Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why do I write with a fountain pen?

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So why a fountain pen?

I'm sure that there are many reasons why an individual chooses to write with a fountain pen, but I can only answer for myself.

A good fountain pen, (note that "good" does not necessarily mean $$$) writes extremely smooth with a very light pressure on the paper. They allow me to write for extended periods of time with little hand/wrist fatigue.

So why do I have 9 of them?

Because once you buy one, you continue to look for other, smoother pens. You want to have them in varying nib widths, filled with different colors of ink, and you want to have more than one on hand in case one of them runs out of ink.

Are they expensive?

You can find disposable fountain pens like the Pilot Varsity, for about $3. A great refillable starter pen is the Lamy Safari, which costs around $25. (I have 4 of them) Mid range pens can run from $60-$100, like my favorite Pelikan M200, ($60) or my ultra-smooth Sailor Sapporo. ($105) Then there are pens that are more expensive - considered to be status symbols, like the brands Montblanc and Omas pens, ($200-$400) and also the limited edition collector's type pens that can run $1000-$5000 and up.

There are also many people that prefer to use vintage pens - ones produced as far back as the 1920's. Some of these pens are the best ever made, and they can be purchased fully restored, or in "as-is" condition for a few dollars at a local flea-market/swap meet.

The pen restoration business is a brisk one- with people like David Isaacson and Ron Zorn that will bring a sick or wounded vintage pen back to it's new found glory.

I myself have dipped into the waters of vintage pens, (I own an Esterbrook J and I once briefly owned one of the highly regarded Parker 51's) but I've come to the conclusion that I prefer modern pens for two reasons. The first is that I'm always worried about damaging a vintage pen that's not easily replaceable, and secondly, because I prefer to start new with a pen - instilling my own energy into it.

I spoke about having multiple pens in varying nib sizes, and there are also people like Mr. Richard Binder and the good folks at Pendemonium that can custom grind pen nibs into shapes that allow for more artistic and creative writing. I have two such pens - a Binder ground .07 Cursive Italic nib in a Pelikan M200 and a .05 Cursive Italic in a Lamy Safari that the nibmeister at Pendemonium ground for me. Nib grinding prices can vary - depending on who is doing the work, and what you are having done. It cost me $15 to have the CI ground by Pendemonium.

And what about inks?

Fountain pen inks come in every imaginable color, and on average cost about $8-$10) a bottle. A bottle will last you a long, long time. My favorite inks include Noodler's, Diamine and Private Reserve.

Of note - many types of fountain pen inks are not waterproof because they are water based inks.. (Never use India Ink in a fountain pen - it will destroy the pen.) If archiving your writing is important to you, check out the "Bulletproof" inks made by Noodler's.

So where can I buy a fountain pen?

While you might not find them at your local art supply store, fountain pens can easily be found at many online retailers. My personal favorites include Pendemonium, Swisher Pens and Pear Tree Pens. Pear Tree Pens has a fantastic ink sampling system...

Can I use a fountain pen on any kind of paper?

Great question. While it's a matter of personal preference, I have found the better the quality of the paper, the better the writing experience. It's a delicate balance to find a paper/pen/ink combination that meets (at least my) satisfaction. Some of the thinner, cheaper, (like the Moleskine journals that I use) can cause various inks to bleed through the paper or feather - leaving little spider web lines off of the inked lines. Some of the better quality papers and journals include Rhodia, Apica, Clairefontaine and Quo Vadis. That's not to say that a tablet from the office supply store won't work for you - it's just a matter of trying it out.

I prefer to use the hard backed Moleskine journals because they lie flat (easier to write in) and that's a difficult feature to find unless you chose to use a spiral bound book. (Which I don't like.)

So put it all together and well, using a fountain pen can get a little expensive if you are like me and are constantly trying to improve your writing experience.

What am I currently using?

This article was originally hand written using a medium nibbed Sailor Sapporo, Noodler's Bulletproof Black ink, in a large hard backed, ruled Moleskine journal. (Noodler's BB seems to be one of the least problematic inks on this Moleskine paper.)

I also commonly use a fine nibbed Pelikan M200 filled with Private Reserve's Burgundy Mist ink. An Extra Fine Lamy Safari filled with the same Burgundy Mist ink, and the Lamy Safari with the custom ground .05 Cursive Italic nib filled with Private Reserve's Arabian Rose ink.

Where can I learn more about fountain pens, inks and paper?

The Fountain Pen Network is an online community of fountain pen enthusiasts. From the novice to the long time user/collector, you will find all kinds of information in the way of conversations, reviews, photos, etc.

I hope you have found this article informative, and if you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them or to point you in the right direction to find the information you are looking for.


stompy said...

Moleskines are great to write on, but it takes time to fine pens and ink combinations that work well with them. Noodlers is great because it was designed to be non-feathering (and completely safe for fountain pens).

Parker Quink, surprisingly works well with on them as well.

Nice piece.

Craig said...

It should take you all of 2 sec. to remove someone else's energy from a vintage fountain pen.

Nice article Biffy B!

Have you read that Hazrat Inayat Khan book in your library? If not, you might want to peek into it. If you end up liking Hazrat, his son, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan's writting is guaranteed to blow you away.

Biffybeans said...

Craig - I have two books by Khan. "The Music of Life" was recommended by a friend. I started it a long time ago, but it's been a tough read for me. My mind is always a thousand places at once- which sometimes makes it hard for me to totally relax and digest certain things as I read them.

CyBrian said...

I bought a couple Platinum Preppy fountain pens from this Japanese stationary store in the local mall. They write pretty well, but I think I may upgrade to something else soon. I have read a few review stating they write very similarly to Lamy Safaris. I'm currently using the official ink refills but I bought a converter and I am going to buy a bottle of Noodler's soon. I'm pretty new to fountain pens (I have these and a couple of Pilot Varsity pens and I think they write much smoother than the Preppys but I rarely use them because they feather a lot and don't come in blue-black, but that's the ink and I'm going to just empty one out and refill it with Noodler's once I get it)

Anonymous said...

Fountain pens certainly do have a character in writing that is hard to get with other writing sticks. I've bought a number of them over the years or so, but hadn't used one in 20+ years. A few weeks ago I pulled some out of the drawer and started writing with them again. I like the variable density I get. In truth, a good rollerball pen is just as easy to write with, but it doesn't have as much character. I like my Montblanc and Parker OK, but they're nothing to shout about. I'd kill to have the Shaeffer that I bought in the 60's and did all the calculations for my thesis -- I loved that pen, but lost it. The Shaeffer Targa looks similar and I had one or two of those too, but they didn't write anywhere near as well as my original. As a kid, I remember buying the Shaeffer cheapie pens for a buck or less. I still have an unopened package in my desk! I'll bet it's a collector's item now and worth $2-$3!

Pete said...

Great article. I must also admit to a passion for fountain pens, currently owning seven. I find my Parker best for day to day use, using it with my moleskin notebook. There is absolutely nothing that writes as well as a fountain pen.

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is a great review. I am a newbie with a fountain pen world. I bought a Lamy safari a month age. It introduced me a whole different writing world. As the reviewer mentioned that the medium nib was very smooth but too wide, I had to replace the EF nib for my lecture note.

Unfortunately my safari was broken after I used less than a month. The connecting area (the middle of the pen) was separated. The pen was always kept in my pencil case like many other pens.

The pen looked like stud but I am a kind of disappoint. I sent the pen to Lamy service center and am waiting now.

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