hopes of attracting more eyes? Did they ever despair of getting a good polish once in a while?
The Waterman Serenite really caught my eye—-so elegant and poised despite being incased in its plexiglass cage. I asked if I could have it taken out to look at. Just to see the phoenix design from different angles. I wouldn’t even try to touch it.
The salesman were adamant in shaking their heads. One even raised his eyebrows at the audacity of my suggestion.
Very well, then. I asked—tentatively, I admit—for a price quote.
The pen was so neglected that none of them knew off the top of their heads. They had to bring up the store website and look for the pen in their inventory listings. The result? Something ridiculous—a price that was easily twice or three times of those still on the market today. Not that there were many left, as Waterman only made 120 of these pens.
There was nothing else I could do. I sighed internally and left the shop, leaving the salespeople discussing whatever topics they had on hand.
Walking back to the display case, I expressed regrets to my imprisoned princess. Raising a hand, I touched the glass in a vain attempt to wipe off the dust coating her slender frame.
How I wished I could have given the phoenix her rightful wings and restore her place in the skies…